IOWA LEGISLATURE

Republican lawmakers reject proposed mask mandate at Iowa Capitol

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Republican state lawmakers on Tuesday rejected Democrats’ proposals to require face masks in the Iowa State Capitol during this year’s legislative session.

Democrats proposed myriad face mask requirements as legislators approved changes to rules that govern the Iowa House chamber. The proposals were defeated on party-line votes, with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposing.

“This should not be controversial. I’m not sure why it is controversial. A lot of businesses require it, a lot of state government requires it, and it’s common sense,” said Rep. Brian Meyer, D-Des Moines. “And we should be following the CDC recommendations.”

“For the life of me, I don’t know how masks have become a political issue, if it has become a political issue here,” Meyer added.

Infectious disease and public health experts are in near-unanimous agreement that face coverings are effective in spreading the coronavirus, especially when combined with social distancing and vigilant hand-washing.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people wear face masks in public when around others, and Iowa’s public health emergency orders require face masks to be worn indoors in public when around other people for at least 15 minutes.

However, state lawmakers write the rules that govern the State Capitol.

Republicans, who hold majorities and thus set policies and the lawmaking agenda in the Iowa House and Senate, have said they recommend people wear faces masks in the Capitol but have declined to require them.

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One Republican lawmaker during Tuesday’s committee meeting appeared to support a mask mandate in the Capitol despite his votes against the proposals.

House Rules committee Chairman Cecil Dolecheck, R-Mount Ayr, said he understands the Democrats’ proposed mask requirement, and that the proposals were defeated for “reasons beyond my purview.”

Dolecheck is 69 years, and Ringgold County, which he represents, currently has the state’s highest 14-day average rate for new COVID-19 cases, at 25 percent.

“It really shouldn’t be (a point of contention). I hope everyone wears a mask and does their part to mitigate the spread (of the virus),” said Dolecheck, who was the only Republican on the committee to speak about the proposed mask mandate during the hearing.

All lawmakers — Democrat and Republican — who participated in the hearing appeared to be wearing face masks.

An email to House Republican leadership asking why the caucus does not support a mask mandate was not immediately returned Tuesday.

The proposed rules in House Study Bill 48 advanced to the full Iowa House.

Comments: (563) 333-2659; erin.murphy@lee.net

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