Indiana GOP bill stymies workplace COVID-19 vaccine mandates

Tom Davies
Associated Press

Indianapolis — 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.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb speaks with reporters during the Indiana Technology and Innovation Association conference in Fishers, Ind. President Joe Biden’s plan to require vaccinations at all private employers of 100 workers or more has already hit a wall of opposition from Republican governors, state lawmakers and attorneys general.

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 last week asked lawmakers to approve steps that would allow the state to keep receiving enhanced federal funding for Medicaid expenses and to 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.

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.