INDIANAPOLIS – A bill to limit COVID-19 vaccine mandates by private businesses is on its way to the full Indiana House following the addition of some amendments, including one that would allow workers whose exemptions were denied to receive unemployment benefits.
House Bill 1001 requires private employers with vaccine mandates to also offer a testing option to workers who do not want to get vaccinated.
The bill passed the House employment, labor and pensions committee Thursday on a 7-4 vote, mostly along party lines. State Rep. Cindy Ziemke (R-Batesville) was the only Republican on the committee to vote against the bill.
“I think the bill’s in a pretty good place right now,” said House Majority Leader Matt Lehman (R-Berne), the bill’s author.
Lehman’s bill would require private businesses with COVID vaccine mandates to allow employees to opt out if they agree to weekly testing.
Lehman added an amendment that would allow workers who are denied exemptions from vaccine mandates to apply for unemployment benefits. The business dismissing the employee would be solely responsible for the cost of those payments.
Some leaders of the business community say they believe the amendment would further discourage vaccine mandates.
“We don’t think employers should be penalized for terminating employees who refuse to get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing,” said Kevin Brinegar, president and CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
Lehman said he’s willing to consider changing who pays for those unemployment benefits.
“I think we still have to keep some form of a trigger that says if I’m fired over this that I’m automatically qualified for unemployment,” Lehman said.
The bill also requires employers to cover the cost of testing. Lehman’s amendment would allow business owners to apply for reimbursement from the state.
Brinegar said he believes the change is an improvement but feels the legislation is still problematic.
“The reimbursement is capped at $50 per test,” Brinegar noted. “And many, many of the tests that are out there cost more than $50. So in many cases, if not most, employers are only going to be partially reimbursed for the cost of the regular testing.”
The amendment also expands exemptions for natural immunity, allowing COVID-19 survivors to opt out of a vaccine mandate if they submit test results showing they have a certain level of antibodies.
Democrats say they’re disappointed the bill is moving forward in its current form.
“Let’s get rid of this crazy stuff about telling employers that they don’t know how to keep their employees safe within their workplaces,” said State Rep. Ryan Hatfield (D-Evansville), ranking minority member of the House employment committee.
The House could vote on the bill as soon as next week, according to Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers).
“We aren’t stopping the spread,” Huston said. “Vaccination protects me. It protects me. It doesn’t mean that I can’t give it to you.”
The committee also passed an amendment pushed by Hatfield that would allow the state to continue receiving expanded federal SNAP benefits past March 31.