DES MOINES, Iowa – Gov. Kim Reynolds signed HF 847, a bill that prohibits school districts, cities, and counties from implementing mask mandates, hours after the Iowa Legislature passed it on the last day of the 2021 session.
“The state of Iowa is putting parents back in control of their child’s education and taking greater steps to protect the rights of all Iowans to make their own health care decisions,” Reynolds said in a released statement after signing the bill around midnight on Thursday morning. “I am proud to be a governor of a state that values personal responsibility and individual liberties. I want to thank the Iowa Legislature for their quick work in bringing this bill to my desk so that it can be signed into law.”
The bill takes effect immediately.
The mask mandate prohibition amended the Senate’s amendment to HF 847 was introduced by State Rep. Dustin Hite, R-New Sharon, on the legislature’s last day of the 2021 session. The Iowa Senate’s amendment also included raising the school tuition organization (STO) tax credit from 65 percent to 75 percent of the donation Iowans make to STOs and increased the STO tax credit cap to $20 million. The amendment also requires charter school administrators to hold an administrator’s license, a teaching license, or authorization by the Board of Educational Examiners. Lastly, the amendment also includes a requirement that schools recite the Pledge of Allegiance (students can opt-out) and display U.S. flags in classrooms taking language from a bill introduced by State Rep. Carter Nordman, R-Adel, that initially passed in the Iowa House with overwhelming bipartisan support but was not considered by the Iowa Senate until they added to the amendment to HF 847.
While Republicans supported the amendment language, Democrats in both chambers opposed it.
During the Iowa House debate State Rep. Christina Bohannan, D-Iowa City, said the amendment represents unduly restricts school districts, cities, and counties from acting to address a health threat specific to their community since the amendment goes beyond mask mandates for COVID-19.
“Under Representative Hite’s amendment, local governments and school boards can’t require a mask for any new variant of COVID that might be more lethal, more contagious, or more dangerous to children,” she said, offering an amendment that limited the prohibition to mask mandates related to COVID-19.
Hite responded that the Governor could order a mask mandate using her emergency powers if circumstances warrant it. He also pointed to Dr. Anthony Fauci insinuating that masks could be part of everyday life in the future, even for the flu.
“IF there is a danger in a local community, and it might not be shared by other counties or other districts, right, you there are lots of times when we’ve seen one kind of outbreak in one community, that’s just not a problem in other parts of the state. We need our local governments to be able to deal with that, and they are accountable to the people,” Bohannan stated in her closing remarks for her amendment that failed.
State Rep. Wes Breckenridge, D-Newton, offered an amendment that would give county departments of public health and the Iowa Department of Public Health the authority to implement mask mandates.
Hite responded that his amendment doesn’t prohibit the Iowa Department of Public Health from issuing a mask mandate but questioned whether they had the authority under Iowa law to do that. Since the Governor can, he said the amendment was unnecessary.
Breckenridge said allowing county departments of public health the ability to issue a mandate would help them respond quickly to a health emergency that may arise.
“I think that this taking local control away from them is going to slow down that response for them to be able to act and curb and get this under control if it’s localized in that area,” he said.
Breckenridge’s amendment failed.
State Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, said the legislature was micromanaging a local government’s potential response to a health emergency.
“I read a letter from a city official who pleaded with us to quit interfering with local government. It seems like that’s all we’ve done this session. And here it is again. I mean, a mask. They can’t even say that their residents can’t wear a mask. They are locally elected. Talk about micromanaging,” she said.
State Rep. Todd Pritchard, D-Charles City, challenged the amendment on its germaneness since the amendment extends beyond education. His point was “well taken,” and Hite called for a vote to suspend the rules so the amendment could be considered, which passed.
State Rep. Eric Gjerde, D-Cedar Rapids, asked Hite what his feelings about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were. “Do you believe in them? Do you believe in their science?”
Hite replied, “I don’t know how to answer that. Do I believe in them? Yes, they exist.”
State Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, called for a point of order and said Gjerde’s questions had nothing to do with the amendment. Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, sided with her point, and Gjerde moved on.
“I would like to point out that the CDC He continues to say that you should continue to wear a mask. And if you’re vaccinated, I think they say that you don’t have to wear a mask as much. You maybe don’t have to wear a mask at all, as long as you’re double vaccinated,” he stated.
COVID-19 vaccines come in two doses (Moderna and Pfizer) or one-shot (Johnson & Johnson). The CDC guidance says a person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or after taking the one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
State Rep. RasTafari Smith, D-Waterloo, opposed the amendment because it eroded local control.
“I support freedom. I support freedom from government overreach. I support the ability for my elected officials in my local communities to make decisions based on what I’m telling them,” he said.
State Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, supported the amendment and talked about students in the Harlan Community School District protesting having a mask mandate. They said they were done wearing masks and believed it was an infringement on their liberty. The school district he said was attempting to resolve the issue with the students.
“The Constitution exists to restrict government not to restrict people, as Ronald Reagan pointed out to us. What this amendment is doing is exactly what government is supposed to do. We’re not restricting people. We’re restricting government from mandating through schools or whatever. What I believe is a deeply personal decision that ought to be made by parents. We’re a free people living in a republic,” he said.
State Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Birmingham, supported the amendment but wished it didn’t come three months late.
