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Two Iowa lawmakers propose banning all employer vaccine mandates, while GOP leaders want to wait for a court ruling

jon jacobsen
John Pemble
/
IPR file
Rep. Jon Jacobsen, R-Council Bluffs, has co-authored a bill to ban all employer vaccine mandates and other public health measures.

Two Republican lawmakers released a proposal Tuesday that would ban Iowa businesses from hiring or firing workers, requiring masks or testing, and denying services to customers based on a person’s vaccination status.

But Republican leaders at the Statehouse said they want to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates before passing more laws to push back on them.

“I think we need to wait,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday.

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Friday about the vaccine-or-test mandate for businesses with at least 100 employees and the vaccination requirement for most health care facilities. The large business mandate will take effect Monday if the Court doesn’t block it, and the health care mandate is currently blocked by a court in Iowa and a few other states.

Reynolds has joined legal challenges against all three federal vaccine mandates. She also signed a law in October that directs employers to waive COVID-19 vaccine requirements for workers if they say they believe it’ll hurt their health or go against their religion.

The law that’s in effect doesn’t ban the firing of unvaccinated workers, but it does allow those fired for not getting the vaccine to collect unemployment benefits.

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said lawmakers should be prepared to act again if federal mandates are upheld by the Court.

“We’ve already acted and made sure that we addressed as much as we could when it comes to the exemptions,” Grassley said. “But I also think that the legislature shouldn’t try to get in front and complicate the court cases that we’re seeing work through the process.”

Democrats said state leaders should focus on getting people vaccinated.

“We have 83 percent of those who are in the hospital [ICU] today are unvaccinated Iowans,” said House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights. “We need to spend our energy focusing on getting Iowans to get the vaccine that has been proven safe and effective. And we need to make sure that we can get out of this pandemic, and science has proven that the best way to do that is to get as many people vaccinated as possible.”

Reynolds said the Iowa Department of Public Health continues to promote COVID-19 vaccines. According to state data, 70 percent of Iowans 18 and up are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and CDC data shows 63 percent of Iowans 5 and up are fully vaccinated.

The legislature also passed laws last year to deny state funding to businesses that required “vaccine passports” for customers, and banning schools, cities and counties from requiring masks.

Some Republican lawmakers and opponents of vaccines say these laws don’t go far enough.

The new proposal was crafted by Rep. Jon Jacobsen, R-Council Bluffs, Rep. Mark Cisneros, R-Muscatine, and some Iowans who have led protests against vaccine and mask mandates.

It would apply to all vaccines and “medical treatments,” not just those for COVID-19. It bans asking about or keeping records of a person’s medical treatment of vaccination status, “with the exception of medical records necessary for the care and treatment of an individual.”

Cisneros said in a statement he doesn’t believe the legislature needs to wait for court rulings.

“This bill is the complete package and will truly address the rightful concerns and hardships Iowans have been facing in light of these COVID mandates,” Cisneros said.

Jacobsen said the bill would “protect Iowans’ private health information from employers and the federal government’s tyrannical overreach of powers.”

Under the bill, businesses could lose licenses and permits they need to operate. It also says a person who requires medical treatments or vaccines of any kind would be “liable for any adverse reactions, injuries, disabilities or death that is or may be related” to a “forced medical treatment including vaccines.”

It’s not clear if this bill has enough support among Republicans to pass in the Iowa Legislature, which begins its 2022 legislative session on Jan. 10.

Reynolds, Grassley and Konfrst made their comments Tuesday at a forum hosted by the Iowa Capitol Press Association.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter