DES MOINES, Iowa – On Friday, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill, HF 902, that requires employers to grant religious or medical exemptions if they require their employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19. The bill also states that those terminated for being unvaccinated will qualify for unemployment benefits.
“I am proud to sign this bipartisan piece of legislation today. This is a major step forward in protecting Iowans’ freedoms and their abilities to make healthcare decisions based on what’s best for themselves and their families. This legislation also gives employees the assurance that they will still receive unemployment benefits despite being fired for standing up for their beliefs,” she said in a released statement.
“As I’ve stated publicly numerous times, I believe the vaccine is the best defense against COVID-19 and we’ve provided Iowans with the information they need to determine what’s best for themselves and their families, but no Iowan should be forced to lose their job or livelihood over the COVID-19 vaccine,” she added.
“This is only the first step. We will be taking other legal actions against the Biden Administration’s vaccine mandate,” Reynolds added.
She said on Thursday after the bill passed that the state plans to take immediate legal action once the Biden Administration issues their OSHA regulations mandating the COVID-19 vaccine.
The bill was introduced Thursday after the Iowa Legislature gaveled in for a second special session to address the second draft of the redistricting map.
State Rep. Henry Stone, R-Forest City, who floor managed the bill in the Iowa House, said that employees have “fast approaching” deadlines for taking the vaccine.
“January will be too late for Iowans. That’s why we have to act today,” he said, explaining why the bill needed to be passed during the special session.
Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, praised the legislation that required negotiation within the Republican caucus.
“After months of hard work, careful consideration, and listening to the stories of Iowans, I believe we have found a meaningful solution to protect Iowans and Iowa businesses from the Biden Administration’s extreme government overreach. As this bill passed with bipartisan support, it’s clear even Democrats recognize the dangerous behavior of the Biden Administration. As things progress, we will continue to push back against the federal government’s attempts to infringe on the rights of Iowans,” he said.
The bill passed out of the Iowa House by a 68 to 27 vote, with 12 Democrats voting with Republicans in favor of the bill. State Rep. Mark Cisneros, R-Muscatine, joined 26 Democrats voting against the bill. Five representatives were absent or did not vote.
During the Iowa Senate debate, State Senator Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, did not believe the bill did anything meaningful.
“This is cosmetic. This isn’t real,” he said. “You’re gonna lose a $50,000-a-year job, and we’re gonna give you 200 bucks a week in unemployment. There you go. I paid for your freedom. I paid for your liberty for all Iowans.”
Bisignano said he would vote for the bill because of the unemployment provision but didn’t believe it addressed the problem Republicans wanted to solve.
State Senator Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, who floor managed the bill in the Iowa Senate, said while the bill did not go as far as some wanted, it does provide an answer.
“It recognizes that the strong-arm tactics of the Biden administration to in to infer that mandates are imminent, hourly, has the employees and the employers of Iowa scared,” he said. “Otherwise, freedom-loving, independent employers and employees of Iowa are waiting at any minute for the Biden administration to drop the drop the hammer.”
Schultz said some employers are moving ahead with the mandate since they believe it is coming even though it is not formal.
Employers will have to recognize medical and religious exemptions that he said are defined broadly in the bill. He said they would have to do that before the Biden Administration offers rules, and the law would still be applicable if the OSHA regulations do not prohibit waivers.
“What this bill is trying to do is restore individual freedom for employers and employees. Individual freedom always works,” Schultz said.
The bill passed out of the Iowa Senate by a 45 to 4 vote.
State Senator Sarah Trone Garriott, D-Windsor Heights, was one of the members who voted no.
“Iowans were completely shut out: no notice, no real opportunity public comment, rushed through both chambers in 8hrs. The folks I was able to hear from had lots of concerns. That’s not democracy,” she tweeted.
She was joined by State Senators Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, and Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque.
The Iowa Association of Business and Industry and LeadingAge Iowa were the only groups registered against the bill. The Iowa Board of Regents registered in favor of the bill.
Originally published at 12:45 am on October 29, 2021.
Updated at 10:30 am on October 29, 2021.