Indiana GOP bill stymies workplace COVID-19 vaccine mandates

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Indiana’s governor held back Monday from supporting a proposal by fellow Republicans that would force businesses to grant COVID-19 vaccination requirement exemptions without any questions and block similar immunization rules set by state universities.

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.

That proposal includes three administrative actions sought last week by Gov. Eric Holcomb 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-19 cases and hospitalizations in Indiana and other Midwestern states. But it goes further by including provisions that would give workers broad exemptions from employer vaccine mandates amid a national conservative pushback against President Joe Biden’s mandates.

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 answer whether he had discussed the vaccine requirement limits included in the bill before legislative leaders released the draft and said he wanted time to talk with them about it.

“I want to hear where they’re coming from, what their thoughts are,” Holcomb said. “We need to talk about the whole bill in detail, as well. But I’m very pleased that they included my three items that show a way for us to land this ship.”

Holcomb asked lawmakers last week to approve steps that would allow the state to keep receiving enhanced federal funding for Medicaid expenses and those eligible for food assistance programs, along with allowing the state health commissioner to issue a standing doctor’s order allowing pharmacists to administer COVID-19 vaccinations for children ages 5 to 11.

Republican House Speaker Todd Huston has said he believed “we need to move forward” after so much time under the public health emergency, which is set to expire Dec. 1.

Conservatives are pushing for that step despite health experts warning of ongoing danger as people spend more time inside. Indiana hospitals had about 1,700 COVID-19 patients admitted as of Sunday—a roughly 40% increase from two weeks earlier after declines from a summer surge peak of nearly 2,700 patients in September, according to the state health department.

The bill is set on an extraordinary fast track for approval, with a single public hearing scheduled for Tuesday at the Statehouse followed by the House and Senate voting on final approval six days later on Nov. 29. The Legislature wasn’t set to resume its session until early January.

Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar questioned the need to push the vote through immediately after the Thanksgiving Day holiday. He said the state’s largest business group opposed Biden’s vaccine mandate and the state-level reaction.

“We believe that that should be the employer’s choice to determine what’s best and what’s safest, and what’s needed for their employees, their customers and their patients in their health care facility,” Brinegar said.

The Republican proposal would allow employees to exempt themselves from a workplace COVID-19 vaccine requirement by submitting from an authorized health professional that the person has a medical reason not to be vaccinated, including “pregnancy or anticipated pregnancy.”

Exemptions would also be granted if the employee provides a written statement declining the vaccine “because of a sincerely held religious belief.” The bill would also allow people who have recovered from COVID-19 infections to obtain exemptions, embracing the belief of natural immunity as a stand-in for vaccines — even though medical studies have found vaccines offer greater protection.

The proposal states a business must allow employees to claim exemption “without further inquiry.” It allows businesses to require COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated employees no more than once a week, but that testing must be provided at no cost to the employee.

Another provision adds the state-funded universities and public school districts to the list of government-related entities covered by a state law Republicans pushed through in April banning state or local governments from requiring vaccine passports.

Indiana University faced conservative backlash after it announced in May that it would require COVID-19 vaccinations for all its roughly 90,000 students and 40,000 employees.

In response, IU made providing proof of vaccination optional. About 12,000 exemptions have been issued from the requirement, about three-quarters for religious reasons. School officials report about 90% of students and 94% of employees statewide are at least partially vaccinated.

IU spokesman Chuck Carney said university officials were reviewing the proposal and that they weren’t certain how it would affect the school’s policy. Federal judges have upheld the policy after students filed a lawsuit. They are pursuing appeals.

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34 thoughts on “Indiana GOP bill stymies workplace COVID-19 vaccine mandates

  1. It’s funny how the GOP believes in local control until they don’t. Surely given all the places seeking work, if you don’t want to work for an employer who mandates vaccination, you can find another job elsewhere.

