Indiana Senate panel waters down vaccine bill, prompting businesses to support it

Indiana Statehouse (IBJ file photo)

Lawmakers in the Indiana Senate on Wednesday morning struck language from the House GOP’s vaccine mandates bill that would have forced employers to accept any religious exemptions without further question.

The Senate Health and Provider Services Committee removed and modified several provisions to water down the controversial House Bill 1001, which would restrict employers’ ability to impose COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The bill passed out of committee by a vote of 8-2 to head to the full Senate.

A notable change would allow employers to accept religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine based on the federal Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination based on religion, with latitude for employers to take actions to keep the workplace safe.

The bill, as it passed out of the House, would have forced employers to accept any religious exemption—no questions asked.

Medical exemptions would still have to be accepted, only with a signed note from a doctor, physician’s assistant or advanced practice registered nurse who says the vaccine is medically contraindicated for the employee. And exemptions could be granted for “natural immunity” for employees who had tested positive for COVID-19 within the last three months.

HB 1001 was additionally amended to clarify that it would not apply to health care workers who must comply with the federal vaccine mandate for health care employers that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding. Sports organizations and entertainment venues would also be exempt from the bill to allow vaccine mandates for employees who work closely with the team or entertainer at the venue.

Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, the bill’s Senate sponsor, said he thought the bill was in a “pretty good spot” following the amendment that he worked on in conjunction with bill author Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne.

But its path forward could still be unclear. Lehman said he had concerns about the bill in its new state and will consider the Senate’s changes when it comes back to the House.

The Senate committee hearing marked the third time for public comment on the bill. But all who had testified previously flipped their positions on it because of the significant changes made to the legislation.

Business leaders who were originally opposed to HB 1001 because they said it discouraged employers from requiring the COVID-19 vaccine now testified in favor of the Senate’s version.

Malika Butler, director of public affairs at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said the organization is no longer opposed to the bill with the changes made to not restrict employers. The Indy Chamber and the Indiana Manufacturers Association also flipped and testified in favor as well.

“Indiana employers are in the best position of knowing what’s best for the safety of those in their workplace,” Butler said.

On the other side, several individuals who intended to testify in favor of the bill changed to oppose it because they said keeping employers’ ability to accept religious exemptions in accordance with Title VII was not enough.

Peter Vickery, a violinist with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, said he has been suspended since November because he refused to get vaccinated. He had been following the testing and masking requirements, but his religious exemption request was denied, he said.

He asked lawmakers to vote against the amended HB 1001 because it does not do enough to protect employees.

“The citizens of Indiana need more,” Vickery said. “We need protections against the kind of harsh discrimination I’ve experienced. The federal protections are not enough.”

Other changes included removing all references to unemployment benefits because the Department of Workforce Development said fired unvaccinated employees would still be eligible for benefits without the language, Messmer said. A provision that would have required employers to pay for the cost of weekly COVID-19 testing and apply to receive a reimbursement from the state was removed as well.

Administrative language that would allow Gov. Eric Holcomb to end the public health emergency was also removed because the same language is in Senate Bill 3 that is moving through the House.

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26 thoughts on “Indiana Senate panel waters down vaccine bill, prompting businesses to support it

  1. “Natural immunity” after contracting Covid-19 does not last long. Studies show it begins to diminish after just three months. Protection against infection after being vaccinated last much longer, up to six months, before it begins to decay. The legislation does not take these facts into account.

    1. What is most important is protection against hospitalization and death which natural immunity and vaccinations with contraction do equally.

    2. Brent B. this is an outright lie! Please stop spreading lies! A recent major Danish study published by the Statens Serum Institut in Denmark showed vaccine-induced immunity wanes rapidly, beginning a few weeks after vaccination. And at the five month mark, protection is well below 50%. Natural immunity, by contrast, is robust: a full year after infection, protection is still above 70%.

      Also, from the beloved CDC just a few weeks ago:

      CDC Study: Natural Immunity Provides Significantly More Protection Against COVID Than Vaccination Only
      January 20, 2022 at 7:27am

      “A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Wednesday shows that those who have recovered from COVID-19 have more protection against infection than those who have only been vaccinated…..”

      And there are several more studies where that came from including the Israeli study from October showing that natural immunity is 27 times more effective than vaccinated immunity. And that supported 15 other previous studies.

      In the Danish study I referenced above (and consistent with what the Israeli study also found) hybrid immunity – conferred by the combination of vaccination and previous infection – is slightly better than natural immunity. However, the difference is very miniscule compared to the large difference between natural and vaccine-induced immunity of you look at their graphs.

      Evidence for the superiority of natural immunity is robust! The tricky part may be getting this message past people like you!

    3. It only allows the natural immunity exemption for 3 months after infection. I’m okay with that.

    4. Brent – you really should take the time to review the studies noted by MG. You should really educate yourself. It is no longer excusable to pretend that what you said is even remotely accurate.

    5. MG, your “logic” leaves out that getting that natural immunity when unvaccinated is much riskier than getting infected after vaccination.

      Make sure you read about today’s anti-vaxer in today’s IndyStar. Sure, she survived. She also, despite promptly getting antibodies, has visited the hospital five times (including one ICU stay), has to take blood thinners and has another blood disorder now, and lost her hair. From the article:

      “As she lay in a hospital bed at Community Hospital South in August, she rued the decision that had brought her to that point.”

      “I just thought I was so stupid,” she said. “Why did I not listen to everybody that tried to tell me and I’m just so upset with myself for being stubborn.”

      But, hey, she survived!

      And if we are all wanting to be like Denmark, that’s great. 82% of Denmark is vaccinated, with 95 percent of those over 50 vaccinated. Further, 90 percent of those over 50 have also been boosted. The US isn’t close to those numbers.

      https://www.indystar.com/story/news/health/2022/02/16/indiana-covid-19-anti-vaxxer-nearly-died-now-shes-vaccinated-vaccine/9260968002/

    6. Thanks, Joe B. I read that publication and suspected it was what MG was referencing. As seems to always be the case with these “rationalizations” of predetermined positions, MG has presented data which is cherry picked and out of context. Linear logic starts with a very simple question – should I get vaccinated or not? Since last summer, the vast majority of serious illness/hospitalizations/death has been among the unvaccinated. We’ve known this for a long time and since nothing succeeds like success, the answer is apparent to all who are able to apply logic not distorted by bias. All the rest is simply attempting to reverse engineer a rationale to defend an inferior position in order make a personal brand identity statement. Remarkably illogical

  2. Oh good lord. Why are we paying our politicians to write, debate, amend these stupid bills when the “Pandemic” is over? Why require anyone to get a vaccine for a flu virus that will likely circulate around the globe at some level for years and year? The hysteria needs to be over. For all our sakes.

    I know the politicians and Biden are still stuck in May 2020…but its 2022 now. Let’s work on the economy.

    1. I agree with you wholeheartedly Rebecca W., except that we cannot let this hysteria and loss of individual freedoms happen again when the next “COVID” rolls around!

    2. As of yesterday (Feb. 15) there were still 1,500+ Covid patients in IN hospitals. Hardly what I would call “over”…

  3. The vaccines are effective: https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#vaccine-effectiveness

    Here is the published Danish study: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00575-4/fulltext

    And here is it’s conclusion: Our findings could inform decisions on which groups should be vaccinated and advocate for vaccination of previously infected individuals because natural protection, especially among older people, cannot be relied on.

    Here is the CDC study: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/71/wr/mm7104e1.htm?s_cid=mm7104e1_w

    And part of it’s conclusion: Thus, vaccination remains the safest and primary strategy to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infections, associated complications, and onward transmission.

    1. CDC likes to draw political conclusions from studies. I prefer to read the data and draw my own based on actual science, not political science.

  4. Our Republican elected officials are turning in to RINO’s we need elected Republicans like Florida and Texas have. People with backbones that stand up for the people. Vote them all out of office.!!!!

    1. Or even Purple Virginia. Our Republicans are losers, but as long as fake libertarians like Nate Feltman and Terry Anker support the wimpiness, we’ll be stuck.

    2. I agree, they’re RINO’s …. no sane Republican would be happy about what the Republican Party has become. Reagan, Lugar … they’d be sick.

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