Bill to prohibit employer vaccine and mask mandates moves forward after hours-long meeting

By: - February 11, 2022 10:44 am

Attendees of a Feb. 10 subcommittee on employer vaccine mandates set up an overflow viewing center in the Capitol rotunda. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Dozens of anti-mandate and anti-vaccine activists gathered at the Iowa Capitol on Thursday to hear opinions on a bill against employer vaccine mandates and mask requirements.

The Thursday meeting was, in theory, a subcommittee on House Study Bill 647, a bill to prohibit employer vaccine mandates and mask requirements. Rep. Jon Jacobsen framed the proposal as a “medical freedom” bill. 

But the subcommittee ballooned into an hours-long round table discussion against vaccines and the medical establishment, as a group of doctors gave detailed testimony to a cheering crowd. They advocated for the use of ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine and they criticized the medical establishment for withholding the drugs, which are not authorized as COVID-19 treatments. The doctors also spoke against the COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccinations.

The Centers for Disease Control have emphasized the safety and importance of vaccines. The danger of a serious, preventable illness far outweighs the possible side effects for almost all children, according to the CDC.

The Des Moines Register reported Rep. Bruce Hunter, the lone Democrat assigned to the three-person panel, left after three hours, returning to a House debate upstairs. As Hunter left, Jacobsen and Rep. Brooke Boden announced they would sign off on the proposal, moving it for consideration by the full House State Government Committee. 

The meeting continued well beyond Hunter’s departure. After more than five hours of discussion, Jacobsen urged the remaining attendees to go to the Holiday Inn by the Des Moines Airport to continue talking.

“I want to hear from every last person,” Jacobsen said, directing the dwindling crowd to the hotel.

Included in the lineup of speakers was Mollie James, an Iowa-licensed physician who is well-known in conservative media for promoting drugs like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine.

“If you’re familiar with gaslighting, that is what is happening in this pandemic,” James said. “People in the bureaucracy are telling us not to believe what is before our eyes or our patients’ beds, but to believe what they are telling us, despite the evidence before us.”

Read more: Iowa doctor goes national and stages hospital ‘jailbreaks’ for COVID-19 patients

Several medical groups registered in opposition to the bill, including the Iowa Nurse Practitioners Society, Iowa Independent Physician Group, Iowa Public Health Association, Iowa Hospital Association, Iowa Nurses Association and the Iowa Medical Society.

The Iowa Department of Public Health, asked for a comment, did not remark on the legislation but a spokesperson said the agency “recommends that Iowans follow the appropriate immunization schedules for their age range.”

A Polk County Public Health spokesperson also did not comment the bill but said in a statement that vaccines have been “very effective in protecting individuals and our community from diseases that are preventable by vaccine.”

“We have seen this since the inception of vaccines and with the COVID-19 vaccines,” said spokesperson Nola Aigner Davis.

The future of the bill remains uncertain. House Speaker Pat Grassley, while not ruling out the proposal, has suggested the law enacted last year is working as intended. Lawmakers last year created broad exemptions to workplace vaccine rules.

“You know, I, on a lot of pieces of legislation as the speaker, I don’t think it’s my job to have a closed mind and just make a decision for the entirety of the caucus. So we’ll see what that looks like,” Grassley told reporters Thursday. “However, I think we have to continue to remind Iowans that we have taken significant action at this point, and we’ll just see how that feedback comes in from the subcommittee and then as it works its way through the committee process.”

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.