INDIANAPOLIS – Most state employers would largely be prohibited from implementing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate and the public health emergency would likely expire under a bill passed Tuesday 58-35 by the Indiana House.
The bill was pushed by House Republicans though seven members of that caucus joined Democrats in opposing House Bill 1001.
The legislation next goes to the Senate, which is working on a bill that doesn't contain the controversial employer mandate language.
“This bill needs to be about protecting Hoosier workers,” said Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, the author of the measure. “It's not about the vaccines. It's not about the effectiveness. It's about the people who are affected.”
The impetus behind the bill was several large health care groups using vaccine mandates to fire workers in Indiana. But now that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the federal vaccine mandate for health care workers at facilities that receive federal dollars the state bill can't protect them.
The bill puts three provisions into state law that Gov. Eric Holcomb said were needed to responsibly end the public health emergency. Two allow the state to continue receiving additional Medicaid and food stamp benefits and a third allows mass vaccination clinics for kids rather than individual doctor visits.
On the vaccine side, the bill doesn't ban employer vaccine mandates completely but says businesses must accept medical and religious exemptions and offer opt-outs for testing and established immunity.
Some Republicans who spoke Tuesday tried to make it about the dangerousness of COVID-19 and the effectiveness of the vaccine.
Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, carried a briefcase full of papers to the podium. He said the survival rate is more than 99%, that COVID-19 lab tests are full of false positives and the vaccine doesn't stop people from getting, spreading or dying.
“I am not anti-vax. I am pro vax. Go get your third, fourth or whatever they are up to. I'm not vaxxed because I educated myself,” he said.
Rep. John Jacob, R-Indianapolis, said the bill doesn't go far enough. He supports bodily autonomy and a full ban on all employer vaccine mandates.
“Employers already wrongly deny exemptions. What makes us think they are going to comply with a law with virtually no penalties?” he said. “This bill does nothing but make it look like we are doing something when we are doing nothing.”
Jacob voted no and Lucas voted yes.
House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta of Fort Wayne said he is concerned the state will spend taxpayer money to support people not getting the vaccine. This is because those fired would be eligible for unemployment.
“This sends the message that immunization through vaccination is not important when the health care system is on the brink of collapse,” he said. GiaQuinta was the only area lawmaker to oppose the bill.