    It will also be … sad when the GOP wipes out all the vaccine requirements around measles, polio, the whole lot in their “shoot first, aim later” mindset … we wonder why we can’t find high quality employers for Indiana when this is what the Legislature prioritizes working on.

    1. Joe, in your typical liberal rant you forgot “Indiana will lose all the young people!!” Try to do better.

    2. It’s sad, Chuck, when it’s “liberal” that the government is mandating that businesses can’t make choices around the health of their workforce.

      And it’s also sad that it’s “liberal” that the anti-vax loonies have taken over and decided that centuries of progress when it comes to public health should be discarded because … why? Ever know anyone who had polio or lose a kid to measles? The same people fighting vaccination lived through these times and apparently completely forgot about them.

      Back when I was growing up, minimal government intervention, only when there was a clear public interest in doing so, was being “conservative”.

      I’m not liberal, I’m conservative. You’re not conservative, your “ideas” are total nonsense. The nonsense peddled by today’s GOP is the same garbage the John Birch Society peddled, except conservatives back then told those folks they had no place in rational discourse and banished them to the hinterlands. Today’s GOP was weak, and they’re doing more to destroy America than a Civil War, the Chinese, and the Russians combined. And you flat don’t see it.

      Why on earth would any intelligent person be against vaccinations? Do you realize how stupid this will sound when your grandkids look back at your choices, and your legacy will be that of someone who turned his back on centuries of progress because … you tell me. Your feelings?

    3. Absolutely agree with Joe. My wife’s father actually had polio, but was able to get the vaccine- which limited the damage to leg braces and a slight limp. The way he tells it, people were excited and lining up to protect themselves and their families.

      The juxtaposition to COVID-19 is pretty brutal. The same people who took me to get my Tetanus/Measles/Mumps vaccine are now whispering in my ears about conspiracy theories and personal freedoms. The GOP on one hand is busy gerrymandering the state so that they maintain control forever while also complaining about “freedoms” the nat’l gov is impeding upon. It’s honestly a confusing narrative.

      Maybe I am just a woke lib.

    4. How does a 2 to 5% case fatality rate for polio compare to a .4% death rate for COVID-19. I’m not saying deaths aren’t tragic but stop the comparisons to polio it’s disingenuous especially considering comorbidities have a more significant impact to the prognosis in a COVID case than a polio case from my understanding.

    5. None of it is disingenuous. The GOP is pivoting from being not just anti-COVID vaccines, but all vaccines too. You can tell me I’m wrong, but I’m not seeing a big outcry from the right calling Todd Rokita a menace to society for his Bill of Rights nonsense. Maybe the GOP should mandate leeches be allowed whenever a patient requests them too.

      If there’s one thing that you can count on from today’s GOP, it’s a willful ignorance of history in all regards.

    6. So, Derek, in your book, what is the magic number when we should be OK with public health measures designed to save lives and protect health? I will take your word that polio had a higher % death rate… but the fact is, three-quarters of a million Americans have died of COVID in the last year and a half. Most experts believe many thousands of those people would be alive today had our Trump-led pandemic response not been so terrible (and today’s GOP actions are simply carrying on the horrid Trump tradition). If better measures had saved 150,000 to 200,000 people, do you feel like that would have been worthwhile? Or is that an acceptable number of deaths in your view?

  2. And as to why I think the GOP will go after all vaccine requirements, I present good old Todd Rokita and his spiel about “rights”.

    It’s not enough that you can take your kid and your tax dollars to another school that doesn’t mandate vaccinations, now schools should pander to the anti-vax cranks who forgot what polio was.

    It’s almost as though he wants to kill public education by making it dangerous for your kid to go to school.

  3. This is shameful. Notice that the legislators introduced it over the weekend and are trying to ram it through without public notice. They know it’s shameful. They know it panders to the loony fringe of their party. They know it’s bad public policy. They know it will harm citizens and endanger lives. For shame!

