President Joe Biden’s long-awaited announcement of federal vaccine regulations for large employers prompted swift opposition Thursday from Iowa Republicans.
Beginning in January 2022, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will require many large, private employees to mandate vaccines, or regular testing and face coverings, for their staff.
Soon after the announcement, Gov. Kim Reynolds promised legal action against the requirement.
“President Biden is taking dangerous and unprecedented steps to insert the federal government even further into our lives while dismissing the ability of Iowans and Americans to make health care decisions for themselves … We will take immediate legal action to challenge the Biden Administration’s rule on vaccine mandates for employees of companies employing 100 or more,” Reynolds said in a statement.
Republican legislators agreed. Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver said opposing the mandate in court was “the right path for Iowa.” Both Whitver and House Speaker Pat Grassley raised concerns that the vaccine requirement might make it harder for businesses to find workers.
“This is not only an infringement on Iowans’ rights, but terrible policy that’ll only make Iowa’s workforce shortage worse … We will continue to push back on this violation of our freedoms,” Grassley wrote on Twitter.
Republicans in Iowa’s D.C. delegation were also opposed to the employer mandate through OSHA.
“I am strongly opposed to OSHA’s vaccine mandate rule,” Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Ottumwa, tweeted. “These mandates are going to make the current labor shortage worse.
“Americans have a choice of whether to be vaccinated. As a doctor, I chose to get vaccinated and gave vaccines to those in my district who chose to get them.”
On a quoted tweet from Fox Business, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said on his campaign Twitter account: “Heavy handed mandates coming from the federal government infringe on our freedoms. I believe this is unconstitutional.”
Meanwhile, Iowa Democrats defended the move.
“We’ll see what happens with the new rules from the Biden administration, but my hope is that this will allow us to defeat COVID-19 and get back to life as normal,” Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls told reporters.
Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn concurred, comparing the policy to existing vaccination requirements for schools, colleges and the Armed Forces.
“The governor is giving Iowans a false choice between the common good and personal freedom,” Wilburn said. “We can do this, we can get our way out of the pandemic, by looking out for each other, by getting vaccinated, wearing masks and staying home when we get sick.”
The federal mandate, which goes into effect Jan. 4, comes a week after Iowa lawmakers passed a state law that allows people to collect unemployment if they are fired over a COVID-19 vaccine requirement. The law also allows for more broad exemptions to vaccine requirements.
Joe Murphy, executive director for the Iowa Business Council, said Monday that businesses were concerned about how the federal requirement and state law would balance out.
“It’s really difficult to try to figure out how a state law intersects and interacts with a federal mandate, a federal law,” Murphy said. “We know it will likely be complicated and disjointed, and that’s really the concern that we have with what the state moved forward with last week.”
Wahls predicted the uncertainties between state policy and the federal mandate would likely be resolved in court.
“I don’t know if there’s a lot more the state legislative branch can do to resolve that tension,” Wahls said.
On Saturday, a three-judge panel with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay of the OSHA rule, stating that the petitioners — consisting mostly of Republican governors and private businesses — “gave cause to believe there are grave statutory and constitutional issues with the Mandate.”
The Biden Administration had until 5 p.m. Monday to respond to the petition, and the court stated it would expedite the case.