Capital Clicks

Vaccine mandate, tort reform bill falters on House floor

By: - March 16, 2022 6:58 pm

(Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa lawmakers gathered Wednesday afternoon for a knock-down fight on a controversial bill to prohibit employer vaccine mandates and expand liability protections for Iowa truckers.

But debate came to an abrupt end, as 12 Republicans broke ranks to vote with Democrats on a procedural question, blocking the legislation.

“Speaker (Pat Grassley) makes the decision of when we take things to the floor. When we made the decision, we had 51 votes,” said Melissa Deatsch, communications director for House Republicans. “Obviously, that did not come to fruition.”

The bill crumbled on a technical vote. Rep. Michael Bousselot, R-Ankeny, proposed an amendment to Senate File 2139, which originally defined a “wrecked or salvaged vehicle.” The amendment would have scrapped the text of the bill and inserted an entirely new piece of legislation to create new liability protections for truckers and prohibit employers from requiring the COVID-19 vaccination — or else face a $50,000 fine.

Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, Democratic minority leader, objected, arguing the amendment was not germane to the bill. Grassley put it to a procedural vote: If a majority of the House voted in favor, as the Republicans expected, debate on the amendment would proceeded as planned.

The final vote: 48 yes and 50 no, with two Democratic representatives absent. Republican leaders deferred the legislation and ended debate for the day.

Twelve Republicans voted with Democrats to block debate:

  • Rep. Eddie Andrews, Johnston
  • Rep. Mark Cisneros, Muscatine
  • Rep. Thomas Gerhold, Atkins
  • Rep. Stan Gustafson, Norwalk
  • Rep. Dustin Hite, Pella
  • Rep. Megan Jones, Sioux Rapids
  • Rep. Brian Lohse, Bondurant
  • Rep. Anne Osmundson, Volga
  • Rep. Sandy Salmon, Janesville
  • Rep. Jeff Shipley, Birmingham
  • Rep. Jon Thorup, Knoxville
  • Rep. Cherielynn Westrich, Ottumwa

Shipley said he opposed the bill for several reasons, including a lack of employer liability for vaccine mandates. Under the House’s more wide-ranging “medical freedom” bill, employers would be legally responsible if an employee has “any adverse reaction, injury, disability, or death that is or may be related to” a required vaccination.

“I think if we really want to protect medical freedom in this state, I think the best and simplest way to get to the root of the problem would be properly assigning liability to those who are injured from, say, a vaccine,” Shipley said.

But Shipley said he wasn’t a “hard no,” suggesting there could be changes to improve the trucker tort reform part of the legislation. He also proposed more widespread protections for unvaccinated Iowans, but said changing state law was not necessarily the solution.

Democrats said the vote was a surprise win against legislation they planned to oppose.

“These proposals — those in the amendment that would have become the bill — are both bad for Iowa and Iowans,” Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said in a text after the vote. “We’ll take this win today.”

Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City and a 25-year veteran of the Capitol, said the vote was “very unusual.” She said the bill faced significant opposition because some people were opposed to the trucker liability parts and others felt the vaccine mandate legislation did not go far enough.

“It’s highly unusual to see that happen on the floor and to know that they didn’t have their ducks in a row and everybody on board with that legislation,” Mascher said.

Deatsch declined to comment on the next steps for the bill. Most policy bills face a deadline this week to clear one chamber and a committee in the opposite chamber.

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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.