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Indiana legislators will not return for one-day session to vote on vaccine mandate bill

Posted at 8:07 AM, Nov 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-24 14:50:28-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Republican legislative leaders announced Wednesday that they will not hold a one-day session next week to vote on a bill that would have restricted businesses from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine and led to the end of Indiana’s emergency order.

House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, and Senate Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, released statements saying legislators will take up the issues at the start of the regular session beginning Jan. 4. They previously planned to reconvene Nov. 29 following seven hours of testimony on a draft bill Tuesday.

Language was added to the draft proposal that would require businesses to honor any request for a religious or medical exemption, including pregnancy and anticipated pregnancy.

Testimony on the draft bill included people who fear losing their jobs over vaccine mandates, while doctors and business groups blasted the proposal and said companies should have the right to make their own decisions about workplace safety.

“Tuesday's passionate public testimony reinforced the concerns I've heard from constituents and business leaders over the federal mandates,” Huston said in a statement. “While most Indiana companies are acting in good faith, it's unacceptable that some employers are blatantly disregarding well-established vaccine exemptions, and we'll address these issues through legislation. Over the next month, we'll continue to listen and talk with stakeholders about our policy proposals, and we'll file legislation in the near future. Hoosiers can rest assured that we'll hit the ground running come Jan. 4.”

Both Huston and Bray listed reasons why they decided to hold back on fast-tracking the bill, which included concerns of potential unintended consequences and the complexity of the bill.

“The ongoing complexities of the issues raised and the potential unintended consequences, the logistics of moving legislation to the floor during a time when the General Assembly is not typically in session, and the need for the public and members of the General Assembly to fully vet the legislation have led to the conclusion that the efforts to gather input and better solutions should continue until the legislature reconvenes in January. These matters will be taken up in earnest at the outset of the coming legislative session,” Bray said in a statement.

With the one-day session canceled, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced he would extend the state’s public health emergency through December.

“Last week I made clear what would be necessary to responsibly allow the state public health emergency to expire,” Holcomb said in a statement. “However, following the announcement that the General Assembly will not return on Monday, Nov. 29, I plan to extend the state public health emergency and the executive order next week for another 30 days to preserve the necessary provisions. I will continue to work closely with Speaker Huston and Senator Bray as we move into next legislative session.”

Last week, Holcomb said he wants lawmakers to expand the range of people who are authorized to give COVID-19 vaccines in the state. He also wants changes to the law so Indiana does not lose hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Medicaid and food stamp money if the state’s public health emergency ends.

RELATED | Indiana GOP bill stymies workplace COVID-19 vaccine mandates