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Indiana push for pregnant worker protections gets sidelined

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP): Republican lawmakers on Monday threw a roadblock in front of a proposal that would require more Indiana businesses to allow pregnant women to take longer breaks, transfer to less physical work and take unpaid time off after childbirth.

The GOP-dominated Indiana Senate voted 34-15 to delete the requirement from the bill and, instead, send the issue to a special committee following this year’s legislative session. The proposal faced opposition from some business groups, including the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Indiana Manufacturers Association.

The action could stall the proposal that has been supported by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb as a way of improving Indiana’s infant mortality rate, which was the country’s seventh-worst, with about 600 infant deaths in 2017, and join 27 other states with similar laws. The new state law would’ve applied to businesses with more than 15 employees and would require them to provide workplace accommodations to pregnant women that don’t cause an “undue hardship” on the company.

Republican Sen. Liz Brown of Fort Wayne said many companies already provide such pregnancy accommodations but believed that lawmakers needed to have a better understanding of what is causing deaths among infants and mothers, along with knowing whether a state law needed to specify what steps businesses needed to take.

“I would rather have that conversation with my employer than have the big government come in and prescribe what accommodations have to be made and then that’s it,” Brown said.

Federal laws already require larger companies to provide pregnancy accommodations, but top Holcomb administration health officials joined several doctors and other health advocates last week in testifying in support of state requirements.

A few dozen activists gathered Monday at the Statehouse calling on lawmakers to support the accommodations requirement as a way of helping pregnant women who don’t face clear rules in the workplace.

“The Indiana State Chamber of Commerce and the Indiana Manufacturers Association have decided that saving pennies is worth more than saving lives in our state,” said Kate Hess Pace, executive director of the Bloomington-based group Hoosier Action.

Republican Sen. Ron Alting of Lafayette, who is the bill’s sponsor, didn’t speak against the bill’s overhaul during Monday’s Senate session, but earlier in the day lamented that it would likely mean at least an 18-month delay in putting a new law in place.

“Time might be OK for legislators, but time is not on the side of mothers, unborn infants and families that this could affect,” Alting said. “Time goes against them and that’s what’s sad.”

Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Indiana Manufacturers Association executives said the accommodations requirement lacked any legal protections for businesses.

“Because the burden was shifted entirely to the employers under the bill, there is real fear of a lot more litigation,” said Andrew Berger, senior vice president of the manufacturers group.

Democratic Sen. Greg Taylor of Indianapolis argued it was “ridiculous” for lawmakers to delay taking action.

“I bet you that if there were a whole bunch of men who would get pregnant this bill would’ve passed through quick,” Taylor said.

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