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Bill to ban Indiana vaccine mandates altered to cover employers’ costs for COVID testing

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The sponsor of an Indiana bill on vaccine mandates said Thursday that COVID relief could cover testing costs for unvaccinated workers.

An Indiana House of Representatives committee on Thursday added the provision to House Bill 1001 from Rep. Matt Lehman that’d restrict employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The measure would prohibit such mandates unless employers allow religious and medical exemptions or give employees the option of weekly testing in lieu of the vaccine at the employer’s expense.

Business leaders have criticized this latest provision of the bill. Lehman, a Republican from Berne, said the change would let employers apply for reimbursement from state or federal COVID relief until June 30, 2023.

“This bill is very clear and that is, we need to protect Hoosier employees,” he said. “It’s that fine line of not interjecting ourselves into the employer’s business but at the same time, there’s a line that they don’t cross into the employee’s rights.”

The bill’s opponents said the amendment and other changes made in committee make the bill somewhat better, but they still disagree with the overall concept.

Rep. Ryan Hatfield, an Evansville Democrat, said the bill unnecessarily intrudes on employers’ responsibilities. “What we need to do in the state of Indiana is allow employers to keep their workplaces safe, and they’re in the best position to do that,” he said. “This bill basically goes in and hamstrings those employers.”

The panel’s vote to send the bill to the full House did not quite break down along party lines. Rep. Cindy Ziemke, a Republican from Batesville, sided with Democrats against the bill.

House Speaker Todd Huston, a Republican from Fishers, on Thursday said the bill will come up for debate in the full House next week but he couldn’t provide exact timing.