Bill barring ‘vaccine passports’ on legislative fast track

The Iowa Legislature is quickly advancing a bill aimed at curbing the use of "vaccine passports" in Iowa. (Photo by Marco Verch via Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Legislation to ban so-called “vaccine passports” and prevent unvaccinated people from being excluded from businesses and other public venues continued on a fast track in the Iowa Legislature Tuesday.

The Senate Commerce Committee advanced Senate File 610 Wednesday afternoon without changes on an 11-4 vote.

“I don’t believe it’s appropriate for the state of Iowa or government entities, political subdivisions within the state of Iowa, to require Iowans to have to show a government-issued document to be able to exercise their constitutional rights,” Senate President Jake Chapman, R-Adel, the floor manager, said Tuesday.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, opposed the bill, calling it unwarranted interference with private businesses. He said a business “that tries to protect its clients, its customers, and also along the way its workers, should be celebrated and not punished.”

He noted the bill was limited to proof of COVID-19 vaccination. “Thank goodness that businesses are still allowed to put up the sign of ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service.’ Glad to know that we’re protected from smelly feet and beer bellies,” he said. “Too bad we’re not going to be protected from a virus that can kill.”

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. Health care facilities are exempted from the bill, which would bar violators from receiving any grants or contracts using state money.

The proposal, requested by Gov. Kim Reynolds, is now eligible for floor debate in both chambers. The House passed a companion bill through a subcommittee and the Judiciary Committee during a single meeting Monday. The Legislature’s 110th day is Friday, but lawmakers are not expected to wrap up their work this week.

During a subcommittee meeting on the bill Wednesday morning, members of an anti-vaccination group called Informed Choice Iowa and others continued opposing the bill’s exemption for health care facilities.

“The time will come when medicine will organize into an undercover dictatorship to restrict the art of healing to one class of men and deny equal privileges to others. “If we are not going to stand up to them, and we’re just going to usher in whatever they want, we might as well turn it into government-run health care,” Lindsay Maher of Pleasant Hill said.

Chapman rebuked some of the accusations lobbed at health care workers during the subcommittee meeting.

“I did take a little exception. I am a health care provider. We operate as a health care service. And we are some of the frontline workers. But that doesn’t mean we can’t respect constitutional rights; that we can’t protect Iowans’ … God given rights,” Chapman said.

Chapman, R-Adel, is chief operating officer of an ambulance service founded by his father.

A lobbyist for the Iowa Association of Business and Industry had raised questions about whether the bill would create a challenge for international business travel and whether it would affect employers’ ability to require workers to be vaccinated. J.D. Davis said Tuesday the association now believes the private sector, such as airlines, would address travel issues. Lawmakers have said the bill does not affect workplace standards for employees.

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.