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Iowa Senate Ethics Committee Dismisses Complaints Related To Law Banning School Mask Mandates

John Pemble
The Iowa Senate Ethics Committee voted unanimously Monday to dismiss six complaints related to the state law that bans schools from requiring masks.

The Iowa Senate Ethics Committee voted unanimously Monday to dismiss six complaints related to the state law that bans schools from requiring masks, saying the complaints did not address matters under the jurisdiction of the committee.

The complaints from six Iowans alleged Republican state senators violated ethics standards that say senators should not discriminate based on disability when they voted for the law banning school mask mandates. The complaints accuse the senators of ignoring the risk that COVID-19 can pose to disabled and medically vulnerable students.

Dana Rawson Sanders filed one of the complaints, and she wrote that she has two children in school.

“This bill violates this standard due to the vulnerable and medically fragile not being cared for with this new bill,” Sanders wrote. “They are put at risk and not safe in any school in Iowa.”

The complaints also accused senators of ignoring the guidance of health experts and stripping unvaccinated children of their right to safety.

A written response from Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, on behalf of the 29 GOP senators named in the complaints, asked the committee to dismiss the complaints.

“Absent an allegation of a conflict of interest, voting on legislation in the Iowa Senate does not constitute a violation of the Senate Code of Ethics,” Whitver’s response reads in part.

It also says the section of the Senate Code of Ethics dealing with disability discrimination is related to personnel matters and harassment prevention, not to the passage of legislation.

No Republican senators talked about the complaints during the ethics committee meeting.

Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, opposed the law and said she feels for parents who are concerned about their kids’ safety. But she agreed to dismiss the complaints.

“If this was an ethics committee issue, [if] the remedy for this was under the jurisdiction of this committee, I would be like a fly on honey right now,” Jochum said. “But unfortunately I believe the remedy really is in a court of law.”

On Monday afternoon, a federal court issued an order temporarily blockingthe ban on school mask mandates from being enforced. That means Iowa schools can now require mask-wearing whilethat legal challenge continues to play out in the federal court system.

Last week, in a separate lawsuit, a Polk County district court judge declined to temporarily block enforcement of the ban on school mask mandates.

The civil rights arm of the U.S. Department of Education has also opened an investigation in Iowa to determine whether the ban on school mask mandates violates the rights of students with disabilities.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter