Indiana Lawmakers Delay Bill To Restrict COVID-19 Terms

Indiana Lawmakers Delay Bill To Restrict COVID-19 Terms

“To be clear, House Republicans remain resolved to take quick action this session to help end the state of emergency and protect Hoosiers against the federal government’s unprecedented overreach,” Huston said in a statement Wednesday. “While most Indiana companies are acting in good faith, it’s unacceptable that some employers are blatantly disregarding well-established vaccine exemptions, and we’ll address these issues through legislation.” Huston has said he believed “we need to move forward” after so much time under the public health emergency, which was set to expire Dec. 1. Lawmakers heard contentious testimony Tuesday from employees with medical or religious objections who maintained they’re wrongly being asked to choose between complying with a COVID-19 vaccine mandate and losing their jobs. Employer testimony included concerns over who would be responsible for COVID testing for workers, and whether changes to state law would conflict with federal regulations.

Republican House Speaker Todd Huston and Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray said in statements Wednesday that they now plan to address concerns about vaccine mandates and the necessary Indiana law changes needed to end the state emergency when lawmakers reconvene for the regular session in January. The bill was set on an extraordinary fast track for approval, with a single public hearing Tuesday at the Statehouse. The House and Senate were then scheduled to vote on final approval six days later on Nov. 29.

Bray noted that the logistics of moving legislation to the floor during a time when the General Assembly is not typically in session and the “need for the public and members of the General Assembly to fully vet the legislation” necessitated holding the bill for further consideration until legislators meet again on Jan. 4.
The proposal, first released Saturday by leaders of the Republican-dominated Legislature, would reject an appeal from the state’s largest business organization to leave such decisions up to employers and strike against Indiana University’s student vaccine mandate that a U.S. Supreme Court justice let go into effect.

“Last week I made clear what would be necessary to responsibly allow the state public health emergency to expire,” the Republican governor said in a statement Wednesday. “I will continue to work closely with Speaker Huston and Senator Bray as we move into next legislative session.” Holcomb has criticized Biden’s vaccine requirements for businesses, saying he supports the rights of businesses to make their own decisions. The governor didn’t directly comment Tuesday on whether he had discussed the vaccine requirement limits in the bill before legislative leaders released the draft and said he wanted time to talk with them about it. His proposal also included provisions that would give workers broad exemptions from employer vaccine mandates amid a national conservative pushback against President Joe Biden’s mandates.

The hearing followed a request from Gov. Eric Holcomb last week for lawmakers to approve three administrative actions that he said would allow him to end the statewide COVID-19 public health emergency order that’s been in place since March 2020, even amid a recent rise in COVID cases and hospitalizations in Indiana and other Midwestern states. Numerous Indiana medical and business groups have also argued that the proposal wrongly sends a message that the coronavirus pandemic is over at a time when Indiana’s infections and hospitalizations are rising again.

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