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Hoosiers rail against proposed employer vaccine mandate bill from multiple fronts

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Justin Hicks/IPB News
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eople filled the Indiana House Chamber during the last opportunity for testimony on employer vaccine requirements just before Thanksgiving.


Dozens of Hoosiers testified against a bill Thursday that would weaken employer vaccination requirements. During the seven-hour committee hearing, most said they were unhappy it doesn’t ban company mandates, while business groups said it goes too far in regulating employers.

House Bill 1001 would allow employers to require vaccinations, but force them to make exceptions for people who recovered from COVID-19 in the last six months, along with standard medical exemptions. It also allows employees to opt out for religious reasons "without further inquiry” from the business.

Employers could still require weekly testing, but the legislation isn't clear on who would bear the cost of testing.

Many citizens who testified said if it doesn’t outright ban vaccine requirements, they don’t want it.

READ MORE: Faith, medicine and COVID-19: Why do religious vaccine exemptions exist?

Join the conversation and sign up for the Indiana Two-Way. Text "Indiana" to 73224. Your comments and questions in response to our weekly text help us find the answers you need on COVID-19 and other statewide issues.

On the other side, Kevin Brinegar, Indiana Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, said it prevents businesses from protecting their workers.

“Employers should be able to establish what their working conditions are and their work rules including vaccination mandates,” he said.

Several other pro-business groups testified they had concerns about what would happen to the state rules if federal employer vaccine requirements are eventually ruled legal by federal courts. 

Although it wasn't in the text at the time of the hearing, bill author Rep. Matt Lehman (R-Berne) said he was looking to add language that penalizes employers that don't comply. He said they may seek to make employees fired for refusing to comply with COVID-19 vaccination eligible for unemployment insurance.

Then, he proposed the state would attempt to pay their benefits solely from the former employer's contributions to the unemployment insurance trust fund.

"So if you let someone go because of this, it's solely going to be on your back from an unemployment issue," Lehman said.

Lawmakers don’t plan to vote on the legislation now, but have promised to revise and advance it in January.

Contact reporter Justin at jhicks@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @Hicks_JustinM.

Justin Hicks has joined the reporting team for Indiana Public Broadcasting News (IPB News) through funding made available by (IPBS) Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations. Justin will be based out of WVPE in his new role as a Workforce Development Reporter for IPB News. Justin comes to Indiana by way of New York. He has a Master's Degree from the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University. He previously earned a Bachelor of Music Degree from Appalachian State University where he played trumpet. He first learned about Elkhart, Indiana, because of the stamp on his brass instrument indicating where it was produced.