By O. Kay Henderson, Radio Iowa
Governor Kim Reynolds will sign a bill that outlines how workers may claim a religious or medical exemption from a private employer’s Covid vaccination mandate, without a doctor or cleric signing off on the document.
The bill that passed the House and Senate yesterday with bipartisan support also says workers are eligible for unemployment if they’re fired for failing to get vaccinated,
including those whose exemption claims are denied. Senator Jason Schultz, a Republican from Schleswig, said it’s “a partial answer” to looming federal vaccination mandates.
“I don’t want to have to do this. Nobody does,” he said. “We’re reacting to authoritarianism.”
Representative Henry Stone, a Republican from Forest City, said there are fast-approaching deadlines for Iowans faced with taking a vaccination “they don’t agree with” or getting fired.
“We needed to take this action now,” Stone said. “January will be too late for Iowans. That’s why we have to act today.”
Democrats who voted for the bill said they did so to ensure Iowans who lose their jobs get unemployment. But Senator Tony Bisignano, a Democrat from Des Moines, voted for the bill, but he accused Republicans of trying to “buy off” Iowans who don’t want to get a Covid shot.
“All this bill says if you lose your job — which you’re going to, because you’re not dealing with the mandate,” Bisignano said, “you’re going to give them their measly weekly unemployment check.”
Business groups say the bill puts Iowa employers “in the terrible position” of trying to figure out if they must follow state or federal regulations when it comes to Covid vaccinations among employees. Representative Steve Hanson, a Democrat from Sioux City, said Republicans had months to craft a bill, but would up with one that leaves too many questions unanswered.
“Rather sloppy legislation,” he said. “…It’s very loosey goosey.”
Opponents of vaccine mandates who rallied at the Capitol today called the bill unacceptable. Representative Jeff Shipley, a Republican from Fairfield, said while there is “more work to do on” the issue, the bill is a good first step.
“There are people in Illinois, in New York and in every other Democratic cesspool in the United States that would love to have these legal protections,” Shipley said.
Governor Reynolds said in a statement that she’s “committed to doing more” on the topic. Last week the governor said she may join a lawsuit challenging federal Covid vaccine mandates.