*Tap* *tap* is this thing on? I haven’t posted in awhile, so I can’t imagine many people will be reading this any time soon, but the General Assembly has released the text of HB 1001-2022 for the upcoming session. This was the subject of some hearings the week before Thanksgiving, and there were some rumblings about the General Assembly convening to vote it through at the beginning of the week before Thanksgiving. I’m awfully glad they didn’t do that. I’m not a huge fan of the substance of the bill but I was really unhappy with the idea of them jamming it through at the end of November. That’s basically unprecedented. (Particularly where, as here, the text of the bill had not been released.) The General Assembly is at least notionally a part-time legislature and, as such, they do business beginning of January each year. During odd years, it’s a “long” session and they can go into May. During even years, it’s a “short” session and they wrap up in March or April. (There are rules on how long they can go, so I might be a little off on the end dates — but I’m not of a mind to look anything up at the moment.) Point being that November and December are absolutely, *not* the time to pass anything remotely controversial.
Like I said, I don’t love the substance, but now that the text of the bill has been released, it’s not as horrible as I’d feared. The first couple of sections have to do with being able to access federal funds and administer COVID vaccines even if the Governor drops the COVID emergency declaration that’s been continued month-to-month since March 2020. Another section expands the knee-jerk “immunization passport” provisions the General Assembly passed last year — to make it clear that it is intended to apply to schools and colleges. The existing law prohibits specified governmental entities from issuing or requiring an immunization passport defined as “written, electronic, or printed information regarding an individual’s [COVID-19] immunization status.” (The law clarifies that this does not prohibit creating or storing medical records of the immunization.) There was some debate over whether existing legislation covered schools and colleges. Under this legislation, that issue would be resolved.
The big controversial bit has to do with whether employers can require COVID immunization as a condition of employment. There was some confusion about the relationship between this legislation and the federal rule coming out of OSHA. They cover similar territory but they are distinct. The federal OSHA requirements are currently held up in court. If they go into effect, I’m pretty sure they’d supersede this state legislation. But, as written, this state legislation would permit employers to require immunization with some caveats. The employer’s policy would have to recognize medical and religious exemptions and, for a period of six months after recovery, individuals who have had and recovered from COVID. The employer could require these exempt employees to get tested not more than once a week but the testing would have to be at no charge to the employee. The medical exemption and the COVID recovery exemption would require the employee to go through a medical provider and supply the employer with documentation. The religious exemption requires the employee to provide a statement in writing declaring that he or she is declining due to a sincerely held religious belief.
As I see it, the two most problematic pieces of this legislation are making the employer bear the cost of testing (or at least ensure that the employee does not bear the cost of testing) and the risk that an individual will insincerely declare a religious objection. For example, if the person complains that the COVID vaccine was developed using a fetal cell line but the person uses products also made from fetal cell lines like acetaminophen, albuterol, aspirin, ibuprofen, Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, Tums, Benadryl, and others — one might conclude that their objection to COVID vaccines has its roots somewhere other than religion. Skepticism about people’s sincerity might be offset somewhat by the weekly testing requirement. I have to guess that the insincere would throw in the towel after a few weeks of having to jump through testing hoops.
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce has objected to this legislation which might seem to be a challenge for the mostly Republican group who supports this bill. The Chamber and the state GOP have been fairly well aligned over the years. A fracture in that relationship probably wouldn’t be good news for either. I don’t see it happening, but maybe some kind of state funding for the weekly testing (to the extent it’s not already paid for by other sources) might bridge the divide between Chamber and GOP on this one.
My personal view is that discouraging vaccination is bad public policy that will prolong the pandemic, resulting in additional illness, death, and expense. But, understanding that the political establishment in Indiana has different views on the matter, this bill could be worse.