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Last Thursday the legislature met in special session and took up 2 bills. The first dealt with the requirement by employers that their employees get the COVID vaccine. The legislature passed this bill with bipartisan support (67-27) and the governor has signed it. It was necessary to act on this issue now because many Iowans are facing deadlines between now and January with their jobs and livelihoods on the line. This bill requires that employers
that mandate their employees get the COVID shot must waive the requirement at the employee’s request for a medical or religious exemption.

In other words, if an employee requests a medical or religious exemption the employer is required by law to honor it and provide reasonable accommodations.

The employer may not question or deny the exemption and therefore is not allowed to fire the employee for that reason. However, if the employee refuses the shot and does not submit an exemption, the employer is legally allowed to fire the employee. The employee must file an exemption to be protected.

The medical exemption must state that receiving the vaccine would be injurious to the health and well-being of the employee or a household member of the employee. The religious exemption must state that receiving the vaccine would conflict with the religion of the employee. No doctor or pastor sign-off is required (which has been required by some employers) as this is a personal decision of the employee and in the case of the religious
exemption a required pastor sign-off is a violation of federal law. This protects Iowans’ right to privacy by limiting the information employees must disclose to their employer when requesting an exemption. Some employers have been asking invasive questions about an employee’s medical history or religious beliefs and setting themselves up to evaluate their legitimacy. This is totally overreaching and unacceptable.

Now, some employers may fire an employee for refusing a COVID vaccine (which would be unlawful if they submitted an exemption)…..the bill states that an employee that is discharged from employment for refusing to receive a COVID vaccine shall not be disqualified for unemployment benefits. It also clarifies that the employer who fired the employee for not receiving the vaccine is the one responsible for paying unemployment.

This should provide a deterrent to keep an employer from firing their employees unlawfully. So this bill provides protection for employees who want a medical or religious exemption to be able to keep their jobs. And if they are fired, (whether lawfully because they haven’t submitted an exemption or unlawfully because they have submitted an exemption and are still fired), then they can still get unemployment benefits.

I urged for a stronger bill that altogether prohibited an employer mandating an employee to get the COVID shot to keep their job, but we could not get that because there were not enough legislators willing to vote for that. I believe a mandate such as this is a violation of a basic fundamental right expressed in the 4th Amendment that a person has the right “in their person” to be free from “unreasonable searches and seizures”. I would consider this an unreasonable seizure of a person’s body or health. It should be protected from both the government and from a private individual or business. This would be my answer to the person who thinks the government or business should be able to mandate the COVID
vaccine to others.

One great thing that has come out of this is the recognition by the state that there are legitimate reasons why someone would not want to get the COVID vaccine. One troubling issue that has come out of this is the appearance of legitimizing violating a citizen’s rights by allowing some to dictate to others what injections they must take or what health care treatment they must receive or endure.

One other very practical effect that could come from this bill is that businesses need employees and this bill will help them keep workers. We have heard much about a labor workforce shortage and this bill should help alleviate that.

This bill does not prevent an employer from establishing requirements for unvaccinated employees, such as health mitigation measures of masks, social distancing, taking a COVID test periodically, etc. The bill also does not require an employee to disclose their COVID vaccination status. But then the employer could treat them as an unvaccinated employee with the measures previously listed. With what is being learned about COVID’s high recovery rate, safe and effective outpatient treatments, the moderate-to-weak ability of the vaccine to provide protection, and the inability of the vaccine to prevent transmission, I have urged protections put in place against discrimination based on COVID vaccination status.

Should the Biden administration make good on its threat to issue rules from OSHA requiring employers to mandate their employees get the COVID vaccine, it is hoped that the strengthening of protection for employees regarding exemptions and unemployment benefits will allow employees to be able to keep their jobs. I am not optimistic that the federal government will allow this, however. I believe we may still find ourselves in conflict with the federal government on this issue and will have to fight them at some point.

Already Governor Reynolds has joined 9 other states in a lawsuit challenging the Biden COVID vaccine mandate for all workers employed by a federal contractor. And I’m sure more lawsuits are coming. Some may believe employers or the government have the right to mandatethe COVID vaccine in the name of public health and protecting the health and safety of others with whom a person comes in contact. However, as the  effects and activity of COVID-19 and the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine become better understood, it is now being questioned in medical and scientific circles how much the COVID vaccine protects people from getting the virus or if it prevents them from transmitting the virus. It has also become known that those who have had COVID-19 have had on average a recovery rate over 99%. It has further become known that there are other safe and effective outpatient treatments for COVID-19. In light of these facts, I believe it is unwise as well as freedom-restricting to have a public policy allowing the COVID vaccine to be mandated, whether by government or by business when so much is still unknown and being learned.

One thing I am sure of….there will be loopholes to plug and lawsuits to fight.

“Musical” Districts

The 2nd bill the legislature passed was the redistricting map that was released to the public on Oct. 21st. This was the second map as the legislature turned down the first map earlier in October. It will be signed by the governor soon.

The redistricting map sets not only the legislative districts for both the Iowa House and the Iowa Senate, but it also sets the congressional districts for the U.S. House. These districts will be set for the next 10 years, until the next census is taken in 2030.

The redistricting process Iowa uses, which has been called the “Gold Standard” in comparison to other states, has been in effect since 1981. Iowa law requires certain parameters be adhered to regarding population, respect for county, city, and township lines, compactness, contiguousness, no gerrymandering, etc. Both political parties were satisfied that these requirements were met as the vote was bipartisan.

Author: Sandy Salmon