November 24, 2021

GOP backs off plan to pass COVID-19 vaccine mandate restrictions in single-day session

House and Senate lawmakers heard hours of testimony on a COVID-19 vaccine mandate restriction proposal, much of it critical. - (Justin Hicks/IPB News)

House and Senate lawmakers heard hours of testimony on a COVID-19 vaccine mandate restriction proposal, much of it critical.

(Justin Hicks/IPB News)

Republican lawmakers are backing off their plan to return to the Statehouse next week to pass a bill that effectively bars employers from enforcing COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

That comes after hours of testimony at the Statehouse Tuesday, much of it critical of the GOP’s proposal.

The proposed measure was originally meant to help the governor end Indiana’s ongoing public health emergency. It would’ve ensured the state continued to access enhanced federal dollars for food benefits and Medicare, as well as make it easier for the state to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to children under 12.

READ MORE: How is Indiana distributing COVID-19 vaccines? Here's what you need to know

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But Republicans added in the vaccine mandate language, which was soundly opposed by the state’s top business and health care organizations.

In a statement Wednesday, Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) said the "complexities ... and the potential unintended consequences" of the vaccine mandate issue helped lead them to the decision to wait until lawmakers return for their regular session in January to try to pass any legislation.

Both Bray and House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) said they're still concerned about the Hoosiers who say their companies won't fairly consider their requested religious exemptions to getting the vaccine. And they pledged to work on the issue early in the new session.

Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) said he was glad Republicans listened to the calls of Democrats to consider the bill in the normal process, one which would allow it to be fully vetted through both chambers.

"We are legislators, not doctors, and we should not be legislating medicine," Taylor said in a statement. "This delay will allow us the necessary time to hear from the full medical community about the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine and how it is saving lives."

There's still the issue of the ongoing public health emergency. Lawmakers promised, too, to address that early in January. In a statement, Gov. Eric Holcomb said he'll extend the emergency declaration another month, through December, while the items he's requested are resolved.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

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