A Response to Majority Leader Windschitl,
Last night I took the time to read and digest the newsletter published by Majority Leader Matt Windschitl. While I appreciate his thoughts and insights on the matter I believe, respectfully, that his assessment wasn’t completely fair. Therefore, as someone who has been involved in the intricate workings of the Medical Privacy and Freedom Act (MPFA), bear with me as I provide some history and a response to the events in the Statehouse these past weeks. Please note this is not a hit against the Majority Leader, but a respectful disagreement on the interpretations of events.
First, to the Majority Leader, I sincerely appreciate all of his efforts to include groups like Informed Choice Iowa (ICI) in these very important conversations regarding the language of the “new” covid privacy bill. I believe that Windschitl is sincere in his work to help Iowans combat the medical tyranny we have all experienced over the last two years. Windschitl shared first-hand experience on the floor of the Iowa House, how the denial of experimental or off-label drugs impacted his family. I would encourage everyone to watch his speech (Right to Try Floor Speech). Thank you to Windschitl for his willingness to address these issues and for giving ICI a seat at the table. Now, in all fairness, Windschitl is the Majority Leader which means he has a unique job of garnering 51 votes for any given issue within the Republican House Caucus and with that comes compromise, give and take, and dealing with all the personalities and private interests of the caucus. I can understand his frustration and the position he took yesterday in his newsletter.
However, that is not the full picture.
Allow me to begin with some history of how we arrived at the point of the MPFA. First, COVID-19 hit the United States by some estimates in early 2020 and in March of 2020, society began to lockdown. Churches, schools, businesses, events, outpatient medical clinics, and playgrounds were all asked (or told) to shut down. (Note: big box stores were allowed to remain open.) Everyone was told to mask up! Wash your hands for 20 seconds! Cover your cough! Social Distance! Soon cities across America became ghost towns, faces disappeared behind masks, and most people hid in their homes. Then the COVID-19 “vaccine” was released for emergency use authorization. Many of us watching this unfold knew from the beginning what was about to happen with the “vaccine” and as speculated, businesses all over the country started requiring their employees to get the jabs or face termination and/or discrimination.
Enter the Iowa Legislature May 2021 as Republicans put forward the Passport Ban Bill. I appreciate the Republicans recognizing that something had to be done to protect Iowans, however, this bill fell short and, in my opinion, exacerbated the problem by exempting healthcare, only covering government entities or businesses with government contracts/grants, and explicitly allowing businesses to implement COVID screening protocols. ICI raised the red flag on this bill and several conservative House members heard the cry and voted no. (Some of those members are now being dragged through the mud for their vote the other night but more on that later.) Representative Holt, who floor managed the bill, did say they would come back and fix it if this bill didn’t work. Well, it didn’t and in the summer of 2021 we saw nurses, doctors, hospital staff, private business employees of every industry receive notice to turn in their vaccination status and/or submit their vaccine passport or face termination and/or discrimination. I was heartbroken talking with nurses outside Mercy Hospital in Des Moines. These nurses were in tears as they told about being ripped from the jobs they love and the people they serve because they did not wish to be guinea pigs for this experimental drug. One nurse told me she had been a nurse for 20 years and in November she would be escorted out by security.
Despite the dire situations families across Iowa were facing, Iowans didn’t back down. ICI and other medical freedom groups led protests, encouraged people to call their legislators, and created avenues for Iowans’ stories to be heard. And they were!
Enter the first special legislative session in October to vote on the redistricting maps. Some representatives and senators were ready with legislation to address the discrimination, but the maps were voted down so no other legislation came forward. During that session, during a conversation with a representative, ICI asked to be given a seat at the table to discuss potential legislation to avoid the fiasco that happened in May. There seemed to be an agreement but when the second special session came, ICI was not consulted and the proposed language came late the night before and we were told to accept it; “It’s a good bill”. Well…there was good and bad to the bill. This bill, the exemption bill, said that employers had to waive the vaccine requirement if an employee had a medical or religious exemption or they could fire the employee but would have to pay unemployment. The good of the bill was one only had to submit a statement for their exemption (as companies were requiring extremely invasive questionnaires for exemptions) and a person would be eligible for unemployment. The bad of the bill: 1.) It placed adult exemptions into Iowa Code. Lindsay Maher of ICI pointed out that with this language it was opening the possibility for employers to start requiring the entire adult CDC schedule for their employees. (We have reports of employers now requiring other vaccines.) 2.) It narrowed the religious exemption to an “organized religion”. 3.) A person can still be fired and unemployment is crumbs compared to a salary, not to mention one would lose their insurance and benefits as well. 4.) If someone wants to live free, they have to do so by exemption. Has the bill helped? Some, maybe. But several businesses have ignored the law or found ways around it by other forms of discrimination (isolation, masking, testing, reduced hours, demotions, conditions of employment, etc.).
Following the special session, an opportunity was presented by State Government Chairman Bobby Kaufmann to write a bill to truly address the medical tyranny. Kaufmann said, don’t be afraid to go big, we might not get everything, but we’ll try. From that offer, a “task force” of grassroots activists and concerned Iowans from across the state was put together by Rep. Jon Jacobsen and Rep. Mark Cisneros. The result: the “Gold Standard” – the Medical Privacy and Freedom Act. The bill stated that employers, governmental institutions, and educational institutions could not inquire or record an individual’s medical treatment status and the individual could go back to their employer and have their previous record removed. There was anti-discrimination language that one could not be discriminated against for their medical treatment status including masking and/or testing. Also, the bill included employer liability should an employee be injured from a forced medical treatment. The bill was not COVID specific. See the reasons why here: (MPFA Not COVID Specific).
Finally, now to the legislative session of 2022. The MPFA receives a subcommittee, the longest subcommittee in Iowa history as Windschitl pointed out, as well as hundreds of online comments about the bill. In all my years as a lobbyist, I have never seen anything quite like it. After passing out of the subcommittee, the MPFA passed out of the State Government Committee. Personally, I thought that committee would be a steep hill to climb, so I tip my hat to Rep. Kaufmann on getting that through. (Not sure what was said behind closed doors, but the MPFA survived the first funnel.)
As the second funnel approached, things were quiet on the MPFA and it took a couple of weeks for them to even issue it a bill number, but we eventually learned that it would be attached to what is now known as the “Frankenstein Omnibus Bill” SF2279. This bill included unemployment reform, medical malpractice tort reform, and trucker tort reform. I was told this was the only avenue forward as the MPFA didn’t have the votes on its own. Out of 60 Republicans, there weren’t 51 votes. But, funny enough, the tort portions of the bill didn’t have enough votes on their own either so leadership was hoping to pull in votes by adding the MPFA. Again, I do believe Windschitl wants to restore the rights of Iowans and he was put in a hard place. There wasn’t much we could do, so we waited for the language. The new medical freedom language was unrecognizable from the MPFA. By all intents and purposes, our language was gutted. The new language was simply updating the Passport Bill from last May. There was no language on privacy, the word “employee” had been removed, healthcare was exempted, and it was made COVID specific. All this in addition to it being attached to the omnibus bill.
Fortunately, through meetings with Windschitl, we were able to remedy some of the language. The updated language was not everything we wanted but we knew from the beginning our bill would be watered down. The updated language put privacy language back in as well as the word “employee,” and it included all COVID variants and any future emergency use authorizations for COVID. CMS (Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services) language had to be added (albeit in a way that wasn’t specific to just them) along with some exceptions for insurance purposes. All in all, we were more comfortable with the language and it gave a solid start to rolling the clock back to 2019. However, because of our concerns with the tort reform bills and not a part of our legislative priorities, we were clear that we would not lobby on tort reform, but we would tell representatives that we support the covid privacy language, but they would have to vote their conscience regarding the rest of the bill. We made it clear that we would not fault them for their decision given the situation.
So what happened this week? Copy and paste was done again and this time the COVID privacy bill was attached to trucker tort reform only and proposed as a “strike all” amendment to another bill. The amendment was ruled “not germane” as it did not pertain to the bill it was attached to (a salvage wreckage bill) and so they had to vote to suspend the rules in order to consider the amendment. Voting to suspend the rules means that members were voting on a few things: 1.) The suspension of the rules in general. 2.) Trucker tort reform. 3.) Covid privacy act (the watered-down version of MPFA). I know many members had great concern over the trucker tort language and felt like voting for trucker tort and covid privacy would be trading one constitutional right for another. Some members don’t like the covid privacy act. Some members felt like the compromise for the watered-down version of MPFA for trucker tort, was not a good trade. So it is hard to say exactly why members voted the way they did as there was more than one issue at play. It is also incredibly unfair, for certain House Republicans, to sling mud at the conservative members who voted “no” as they have stood strong for medical freedom all along and I’m sure they have good reasons for their vote. The motion failed to get 51 votes, being 3 votes shy.
So what do we take from this? Is it what Windschtil said, that the medical freedom House members weren’t willing to compromise? I would argue no. As I just laid out, Iowans have watched their freedoms stripped for the last two years as attempts to bring protections failed. Iowans have compromised. With the MPFA, we were handed a whole new bill. We compromised on COVID-specific language (also makes the original passport language COVID specific), Incentives/disincentives language was removed. Weak language regarding government contracts was added in. (Granted there is a $50,000 fine when someone is fired for their status and I appreciate that.) There are still concerns regarding the CMS and insurance language. Given all that, we were still willing to work with the new language. But then another compromise was asked for – trucker tort reform. Personally, an acceptable compromise would have been taking the new language and running it on its own. But then certain members of leadership might not get the votes for their priorities. As a reminder, Windschitl was willing to work for a better solution. It’s too bad the other half of leadership was not.
I was not privy to the conversations that occurred behind closed doors in the Republican House Caucus, obviously, but I would disagree with Windschitl given the events that have unfolded for the last few weeks – that there was “no compromise.” I believe the medical freedom side went to great and, at times, disappointing lengths to compromise. We encouraged House Members on the covid privacy language (the new language was a huge compromise in itself) as the new language will help Iowans related to COVID. But, then they were also asked to compromise on trucker tort. I will give credit in that medical malpractice tort reform and unemployment reform were removed and I believe that was likely a compromise from the other side. But medical freedom should not have been included in this omnibus bill in the first place as it is an issue affecting all Iowans. It deserves its own debate. Iowans’ freedoms should never have been for sale.
So now what? Iowans, session is not over and while accomplishing medical freedom may look a little bleaker after this week, I still have hope. As has been said, “Nothing is over til Sine Die” (the end of session). Tensions were high in the Iowa House last week so perhaps allow a moment of clarity, but then, respectfully remind your representative and senator what you would like to see accomplished by the end of session. The discrimination you face matters, the invasion of your private medical information matters, and the future of how Iowa will protect her citizens from medical tyranny matters! Together, we can roll back the clock to 2019 and restore our freedoms!