The Journal Gazette
Thursday, November 25, 2021 1:00 am

Governor to extend state health emergency

GOP legislators cancel 1-day session to pass law

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Eric Holcomb will extend the COVID-19 public health emergency for another 30 days after legislative leaders Wednesday canceled a planned one-day session Monday to pass language regarding the emergency and blocking employer vaccine mandates.

The move came after a seven-hour hearing three days ago in which few people testified in favor of the measure.

GOP lawmakers had planned an extraordinary one-day session Monday to suspend rules and pass the new law. The bill's language and announcement came Saturday morning.

“The ongoing complexities of the issues raised and the potential unintended consequences, the logistics of moving legislation to the floor during a time when the General Assembly is not typically in session, and the need for the public and members of the General Assembly to fully vet the legislation have led to the conclusion that the efforts to gather input and better solutions should continue until the legislature reconvenes in January,” Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said. “These matters will be taken up in earnest at the outset of the coming legislative session.”

House Democratic Leader Rep. Phil GiaQuinta of Fort Wayne hailed the decision. 

“Countless hours of testimony proved that Republicans' politically motivated eagerness to pass sweeping policy outside of normal processes and procedures was premature,” he said. “The Rules Committee was warned from business leaders, doctors and members of the workforce that the proposal would not only risk countless lives but hinder the freedoms of our state's businesses, health care institutions and schools to make personalized health and safety decisions. This delay was the right thing to do, and it is a good day when common sense prevails.”

Holcomb had listed three administrative provisions he needed in state law to allow the public health emergency order to expire at the end of November while also ensuring the state continued to be able to offer free vaccine clinics and receive additional federal dollars for Medicaid and food assistance.

“Last week, I made clear what would be necessary to responsibly allow the state public health emergency to expire. However, following the announcement that the General Assembly will not return on Monday, Nov. 29, I plan to extend the state public health emergency and the executive order next week for another 30 days to preserve the necessary provisions,” Holcomb said in a statement.

“I will continue to work closely with Speaker Huston and Senator Bray as we move into next legislative session,” Holcomb added.

The emergency language wasn't contentious. But lawmakers added COVID-19 vaccine language that would have effectively gutted the ability of private companies to require the vaccine. Business groups lined up against the bill.

“The Indiana Manufacturers Association agrees with the decision announced by legislative leaders today and thanks the joint Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee for taking the time to hear our concerns with the proposed language,” said Brian Burton, president and CEO of the Indiana Manufacturers Association. “The COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing in Indiana and across the world, with infection rates again on the rise and new variants emerging.

“Manufacturers are best-equipped to make their own decisions regarding workplace vaccination policies, and those decisions should be made independent of unnecessary government intervention.”

Numerous Hoosiers testified about their opposition to the vaccine and mandates, including some who work for health care companies that turned down their requests for a religious exemption.

The proposed language would have required businesses to grant all religious requests. But its scope would be limited if a federal vaccine mandate is upheld in court.

“Tuesday's passionate public testimony reinforced the concerns I've heard from constituents and business leaders over the federal mandates,” House Speaker Todd Huston said. “While most Indiana companies are acting in good faith, it's unacceptable that some employers are blatantly disregarding well-established vaccine exemptions, and we'll address these issues through legislation.”

“To be clear,” he continued, “House Republicans remain resolved to take quick action this session to help end the state of emergency and protect Hoosiers against the federal government's unprecedented overreach.”

The House and Senate would have needed two-thirds of the votes to suspend rules. At least one Republican in the House was against the bill – saying it cowed to Holcomb's demands and didn't go far enough to ban all vaccine mandates.

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