Listen Live

(INDIANAPOLIS) – Employers would have to offer medical or religious exemptions from the COVID vaccine under a bill passed by the Senate.

Businesses could ask workers to document their exemption requests but couldn’t just refuse to consider them. That’s narrower than the House’s version, which would have let workers refuse the vaccine, no questions asked.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Messmer (R-Jasper) says the bill balances the needs of employers and workers. The bill is coupled with provisions requested by Governor Holcomb and already passed by the Senate in another bill, to clear the path to end Indiana’s two-year health emergency. Those provisions would allow the state health department to issue a standing order authorizing the vaccine, and extend access to expanded federal food stamp and Medicaid benefits.

The bill passed the Senate 32-18, with opposition from eight Republicans and all but one Democrat. Lawrenceburg Republican Chip Perfect complains even the Senate version is meddling in business owners’ ability to run their own workplace — he says companies already have the power to offer the exemptions in the bill or others. And Democrats object to the bill’s April 16 cutoff date for an 82-dollar increase in food stamps.

The food bank coalition Feeding Indiana’s Hungry also blasted that limit, warning many families hit hard by the pandemic are still financially vulnerable and need continued help to keep food on the table.

Health care workers wouldn’t be affected by the limits on vaccine mandates. They’re already subject to a federal requirement to get vaccinated, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. The bill also exempts entertainment and sports venues, who Messmer says are bound by contracts with stagehands and other personnel who travel to Indiana with concert tours.

House leaders have indicated they expect further discussions to come up with a final version.