File-Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb vaccinated

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb receives his Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine during the state's first mass vaccination clinic at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Friday, March 5, 2021, in Indianapolis. The state health department said nearly 17,000 people had filled up four days of appointments for the speedway clinic.

(The Center Square) – Indiana Republican legislators are moving quickly to pass a bill that would prohibit employers in the state from mandating the COVID-19 vaccines unless they give employees the option to submit to testing instead.

The draft of the bill was released Saturday, and a public hearing will be Tuesday morning at 10:30 a.m. at the Statehouse before the House and Senate Rules committee. The bill is expected to be voted on Nov. 29  as part of a package Gov. Eric Holcomb asked the General Assembly pass as a condition of his ending the statewide public health emergency.

In a chapter entitled, “Exemptions from COVID-19 Immunization Requirements” the draft bill says an employer may not require employees get the COVID-19 vaccine unless it allows them to opt out for medical reasons, including pregnancy or anticipated pregnancy, or religious reasons and must also allow employees the option of submitting to testing “not more than once a week at no cost to the employee in lieu of receiving an immunization against COVID-19.”

It would also prohibit an employer from requiring an employee to be vaccinated if they tested positive for COVID-19 and recovered from it within the last six months.

The bill exempts Indiana governmental entities and also the federal government.

It provides some specificity on exemptions, saying: “Unless an employer waives the documentation requirements under this subsection, to claim an exemption based on medical reasons, including pregnancy or anticipated pregnancy, an employee must present to the employer an exemption statement in writing, dated and signed by: (1) a licensed physician; (2) a licensed physician’s assistant; or (3) an advanced practice nurse; who has examined the employee.”

It says the statement must say that in the opinion of the medical professional, the immunization against COVID-19 is “medically contraindicated for the employee.”

The religious exemptions closely mirrors the exemption language in state law for vaccines required for public schools and universities.

“To claim an exemption based on religious reasons, an employee must present to the employer an exemption statement in writing indicating that the employee declines the immunization against COVID-19 because of a sincerely held religious belief.”

If an employee has had and recovered from COVID-19 within six months, the draft of the bill says unless the employer waives the requirement for documentation, the employee “must present to the employer an exemption in writing, dated and signed by a licensed physician, a physician’s assistant, or an advanced practice registered nurse indicating that the employee has: (1) tested positive for COVID-19; and (2) recovered from COVID-19.”

The bill language goes on to say that an employer “may not take an adverse employment action against an employee” because the employee has requested or used a religious, medical or natural immunity exemption.

Several hospitals in the state began mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for employees beginning in June, and hundreds of nurses and other healthcare workers have been fired so far this year.

Ashly Grogg, a registered nurse and founder of the group Hoosiers for Medical Liberty, says her organization has been communicating with employees of Ascension St. Vincent hospitals in the state and that so far about 150 of them have lost their jobs because of the company’s vaccine mandate, with only a small number of those having left of their own accord.

Hoosiers for Medical Liberty has had its members calling state legislators for several months, asking them to pass a law that would prohibit discrimination and segregation based on vaccine status.

“We put pressure on the legislature all through the summer, so every single one of them know this is THE issue,” she said last week.

Grogg said Monday that it appears the draft bill would be “writing discrimination into law” by encouraging employers to require testing for people with religious exemptions and that overall, it doesn’t really protect Hoosiers.

“It is not enough,” she said in a text message. “They are not doing anything beyond what federal protections already do.”