The Hoosier State plans to file at least three lawsuits in coming days seeking to halt new federal regulations aimed at minimizing the spread of COVID-19 in American workplaces.
Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita, a Munster native, declared Thursday his belief that the COVID-19 prevention policies implemented by Democratic President Joe Biden are an "egregious" and "insidious" overreach, and a "direct attack on state's rights" and "individual liberty."
"We're going to court, and we're going to fight this thing," Rokita said.
The new federal rules require companies with more than 100 employees to verify by Jan. 4 that all their employees are vaccinated against COVID-19. Otherwise, unvaccinated workers must undergo weekly COVID-19 testing and wear a face mask while on the job.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is tasked with enforcing the COVID-19 workplace safety order. It's empowered to fine companies up to $13,653 for individual instances of non-compliance, or up to $136,532 for a willful violation of the rules.
In addition, the federal regulations require all health care workers serving Medicare and Medicaid patients be vaccinated by Jan. 4, with no weekly testing alternative, and employees at companies that contract with the federal government also have until Jan. 4 to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Biden explained the mandates are needed to ensure enough Americans are vaccinated against COVID-19 to finally put the coronavirus in the rear-view mirror and get America working again.
"The virus will not go away by itself, or because we wish it away: we have to act. Vaccination is the single best pathway out of this pandemic," Biden said. "And vaccination requirements are nothing new. We've been living with them throughout our lives for all sorts of diseases. Safety rules in the workplace are nothing new either."
"With today's actions, we now have requirements to protect people from something that has taken the lives of 750,000 Americans."
Rokita dismissed the president's concerns about workplace safety and COVID-19 deaths as merely a convenient excuse for the federal government to intrude into Hoosiers' lives.
"It (COVID-19) has been with us for years now, quite literally," Rokita said. "This is not a workplace issue. It's been with us. It's been with us at our homes, it's been with us on our sports teams, it's been with us in our kids' schools, it's been with us everywhere."
"So it's, again, egregious and insidious, that you'd use a body of law that was meant to protect workers at the workplace from dangerous toxicities, from other directly unsafe situations, and to use it in this fashion to cover something that is a much bigger part of our lives — and that's how we're going to win this case, by the way."
Rokita said Indiana will individually file a petition for direct review by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago seeking to halt OSHA enforcement of the COVID-19 vaccine-or-testing requirement at businesses with more than 100 employees, in part by claiming it's not feasible for millions of workers to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing, at their own expense, if they choose not to get vaccinated.
At the same time, Rokita said Indiana plans to join Mississippi, Louisiana, and likely several other states, in filing joint legal challenges to both the health care worker and federal contractor COVID-19 vaccination requirement.
"You got to understand, these are David and Goliath battles," Rokita said. "The federal government is very, very big, and the states are under attack these days on a lot of different issues — so when you have these David and Goliath battles, it's nice to have a lot of Davids."
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, who has clashed with Rokita over the extent of the governor's authority amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said he also is on board with the attorney general's challenge to federal authority, even going so far as to direct the Indiana Department of Labor to cooperate with Rokita in preparing the lawsuits against the federal government.
"This is an overreach of the government’s role in serving and protecting Hoosiers," Holcomb said. "While I agree that the vaccine is the tool that will best protect against COVID-19, this federal government approach is unprecedented and will bring about harmful, unintended consequences in the supply chain and the workforce."
On the other hand, Lauren Ganapini, executive director of the Indiana Democratic Party, condemned Rokita and Holcomb for pursuing policies she said are driven by "extreme partisanship," when "what Indiana needs is for more people to get vaccinated so we can move forward."
"Hoosiers are right. It is their freedom and choice to receive a life-saving COVID-19 vaccine. It’s also the responsibility of state and federal government leaders to help Hoosier families put the pandemic behind us," Ganapini said.
"Unfortunately, the culture war Indiana Republicans created about vaccines and its benefits consistently put Indiana steps away from returning to pre-COVID normal life."
According to the Indiana Department of Health, 3.8 million Hoosiers are vaccinated against COVID-19, or 57.6% of the state's population age 12 and up — well behind the national 12 and up vaccination rate of 68.1%.
State data show unvaccinated individuals account for 98.3% of Indiana's 1.02 million total COVID-19 infections, 99.97% of COVID-19 hospitalizations, and 99.98% of COVID-19 deaths since the first coronavirus case was diagnosed in the Hoosier State on March 6, 2020.
The COVID-19 vaccine is available without charge at 1,521 locations across Indiana, often without an appointment. A full list of vaccine sites is available online at ourshot.in.gov.