“And I’m thankful that even though it took three months to get this, it is finally being addressed, and these issues are being recognized,” he said. “There has been tremendous outpouring asking for this. And I’m glad. I think this amendment really represents, maybe more than anything else we’ve done this year, really responding to the needs of the people, as the people are presenting their requests from us. So I think this is a really great example of representative democracy in action.”
State Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City, pointed out that school districts in his House District didn’t have mask mandates and demonstrated that they were unnecessary after those schools returned to in-person learning in the fall.
“We were told down here that the sky was going to fall, and everything was going to just be terrible. Well back home, my schools, most of which never had mass mandates. We’re having little to no issues,” he said.
State Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines, opposed the bill and said that Iowans need to consider others before themselves.
“I do understand that some parents don’t like to be told to wear masks, or their kids to wear masks, or get vaccines – out of a sense of their rights and their freedoms. I do understand that. But this is about public health. People may not want to wear a mask. I didn’t like wearing a mask. I hated it. But don’t we have a responsibility to protect the health of the people around us?” she asked.
“Don’t we all have a responsibility to each other? If they don’t want to wear masks, I think that’s fine. I think they should stay home. I think they should. Those parents should then teach their children rather than sending them to a school where they can make not only other kids. But teachers and cafeteria workers and office workers very, very ill,” Anderson added.
State Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, made similar remarks stating that wearing a mask is part of the biblical command to “love one’s neighbbor as you love yourself.”
“And I’m going to tell you something that I learned in Sunday School and something that I will carry with me forever, that you are to love your neighbor as yourself. And if we are so selfish that we can’t even put a mask on to protect somebody who might die because she can go get this virus. We’re here to represent not only the popular interests of our constituents, but we are here to do the right thing by our communities,” she stated. “Some people needed the protection of all of us, each and every one of us stepping up to the plate.”
State Rep. Sandy Salmon, R-Janesville, said the science about masks is not settled.
“When the science is not settled, is best to let freedom be our guide,” she said.
State Rep. Steven Bradley, R-Cascade, who is a dentist, noted the irony about the debate.
“We’re talking about wearing a mask. And nobody in here is wearing a mask. I am for this as somebody who’s had to wear a mask for 40 years. Thank God that I don’t have to wear a mask anymore,” he said.
Hite explained during his closing remarks what his amendment does not do.
“There’s nothing in here preventing any student at any time to show up in school wearing a mask. There’s nothing in here prevent any employee, any person that visits a school, from wearing a mask. It simply says they’re not going to be dictated to do so. When it comes to the local government part. We talk about local control all the time, but I’m not sure we totally grasp what that means in this in this body. The actual provisions regarding the local government say you can’t tell property owners what they can allow and not allow with regards to masks on their own property. This doesn’t say that the city or county can’t make a mask mandate on their own property. This doesn’t say that the city or county can’t make a mask on the public property. It says that the city’s not going to tell me in my business, or in my home, that I have to wear a mask,” he said.
The Iowa House adopted the amendment and passed the bill by a 53 to 35 vote.
Listen to the entire Iowa House debate on Hite’s amendment:
The Iowa Senate had a much shorter debate, less than 15 minutes, over the amended bill.
State Senator Sarah Trone Garriott, D-Windsor Heights, opposed the bill appealing on behalf of parents with medically vulnerable children.
She said a friend had to pull their children out of school after the school district ended its mask mandate because of a child who had a rare medical condition.
“The school board met over the weekend and announced the no mask policy just before 1:00 pm on Sunday, and they sent out a message to parents. That’s how they find out. The kids didn’t have any of their school supplies. No books, no educational plans were in place for them. There was no plan for his nursing care. No plan for child care for these two parents who work full time. And the teachers were left picking up the pieces. The kids didn’t get to say goodbye to their friends. They miss band concerts, choir concerts. There were lots of tears this week. But it’s not safe for them to be around unmasked, unvaccinated people in a building,” Trone Garriott explained.
“Is this really what you want for medically vulnerable children all over Iowa? Are you just not thinking about them?” she asked.
State Senator Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, appealed for older teachers at risk.
“We have 1000s of teachers who fall into an older age group. And many of those teachers have vulnerable immune systems and other reasons why a lack of a face covering around all almost all of our students are still not immunized. And kids do get COVID,” she said.
Vaccines, however, have been available for older, at-risk Iowans, including teachers, for months.
State Senator Carrie Koelker, R-Dyersville, who has a child with cancer, said she was thankful mask mandates in schools were being prohibited.
“I was sitting last week after my son’s first round of chemo. I asked the doctors what do I need to do with him? I mean, it’s my child. I want to make sure that he’s in the best hands, and not once did they say that he needs to be vaccinated or surround himself with masks. And I respect everyone’s opinion on this issue, but we also need to start getting back to looking at the reality of where we have come from this pandemic and what we’ve learned from it. Kids do get COVID. I’ve had my children have had COVID. Kids get cold. Kids get cancer, and kids get the flu. We cannot continue to live in an entire bubble and quit living because of this awful pandemic that were enduring,” she said.
State Senator Joe Bolkcom, D-Coralville, also spoke and pointed out that more Iowans could have died if it were not for mask mandates. He said the prohibition on mask mandates is based on politics, not science.
State Senator Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, the bill’s manager, did not comment further on the bill since it was getting late in the day. She just moved for the Senate to vote on the bill.
It passed 29 to 17.
Listen to the full Iowa Senate debate: