Politics

Indiana House passes bill banning employer vaccine mandates

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The Indiana House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill banning employers from requiring the COVID-19 vaccine unless they allow certain exemptions.

EUnder the bill, employers could not require employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine unless they also offer exemptions based on medical needs, religious beliefs or immunity due to a past COVID-19 infection. Employers also could offer weekly COVID-19 testing at their expense and later apply for reimbursement from the state’s COVID-19 relief allocation.

The employer vaccine mandate issue has dominated the discussion in the Indiana House for the past two months. Lawmakers tried to put the legislation in place during a one-day session last November but the effort fizzled.

During floor debate Thursday afternoon, Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, sparred with bill sponsor Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, over the bill’s potential impact. Lehman said he was trying to save as many jobs as possible, particularly among health care workers who have chosen to forego the vaccine. When DeLaney pressed Lehman on how many jobs the bill could save, Lehman said he had no idea.

DeLaney said not only would the bill lead to fewer people getting vaccinated, it also would send a message that it is OK to shirk one’s civic duties.

“This tells our children that if you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it and the state will back you up,” he said. “This teaches indifference and teaches anything other than civic responsibility.”

Lehman said he took exception to the way DeLaney characterized the bill. He said he personally has received the COVID-19 vaccine and he encourages everyone else to get it, but it ultimately has to be a personal choice. He said the bill balances an employer’s right to set health and safety standards with an employee’s right to make their own health care decisions.

“We’re dictating an option,” he said. “Nothing says you have, I can come in and get an exemption for any of these four things.”

The bill now heads to the Senate, where President Pro Tem Rodric Bray has yet to stake out a formal position. Both Bray and Gov. Eric Holcomb have previously said they are concerned the bill combines the vaccine provisions with a separate measure that provides a legal framework to end Holcomb’s state of emergency.

Holcomb has requested the state of emergency language but said he would rather leave vaccine questions up to individual employers.