Legislators to clarify ‘immunization passport’ ban applies to schools

Indiana legislators are planning to make clear that a ban on COVID-19 “immunization passports” applies to public schools, charter schools and state colleges and universities.

The language is part of draft legislation scheduled for discussion this morning by the House and Senate Rules and Legislative Procedures committees. Lawmakers plan to pass the bill in a one-day session Nov. 29 to bring Indiana’s public health emergency to an end.

The legislature hurriedly adopted a ban on immunization passports last spring, but it wasn’t clear if even they knew what it meant or whom it applied to. The bill said the ban covered any “state or local unit” of government. That could have arguably meant public school corporations, but it almost certainly didn’t mean state universities, based on definitions in state law. Charter schools? Who knows?

Even so, after Indiana University announced it would require students to be vaccinated, GOP legislators and Attorney General Todd Rokita insisted the ban did apply to colleges and universities. IU ultimately allowed exemptions for medical, religious or “conscience” reasons.

State law defines an immunization passport as “written, electronic, or printed information regarding an individual’s immunization status.” One logical interpretation is that government, schools and universities can require immunization, but they can’t make anyone show proof.

It would be nice to think lawmakers would clarify the situation when they debate the current legislation today and next Monday, but don’t count on it.

The part of the bill that’s likely to get more attention is a set of restrictions on private-sector employers that choose to require their workers to be vaccinated. The legislation says employers can require vaccines, but they have to allow exemptions for medical and religious reasons and for employees who have had COVID-19 in the past six months. Employees who are exempted can be given an option to be tested for the virus “not more than once a week at no cost to the employee.” In other words, the employer would pay for testing.

Around the country, California has become the first state to require COVID-19 vaccination for K-12 students, while 10 states, mostly in the Northeast, require it for employees. Most states are leaving the decision to local school districts, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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