Iowa Republicans “prepared to act” on federal vaccine mandates

Republican leaders said they want to wait to see how federal vaccine mandates play out in court, but some Republicans are proposing prohibiting employee vaccine requirements statewide.


Gabby Drees

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, responds to questions posed by reporters at a press conference at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa on Tuesday, January 4, 2022.

Caleb McCullough, Executive Editor

DES MOINES — Republican leaders in Iowa said they are “prepared to act” to curb federal vaccine requirements for workers but want to wait to see how lawsuits against the mandates play out in court, but a group of House Republicans are pushing to ban mandates sooner. 

House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said during a press conference held by the Iowa Capitol Press Association Tuesday that he thinks the Legislature should wait until the Supreme Court reviews federal vaccine mandates before passing legislation. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Friday over the federal mandate that employers with more than 100 employees require vaccination or weekly testing for employees.

The Biden administration’s vaccine mandates — on large employers, federal contractors, and many health care workers — have faced a bevy of legal challenges from Republican governors, including Gov. Kim Reynolds. Currently, many of those requirements have been halted by federal courts.

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

In a special session in October, the Iowa Legislature passed a bill that allows workers to claim medical or religious exemptions to an employer’s vaccine mandate. 

Now, some Republicans want to go further. Reps. Jon Jacobsen, R-Council Bluffs, and Mark Cisneros, R-Muscatine, have led a group of House Republicans in crafting a bill that would prohibit Iowa businesses from keeping medical records — including vaccination status — of employees, according to a press release provided by Jacobsen.

It would also make it illegal for businesses to deny goods or services based on vaccination status, provide incentives or disincentives, consider vaccination as a condition of employment, and segregate or discriminate based on vaccination status.

“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 in the release. “Health and safety has consistently fallen under state purview to address. We don’t need to wait for any more court rulings, because by law, that power is given to the local elected officials of the Iowa Legislature.”

Reynolds said she also wants the Legislature to wait for a decision from the courts before moving. She said she wants a consistent policy for handling COVID-19 and vaccinations.

“I’ve had a lot of businesses that are very concerned and anxious reach out to me,” she said at the press conference. 

Grassley didn’t offer the specifics of bills he wants to see passed, but he said they would push back against federal mandates if they are upheld.

“The things that we’re not going to do, even if we do have to take action, are things like the Biden administration has done, which is, for example, trying to push a mandate onto our employers,” he said.

Democratic leaders, on the other hand, said they want to focus the Legislature’s energy on incentivizing vaccination, not blocking mandates. 

“I would say another thing that’s keeping people out of the workforce is unvaccinated people who can’t go to work because they’re in the hospital,” Iowa House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said. 

As of Monday 79.9 percent of Iowans hospitalized with COVID-19 were unvaccinated, according to the state’s coronavirus tracker.

“Instead of getting Iowa working again, Republicans continue to play partisan games and to obsess about divisive social issues and other distractions,” Iowa Senate Majority Leader Zach Wahls said in a press release after the conference. 

The 2022 legislative session begins on Jan. 10.

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