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) – The Indiana General Assembly passed a bill recently that will prevent the state and also local governments from issuing vaccine passports for COVID-19.

“I’m thrilled that this language is in this bill,” said Rep. John Jacob, R-Indianapolis, saying that the state mandating that people get an experimental vaccine would be a “gross violation of the individual freedom of Hoosiers.”

The bill, HB 1405, passed out of the House by a vote for 88-10, with even the House Democratic leader, Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, supporting it.

But the last-minute insertion of the language on vaccine passports was not exactly what some lawmakers and others were hoping for, and gunning for.

“This is weak and hardly anything,” said Ashley Grogg, a registered nurse in Fort Wayne who founded the group Hoosiers for Medical Liberty. “I would have liked to have seen a lot more protections for our constituents and we will push for that again next year.”

What the bill says is that neither the state nor any local government in the state can issue or require an “immunization passport.”

The bill defines an immunization passport as “written, electronic, or printed information regarding an individual’s immunization status” with “immunization status” meaning whether or not a person has received an immunization (vaccine).

But it doesn’t say anything about businesses, meaning businesses in Indiana will be free to require proof of vaccination – which may be a vaccine card, or an app that is developed that would be connected to a person’s vaccination record.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce lobbied state Senators earlier this year to prevent a bill from passing through the Senate labor committee that would have prohibited businesses from firing employees or not promoting them because they hadn’t gotten a vaccine. The effort was successful. Even with more than 50 people showing up at the Statehouse in the middle of winter to testify in favor of the bill, many of them health-care workers who said they’d been denied a job because they didn’t want to or couldn’t get the flu vaccine, the bill never got a vote and died in committee.

Kevin Brinegar, the president of the Indiana Chamber, said the chamber was pleased businesses aren’t restricted by the bill that passed the legislature last week, saying businesses should be able to turn people away if they haven't had the COVID-19 vaccine, just as they would for not wearing shoes or a shirt.

“They shouldn’t be prohibited from issuing documents or requiring employees or visitors to show proof of vaccination through a vaccination passport,” he told The Center Square. “Now, that said, we’re not recommending that, we’re not encouraging that, we just don’t think that employers should be prohibited by law from doing that if they so choose.”

The issue of vaccine passports has heated up as more businesses indicate they may require customers to prove they’ve been vaccinated.

In Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order forbidding businesses from requiring proof of vaccination, cruise ships are still insisting that people must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to board.

If airlines and hotel chains begin requiring vaccine passports, the issue could quickly become one of “public accommodation” as people who aren’t vaccinated may have a difficult time traveling around the country.

Grogg says this is exactly what Hoosiers for Medical Liberty is worried about, and why the issue isn’t just about free enterprise.

“Ultimately, one of the biggest things is preventing the free movement of citizens,” she said. She pointed to a chain like Menard's, that has strictly enforced mask-wearing, saying the company could decide that people who aren't vaccinated have to shop online, and cannot enter their stores.

HB 1405 passed the Senate as well last week, but hasn’t yet been signed by the Speaker of the House, Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, and by the Senate leader, Rep. Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville. As soon as it is, it will go to the governor for his signature.

But the issue surely hasn’t gone way.

Grogg says her group is determined to let voters in Indiana know how their representatives voted on amendments to other bills that would have stopped businesses from requiring proof of vaccination, and will continue to lobby legislators to ban vaccine passports in Indiana.

An online petition, calling for a full ban on vaccine passports, has garnered more than 800 signatures. It can be seen on the group's website at H4ml.org.