Indiana Legislative Update – Significant, Concerning Legislation Moving Quickly

While most of us have grown tired of the word “unprecedented,” Statehouse observers would agree that the Indiana Legislature is taking some actions that could easily be described that way. It started Saturday when Legislative leaders announced a joint meeting of the House and Senate Rules Committees for Tuesday to consider a “Preliminary Draft (PD)” of legislation (a draft before it is filed and considered a bill) leading up to a Session day next Monday to consider and pass a bill.

Legislators clearly intend to take final action to pass a bill on Monday. If you would like to let your legislators know your perspective on the proposal, please plan to reach out no later than 8:30 a.m. Central time on Monday. You can find out who your legislators are and how to contact them here. Keep reading to learn more about what is being considered.  

Legislators heard nearly 7 hours of public input Tuesday on the draft. While we hope to see an updated draft of proposed legislation before the holiday weekend, the plan shared at the end of the hearing indicated that the final bill would not likely be shared until Monday morning before the House convenes. There is some indication that there will not be the opportunity for 2nd Reading amendments in the House (convening at 10:30 a.m. Eastern time), though Senate leaders stated they believed there would be amendment opportunities during their Session (convening at 1:30 p.m. Eastern time).

The PD considered by the Committee does several things:

  • Takes action to allow the Governor’s emergency health orders to expire while still protecting federal dollars tied to the orders, including Medicaid payments and additional SNAP benefits supporting families
  • Allows families that choose to have children vaccinated to use free vaccination clinics without a doctor’s visit. It does not allow any entity/agency to require vaccines for children nor does it waive the parental approval requirement
  • Several provisions regarding employer vaccination requirements.
    • If a business chooses to require vaccinations, the business must provide exemptions for:
      • Medical Reasons, including pregnancy or anticipated pregnancy
      • Religious Reasons
    • In addition to the exemption requirements, an employer
      • Must provide the employee with an option to submit to testing for the presence of COVID-19 not more than once a week at no cost to the employee in lieu of receiving an immunization, and
      • May not require an employee who has tested positive for and recovered from COVID-19 to receive an immunization for six months following the date of recovery
  • Clarification that state/public universities are considered governmental entities in Indiana and included in the list of organizations prohibited from requiring proof of vaccination.

Throughout public comments in the hearing, it became clear that the PD will create further confusion about the documentation required for exemptions and a variety of other employment-related issues.

Business organizations from across the state expressed opposition to the vaccination language in the PD stating repeatedly that: employers are in the best position to make decisions about what is best for their workplace, their employees, and their customers. Employers do not want to be mandated to require vaccinations the same as they do not want to be prohibited from requiring them. While the PD does not prohibit a vaccine requirement, it does put significant limits on how a business would administer the program.

The language is also in conflict with federal law/rules in several ways. For those businesses mandated by the federal government to require vaccines, it should be noted that the federal rules would supersede any state laws/rules. Currently federal contractors and most hospitals/health organizations are mandated to require vaccines. The OSHA requirements for businesses with more than 100 employees has been stayed, but if it is ultimately approved by a federal court, the OSHA requirements would take precedence over state law.

Some speakers today also noted that all of this is being debated as COVID is again on the rise in Indiana. We won’t do a usual COVID BY THE NUMBERS update today, but according to WIBC Reporter Eric Berman’s Twitter updates today, COVID-19 cases are up 27% over the last week. There are 1764 Hoosiers hospitalized with COVID-19 (the most since October 8th) with 440 of those in intensive care (the most since October 18th).

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday.