Editorial: Leadership needed as vaccine bill makes way through Legislature

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Indiana legislative leaders made the right decision when they scrapped an expedited one-day session this week to rush through a bill that would have limited vaccine mandates imposed by employers.

But their sudden turnabout doesn’t appear to indicate a change of heart in limiting employers’ ability to require vaccines as a condition of employment. Rather, it seems, House and Senate Republicans were at odds over the expedited process and in retreat after a seven-hour public hearing on the vaccine-mandate issue Nov. 23 brought blistering criticism of the rush job and the draft legislation.

House Speaker Todd Huston and Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray are relatively new in their roles and still learning how to corral their often-unwieldy GOP supermajorities. And the caucuses were certainly out of sync on the push for quick action, resulting in the about-face.

(Their decision to drop the one-day session also complicated the timing of last week’s editorial which was written two days in advance of publication to meet IBJ’s print deadline.)

We know both Huston and Bray to be reasonable leaders, and we appreciate that they wisely dropped the expedited process. Now we hope they will bring that same wisdom to House Bill 1001, which was filed this week and formally proposes most of the vaccine-mandate limits discussed during the public hearing.

The measure will be debated during the regular, multi-step legislative process, starting Jan. 4.

Regular readers know that we have opposed government-imposed vaccine mandates like those the Biden administration is attempting on a federal level. But we are equally frustrated with attempts to prohibit companies from requiring vaccines and COVID testing.

We believe employers should be given the flexibility to decide what is the best approach to protect their employees and customers while continuing to be able to conduct business. And if employees don’t like their employer’s rules, they can always look for a job elsewhere.

While Indiana’s proposed legislation wouldn’t outright ban employer vaccine mandates, it could significantly limit their effectiveness by allowing for broad exemptions.

HB 1001 would effectively force private employers that mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for employees to allow for any medical or religious exemptions—no questions asked.

Medical exemptions would require a written statement from a physician, physician’s assistant or advanced practice registered nurse. Religious exemptions would simply require a written statement citing a deeply held religious belief.

Exemptions that wide should be carefully scrutinized as the bill moves forward, particularly if there’s any hope for those employers that see vaccine mandates as the best path to keeping the economy open amid the threat of new COVID variants.

Huston and Bray have demonstrated they can pull back, even if it creates an embarrassing flip-flop. We hope they’ll put those leadership skills to good use as HB 1001 makes its way through the Legislature.•


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