DES MOINES, Iowa – On Wednesday, the Iowa House of Representatives voted 58 to 35 for HF 899, a bill that prohibits state government and political subdivisions within the state from requiring residents to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. Also, the bill, if passed, will deny state grants and contracts to businesses that require proof of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
State Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Birmingham, offered two different amendments. One amendment would have changed the language on the title page that currently reads an “Act prohibiting the mandatory disclosure of whether a person has received a vaccination for COVID-19, disqualifying certain entities from receiving state grants or contracts, and including effective date provisions.”
Under his first amendment, the bill would read, “An Act prohibiting the publication of certain vaccination information on certain identification cards.”
Shipley said the bill is complex, he’s not sure how it would be implemented, and that it requires more than a week of deliberation. The bill was filed on Friday and had a subcommittee of the whole hearing and committee vote on Monday.
That amendment lost 43 to 50.
Shipley offered another amendment that would remove the exemption from health care facilities.
“You’re a free human being,” he said. “You don’t check your freedom at the door when you walk into a health care facility. You’re still a free human being when you walk through the door of a health care facility.”
Shipley said he believes that the definition of a health care facility is overly broad.
“What do these words mean? How will it apply in society? What is the impact of putting this in code? Could there be unintended consequences? Right? What could potentially come from this? I think there are a lot of questions. Again, this is a complete a very, in my estimation, a very complex issue. And the bill is very poorly defined and does not do a very good job exploring those issues,” he said.
“Why does a health care facility need the ability to exclude people based on vaccination status? Is it the position of this body? Is it the position of Representative Holt that the vaccine is the best and only treatment for COVID?” Shipley asked.
State Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, the bill’s manager, said he didn’t believe the bill condoned healthcare facilities having a vaccine requirement, and it doesn’t codify discrimination even though he understood the arguments being made.
“I also understand that it is health care facilities, long term care facilities, nursing home facilities responsibility to protect their residents to the best of their ability. And whether you believe that the vaccines work or not, I think there’s some compelling scientific evidence that they do. There’s some folks that think they don’t. There’s some folks that think they do, but the issue is, when you come down to it, these facilities are responsible for protecting that most vulnerable population. We know. Regardless of how you feel about COVID-19, we are well aware that the people who the most people who lost their lives are our elderly population, our most vulnerable populations, particularly those in long-term health care facilities,” he said.
Holt also pointed to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance.
State Rep. Steve Hansen, D-Sioux City, said some email he got for people who supported the bill if it were amended was how “mean” they spoke about health care facilities. He said they have those policies to protect their patients.
“I understand the people’s concerns, and I understand their fears. But I also understand those of us who are going out there and getting vaccinated, get our two shots or whatever it takes. That’s how we get people to visit their relatives in the hospitals. That’s how you get people to visit their relatives in their nursing home facilities. And that also helps decreasing the mental wear and tear of those mental health and hospital people, the healthcare professionals,” he said.
State Rep. Brooke Boden, R-Indianola, has a sister in a long-term care facility. She pointed out the inconsistency that some will require vaccinations from visitors but then take in patients with COVID-19.
“I want to make sure that in this coming year, that there’s no reason that I or anybody else, can’t go in and see their family members, and do it in the most respectful, responsible way. And while making sure that we don’t take away the rights of people in Iowa, I never want to have to walk in and show my papers. That’s just really concerning to me,” she said.
In his closing remarks on the amendment, Shipley said that Iowans’ liberties are not based on what the CDC says.
“I think it’s incredibly irresponsible to write a bill that allows Iowans to be dictated to by the CDC, and to put the liberty of Iowans at the mercy of the Centers of Disease Control, that you have rights and liberties until the CDC says so. And that’s because that’s the way we’ve structured our government. Because, unfortunately, rather than going this route of personal responsibility, where people can assume their own risk, we just rely totally on government to be our protector, and our grantor of health and our grantor of liberties that instead of looking to God, for liberty, we’ve looked at government,” he said.
“It just seems relatively naive, especially when other countries have made it very clear that this vaccine credentialing system is meant to coerce people and restrict their movement and create a tiered system where denying unvaccinated people access to society is happening in the world already,” Shipley added later.
Shipley’s second amendment lost 9 to 85.
He offered a third amendment that would have prohibited employers from not hiring, penalizing, or terminating an employee based upon their vaccination record. Shipley said the amendment restates “what we know the law already says that employers are not allowed to mandate a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment.” He pointed out that he has a friend whose wife has a job where they require her and her family to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I just want to make sure that religious exemptions apply at all times because there’s been some discrepancies on that and just making sure that, yeah, people have an option to refuse a vaccine but also a gene therapy or any invasive medical procedure, whatever they come out with next,” Shipley explained.
Holt questioned whether the amendment was germane. House Speaker Pat Grassley ruled the amendment was not germane to the bill. Shipley asked for a vote to suspend the rules in response, and it lost 8 to 78.
There were no additional comments on the bill.
Holt, in his closing comments, addressed one of Shipley’s points.
“In reference to what I said absolutely did not say that we should do the bidding of the CDC, I merely pointed out the reality that, the position, our healthcare facilities would be in if they could not follow CDC guidance and what the position of those facilities might be in as they’re struggling to try to keep their residents safe, while at the same time honoring the rights of those who want to visit their loved ones,” he said.
“You know, everybody was very upset, and rightfully so, it was horrific when you couldn’t visit loved ones in nursing homes. When you couldn’t visit folks, who were sick and dying because of COVID and because of the desire to try to protect, it was a difficult, horrible situation. Many would argue some of those decisions are wrong. And I would agree with that. Having said that, now we have guidance from the CDC, with the vaccines in which if you have a vaccine, you can visit your loved ones without a mask and move around. If you don’t have a vaccine, you can have a mask, but you can still visit. That’s tremendous progress,” Holt said.
He added that two rights come into conflict in some situations, pointing out that businesses and facilities have the right to govern what they expect of people coming onto their property.
“No one is suggesting that anyone could or should be denied health care if they don’t get a vaccination. There is a duty of care. Currently, in law, this bill doesn’t change anything when it comes to health care facilities. That is not currently the situation. It doesn’t address it. It exempts from the requirements of the bill. That doesn’t mean that vaccine passports are encouraged in health care facilities. It doesn’t change anything, the duty to care, the right to privacy, all of these other issues. All of these other requirements still exist in code,” Holt said.
“I absolutely believe that vaccine passports are unacceptable, unconstitutional, and unAmerican,” he later added. “I don’t think Americans will tolerate vaccine passports. We’re not Europe. We’re not going to tolerate vaccine passports. We’re not going to tolerate people not being able to travel without a shot, not going to happen in America. And if it does start happening in a health care facility where they’re mandating, you have to have a vaccine for care which they cannot do. Or if they mandate, you have to have a vaccine before you come in and see your loved ones. We need to come back in here and take action.”
Holt circled back to conflicting rights in regards to the COVID-19 vaccine and employees. The employees have rights, but the business owner does as well. He pointed out that government shouldn’t intrude and dictate this to businesses just like they shouldn’t dictate that a baker make a same-sex wedding cake.
“I believe that business owners have a right to decide what happens with their own business. And that’s difficult for me. And I hope that it doesn’t happen. And I frankly think the free market will take care of it,” he said.
Holt said that while the bill doesn’t address every issue, it sends a strong message.
“This bill doesn’t solve every problem. This bill doesn’t answer every issue. And I know it does not go far enough for a number of folks. But it makes a strong statement that we believe that this decision should be up to the individual, and the state of Iowa will not condone identification cards that say whether you’ve taken the vaccine or not. We will not condone businesses not allowing people to come into their grocery stores or whatever because they haven’t had a vaccine. We are not going to condone those things, and that sends a strong message across the board about vaccine passports. This is a major step forward,” he said.
After the vote, Grassley released the following statement, “Iowans have been loud and clear. They want their medical freedoms protected and their health care information to remain private. We heard from our constituents, and we took action.”
Listen to the Iowa House debate.
The Iowa Senate Commerce Committee also advanced the Senate companion legislation for this bill on Tuesday by an 11 to 4 vote.
Listen to the debate during that committee.