Republican leaders in the Indiana legislature stopped language banning vaccine passports in Indiana from being included in a health bill Monday, signaling they won’t follow the lead of Florida, Texas and other states in banning vaccine passports – not now, at least.
The issue became heated as two legislators introduced amendments, only to be slapped down.
The first was Rep. Brad Barrett, R-Richmond, a physician, whose amendment said government and businesses cannot “require a member of the public to provide documentation regarding an individual’s vaccination status” and cannot restrict participation or entrance to a venue or business based on a person’s vaccination status.
“Essentially, where I’m coming from with this amendment is the fact that this vaccine [for COVID-19] is still emergency-use authorization,” said Barrett. “It is not an FDA-approved vaccine. The science is still pending. The vaccine has only really been in use since December and so we really don’t even have six months of data.”
But the Speaker of the House Todd Huston, R-Fishers, ruled the amendment out of order, saying it was not germane to the bill, and no vote was taken.
This was repeated with a similar amendment introduced by Rep. Curt Nisly, R-Milford.
A third amendment to ban vaccine passports, authored by Rep. John Jacob, R-Indianapolis, was never heard, as the bill it was to be amended to was held back.
Monday was likely the last day any action could have been taken to prohibit vaccine passports in Indiana as the legislative session is drawing to a close and no more amendments will be added to bills after this week.
Jacob said he was “aghast,” at what had happened, and at the Republican leadership’s actions.
“The states that stand up, I mean, at least they’re going to have some defense on this issue,” he said. “The mealy-mouthed states where the Republicans are do-nothings, we’re going to get raked over the coals.”
He says the Republicans, who hold supermajorities in both the chambers of the Indiana General Assembly, could have allowed the amendments.
“The bottom line is when the ruling establishment wants something done, there’s no problem in having it done. That is the bottom line,” said Jacob. “If they wanted COVID passports to be, if they wanted a ban on that, they could have done it.”
Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, issued an executive order banning vaccine passports earlier this month and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, also a Republican, followed suit. Republican legislators in several states are working to pass bills to prohibit vaccine passports by law. They include Missouri, where the state senate voted last week 26-7 to ban vaccine passports. Bills have been introduced and are under consideration in Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Montana, Ohio and Wisconsin.
On Monday, Nisly challenged the ruling his amendment was not germane, and with a second from Jacob, forced a vote on the issue. Only Nisly and Jacob voted “no” while Democrats and all other Republicans voted to affirm the ruling and not allow a vote on the amendment.
“They were really ticked off. And when the speaker came literally past Curt he just was just glaring at us,” said Jacob. “That’s pretty petty… I’m sorry. You guys told us to go through the process. Well, this is the process.”
Erin Wittern, the staffer in charge of communications for the House Republicans, said Tuesday that what happened on the House floor wasn’t a reflection of Huston’s position on the issue of vaccine passports.
“That would not be a fair characterization to say he gave a thumb’s down on the policy,” she said, adding that amendments are often ruled to be non-germane if they are not closely enough related to the topic of the bill.
Huston was not immediately available for comment.
In February, an Indiana Senate committee also refused to let a bill banning employers from forcing employees to get vaccines as a condition of employment go forward, though more than 50 people had come to the Statehouse to testify in favor of it.
Several pro-life amendments proposed to be added to the health bill on Monday were also ruled “out of order” and found to be non-germane – preventing a vote from being taken on them.
“If our Republicans wanted to end abortion in Indiana, they could,” said Jacob, “If they wanted to put a ban on COVID passports, they could. You know, and all the other things, forced vaccinations and everything else. They could, but they won’t.”
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