Public health emergency bill moves forward in Indiana Senate

The Indiana Senate’s version of legislation to enact administrative tools to end the state’s public health emergency passed in committee unanimously on Wednesday, with backing from business and health care leaders.

Senate Bill 3 would put in place administrative actions that could allow Gov. Eric Holcomb to end the state’s public health emergency. It would create administrative tools to ensure Indiana can continue receiving the same federal reimbursements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid, and maintain the state’s ability to hold voluntary community vaccination clinics.

The bill was also amended in committee on Wednesday to allow for temporary medical licensing to retired or inactive emergency medical services personnel, retired or inactive health care professionals, out-of-state health care professionals, or recent graduate students in the medical field.

The Senate Health and Provider Services Committee voted to move the bill forward to the full Senate, after hearing testimony all in favor of the measure.

SB 3 has been labeled a top priority of Senate Republicans, and a different approach to what Republican lawmakers in the House are pushing to also end the health emergency with House Bill 1001. The first half of HB 1001 mirrors what SB 3 would do, but language to restrict employer vaccine mandates by making them accept any medical or religious exemptions is tacked on as well.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, had said last week that the Senate wants a “clean” health emergency bill, leaving out the more controversial issue of vaccine mandates, which he said makes HB 1001 a “heavier bill.”

The vaccine mandate provision in the House bill has been the subject of most of the backlash in the hours of public testimony taken on the bill. Business and health care leaders are against it, and say the measures go too far to discourage employers from implementing vaccine mandates. And general vaccine objectors have not fully supported it either, saying it does not do enough to stop vaccine mandates.

Testimony on SB 3 on Wednesday contrasted the testimony heard so far on HB 1001.

Representatives from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, the Indiana Manufacturers Association, the Indiana Hospital Association and the Indiana State Medical Association, all testified in support of the bill, and many thanked author Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparasio, for bringing forward legislation without the vaccine mandate language seen in the House’s version of the bill.

“I think for what it does and what it doesn’t do, it sort of takes care of business. It includes protection you’re looking to provide without getting into some of the other issues,” said Bill Waltz with the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

Health care leaders were generally supportive of the bill as well, but also noted their concerns with ending the health emergency too soon as hospital emergency rooms continue to be overwhelmed with patients and beds are filling up.

Dr. Elizabeth Struble, president of the Indiana State Medical Association, said she supported the efforts to ensure Indiana keep its federal funding and allow pharmacies to administer COVID-19 vaccines to children, if the health emergency does have to end.

“This bill takes the necessary and prudent steps to ensure a smooth transition out of the public health emergency and to help safeguard the health of Hoosiers,” Struble said.

SB 3 will head to the full Senate for consideration. The full House has yet to move forward with HB 1001 this week, after it passed of committee last week.

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