INDIANAPOLIS — The state's leading business organization very nearly saw its top legislative priority for the 2022 Indiana General Assembly go kaput, even before Hoosier lawmakers begin their 10-week annual session Jan. 4.

A proposal for Indiana to limit the ability of private businesses to implement COVID-19 vaccine mandates was poised to be approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature during a special meeting Monday — until top lawmakers got cold feet in the face of overwhelming opposition.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce was among the business and health care organizations leading the opposition, in accordance with the chamber's prime goal of keeping government out of the COVID-19 vaccine policies of Indiana companies.

Chamber CEO Kevin Brinegar said the group isn't taking a position on whether the COVID-19 vaccine is good or bad for business.

But he said the chamber unquestionably opposes government at any level preventing businesses from making autonomous decisions about COVID-19 vaccination requirements for their employees.

"We do not support federal regulations that mandate vaccinations or state laws that prohibit vaccinations, and we will vigorously fight any legislation in this area," Brinegar said during a Nov. 15 luncheon at the Conrad Hotel in Indianapolis.

The chamber likely will have to take up that fight again in January as key Hoosier lawmakers seem determined to establish in law specific exemptions from employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates that could increase costs at Hoosier companies for COVID-19 testing, treatment, and lost work hours.

"The vaccine itself is widely available and free to employees, which is why we feel employers shouldn’t have to pay for those who opt to not take the vaccine and instead undergo weekly testing," Brinegar said.

"We continue to stress that employers are in the best position to make decisions on vaccination requirements that impact their work forces and work environment."

Beyond COVID-19, Brinegar said the chamber will be focusing next year at the Statehouse on helping to enact policies that enable Indiana businesses to attract and retain qualified employees amid an extremely competitive job market.

He said that includes incentivizing remote workers to relocate to the Hoosier State, promoting entrepreneurship to young people, strengthening college and career readiness among Indiana middle and high school students, and especially, improving access to high-quality child care.

"The lack of affordable, high-quality child care across Indiana is one of the outside factors most negatively impacting attracting and retaining workers," Brinegar said.

Brinegar said the chamber also is focused on ultimately eliminating the business personal property tax beginning with a phase-out of the 30% depreciation floor.

He said such a move would save Indiana companies $300 million a year while avoiding the extreme revenue losses schools and local governments would see if the business personal property tax was immediately scrapped altogether.

"Many states do not tax business machinery and equipment because they recognize it is a tax on investment and we don't want to discourage investment," Brinegar said.

In fact, the chamber is calling on the General Assembly to go all-in on electric vehicle research, development and manufacturing, in tandem with the implementation of a statewide renewable energy standard that would do away with various local regulations and bans on solar and wind generating projects.

"This has proven to be a hurdle for Indiana's diversifying energy portfolio and costly for both residential and business energy customers," Brinegar said.

Other chamber priorities include: Capping worker's compensation reimbursement at ambulatory surgical centers; creating opportunities for business leaders to serve as part-time teachers at elementary and high schools; and maintaining the specialized appellate-level Indiana Tax Court for resolving complex tax law disputes.

Data show Hoosier lawmakers generally vote to support policies backed by the chamber, with Republicans favoring about 70-100 percent of chamber priorities and Democrats voting with chamber positions approximately 40-80 percent of the time.
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