    1. “Shameful” really Stephen!? Pushing back against a mandate is shameful!? How about you go through the legislative process and make it a law? Oops, can’t get that done, didn’t even try! Okay how about an Executive Order? Oops can’t do that either! I know, let’s push it over to another government agency under the guise of safety and have them try to enforce it!! That is what this administration is doing, they pushed the execution and enforcement over to OSHA in hopes their “end around” in the name of safety would work and they could get their “mandate”, but not a law, in place. It is exactly like they had the CDC issue eviction stays during the pandemic, even though the CDC had no authority to do it. Biden’s comment, “I know it’s not legal,” but it will have to get through the court system before that’s ruled. You want to talk about “trying to ram it through”, which group are you talking about, the Indiana legislature or the Biden administration, who issued the mandate in the first place!? For shame! (and for those inquiring/nosey minds, I am vaccinated)

    2. Rod, these same legislators could have ended the executive order at any point during the 2021 session. John Jacob filed the paperwork on organization day a full year ago. Why didn’t they act when they were in session?

      And, why exactly can’t they do this on Day 1 of the session in 2022 in … what, five weeks? What’s exactly the emergency that is causing the rush job? What has changed?

    3. Joe, there wasn’t an attempted mandate in place a year ago. Remember, Joe didn’t believe in mandates? Wasn’t this mandate supposed go into effect December 1st, before the court issued an injunction? OSHA, as of last week, now says they won’t enforce the mandate. With the court injunction in place, and OSHA saying they are done, I don’t know why, other than to kill all possibilities, the Indiana legislators are even worrying about it.

    4. This bill would do nothing in regards to the federal mandates, if they uphold their court challenges or even go into effect. Federal laws win out over state laws, that’s why the state of Indiana refuses to legalize marijuana.

      This bill will only affect private businesses in the state of Indiana. If a private business wants to mandate their employees get vaccinated, they will have to do so on the terms set by the state of Indiana.

      If a public university wants to mandate vaccination for the health of their community, they will no longer be able to do so. (Pro tip for the IU folks: just do what Purdue is doing, which is making life miserable for the unvaccinated but not forcing them to get vaccinated.)

      Further, Republicans want to open up all vaccinations – not just COVID – to become optional in the next legislative session. That’s what Todd Rokita is after. So all those shots kids have to get to go to school? All optional. If you don’t think this a terrible idea, you are beyond help.

      I’m glad we agree that it’s unclear as to what the Indiana legislature is doing. Sadly, it’s generally the case that no observer knows what they’re after, and we are all in a better place when they are out of session and unable to further wreck havoc on the state of Indiana.

  4. Kudos to Holcomb again for picking and choosing the battles with the right fringe. – hopefully that part gets buried by the House/Senate leadership. Why stoke further conflict?

    Stay strong against govt mandates on private businesses – in all their forms.

    1. – HA HA HA HA HA. you might as well source MSNBC. the death rate is increasing for people that are vaccinated. i saw that study. so what are you going to believe? 99.98% of hoosiers have survived the covid. those numbers are real and you can find them in the IBJ. I would have to believe that twice as many people have had covid and not been tested making the survival rate closer to 99.99%. The mRNA jab is completely experimental (fact) so why would any person of sane mind want to get it? the only person I personally know who died of covid was fully (mRNA) vaccinated – another fact. explain that smart guy.

    2. Week ending Nov 18: 4032 new #COVID19 cases among fully #vaccinated Hoosiers, 25 hospitalizations, 55 newly reported deaths. 80% of cases, 97% of hospitalizations, 76% of newly reported deaths were #unvaccinated.

      Since July 1:

      80% of cases unvaxed
      93% of hosp
      79% of deaths

      Since Jan 18 (1st full #vaccinations)

      86% of cases #unvaccinated
      96% of hospitalizationsn
      91% of deaths

      1.94% of fully #vaccinated have tested positive
      13.66% of unvaxed

      Hospitalized: .04% of vaxed, .89% of unvaxed
      Died: .02% of vaxed, .22% of unvaxed

  5. It is amazing what little forethought our legislators have as to the health and safety of Indiana residents. We have had mandates for a number of years and many are still living as a result. What’s the problem with one more, especially when science shows it works. I guess once the unvaccinated Republican voters are all sick or gone, maybe they with begin the think!?

