INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - A bill giving Indiana businesses and others broad protections from lawsuits by people blaming them for contracting COVID-19 was given final approval Monday by state lawmakers.
The Republican-dominated state Senate voted 39-7 to send the bill to GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb, who has endorsed the proposal. House members voted last week to approve the bill, which is a top priority of Republican legislative leaders even though supporters don't point to any such lawsuits in the state.
The proposal would be retroactive to March 1, 2020- just before the first coronavirus infection was confirmed in Indiana- and only allow lawsuits against businesses when "gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct" can be proved with "clear and convincing evidence."
Republicans call the protections a key step toward economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, which shut down some businesses for months and the state health department says has killed nearly 12,000 people in Indiana.
Some Democrats questioned whether the bill's protections are too broad, especially as they could block lawsuits against nursing homes over illnesses and deaths among residents.
Bill sponsor Republican Sen. Mark Messmer, of Jasper, maintained that was not the case. He has previously said questions about whether to shield nursing homes and other medical providers from lawsuits will be addressed in a separate bill that will go before legislators later during this year's session.
"They won't be able to use this bill as a mean as a means of cover," Messmer noted. "They'll still be held to the highest standard that they should be, and they know that they will be, for duty of care."
Congressional Republicans have pushed for a national legal shield, but it has stalled amid opposition from Democrats. Businesses across the country have raised lawsuit fears, with similar protections approved last year in some states, including Georgia, Iowa and Tennessee, while lawmakers in Alabama, Montana, North Dakota and other states are working to adopt them this year.