INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana lawmakers returned to the Statehouse this week to begin the 2022 legislative session, and this week IN Focus is taking a look at the many hot-button issues up for debate.
One high profile bill, House Bill 1001, would discourage private employers from implementing vaccine mandates. If any business were to have a mandate, they would have to offer an alternate weekly testing option for their employees. The employer must cover the costs of the test. But under the bill’s current version, businesses can apply for reimbursement from the state of up to $50 per test.
Multiple amendments were added during the bill’s hearing in the House Employment, Labor, and Pensions Committee. One new provision would allow workers whose vaccine exemptions were denied to receive unemployment benefits. The business dismissing the employee would be responsible for the cost of their benefits. Another amendment expands the exemption because of natural immunity. To avoid the shot, Hoosiers who have survived COVID-19 will be able to show if they have a certain level of antibodies.
The bill and its amendments are drawing vastly different responses from the state leaders. Republicans praising the legislation for protecting workers, while Democrats are saying it interferes too much with business operations. State Rep. Ryan Hatfield (D-Evansville) expressed concern over the message it sends to Hoosier employers.
“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,” Rep. Hatfield said.
House Majority Leader Matt Lehman had different thoughts on House Bill 1001. Speaking to Statehouse Reporter Kristen Eskow this week, Rep. Lehman said he likes the bill in its current form and said that he feels it offers critical protections for Hoosiers.
Republicans are also moving forward with attempts to end the state’s COVID-19 public health emergency. Despite a surge in cases related to the Omicron variant, lawmakers are looking to push ahead. House Speaker Todd Huston signaled that Indiana is shifting its strategy to avoid shutting down businesses again to slow the spread.
“COVID is something that we’re going to have to live with and people are going to have to take the precautions that they feel are best,” Huston said. “I’m so grateful and thankful for our healthcare and medical providers who are doing everything they can, but no one thinks or believes this is going away. We had to live through it and around it.”
Meanwhile, Governor Eric Holcomb is also laying out his agenda for 2022.
Addressing issues like economic development and public health, Gov. Holcomb says helping Hoosiers recover from the pandemic is a centerpiece of his plans. His efforts to attract new businesses and employees could come with a tax refund this coming year, as well as incentives for remote workers.
“I want to make sure we’re able to retain and recruit the best talent to state government,” Gov. Holcomb said. “We also know that, just like every business out there, having talent is paramount to your success.”
On top of recruiting more remote workers in Indiana, Gov. Holcomb is also looking to change the makeup of the state’s Law Enforcement Training Board. Particularly, he would like to see more civilians included to give their formal input on policies.
Watch more from the first week of the 2022 legislative session in the video above.