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Employer penalty removed as Indiana vaccine mandate bill moves ahead in the House

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Justin Hicks
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The Indiana House of Representatives chamber filled with people testifying on a measure to mandate exemptions for vaccines in the workplace.

Listen to the broadcast version of this story.

The Indiana House scrapped a proposal to raise unemployment insurance taxes as a penalty to employers unwilling to grant vaccine exemptions. But, they still want Hoosiers who are fired for vaccine status to be eligible to draw benefits from a pot of money funded by all Indiana employers.

In House Bill 1001, House Republicans sought a way to punish employers who didn’t follow their rules forcing employers to grant a variety of exemptions to COVID-19 vaccination. Lawmakers wanted to make unvaccinated workers eligible for unemployment benefits and raise contributions from those employers to make up for the increased costs.

READ MORE: COVID-19 vaccine mandate ban legislation clears first hurdle, adds unemployment benefits

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But Rep. Dan Leonard (R-Huntington) offered an amendment to take out the penalty, and said due to a cap on unemployment taxes, employers near that limit could skirt by with little to no penalty while others get hit harder.

“I don’t object to penalizing people,” Leonard said during a phone call last week. “[But] I think it’s important that we create a system that treats all employers the same.”

The Department of Workforce Development currently grants unemployment benefits to unvaccinated workers on a case-by-case basis and only when it deems employers have an unreasonable policy. Language in HB 1001 specifies broadly that workers who are denied exemptions are eligible for benefits.

The House also rejected amendments that would have eliminated the bill's vaccine mandate language; deleted provisions about ending the public health emergency; and created a new ban on any employer, school, government or public gathering space requiring any medical treatment or vaccine.

The House plans to vote next week to send the bill to the Senate for further consideration.

Indiana Public Broadcasting's Brandon Smith contributed to this story.

Contact reporter Justin at jhicks@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @Hicks_JustinM.

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