Bill that would bar Indiana employers from requiring vaccinations sparks heated debate

A bill that would prohibit Indiana employers from requiring workers to get immunizations against COVID-19 or any other disease generated heated discussion Wednesday morning, reviving a debate over where to draw the line between public health and personal freedom.

The Indiana Senate Pensions and Labor Committee heard more than 90 minutes of testimony but did not take a vote in order to allow more people to submit written testimony.

The measure, Senate Bill 74, would allow workers to decline any immunizations for medical, religious or personal reasons. The measure, introduced by Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, would allow workers to sue an employer that required immunizations as a condition of employment.

Dozens of people from across the state packed into a committee hearing to testify, many of them in support of a bill they said was necessary to protect their personal freedom.

Leah Wilson, executive director of Stand for Health Freedom, a not-for-profit dedicated to protecting parental rights, said any vaccination mandate would be “immoral and unethical.”

“I’m asking you to stand up and protect our civil rights,” she said.

Ashley Grogg, a nurse and founder of Hoosiers for Medical Liberty, said people should be able to decide for themselves whether to get vaccinated.

“God gave me free will and I don’t intend for anyone to take that away from me,” she said.

Micah Beckwith of the Indiana Family Institute said the bill is about protecting personal liberties of people who don’t want to get vaccinated without consent.

“If you disagree with the medical industry, you’re labeled as evil or a nut job,” he said.

But several health and business organizations, including the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, testified against the bill. They said it could make workplaces unsafe, including hospitals and nursing homes, where people work closely together, and people’s immunization systems are sometimes at risk.

“We have a duty to provide a safe workplace for our employees,” said Mike Ripley, the chamber’s vice president for health care and employment law.

Ross Silverman, a professor of public health and law at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, said employers sometimes need “necessary tools to protect society.”

He said federal law already allows certain exemptions from vaccination mandates, although employers can make a case to override the exemption if they feel it would make a direct threat to safety or cause undue burden on other employees.

Some senators suggested that vaccinations are necessary to protect public health.

“We don’t have polio and smallpox today,” said Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage. “There was a time we did and we needed to vaccinate a lot of people to stop those diseases.”

Chairman Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, cut off debate for the sake of time with more than 50 people yet to testify.

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