Iowa governor signs law to expand COVID-19 vaccine exemptions for workers
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law Friday that aims to make it easier for workers to get medical and religious exemptions to workplace COVID-19 vaccine requirements.
The Iowa House and Senate passed the bill Thursday with bipartisan support.
Reynolds said in a statement Friday the new law will protect Iowans' freedom to make their own health care decisions.
"As I've stated publicly numerous times, I believe the vaccine is the best defense against COVID-19 and we've provided Iowans with the information they need to determine what's best for themselves and their families, but no Iowan should be forced to lose their job or livelihood over the COVID-19 vaccine," Reynolds said.
According to Republican lawmakers who proposed the bill, employees seeking a medical or religious exemption simply have to state they believe the COVID-19 vaccine would hurt their health or would conflict with their religion. It doesn’t require them to get proof from a doctor or religious leader.
Health experts say the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and leaders of major religions have not opposed the vaccines.
If someone gets fired for not getting vaccinated, the new law will allow them to remain eligible to receive unemployment benefits.
Rep. Henry Stone, R-Forest City, said some Iowans are facing a deadline of getting the COVID-19 vaccine or losing their job. He said lawmakers started hearing concerns from more and more Iowans after the Biden administration announced they would require vaccinations in large workplaces.
“We needed to find a way to protect Iowans’ individual rights without putting Iowa businesses between a rock and a hard place,” Stone said. “After months of hard work, careful consideration, and input from Iowans, I believe we have found a meaningful solution.”
A group of Iowans protesting vaccine requirements at the Statehouse on Thursday asked lawmakers to reject the bill. They called on the legislature to ban vaccine requirements.
“It seems like we are replaying May 5, 2021 all over again,” said Lindsey Maher of Informed Choice Iowa, a group that opposes vaccines. “Where we the people were blindsided with last-minute legislation that is ineffective and designed to look good but fail.”
Some business representatives also opposed the bill, saying it put them in a difficult position between state and federal rules.
The bill passed in the Iowa House 68 to 27 and passed 45 to 4 in the Iowa Senate.
Some Democrats voted for the bill, saying they support unemployment benefits for all working families. Others opposed it, saying there should be more guardrails to ensure the medical exemptions are genuine.
The new law took effect immediately when Reynolds signed it.
Reynolds also announced Friday she is joining a lawsuit challenging the Biden administration's vaccine requirements for federal contractors.
This post was updated Friday, Oct. 29, at 1:16 p.m.