The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, November 23, 2021 1:00 am


Public disregard

GOP proposal banning vaccine mandates latest instance of contempt for workers, voters

EDITORIAL BOARD | The Journal Gazette

If you are surprised by Republican state lawmakers' last-minute proposal to restrict the rights of Indiana businesses, you're not the only one. Gov. Eric Holcomb was also caught off guard by the effort to ban vaccine mandates for workers.

The ban is part of language dropped into a bill that would allow the governor to end Indiana's public health emergency and continue to receive the same federal reimbursements for SNAP and Medicaid and maintain the ability to hold voluntary community vaccination clinics. But the mandate restriction provision wasn't requested by Holcomb, who has repeatedly said the decision to require vaccines should be left to businesses. 

Set aside the hypocrisy of regulation-hating lawmakers attempting to regulate Indiana businesses. For voters, the concern should be their growing disregard for public input. The vaccine mandate language surfaced on Saturday, just three days before it will be considered in a 10:30 a.m. hearing today by members of the House and Senate Rules and Legislative Procedure committees.

The full House and Senate are scheduled to convene Nov. 29, after the Thanksgiving holiday, to adopt the bill.

Republicans hold supermajority status in both chambers. No Democratic votes are needed to pass the measure.

GOP lawmakers used the same fast-track treatment to approve new legislative and congressional districts. Statewide hearings were scheduled before the proposed maps were even available. The legislation was passed and signed by the governor on Oct. 4, leaving Hoosiers with practically no say in policy that will shape Indiana for the next decade.

Cutting the public out of the discussion on substantive issues isn't new, but the stakes seem to be getting higher. The mandate language addresses a public health issue, which lawmakers seem intent on controlling. House Speaker Todd Huston issued a statement Saturday in which he claimed the state is “successfully moving beyond the pandemic.”

Indiana Department of Health figures say otherwise. Newly reported positive cases have been rising since late October, along with COVID-19-related hospitalizations. In northeast Indiana, hospitalizations are at the highest point since the delta variant surge in late summer surge. Cases are rising in schools, as well. After weeks of falling case numbers, there were 3,113 new cases reported among K-12 students last week, up from about 2,400 cases the previous week.

In spite of those figures, Republican lawmakers are pushing ahead with a vaccine mandate ban. Rep. Matt Lehman told The Journal Gazette's Niki Kelly that businesses can still mandate vaccines “but if you do, the employee has some rights.”

Employee rights certainly have not been a priority for the GOP-controlled legislature in recent years. The General Assembly passed anti-union right to work laws and stripped collective bargaining rights for teachers. They rejected a bill that would have required reasonable workplace accommodations for pregnant women.

Why do the concerns of anti-vaccine employees now count for more than the concerns – and health and well-being – of employees who support vaccine requirements?

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce last week asked the legislature not to impede the ability of business to mandate COVID-19 vaccines. Several of the state's largest employers have mandated vaccines. 

With little notice or discussion, Republican lawmakers are set to impose regulations affecting the public health of all Hoosiers. In doing so, they can't claim to be pro-business, and they certainly can't claim they are listening to anyone other than the loudest anti-vaccine voices.

What do you think?

Lawmakers added language to a public health bill on Saturday, just three days before today's public hearing. Do you support a proposal to restrict employers' ability to require vaccines for their workers? Do you believe the language needs to be approved in the one-day session this month?

Share your thoughts, marked “vaccine proposal,” to or by mail to The Journal Gazette, 600 W. Main St., Fort Wayne, IN, 46825.

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