INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana lawmakers headed back to the statehouse Tuesday to begin the 2022 legislative session.
More than 400 bills will be filed in the short session, which means lawmakers have until March to get their business finished, and this is a non-budget session.
Workplace vaccination mandates and tax cuts are at the top of the list of topics that will be discussed.
Republicans, who dominate the legislature, are pushing for HB1001, which they say would protect individual rights by forcing businesses that require COVID-19 vaccinations to grant exemptions to workers claiming medical or religious reasons.
It would also require companies to offer a COVID-19 testing option to workers who don’t get the vaccine.
HB1001 co-author Rep. Mike Karickhoff, R-Kokomo, told WRTV people have misconceptions about the legislation.
“A lot of people like to say it's an anti-vaccine bill, but I don't think it is at all,” said Karickhoff. “I think the bill is pro-vaccine. It affords individual employers the opportunity if they choose and provides a few options where individual liberties are protected."
As COVID-19 infections spike in Indiana, the proposal is getting pushback from businesses, medical groups, Democrats and Governor Eric Holcomb, who is a Republican.
“I remain unpersuaded,” said Holcomb. “I think businesses have a better sense on how they can conduct their business in a safe way. Putting the health and safety of their employees first is not only the right thing to do, it's something they can deeply about."
HB1001 will be heard Thursday at 8:30 am by the Employment, Labor and Pensions committee.
Indiana is facing a $5 billion surplus, and this legislative session, some Republicans are expected to push for tax cuts.
"We're looking at a number of options, including a permanent tax cut that would put money back in the pockets of Hoosier taxpayers," said State Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville. “The additional tax revenue presents us with an opportunity to leverage our sound fiscal footing to transform our state. We wouldn't be in this strong position without hardworking Hoosiers who showed an unbelievable amount of grit during very challenging times.”
Democrats and consumer advocates say addressing economic insecurity for Hoosiers should be top of mind, including medical debt, affordable childcare and student loan debt.
"Employers need employees to work, employees want to work, but they’re facing this dilemma of what do I do?” said House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne. “What can the state do? What sort of incentives can we put out there that might bring more childcare facilities to the state?"
Senate Democratic Leader Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, also emphasized the importance of affordable child care.
“Three out of four children in Indiana lack access to basic early care and learning opportunities,” said Taylor. “ None of our counties are fully equipped to give our kids the care and opportunity they deserve, and far too many families have to break the bank or leave work because of a lack of access to early childhood education. Investment in quality childcare is a direct investment in our families and our state’s future.”
Lindsay Haake, an advocate for utility ratepayers, says utility bills are the second reason, behind evictions, for people calling 2-1-1.
"Utility bills are also a huge, huge issue for folks as they struggle to come out of the pandemic,” said Haake. “Even before COVID, people were dealing with utility bills being unaffordable. That's a conversation lawmakers aren't always willing to listen to. "
Indiana Senate Republicans have listed the following priorities for the 2022 legislative session:
- Make more Hoosiers eligible for the taxpayer refund
Senate Bill 1, authored by State Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Markle) will make adjustments to the current statute so roughly 900,000 additional Hoosiers will be eligible for the state's taxpayer refund.
2. School funding stability for quarantined students
Bill 2, authored by State Sen. Jeff Raatz (R-Richmond), would ensure schools receive full funding for children who were considered virtual students during the fall of 2021 because they had to quarantine at the start of the school year.
3. Responsibly end Indiana's public health emergency
Senators want to end the public health emergency “without causing undue harm to Hoosiers.” Senate Bill 3, authored by State Sen. Ed Charbonneau (R-Valparaiso), would ensure Indiana can continue receiving the same federal reimbursements for SNAP and Medicaid and maintain the state's ability to hold voluntary community vaccination clinics.