Bill to end health emergency, limit vaccine mandates heads to governor

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The Indiana House voted Thursday to send watered-down legislation to limit employer vaccine mandates to the governor, who is expected to soon sign it into law.

The House agreed to Senate changes to House Bill 1001 by a vote of 78-10, with most Democrats joining the Republican majority in supporting the measure.

The bill also paves the way for the end of the statewide public health emergency related to COVID-19 because it contains administrative language that Gov. Eric Holcomb has said he would need to stop extending his executive order.

The current order has been renewed monthly for nearly two years and is set to expire on Friday. Republican legislative leaders wanted to get the bill to the governor in time to stop another extension. Holcomb has said he intends to sign the measure into law.

A notable change the Senate made to HB 1001 was removing language that would have forced employers to accept any religious exemption to workplace vaccine mandates, without question.

The version on its way to the governor would allow employers to continue to accept religious exemptions to a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, based on Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination based on religion. It potentially gives employers the latitude to reject some religious exemption requests.

The bill would require that medical exemptions be accepted, but only with a signed note from a doctor, physician’s assistant or advanced practice registered nurse who says that the vaccine is medically contraindicated for the employee. And exemptions could be granted for “natural immunity” for employees who had tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies within the previous three months.

Bill author Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, said the final bill was not everything he wanted, but it was a “good step forward.”

Some House Democrats who initially opposed the House measure said the Senate changes made it acceptable.

“I think we’re at a pretty good place, seeming to strike a better balance between keeping employees safe and respecting religious and medical exemptions,” said House Democratic leader Phil GiaQuinta of Fort Wayne.

House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, also said he thinks lawmakers “hit the appropriate balance,” even with the changes the Senate made to the initial bill.

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