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Senate accepts House changes on COVID lawsuit protections; bill heads to Holcomb

The Indiana Senate on Monday concurred with a House amendment to a previously passed Senate bill providing businesses and other institutions with protections against lawsuits due to COVID-19 exposure.

The Senate voted 39-7 to concur on Senate Bill 1 as amended by the House, sending the bill to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb to sign into law.

SB 1, authored by Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, and Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, creates immunity against lawsuits on COVID-19 in the workplace.

The bill is moving forward with a controversial liability protection for nursing homes intact, which lawmakers in both the Indiana House and Senate debated at length. The Indiana House amended the section to prevent what they and Messmer called a “loophole” that could unfairly shield nursing homes from being held accountable for dangerous behavior.

But Senate Democrats said the nursing home protections still go too far.

“We can act like we don’t care and not pay attention to this, but you heard it,” Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said when urging legislators to vote against the passing of the bill. “This changes the standard for nursing facilities to the same standard that you would for a regular employer.”

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, agreed with Taylor.

“I thought, just as he [Messmer] testified, the intent [of the provision] was to make it clear. We weren’t changing the rules otherwise,” Lanane said. “The bill raised the bar considerably [for nursing facilities] when it came to COVID-related matters.”

Brown disagreed and encouraged legislators to vote in favor of the bill.

“We know our loved ones in the nursing homes are the most vulnerable,” Brown said. “They were under more strenuous orders under the executive orders.”

Alexa Shrake is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.