DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday she’s having “great conversations” with state legislative leaders about a potential bill that would prohibit workplace COVID-19 vaccine requirements. The bill could come up in special session.
“Stay tuned,” the Republican governor told a WHO-AM talk radio host in discussing Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order earlier this week prohibiting any entity, including businesses, from imposing COVID-19 vaccination requirements on employees or customers and why a similar challenge to a Biden administration directive isn’t being mounted in Iowa. Abbott, also a Republican, indicated his order was prompted by President Joe Biden’s moves toward vaccination mandates, which Abbott said was federal overreach.
Reynolds told iHeart radio host Simon Conway she looked at the issue with her legal counsel and concluded under the Iowa Constitution’s separation of powers clause she has authority to execute laws, but not to create them — that’s the purview of the Legislature. She said she did not think it would survive a legal challenge if she took that action herself.
“I believe and my legal counsel believes I do not have the legal authority to do that,” she said. “I don’t support mandates, I support freedom of choice. We’ll continue working with the Legislature, but I can’t fix one unconstitutional mandate with another unconstitutional mandate.”
Reynolds noted that lawmakers took up a measure during their regular 2021 session dealing with the issue of vaccine mandates in the workplace, but the issue stalled without making it to her desk.
Members of the Senate Human Resources Committee voted 7-6 to approve a measure that would bar businesses from mandating their employees be vaccinated. Employers also couldn't use a vaccination history, refusal to receive a vaccination or refusal to provide proof of vaccination in establishing workplace compensation, terms, conditions or privileges.
Senate File 193 also would have prohibited state officials from including vaccination information on an Iowan's driver's license or identification card. The bill was not debated in either chamber, but Reynolds indicated it has become a topic of conversation as legislators prepare for an Oct. 28 special session to consider a second proposal to redraw Iowa’s legislative and congressional boundaries based on 2020 population data.
“We’re continuing to work on it, we’re continuing to have good conversations with the Legislature,” Reynolds told the radio audience. “The Biden administration is a moving target. It’s an overreach. It’s ridiculous. He has no consistency in what he’s doing ....
“As these things play out in this country, it is taking a critical labor shortage and a supply chain issue that are potentially devastating our economy and it is just exacerbating that. It’s just ridiculous what this administration continues to do,” she added.
Reynolds also indicated she is “ready to take legal action” once the Biden administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration release the vaccination mandate rules for businesses. But “it muddies the water” if in the meantime she has issued an unconstitutional executive order, she said.
Attempts to get reach Iowa Republican leaders in the House and Senate for comment after Reynolds’ appearance went unanswered.