Holcomb says he’ll keep up workplace pregnancy protection bid

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Indiana’s governor said Tuesday he would keep pushing for a law requiring more businesses to provide workplace accommodations for pregnant women, even though the state Senate rebuffed his proposal last week.

Republican senators stripped from a bill the requirement that businesses modify jobs for pregnant women who need longer breaks, transfers to less physical work and unpaid time off after childbirth. The vote came despite Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb’s endorsement of the proposal and inclusion in his priorities list for this year’s legislative session.

The proposal faces opposition from some business groups, including the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Indiana Manufacturers Association, over possibly exposing more businesses to lawsuits.

Holcomb said he will “absolutely” work on winning support among lawmakers before the legislative session ends in March.

“We’ve got our work to do, but I’m still hellbent on making sure that that becomes a reality in the state of Indiana,” Holcomb said.

Top Holcomb administration health officials joined several doctors and health advocates in backing the plan as a way of improving Indiana’s infant mortality rate, which was the country’s seventh-worst in 2017 with about 600 infant deaths.

The proposal would cover Indiana businesses with more than 15 employees. Federal laws already require larger companies to provide pregnancy accommodations. Twenty-seven other states have laws similar to Holcomb’s proposal.

The GOP-dominated Senate voted for sending the issue to a special study committee after this year’s legislative session and it is uncertain whether the House will act toward restoring the workplace accommodation requirements.

Democratic Rep. Vanessa Summers of Indianapolis said she didn’t see the necessity of legislators studying what pregnant women need to keep working. Holcomb’s endorsement of the proposal is encouraging, but he will need to aggressively pursue support from Republican lawmakers, she said.

“He is a little light on what he says he’s going to do sometimes, so we’re really going to have to press him to see if he’ll do it,” Summers said.

Indiana Chamber of Commerce argues that many smaller businesses don’t have the resources to comply with the proposed requirements.

“For all practical purposes, the employee will request the accommodation and the employer will have to comply,” said Mike Ripley, a vice president of the group. “The bill simply lacks employer protections, which is why we cannot support it.”

Holcomb said governors in states with such laws told him they encountered similar resistance and that he was proposing “reasonable accommodations.”

“The facts are on our side and we’ll be soliciting support from other organizations and associations heading into whether it is by (the end of the legislative session) or this summer making sure that we can get there and this becomes a reality in Indiana as soon as possible,” he said.

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