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Dozens testify, many opposed, on proposed COVID-19 vaccine mandate bill

By Brandon Smith, IPB News | Published on in Government, Health, Politics
About 100 people came to the Statehouse for a hearing two days before Thanksgiving on proposed legislative that would effectively ban businesses from enforcing COVID-19 vaccine mandates. (Brandon Smith/IPB News)

Proposed legislation that would effectively ban businesses from enforcing COVID-19 vaccine mandates drew heavy disapproval during an hours-long Statehouse hearing Tuesday.

Dozens criticized the bill – both as going too far and not far enough.

The bill would force employers to grant all medical and religious exemptions for COVID-19 vaccines, without question. The state’s largest business groups oppose it, saying the government should let employers decide what’s best for their business. And the state’s largest health care organizations oppose it, calling the bill “dangerous” and said it will “prolong the pandemic.”

Dr. Samantha Heywood, an OB-GYN, said it will make it harder to get physicians to work in Indiana.

“We are looking for places that value our safety and our expertise,” Heywood said. “We do not want to work in places where we have to battle our own government when giving patients medical advice.”

Several people who testified called the bill a “half measure” and said it should outrightly ban vaccine mandates. Kristi Grabowski said her husband’s job is in danger because he refuses to get the vaccine.

“This has put immense stress and a heavy burden on my husband and our family,” Grabowski said. “It puts a cloud over us as we head into the holiday season, not knowing if my husband will have a job next year.”

Much of the testimony in favor of the bill – or pushing for it to go further – included COVID-19 misinformation.

A large number of those who were generally in favor of the bill were federal contractors and health care workers. They likely wouldn’t be helped by the measure because federal mandates supersede state law.

During the hearing, Indiana Republican lawmakers defended their rushed timeline to pass the bill.

Legislators plan to come into session next week for a single day, bypass any committee votes and approve the proposed bill with just votes on the House and Senate floor.

Sen. Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) asked why.

“Why are we doing this when we’re going to be coming back in a little over a month for our usual session?” Lanane said. “Why are we costing the taxpayers additional money to consider this?”

READ MORE: How Is Indiana Distributing COVID-19 Vaccines? Here’s What You Need To Know

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Rep. Matt Lehman (R-Berne) said the issue can’t wait until January.

“I have people that are saying ‘I’m on the chopping block,'” Lehman said. “‘I’ve worked there for 25 years and I’m about to lose my job.’”

Gov. Eric Holcomb did not throw his support behind the full measure when asked about it this week.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.