Lawmakers formally file legislation to limit business vaccine mandates

More than 50 Indiana House Republicans have signed on to a bill filed for the 2022 legislative session that would restrict employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates and put in place actions to end the statewide public health emergency order.

House Bill 1001 was the first bill filed on Monday for the legislative session that kicks off on Jan. 4, signaling that it is likely a high priority for GOP leadership.

It is nearly the exact text of the bill draft Republican leaders originally intended to pass in a one-day expedited session planned for Monday. Those plans were scrapped after the measure was met with backlash during a seven-hour public hearing.

HB 1001 would effectively force private employers that mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for employees to allow for any medical or religious exemptions — no questions asked.

It also would still put in place the three administrative actions Gov. Eric Holcomb said were needed to end the statewide public health emergency order that’s been in place since March 2020, including securing continued federal reimbursements for SNAP benefits and Medicaid.

The primary difference in this bill versus the draft presented last week is that the medical exemption language specifically for “pregnancy or anticipated pregnancy” was removed from the text.

Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, is the author of the bill, and 55 other Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, signed on as co-authors.

“This proposal covers the three items the executive branch asked for as a condition for lifting the state of emergency, while also strengthening the rights of individual workers throughout Indiana,” Lehman said in a written statement on Monday. “I’ll continue working with employers, employees, state leaders and stakeholders to ensure the final form of this legislation leads to the end of the state of emergency, protects our rights and also helps the state manage through the pandemic.”

The bill was met with backlash from the business and medical communities during initial public testimony, saying it goes too far. Vaccine objectors, however, said it did not do enough to stop vaccine mandates.

Some of the state’s largest business associations, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the Indy Chamber of Commerce, the Indiana Manufacturers Association and the Indiana Restaurant and Lodging Association, all opposed the proposal’s restrictions on businesses mandating vaccines. They also had a problem with language that would require employers to cover the cost of regular testing, if that is offered as an alternative for an employee who does not want to get vaccinated.

Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar said at the time that while the proposed measures do not ban vaccine mandates, it could discourage employers from implementing a vaccine mandate. One of the Chamber’s top legislative priorities for the 2022 session is to allow employers to make decisions on whether to require the COVID-19 vaccine, without government intervention.

Brinegar did not immediately respond to calls from Indianapolis Business Journal on Tuesday, following the formal filing of the bill.

House Democrats have said they support legislation to keep federal funding if Holcomb does not renew the public health emergency. But adding the vaccine mandate language in the same bill holds the federal benefits hostage and “undermines the good intentions of the legislation,” House Democratic Leader Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, said in a statement last week.

GiaQuinta did not immediately respond to an IBJ request for comment on Tuesday.

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