116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Emotions ran high at the Statehouse on Tuesday as legislators heard calls to head off a “dystopian nightmare” brought on if health care facilities were exempted from a vaccine passport ban and counterappeals from medical providers who have relentlessly battled a deadly COVID-19 pandemic at the front lines not to “throw dirt in their eye and call it freedom” by restricting access to vital information.
The testimony from vaccination opponents and representatives of medical and business groups came on a day when members of the Senate Commerce Committee voted 11-4 to advance legislation supported by Gov. Kim Reynolds that would bar government entities, private businesses and venues open to the public from requiring Iowans to present so-called "vaccine passports" as proof they have received COVID-19 vaccinations.
Senate File 610, a companion to House File 889, seeks to prohibit the mandatory disclosure of whether a person has received a COVID-19 vaccination and proposes to bar any governmental entity or business that requires such proof in violation of the new law from receiving any grants and contracts funded by state revenue. The legislation makes exceptions for health care facilities.
Jessica Pennings of Ames told a Senate subcommittee she “will leave Iowa in a heartbeat” due to her family’s vaccination concerns if lawmakers send Reynolds a bill that includes the health care exclusion from the vaccine passport ban.
“These passports are a violation of privacy. They are discriminatory. And businesses, employers, health care facilities, pharmaceutical corporations, the government or any of you determining the fate of this bill are liable if this product should kill me or harm me. Therefore, this must remain a choice in all sectors,” Pennings said. “Please protect our constitutional rights over our own body. Say no to medical tyranny.”
Members of Informed Choice Iowa — a grassroots organization opposed to health mandates that advocates for vaccine safety and informed consent — urged Iowa Republicans to use their “trifecta” control of the House, Senate and governorship to enact strong vaccine passport bans without medical exemptions as a “last line of defense” to protect and preserve Iowans’ liberties and freedom.
“You are the final barrier between medical tyranny and personal liberty,” said Katie Adrian of Informed Choice Iowa.
“Iowans are shouting from the mountaintops. If this were to pass, they would be very much unprotected and it would lay the framework for legalized discrimination. There is no protection in place for employees against vaccine mandates or passports. There is no guarantee that you’ll be able to see loved ones in a health care facility without a vaccine passport or even receive care for yourself,” she added.
“It’s time that we join our fellow red super states (like Montana and Texas) that are putting legislation into place that are striking down the notion of vaccine passports from every angle.”
However, Nicole Proesch, a lobbyist with the Iowa Hospital Association, said it is critical medical providers have access to all patient information to understand their medical history and unique circumstances in treating patients. She said her organization supported the legislation as drafted and would resist efforts to remove exclusions for health care facilities.
Deborah Thompson came to the defense of public health and health care professionals, who she said have provided “a monumental service to us” for over a year.
“They’re not Nazis. They’re not segregationists. They’re not evil. This is ridiculous rhetoric. They’re heroes that ran into the fire. They took up arms against a Goliath called COVID that has taken lives, caused lasting damage to thousands more.”
Thompson called much of Tuesday’s testimony “misinformation and disinformation” from naysayers who have “given this pandemic life.”
J.D. Davis, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, said his group could support legislation on vaccine passports but that members had questions about whether the bill affects “at-will relationships” with employees and the ability of employers to ask about an employee's vaccination. Also, he said Iowa companies with “international footprints” were concerned if they had to produce documentation to allow their employees to get into other countries.
“Those that choose not to be vaccinated, they have to understand the consequence that may prevent international travel,” Davis told the subcommittee. “People will have the choices to do things, but they will have consequences in the workplace. We want to make sure that that’s clear.”
During the Senate Commerce Committee debate, Democratic opponents questioned why Republicans were coming with an “unnecessary” leadership bill usually used for emergencies to ban a passport that doesn’t exist while a number of problems associated with the COVID-19 pandemic are going unaddressed.
Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said retailers that try to protect their customers, clients or employees “should be celebrated and not punished” by threatening to deny them “in perpetuity” access to any state assistance.
“I think that’s an unwarranted interference with business with a draconian penalty,” he said.
Quirmbach also noted that the bill is narrowly tailored to COVID-19 vaccinations, telling his Senate colleagues: “Thank goodness that businesses are still allowed to put up the sign of ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service.’ Glad to know that we’re protected from smelly feet and beer bellies; too bad we’re not going to be protected from a virus that can kill.”
Senate President Jake Chapman, R-Ankeny, said Senate File 610 will “ensure that we maintain freedoms” by thwarting any individuals, groups or communities that “may have the inkling to strip Iowans of their rights.”
Earlier this month, Reynolds said she "strongly" opposes any mandatory vaccination disclosure system as "an attack on our liberties and our freedoms" and would take steps to restrict their use either through legislation or executive order. The governor said vaccine passports pose constitutional, civil rights and privacy issues and potentially set up a "two-tiered society" requiring Iowans to "either engage or become marginalized."
Under the legislative proposal, the new state law that would take effect upon Reynolds' signature would prohibit state and local governmental entities from producing identification cards that include information regarding whether the card holder has received a COVID-19 vaccination. Also, government entities and businesses holding a sales tax permit, nonprofit or not-for profit organizations, or an establishment open to the public at large or where entrance is limited by a cover charge or membership requirement will not be able to require people furnish proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
The companion bills do not prohibit a business or governmental entity from implementing a COVID-19 screening protocol as long as it does not include a required proof of vaccination for COVID-19.
Biden administration officials have announced they would not create a federal vaccine passport or credential system or require travelers or businesses to be inoculated. But Iowa Republicans say federal officials may change their position or policies so they believe state action is necessary.
The governor is encouraging Iowans to get vaccinated as soon as possible, taking whichever form of the vaccine they choose. At the same time, she said deciding to be vaccinated should be a personal choice and would not be required by the state.
Comments: (515) 243-7220; email@example.com