INDIANAPOLIS — Bill 1001, a controversial bill requiring employers to allow exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination mandates, passed in House Committee 7-4 on Thursday.
The House Employment, Work and Pensions Committee heard 14 hours of testimony over two days before Thursday’s meeting, which included two legislative amendments and a vote in committee. Representative Matt Lehman, R-Berne, is the author of the bill, which has more than 50 co-authors. Lehman said the bill balances the rights of employers and the rights of workers.
“Nothing here prevents an employer from doing what an employer has the right to do as an employer,” Lehman said. “However, it is said that if you do this here are some things you must do to protect the employee ie you must grant them on the basis of one of these four opt-out options. . “
If an employer requires a vaccine, employees can request a medical or religious exemption, undergo weekly testing, or provide proof of natural immunity. For a religious exemption, an employee must provide a written statement stating “a sincere religious belief,” according to the bill.
“It just says that if I have requested this religious exemption, then it is granted without further investigation,” Lehman said.
As proof of natural immunity, employees can provide an antibody, PCR, or antigen test to be exempt from a vaccine warrant, but companies can request an employee retest every six months.
HB 1001 states that an employee cannot be forced to be vaccinated if they have not recovered from COVID-19 for six months and allows an employer to require weekly tests for anyone benefiting from an exemption.
Under the bill, employees would not be required to pay for their own COVID tests. Instead, companies would be required to pay for the tests, but could seek reimbursement through the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. The ministry would provide reimbursement through state and federal COVID-19 funding until June 2023.
If an employee is made redundant due to their immunization status but followed the necessary steps to apply for an exemption or comply with weekly tests, employers would be responsible for providing unemployment benefits.
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce spoke out against HB 1001 in December. Requiring companies to pay for employee testing adds costs, and the bill can cause companies to abandon their immunization programs or dissuade others from starting them, CEO Kevin Brinegar said.
Brinegar told the Indianapolis Business Journal on Wednesday that the House would not support the amended version of the bill because it still requires companies to foot the bill for tests while awaiting reimbursement from the Department of Workforce Development. work. The House also opposes adding an unemployment penalty to employers, he said.
The amended bill excludes Hoosiers working in other states or under federal contracts, but now includes contractors, sub-contractors, student interns or interns, and unpaid employees.
Rep. Ryan Hatfield, D-Evansville, introduced an amendment that would prevent the bill from interfering with collective agreements, but it was rescinded 8-3.
The bill also allows the state to maintain vaccination clinics for Hoosiers 5 years of age or older as part of a standing order, prescription or protocol. Minors would still need parental permission. Lehman raised concerns that the state would create a mandate for the vaccine, but clarified that the bill does not create the capacity for the state to mandate vaccination.
The committee amended the bill Thursday to extend the temporary license to practice health workers initially included in the emergency ordinance.
Another amendment introduced by Hatfield would remove the end date attached to the emergency supplemental nutritional assistance program funds in the original bill. As written, the bill would have halted funding on March 31, 2021. Hatfield and Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, wanted to continue accepting funds as long as they were received from the federal government, as they would otherwise go to other states, while Lehman expressed concern about continually taking money because “it’s always our tax money.”
The amendment was adopted, with promises from both sides to continue the discussion.
“I would accept the amendment as it is, take the date off, and we’ll find a better date or better language,” Lehman said.
Government entities, which do not include public institutions and some hospitals, would not be allowed to “issue or require a vaccination passport,” but this section of the bill was not discussed in depth.
The bill will now go to the plenary chamber, where it is expected to pass quickly. He will be heard in the course of next week.
Jack Sells and Taylor Wooten are reporters for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news site powered by journalism students at Franklin College.