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Iowa says it won't enforce the federal vaccine-or-test mandate for large workplaces

governor kim reynolds
Kelsey Kremer
Governor Kim Reynolds enters the Iowa House of Representatives' chamber on Tuesday evening, Jan. 11, 2022, to give the annual condition of the state address, at the State Capitol, in Des Moines.

Iowa’s labor commissioner says the state won’t enforcethe Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate for workplaces with 100 or more employees, regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on the matter.

Iowa Labor Commissioner Rod Roberts said in a statement Friday night it’s not necessary to enforce the federal mandate.

“As a state plan state, the Iowa Division of Labor is charged with protecting the health and safety of those in the workplace and has the authority to enforce workplace safety and health standards for Iowa businesses,” Roberts said. “Iowa doesn’t have a standard requiring the COVID-19 vaccine or testing. But after closely reviewing the federal OSHA vaccine mandate, Iowa has determined it will not adopt the federal standard. Iowa has concluded that it is not necessary because Iowa’s existing standards are at least as effective as the federal standard change.”

It’s not clear how Iowa’s rules would be as effective as a vaccine-or-test mandate in keeping workers safe from COVID-19. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Iowa have increased rapidly over the past week.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said she applauds Roberts’ decision as way to “protect the freedoms and liberties of Iowans.”

“The Biden administration continues to ignore the constitutional rights afforded to all Americans, which our country was built on,” Reynolds said. “Instead, they’d rather dictate health care decisions and eliminate personal choice, causing our businesses and employees to suffer and exacerbating our workforce shortage.”

The announcement from Reynolds’ officesays Iowa employers are not required to comply with the vaccine-or-test mandate, which was set to take effect Jan. 10 nationwide with enforcement beginning in February.

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in lawsuits over the OSHA vaccine-or-test requirement and the separate COVID-19 vaccine mandate for most health care workers. As of Sunday evening, the Court has not issued a ruling.

In a statement Sunday, U.S. Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda said the federal government expects state plans, including Iowa’s, to implement the vaccine-or-test mandate or adopt rules that are at least as effective at protecting workers.

“OSHA will closely monitor the progress of state plans in complying with these responsibilities—and take appropriate steps where they don’t—to ensure that workers across the country are protected,” Nanda said.

The federal government could step in to oversee workplace safety in Iowa if it determines the state has failed to implement proper safety standards.

Reynolds has joined legal challenges of all three federal vaccine mandates. She also signed a bill into law last year that makes it easier for workers to avoid COVID-19 vaccine requirements, allowsIowans to collect unemployment benefits if they’re fired for not getting vaccinated.

This year, two Republican lawmakers are proposing banningall workplace vaccine and mask mandates.

Reynolds and other GOP leaders said last week they want to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court decision before passing more laws to limit vaccine requirements.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter