INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana lawmakers have scaled back parts of a bill that would limit COVID-19 vaccine mandates by private businesses.
The bill still requires any private employer with a COVID-19 vaccine mandate to offer employees a testing option. But several changes have been approved.
Employers would no longer be required to cover the cost of testing for workers, so they could charge employees for those tests.
Religious exemptions only need to be accepted if they comply with federal law. And employees whose exemptions are denied would no longer be automatically eligible to receive unemployment benefits.
The bill states that the entertainment industry and professional sports teams would be exempt.
Businesses can also mandate testing up to twice per week instead of just once weekly.
The changes have led some leaders in the business community to drop their opposition to the bill.
“If you’re only testing once a week … someone could contract the virus in between tests and infect other employees without the employer knowing about it,” said Kevin Brinegar, president and CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
The Indiana Chamber now has a neutral position on the legislation, Brinegar added.
“We think that these changes are prudent,” he said.
Some leaders in the health care field say they also support the changes made. The bill clarifies that health care workers who are under the federal vaccine mandate are exempt from the state legislation.
“We really can’t end up with two sets of guidelines, and so we’re pleased that the new version recognizes that,” said Brian Tabor, president of the Indiana Hospital Association.
The bill’s author, House Majority Leader Matt Lehman (R-Berne), said Wednesday that more changes will be made.
Republican leaders in the Senate say they believe they will have enough votes to pass the legislation.
“I think there’s a really good chance we end up doing something with that,” said Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville). “We’ve been trying to put the Senate’s stamp on it obviously with what we think is the right piece of policy.”
Meanwhile, Democrats are disappointed the bill is moving forward.
“We want to make Indiana attractive for businesses,” said Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis). “Having that type of legislation is not going to do very much to help that.”
Any changes approved by the Senate will need to be negotiated with lawmakers in the House before the bill heads to the governor’s desk for his signature.