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Iowa Legislature Advances Bill To Limit COVID-19 Vaccine Passports

Pat Moore, with the Chester County, Pa., Health Department, fills out a vaccination record card before administering the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to emergency medical workers and healthcare personnel at the Chester County Government Services Center, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in West Chester, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Matt Slocum
A bill advancing in the Iowa Legislature says government entities, schools and businesses in Iowa would not be eligible for state-funded grants and contracts if they require visitors to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

Government entities, schools and businesses in Iowa would not be eligible for state-funded grants and contracts if they require customers, clients, and others to prove they got a COVID-19 vaccine under a bill advancing in the Iowa Legislature.

This provision would not apply to health care facilities. The bill also forbids state and local government agencies from issuing any ID cards that say whether someone got a COVID-19 vaccine.

The House Judiciary Committee advanced the bill Monday, with some Democrats joining most Republicans in support. The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to consider the bill Tuesday afternoon.

This comes after Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds recently said she would sign an executive order to ban “vaccine passports” if the legislature doesn’t take action. Reynolds is also continuing to encourage all Iowans to get vaccinated.

Nicole Hasso of Johnston told lawmakers she supports the bill because individuals should get to decide if they want to be vaccinated or not.

“For someone to tell me that I can’t go and shop, or I can’t go to my son’s basketball game because I’m not vaccinated, that’s against the rules,” Hasso said. “That’s against my constitutional rights.”

JD Davis, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, said the group is comfortable with the bill because it doesn’t apply to employees.

“We’re very much wanting to respect anybody’s right to do what they wish to as it comes to vaccinations,” Davis said. “We do recognize, however, that in an employer-employee relationship, sometimes those decisions that folks make will have consequences in the workplace.”

The bill states, “a business or governmental entity shall not require a customer, patron, client, patient, or other person who is invited onto the premises…to furnish proof of having received a vaccination for COVID-19.” It does not directly mention employees.

Several people associated with a group that has protested against vaccines and masks told lawmakers they would support the bill if exceptions for health care facilities and employees were removed. Some claimed to have family members who were previously harmed by other vaccines.

In a Senate subcommittee hearing on the same bill Tuesday morning, Jessica Pennings of Ankeny said getting vaccinated must remain a choice “in all sectors.”

“I have lived in Iowa all my life,” she said. “There isn’t much that would cause me to move from this state, but I will leave Iowa in a heartbeat if vaccine passports are allowed here and if this bill is passed with exclusions.”

Deborah Thompson, speaking in defense of public health and health care professionals, slammed the “ridiculous rhetoric,” misinformation, and disinformation shared by vaccine opponents during legislative hearings.

She said the legislature’s “coddling” of Iowans who strongly oppose pandemic mitigation measures is like throwing dirt in the eyes of health care workers serving their communities.

“They’re heroes that ran into the fire,” Thompson said. “They took up arms against a Goliath called COVID that has taken lives, has caused lasting damage in thousands more, and has left thousands to grieve.”

Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, said he understands the concerns about the exceptions in the bill. But he said he negotiated for several weeks with the Senate and the governor’s office to arrive at the current language that he said has a good chance of getting signed into law.

“No Iowan should be forced to have a chemical injected into their body against their will, in order to be able to go to a grocery store, attend a baseball game or a movie, or travel freely in our state and our country,” Holt said. “At the very core of our beliefs as Americans is the right of free men and women to live their lives as they see fit without the heavy hand of government dictating profoundly personal choices.”

Rep. Steven Hansen, D-Sioux City, said getting vaccinated against COVID-19 felt like freedom to him.

“I hope the passage of this proposed bill eases the fears of those who desire it…But my greater hope is Iowans will continue to seek and receive their vaccinations and move us closer to what we all want, and that’s a sense of normalcy,” Hansen said.

At least five Republican governors (in Florida, Texas, Arizona, Montana and Idaho) have issued executive orders aimed at limiting “vaccine passports,” and at least one state has a new law that bars state and local government officials from directly or indirectly requiring COVID-19 vaccinations.

The Biden administration has stated it won’t create a federal vaccination database and won’t establish a federal mandate for everyone to obtain a vaccination credential. Private companies are creating apps to show proof of vaccination.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter