The Indiana Senate will hold a hearing Wednesday morning on the bill that would require employers in the state that mandate the COVID-19 vaccination grant religious exemptions to employees who request them, no questions asked, and would also make changes in law the governor had said were needed before he’ll let the statewide public health emergency expire.
It’s been a month since the Indiana House passed House Bill 1001 following testimony at two hearings from Ascension St. Vincent hospital nurses and employees of other companies who said they’d been suspended for not being vaccinated after their requests for religious exemptions were denied.
HB 1001 says employers that mandate the COVID-19 vaccination for their employees must offer four exemptions – medical, religious, natural immunity and testing in lieu of the vaccine.
For the medical exemption, employers can require a letter from a physician, physician’s assistant or advanced practice nurse. For the religious exemption, employers can only require employees submit a written statement they are declining the COVID-19 vaccination “because of a sincerely held religious belief.”
To claim an exemption based on natural immunity from a prior COVID-19 infection, an employer can require an employee to present the results of an FDA-approved lab test and lists three kinds that must be accepted – a PCR test, an antigen test or an antibody or serology test. An employer may request an employee submit a new test result every six months.
An employer also must allow employees to choose to take a COVID-19 test, no more than once a week, in lieu of getting the vaccine.
The House had amended the bill to apply to contractors, in addition to employers and to allow employers to seek reimbursement from the state Department of Workforce Development for COVID-19 testing of employees, up to $50 per test.
In addition to the vaccine exemption language, HB 1001 would meet Holcomb’s conditions for ending the statewide emergency, which included changing state law to allow Indiana to continue to receive millions of dollars in additional federal funding for the SNAP program and Medicaid. It also would allow the state to give continued approval for children ages 5-11 to receive the COVID-19 vaccination outside of doctor’s offices. The bill will also allow out-of-state nurses and doctors to continue work in Indiana, as they have during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Senate passed its own bill in January that would make these changes in law that the governor had requested as a precondition of his ending the emergency but included none of the vaccine exemption language in the House bill. This bill, Senate Bill 3, has been referred to a House committee, but no hearing has been scheduled.
After a seven-hour joint House and Senate hearing Nov. 23, Senate Leader Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, criticized employers who he said had “callously” disregarded legitimate requests for religious and medical exemptions, and forced employees to resign, rather than be fired.
More than 100 employees of Ascension St. Vincent hospitals were suspended without pay in early December for not being vaccinated and were due to be fired in early January. However, Ascension called many back to work after legal complaints were being filed alleging Ascension violated religious freedom rights of the employees.
Earlier this month, Holcomb extended the statewide public health emergency for the 23rd time. It is set to expire March 4.
The Senate Health Committee hearing Wednesday begins at 9 a.m.
This article was originally posted on Indiana Senate to hold hearing on vaccination exemption bill