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Indiana Chamber on State Vaccine Mandate Bill (HB 1001): wrong policy for employers and for Hoosiers as COVID numbers surge

The Indiana General Assembly’s attempt (House Bill 1001) to restrict businesses’ ability to require the COVID-19 vaccine for employees, if they so choose, is before the House Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce supports the first three sections of HB 1001 regarding the emergency order and maintaining supplemental federal funding. However, the organization strongly opposes the remainder of HB 1001 and thus opposes the bill overall. Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar outlined the group’s concerns during the public hearing:

“House Bill 1001 contains several provisions – led by employers’ footing the bill for COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated workers – that the Indiana Chamber simply cannot support. It also leaves many important questions unanswered, including around testing availability. To greatly discourage and inhibit employers from getting their employees vaccinated to promote health and safety within their workplaces – at a time when there are surging infections, hospitalizations and deaths as the Omicron variant has emerged – is simply the wrong policy in our view.

“The message from the business community when it comes to employer vaccination policies is: Please stay out of our business operations. Hoosier employers are in the best position to determine what the best vaccination policy is for the safety of their employees, customers and patients.

“House Bill 1001 would restrict and discourage employers from requiring vaccines in their workplaces if they determine it’s the best course of action. Over the past six to nine months, many Hoosier employers have implemented vaccination requirements for their employees. House Bill 1001 would be very disruptive and expensive to these employers. What’s more, the bill contains an emergency clause that would put the law into effect immediately. This would give these employers no time to establish a testing alternative for employees who claim an exemption.

“Our single biggest objection is that HB 1001 establishes what amounts to a new business testing tax because it requires that testing of unvaccinated employees occur at the employer’s expense. This is contrary to OSHA regulations and will impose new and substantial costs on employers that have enacted vaccination requirements. It will cause many to abandon their vaccination programs and dissuade others from starting one. One medium-sized Indiana Chamber member estimates that in six months they would incur $1.2 million in testing costs.

“The expanded religious exemption in HB 1001 means many more people are likely to claim it. To be clear, denying religious exemptions is contrary to the advice the Indiana Chamber has given to its member businesses. The problem is the state language does not have the same exception that exists in federal law for employers that try to reasonably accommodate the religious exemption but determine the accommodation would be a significant disruption to their business activities.

“The Indiana Chamber is also opposed to using the unemployment insurance system to punish employers. That’s simply not what the system is designed to accomplish.

“All of these concerns and objections notwithstanding, we stand ready to further discuss the details of the bill with committee members in hope of getting to a bill that we do not have to oppose.”

The Indiana Chamber partners with 25,000 members and investors – representing over four million Hoosiers – to achieve the mission of “cultivating a world-class environment which provides economic opportunity and prosperity.