(BERNE, Ind.) – The bill to limit employer vaccine mandates has been formally introduced in the Indiana House, but changes are likely to at least a couple of provisions.
House Majority Leader Matt Lehman’s (R-Berne) bill is mostly identical to a draft debated but not voted on last week. But Lehman says he expects some “refinements,” including the addition of penalties for businesses which defy the proposal’s restrictions on vaccination requirements. Lehman says he doesn’t plan to insert criminal or civil penalties, but says he’s looking at an approach used in other states, to require higher unemployment insurance payments from employers who violate the law.
Lehman says he’s also looking at a couple of concerns raised by business groups. They warn the bill conflicts with federal vaccine requirements for federal contractors. And the Indiana Chamber says a clause requiring employers to pay for testing for unvaccinated workers is a red line. Lehman says he might add language to ensure workers don’t game the system to demand reimbursement for costs like mileage or meals.
The Chamber has warned for large companies with significant numbers of unvaccinated workers, the testing expense alone could cost as much as $200,000 a month.
56 House Republicans, including Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers), are co-sponsoring the bill.
There’s already one change from the original draft, deleting a reference to pregnancy or anticipated pregnancy as specific grounds for a medical exemption. But the core of the bill is unchanged: it would require employers with vaccine mandates to honor religious or medical exemptions, and grant a six-month vaccination waiver for workers who have had COVID-19.
Lehman says he expects medical exemptions would require some form of documentation. But he says religious exemptions should be no questions asked. He says that’s already the case under federal law in other contexts. And while Lehman says some workers will undoubtedly claim bogus religious objections just to avoid complying with the requirement, he says he’s not comfortable with an employer passing judgment on whether an assertion of religious belief is sincere.
The push to gut vaccine requirements comes as Indiana sinks deeper into the latest surge of COVID-19 cases. Since the hearing on the preliminary draft last week, COVID hospitalizations have risen more than 20-percent. Lehman says he believes the virus is here to stay, and the task for legislators is to chart a path for managing it.
The bill closes a loophole in a ban on government vaccine mandates passed last spring, extending it to local schools and state universities. That would kill the vaccine requirement in place at Indiana University.