Amendment H-1527, offered by Republican Rep. Dustin Hite, prohibits K-12 schools in Iowa from requiring masks except in cases where it is necessary for instructional or extracurricular or other safety equipment.
It also includes a provision preventing cities and counties from requiring masks inside private businesses.
Democrat Rep. Christina Bohannan offered an amendment that would’ve made H-1527 apply to just the current COVID pandemic.
Bohannan said prohibiting local governments from being able to issue a face-covering mandate for any various reason is “irresponsible.” She also argued that the amendment will limit local control.
Bohannan’s amendment failed 52-35.
Democrat Rep. Wes Breckenridge attempted to amend the bill as well to allow the Iowa Department of Public Health and local county departments of public health to work with local schools on facial covering mandates.
Hite said the amendment doesn’t prohibit local county health from issuing mask mandates.
“I’m not sure they actually have that authority anyway, but again, I would come back to the governor does in her emergency powers, and that’s the appropriate place,” Hite said.
Breckenridge said restricting local control like this will slow down a quicker health response that can be done at the county level.
His amendment failed 53-33.
Democrat Rep. Sharon Steckman objected to Hite’s amendment. She
“I mean, a mask,” Steckman said. “Talk about micromanaging.”
Steckman made a small government argument in favor of local control against Hite’s amendment.
“Telling cities and counties they can’t have a mask mandate — I would think they would know better firsthand what they need to do,” she said. “And if people object to what they’re saying, they’ll vote them out of office and it isn’t their fault, we did it to them.”
Democrat Rep. Todd Prichard challenged whether the amendment was germane to the bill. Speaker Pat Grassley ruled the amendment not germane, but Republicans voted to suspend the rules and allow for immediate consideration for H-1527.
That motion passed 53-34.
Democrat Rep. Eric Gjerde asked Hite where the amendment came from.
“Since this pandemic started, I don’t know if there is a single issue that I have heard from constituents, from people across the state about masks,” Hite said. “That’s where it came from. You want to talk about something that’s grassroots — this is something that I’ve heard about. I’ve lost count.”
Gjerde said he’d like to point out that the CDC continues to say that masking should continue, unless you are vaccinated.
“The CDC on their website says masks help protect those around you,” Gjerde said. “So masks help to ensure that the droplets from you don’t go to somebody else. I don’t understand, I want to be able to rid ourselves of masks as quickly as possible, but I don’t want to do it too early.”
Gjerde said the amendment is not based on science but is instead based on perception.
“We should leave it to the local school boards, the cities, the counties — to do what they think is right for their communities,” Gjerde said.
Democrat Rep. Ras Smith said the amendment is about government overreach rather than face coverings.
Smith said Hite’s amendment silences the voices of people electing locally elected officials — mayors, county supervisors and school board members.
Republican Rep. Steve Holt told a story about 40-80 students in Harlan who went to parents and said they were done wearing masks.
“Some of these parents tried to talk their kids out of it,” Holt said. “Nonetheless, they went to the school in Harlan, in my district, the school district, you know, did the best they can.”
Holt said he went to listen to the parents.
“There’s a lot of folks out there, whether we like it or not, whether you like it or not, who don’t believe that masks work,” Holt said. “And they don’t want masks on their children’s faces because they believe it is harmful to their development. They believe it is harmful and they want to be able to make that decision. The Constitution exists to restrict government, not to restrict people as Ronald Reagan pointed out to us.
“What this amendment is doing, is exactly what government is supposed to do We’re not restricting people, we’re restricting government from mandating through schools or whatever, what I believe is a deeply personal decision that ought to be made by parents. We’re a free people living in a republic. So how about strong recommendations from the CDC, strong recommendations from government and allow free people, and parents, to make the decision that they believe is best for themselves, their families and their children. If we believe the vaccines work, if we believe that masks work, then fine, get the vaccine, wear the mask and don’t worry about what other people are doing. You be you and you let them be them. This is about freedom. This is about liberty. In my district alone numerous parents have had enough.”
Republican Rep. Jeff Shipley thanked everyone for the work put into the amendment. He talked about the documented trauma, stress and adverse childhood experiences that are directly related to the mandatory masking policies.
“I think this amendment really represents maybe more than anything else we’ve done this year really responding to the needs of the people,” he said. “This is a really great example of representative democracy in action.”
Republican Rep. Skyler Wheeler talked about schools in his district, most of which never had a mask mandate, and the sky never fell. He talked about coaching baseball and football and seeing a season “destroyed” last summer.
“They had a 17-day hiatus, they got to play a total of nine games and had their season destroyed,” Wheeler said. “During the fall, coaching football, I would listen to students from 14 years of age to 18 years of age — kids that I coach — come out frustrated that they sat in class all day in masks. That they would walk around school all day in masks. I listened to parents in my district frustrated that their kids had to go to school in masks all the time. Parents know what’s best for students. This exactly is why we’re down here — empower parents, let them make the decisions they think is best for their kids.”
Republican Rep. Sandy Salmon said there is an assumption the science is settled on masks. But her research, she said, reveals it is not settled.
“When the science is not settled, it’s best to let freedom be our guide,” Salmon said.
Republican Rep. Steven Bradley, who was a dentist, said he had to wear a mask for 40 years and thanks God he doesn’t have to wear one anymore.
In his closing remarks, Hite said this amendment does keep government out of Iowans’ lives.
“I think we need to actually read the amendment,” he said. “When it comes to schools, we’re saying school don’t get to make that choice — parents and students get to make that choice.”
Nothing in the amendment prevents anyone from wearing a mask to school.
“It simply says they’re not going to be dictated to do so,” Hite said.
He picked apart the “local control” argument, noting that cities and counties are still able to require masks in their properties, but not in the private property of businesses and homeowners.
He finished by reading an email he received from an Ankeny parent prior to debate on the amendment. The email read:
“We feel heard. You will have made my children’s school experience so much better. I feel confident we’ll be sending all of our three kids back to the public school next year now that facemasks cannot be forced on them. Thank you from three kiddos who cannot wait to return to a normal school year.”
Hite closed, saying:
“So, we talk a lot about who we’re doing this for. I’m doing it for those three kiddos and a whole heck of a lot more across the state of Iowa.”
Hite’s amendment passed 52-33. Republican Rep. Brian Lohse was the lone GOP no vote.