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Indiana House bill to ban employer vaccine mandate advances

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana House Republicans on Thursday further expanded the scope of their proposed employer vaccine mandate ban.

Despite months of public input and debate, House members had not had a chance before Thursday to discuss the bill on the chamber floor. House Bill 1011 would prohibit employers from requiring employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine unless employers also offer religious and medical exemptions. They also would have to offer weekly COVID-19 testing as an alternative at their expense.

During Thursday afternoon’s debate, House Republicans added a provision to expand the bill’s protections to prohibit COVID vaccine requirements in any contract, bid or agreement after March 31.

The debate comes as Indiana’s COVID-19 hospitalizations, nearly all of which involve unvaccinated patients, are breaking records. Data from the Indiana Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard show the state set a new record of 3,467 hospitalizations on Monday. By Tuesday, the latest day for which data were available, that number had risen to 3,488.

House Minority Leader Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, a Democrat from Fort Wayne, said the only way to end the pandemic is to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19. He said allowing employers to mandate vaccines if they wish reduces the chances an employer goes out of business.

“For hospitals and nursing home care facilities to be able to operate, they should have the opportunity to require vaccine mandates, and frankly, for even employers, large employers, over 100 (employees),” he said.

House Speaker Todd Huston, a Republican from Fishers, said he recommends everyone get vaccinated but he feels it ultimately should be left up to an individual. He said he saw no problem with the bill’s carve out for religious exemptions because he felt employers who offer them already are taking appropriate steps to vet such requests.

“Somebody that’s vaccinated, somebody that tries to take all the health precautions, I’m always going to encourage that. But what we’re trying to find is the appropriate balance between the individual rights and what the employers ask of them,” he said.

The bill needs a final vote before it can advance to the Senate. Huston said he expects that vote will come Tuesday.