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Iowa joins a lawsuit challenging vaccine requirements for large companies

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Johnston, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Charlie Neibergall
Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Iowa joined a lawsuit against federal vaccine requirements Friday.

Iowa has joined a lawsuit with 10 other states challenging the Biden administration’s requirement that companies with at least 100 employees ensure their workers are either fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4 or are tested once a week.

The lawsuit argues that the federal government lacks the constitutional authorityto issue these requirements and that they unconstitutionally infringe on state powers.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds announced the lawsuit Friday.

“I believe the vaccine is the best defense against COVID-19, but I also firmly believe in Iowans’ right to make health care decisions based on what’s best for themselves and their families, and I remain committed to protecting those freedoms,” Reynolds said in a statement. “President Biden should do the same.”

The Biden administration has said the mandate is aimed at protecting people from COVID-19.

Asked about the mandate Thursday, Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn said vaccines are the best way to end the pandemic, and that vaccine requirements in general aren’t new.

“The governor is giving Iowans a false choice between the common good and personal freedom,” Wilburn said. “We can do this. We can get our way out of the pandemic by looking out for each other by getting vaccinated, wearing masks, and staying home when we get sick.”

JD Davis with the Iowa Association of Business and Industry said it’s not clear how companies will comply with the federal vaccine mandate while also following a new Iowa law that expands vaccine exemptions.

“I think it’s fair to say that every employment attorney in Iowa is trying to figure out that answer,” Davis said.

Davis said ABI, which represents about 1,500 employers in the state, opposes the federal mandate and the Iowa law governing COVID-19 vaccine exemptions.

The law that was passed with bipartisan support last week directs employers to grant employees’ requests for medical and religious COVID-19 vaccine exemptions. It does not require workers to provide proof of their need for an exemption from medical professionals or religious leaders.

Iowa’s law does not prohibit companies from firing people who refuse to get vaccinated, but it allows people fired for that reason to remain eligible for unemployment benefits. Davis said employers who follow the new Iowa law could potentially face federal fines for violating the Biden administration’s mandate.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter