Democrat Rep. Isenhart asks AG for opinion on constitutionality of HF 847 – bill that barred schools from requiring masks

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On August 17, I wrote to Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller to seek his opinion on the Constitutionality of provisions in a bill passed in the dead of night by Republicans and signed by the governor in the wee hours of the morning. Language in the House File 847 (unveiled less than 24 hours before it was adopted) curtails the ability of cities, counties and schools to protect public health. Schools are barred from requiring facial coverings. Here is the text of the letter:

Dear Attorney General Miller:

I submit this request for an attorney general opinion for review and response at your earliest opportunity.

The Bill of Rights in the Iowa Constitution states that “All men…have certain inalienable rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life…and pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness” (Section 1). The Bill of Rights also states that “Government is instituted for the protection, security, and benefit of the people…” (Section 2).

Do sections 28, 29 and 30 of HF 847 (2021) violate the Bill of Rights of the Iowa Constitution by obstructing the defense of life, by frustrating the pursuit and attainment of the inalienable right to safety and/or by subverting the obligation of state government to provide for the protection and security of the people?

Is there a rational basis for the limitations on school districts, counties and cities promulgated in HF 847? Are those limitations justified by any compelling public interest? If not, how are the sections compatible with the Iowa Constitution?

If not an unconstitutional violation of the Bill of Rights, does section 29 of HF 847 (2021) violate section 38A of the Iowa Constitution if the statute does not create an affirmative policy with which a city must be consistent or does not invest the power to establish such affirmative policy in another government official or agency?

If not an unconstitutional violation of the Bill of Rights, does section 30 of HF 847 (2021) violate section 39A of the Iowa Constitution if the statute does not create an affirmative policy with which a county must be consistent or does not invest the power to establish an affirmative policy in another government official or agency?

If sections 29 and 30 of HF 847 are not unconstitutional on those bases, would it be permissible under sections 38A and 39A of the Iowa Constitution for the General Assembly to bar cities and counties by statute from acting outside the confines of their essential or general purposes without specifying the powers to be denied and without establishing standards with which local governments must remain consistent?

Attorney General Miller, I thank you for your time and attention. I appreciate your consideration and timely response, as these matters are of urgent concern to the people of Iowa.

Respectfully submitted,

State Rep. Chuck Isenhart

Author: Chuck Isenhart