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Rep. Craig Snow, R-Warsaw, left, joins co-authors at the Statehouse in Indianapolis to file House Bill 1001on Monday, Nov. 29.

Late last month, Rep. Craig Snow, R-Warsaw, joined his fellow co-authors in presenting House Bill 1001, which would, among other goals, seek to end the statewide public health emergency.

However, that bill has encountered some degree of opposition, not the least of which from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

HB 1001 would allow Gov. Eric Holcomb’s state public health emergency to expire by ensuring Indiana could continue receiving the same federal reimbursements for SNAP and Medicaid, and maintain the state’s ability to hold voluntary community vaccination clinics. Holcomb recently announced that he will keep the state of emergency and the remaining, but limited, executive order in place until lawmakers take action in January, said Indiana House Republicans digital media specialist and press secretary Allison Vanatsky.

Snow represents House District 18, which includes Wabash County and portions of Kosciusko, Grant and Miami counties.

Snow said the legislation would also require businesses to accept medical and religious exemptions if they require the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment.

“Many Hoosiers continue to contact me with concerns about vaccination requirements in the workplace and whether or not they’ll qualify for an exemption,” Snow said. “As we move forward, I’m committed to working with individuals, employers and other stakeholders on this legislation to help clarify and strengthen Indiana’s vaccine exemptions.”

But, last week, Indiana Chamber of Commerce director of digital media and legislative communications Matt Ottinger said HB 1001 was the “wrong policy for employers and for Hoosiers as COVID-19 numbers surge.”

Ottinger said 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,” said Ottinger.

“HB 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,” said Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar during the public hearing. 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.”

Brinegar said they were concerned that HB 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,” said Brinegar. “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.”

Brinegar said 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,” said Brinegar. “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.”

In response to a Plain Dealer request on Tuesday, Dec. 21, Snow responded to the group’s opposition.

“Many Hoosiers continue to contact me with concerns about vaccination requirements in the workplace and whether or not they’ll qualify for an exemption. As we move forward, I’m committed to working with individuals, employers and other stakeholders on this legislation to help clarify and strengthen Indiana’s vaccine exemptions,” said Snow.

HB 1001 will be considered during the 2022 legislative session kicking off in January.

For more information, email h18@iga.in.gov, call 317-234-9028 or visit iga.in.gov.

Rob Burgess, Wabash Plain Dealer editor, may be reached by email at rburgess@wabashplaindealer.com.