Bill banning ‘vaccine passports’ excludes health care facilities, workers

An Iowa House committee advanced a bill April 26, 2021, banning so-called "vaccine passports" for entry into businesses or other public venues. (Photo by EJ Hersom/U.S. Department of Defense)

Lawmakers advanced legislation Monday aimed at prohibiting businesses and other entities from excluding people who haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 16-5 to move House File 889 to the floor for debate. The bill would forbid state or local governments from creating a so-called “vaccine passport” or document that proves a person’s COVID-19 vaccination status.

It also would forbid most businesses and other public venues from requiring proof of COVID-19 status for admission to the premises.

Dozens of speakers spoke during a House Judiciary subcommittee meeting in favor of the bill, arguing that they should have the freedom to choose whether to be vaccinated and that their private health data should be protected.

Jessica Pennings of Ankeny said both she and her children have been “harmed” by vaccines. “I have lived in Iowa all my life and there isn’t much that would cause me to move from the state. But I will leave the state in a heartbeat if vaccine passports are allowed here,” she said.

Many of the speakers — including Brei Johnson, representing a group called Informed Choice Iowa — called for lawmakers to eliminate the exemption for health care facilities.

“We must provide blanket protection for all facilities and not cherry pick whose private health information is to be protected,” Johnson said. “Our health care professionals and individuals needing health care services must have their personal health information protected as well.”

J.D. Davis, lobbyist for the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, said some of the group’s members asked if the bill would prevent the state from creating proof of vaccination that might be needed for Iowa businesses whose employees travel internationally. He also asked whether the bill allows employers to ask their employees in writing whether they have been vaccinated.

“We’re very much wanting to respect anybody’s right to do what they wish to as it comes to vaccinations. We do recognize however, though, that in an employer-employee relationship, sometimes those decisions that folks make will have consequences in the workplace,” Davis said.

Nicole Proesch, lobbyist for the Iowa Hospital Association, said the association would resist any effort to remove the exclusion related to hospitals.

Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, floor manager of the bill, said the legislation does not exclude businesses from requiring employees to be vaccinated. He said the business owner also has rights to decide who comes into the business and to determine requirements for employees.

While the bill does not include any penalties for businesses or entities other than the loss of government grants or contracts, Holt said businesses would be reluctant to violate the law.

“We also know that, particularly with big businesses, they don’t want to be seen as disobeying the law. So I think this is pretty strong language to take care of that particular situation,” he said.

Holt suggested exempting health care facilities was a necessary compromise to pass the bill in the final weeks of the legislative session.

“I will go forward with the concerns and see what else we can do,” he said.

The bill is eligible for debate because it is sponsored by Republican legislative leaders in the House and Senate.

Earlier this month, Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, called for legislation barring the use of so-called “vaccine passports” to keep unvaccinated people out of public venues. She said April 7 that she would sign an executive order if lawmakers did not act before the end of the legislative session.

Here are key provisions of House File 889:

  • It would prohibit information on any state or local government identification card showing whether a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • Businesses or governmental entities could not require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 of anyone who is invited onto the premises. The bill does not specifically address employees.
  • Businesses or governmental entities that violate this law would be ineligible for grants or contracts funded with state revenue.
  • Health care facilities that are exempt from the legislation include hospitals, licensed inpatient centers, ambulatory surgical or treatment centers, diagnostic laboratory and imaging centers, skilled nursing centers, residential treatment centers, rehabilitation and other therapeutic centers, adult day care centers, and intermediate care facilities for persons with mental illness and persons with intellectual disabilities.
  • Businesses and other entities would still be allowed to conduct a COVID-19 screening protocol that does not involve requiring proof of vaccination.
Kathie Obradovich
Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.