    Get politics out of this mess and look for best solutions!

  6. This would be the same scientists who claim it is safe and that there is no long term side effects but didn’t know that you would need a booster shot 6 mo. later? This is not a vaccine, if it was you wouldn’t have all the breakthrough cases and those with the vaccine still transmitting it. It is not the employers responsibility to dictate the health habits of their employees, it’s the responsibility of the individual, the the employer wants to be responsible for my health then don’t stop at the vaccine, pay 100% of my medical care, my gym membership, and my grocery bill, then you can dictate my choices. Since when did all the liberals stop yelling my body my choice?

    1. joe B – not correct. and they are not HIGHLY experimental mRNA vaccines (that are killing people)

    2. You realize you need to post evidence to back up what you have to say, right Dustin?

      It’s admittedly a nonzero number … that is much lower than the number of people who’ve died from COVID.

  7. There’s a big difference between a booster 30 years later and a new “vaccine” that know one knows what the long term consequences are for it, no matter how smart the scientist are. Remember Josef Mengele was a scientist as well.

    Just an FYI, 1/3 of all FDA approved drugs end up being recalled, discontinued or additional warning labels added due to unforeseen side effects including harm to fetuses, miscarriage’s, depression/suicide, etc.

    1. Comparing a vaccination that keeps you and other people out of the hospital to the Holocaust is disgusting. You want to be oppressed so badly, it’s gross. Go sit down.

    2. It shows how weak they truly are … they’ve lost all faith in democracy, so they have to act as though they’re oppressed to justify all kinds of anti-democratic behavior.

    3. Already done on the 6th month anniversary of my second shot. Didn’t even wait for the guidance after seeing the data out of Israel.

  8. The broken record of Joe B. and many more.

    I wish there was such passion and outrage to bringing the Wuhan Institute of Virology and all the bad actors including Fauci to justice for experimenting and destroying so many lives.

    Turning shoulders to accountability for the source of the problem to point fingers with demands.


    – please stop the “conservatives are all anti-vaxxers” rhetoric.

    – please get all politicians and media personalities out of healthcare

    – please start voting to fire all career politicians

    – please stop acting as everything is black and white in this country

    Stoking the flame of division is exactly what is happening each day. Front and center all day which fuels the power and control the corrupt. Turn off the TV, put down the phone.

    The most exhausting part:

    The deafening sound of people not caring when surgeons, nurses, and staff cared for everyone the last 18 months but demanding everyone get an experimental vaccine without choice is insulting.

    Wait for it:…3,2,1 …

    Joe B. will fire back that we should ration care for those who don’t comply.

    1. Spare me. Those who resort to the personal attacks do so out of the weakness of their position.

      In regards to the unvaccinated, I’ve heard it’s their body, their choice. And the care rationing is already taking place in America as hospitals are slammed yet again with cases from the unvaccinated and they’re forced to choose who gets care and who doesn’t. But you knew that already, didn’t you?

      And I will never understand why you hold the created in the USA vaccine developed in the open with more suspicion than the Chinese lab-created COVID virus. That simply doesn’t add up. We are all going to get one of the two… think I will choose the vaccine, thanks.

      Speaking of insulting, it’s also insulting when you read about all the health care workers who are bailing on the profession because they simply can’t do it any longer. We have burned them out and used them up. When you and I know the way to ease the burden on them would be to simply get vaccinated.

      But, you are right, if people would stop consuming the misinformation being spread, we’d all be in a better place. And if that takes some of us shouting misinformation down and calling it the nonsense that it is, well, that’s what it takes.

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