Thursday was a whirlwind day. While it was highly unlikely the legislature would call an audible and advance a bill that was preferred by the people who care about the issue most, there’s still always that sliver of hope.
Just like a couple of years ago when Republicans didn’t have the votes for the Life Amendment, there was hope — only to see the “moderates” protected by the bill not being brought up for a vote.
Just like this past year when the Senate Republicans did the right thing and passed a school choice initiative but again Republicans in the House didn’t have the votes. The bill was never brought to the floor.
And, of course, the nefarious vaccine passport ban that was something better than nothing and came with a promise of improvements if necessary — yet still not improved — at all. And we were told to accept the bill as it was because — Republicans didn’t have the votes.
We could go down a lengthy list of supposed Republican Party principles and priorities where, for some reason, despite having 60 Republicans in the Iowa House, it is the Republicans who do not have the votes.
And how will you ever get the votes if you provide cover for the cowards who refuse to do the right thing?
Short answer: You won’t.
What you will do is divide conservative activists against conservative Republicans, all in the name of protecting the moderates.
Clearly that is what happened in this situation. Republican Rep. Bobby Kaufmann acknowledged during committee the COVID vaccine mandate bill doesn’t go as far as he’d like. He noted the bottom line is, as legislators, you need 51 votes in the House, 26 in the Senate and 1 from Terrace Hill.
So, what does this mean? There weren’t 51 votes in the Iowa House for something better.
There was a lot of confusion on this bill initially because of a somewhat clumsy subcommittee and committee process. But when the smoke cleared, a few things became obvious. I’ll try to make this as simple and as brief as possible:
Two things this bill DOES DO:
- Forces employers to waive vaccine requirements if an employee submits a medical or religious exemption.
- Makes employees fired for refusing the COVID vaccine eligible for unemployment.
That’s pretty much it. We could get into the weeds of whether or not it will discourage employers from issuing mandates and firing employees, but it’s really difficult to predict what anyone will do in this day in age.
Here are things this bill DOES NOT DO:
- It does NOT prevent an employee from being fired for refusing the COVID vaccine.
- It does NOT address whether a business can take vaccine status into account during the hiring process.
- It does NOT provide protection for private health information such as vaccination history.
- It does NOT get into the problem of allowing exemptions but forcing mandatory testing or other burdens targeting unvaccinated individuals?
So, all of this prompts a few questions:
- Are legislators OK with Iowans being fired for refusing the COVID vaccine as long as they’re eligible for unemployment?
- During the committee process, Rep. Bobby Kaufmann noted they can’t guarantee anything, so if for some reason a person is fired for refusing the vaccine and they are denied unemployment, then what?
- Iowans have been asked extremely sensitive information by their employers through the last couple of months. Seeing as Iowans employ legislators, are they prepared to answer the same questions Iowans have been asked about their lifestyles or religious beliefs?
- Since mandates are allowed by Iowa employers regarding COVID vaccine requirements, can Iowans who employ the legislature also impose a vaccine mandate on their employees? Surely lawmakers wouldn’t expect their constituents to live under laws and rules they do not live under themselves, right?
Look, to be fair, there is hope among Republicans this bill is better than it appears. A Drake Law professor told The Des Moines Register the bill could serve as a loophole to work around federal requirements.
At the end of the day, Iowans lost in at least one way. They still don’t know who is with them and who is against them when it comes to bodily autonomy and medical freedom.
Those who oppose an outright ban on vaccine mandates get to return home and tell their constituents their version of events.
Perhaps something like, “yeah, I really wanted to ban vaccine mandates but we just didn’t have the votes.”
Well, we will never know. Some lawmakers came out and made very strong comments leading up to the special session. Others completely ducked the issue.
They were never made to put their name behind their position. They were never forced to face public accountability. They were protected.
They worked against — AGAINST — the interest of individual Iowans and were rewarded for it. They get to say they did “something” while also receiving the comfort of no criticism because nobody can be sure whether they were for or against the bill.
So, now what? Obviously, the easy answer is if they haven’t been bold in speaking out against vaccine mandates, they probably aren’t all that bothered by them.
And that is fine. If that is their position, that is fine.
But let the voters know.
Quit committing voter suppression by robbing constituents of the necessary information to make educated decisions come time to vote.
Rather than rewarding moderates and providing coverage, perhaps we could reward Iowans with a more transparent, open process that lets us know who is with us, and who is against us.
Until that time comes, the default suspicion should be every one of them is against us until they prove they are not.