ANOTHER VIEWPOINT: Legislature not equipped to oppose vaccine mandates

Information about vaccinations to thwart COVID-19 has progressed in tandem with discoveries of new variants.

Keeping up with the science is a daunting task for health officials as recommendations seem to change weekly.

Sorting through all of it is a tough task for all Hoosiers but especially for those who have to make choices for children or elderly relatives.

So why would Hoosiers presume that members of the Indiana General Assembly have an up-to-date response to the shape-shifting global pandemic?

Indiana legislators have become mired in tackling vaccinations. (A similar problem arose during the 1918 influenza epidemic when groups of parents refused to inoculate their children.)

The latest chapter began when Gov. Eric Holcomb opposed a mandate by President Joe Biden that would require Americans to get vaccinations against COVID-19 if they work in firms with 100 or more employees.

Biden’s mandate, to be implemented by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, would allow a medical exemption for employees who submit proof of a medical reason to not get vaccinated. An exemption could also be granted “because of a sincerely held religious belief.” And there’s an exemption for people recovering from the coronavirus if they believe in natural immunity.

The mandate, intended to take effect Jan. 4, is on hold as OSHA awaits a U.S. appeals court ruling on challenges to its legality.

Around mid-November, Indiana Republicans proposed a bill that would force businesses to grant exemptions to the vaccination requirement without any questions. The bill also would have blocked immunization rules set by state universities.

We can envision workers at the state’s Family and Social Services Agency shaking their heads over the amount of paperwork created by such a misguided bill.

The Indiana General Assembly scheduled a Nov. 29 emergency session to consider the measure, about the time the Omicron variant was showing up in foreign countries. Indiana at that time was averaging 23 deaths a week from the coronavirus.

Vaccines offer protection. Hoosiers need to be vaccinated. Those working in health-related professions should be vaccinated. Those working in facilities with 100 or more employees should be vaccinated to avoid spreading the virus to co-workers.

The special legislative session was ultimately canceled, with House Speaker Todd Huston saying, “We’ve decided to continue working on these issues through December and tackle legislation at the start of the regular session.”

That is wishful thinking based on a legislative timeline that likely will never match the haphazard calendar for the spread of COVID-19. The Indiana legislature is not set up to be the go-to team for health emergencies. Leaders in the General Assembly are headed toward creating an intricate and confusing bill designed primarily to oppose Biden.

The legislature’s Republican leaders came to the edge of the coronavirus cliff, looked down and wisely turned away. If they had jumped into opposing mandates, they would have endangered the safety and health of Hoosiers.

A bill opposing employer mandates is a bad idea. Legislators were right to step away from the bill in November. They would be wise to steer clear of it in January.