House GOP again tries to expedite bill to limit vaccine mandates

The Indiana Statehouse is pictured in downtown Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS — Efforts to advance state legislation that would restrict employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates have taken another unusual turn as Republican leaders scheduled a House committee hearing on the bill for later this month, more than two weeks before the formal legislative session kicks off.

House Bill 1001, which was filed Nov. 29, is scheduled for a 9 a.m. public hearing on Dec. 16 in the House chamber before the House Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The timing of the hearing is unusual because it will occur before the legislative session officially begins on Jan. 4. The December hearing will be the second attempt by Republican leadership to expedite the legislation.

The controversial bill would force employers that require COVID-19 vaccinations for employees to allow medical or religious exemptions without question. It also would put in place administrative actions to maintain certain federal emergency funding, giving Gov. Eric Holcomb the leeway he says he needs to meet GOP lawmakers’ desire to end the public health emergency that has been in effect since March 2020.

GOP leaders tried and failed last month to fast-track this same bill in two days, holding one public hearing on a draft with plans to send the legislation straight to the Republican-dominated House and Senate for final votes in a one-day session. Those plans were scrapped soon after the bill received backlash and slim support during a seven-hour public hearing before the House and Senate Rules Committees.

Rep. Heath VanNatter, R-Kokomo, chair of the House Employment Labor and Pensions Committee, told IBJ that lawmakers expect another long public hearing on Dec. 16. Holding the hearing weeks before session will give them a head start to pass the bill quickly once session begins.

“We’re prepared for that. We want everyone to have a chance to have their opinions heard,” VanNatter said.

The committee will meet Dec. 16 just to hear public comments. No votes or action will be taken before the session officially begins Jan. 4, VanNatter said.

HB 1001 is being billed as a top priority for House GOP leadership and was the first legislation filed for the session. It was authored by House Majority Leader Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, and has 55 other Republican co-authors, including House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers and Rep. Ryan Lauer, R-Columbus.