Iowa lawmakers consider vaccine mandate exemption bill

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Protesters gather at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday Oct. 28, 2021, to push the Iowa Legislature to pass a bill that would prohibit vaccine mandates from being imposed on employees in Iowa. Informed Choice Iowa, a group opposing vaccine and mask mandates, held the rally as lawmakers convened a special session of the legislature and unveiled a bill that provides for vaccine mandate exemptions and required unemployment benefits for workers forced out of a job for refusing a vaccine. (AP Photo/David Pitt)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Republican leaders in the Iowa Legislature will consider a bill Thursday that would make it more difficult for businesses to require employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

The bill was made public minutes before lawmakers were to begin a special session that was convened to address redistricting. It would require businesses to allow medical and religious exemptions for COVID-19 vaccine mandates and would guarantee that employees who are fired for deciding not to get vaccinated for COVID-19 are eligible for unemployment insurance.

The bill has been a priority of Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has opposed government mandates for masks and vaccines even though COVID-19 has killed nearly 7,000 people in Iowa and science has shown both to be effective in reducing the virus’ spread.

“I do not believe we should make an individual choose between working, putting food on their table or losing their employment because of a mandate,” Reynolds said last week.

Before the session convened, more than 100 people opposed to vaccine mandates gathered in the Capitol rotunda.

A more extensive bill prohibiting vaccine mandates was discussed during this year’s regular legislative session but it failed to advance beyond the committee level in the Senate.

Reynolds, a Republican who has criticized President Joe Biden on numerous issues, has said she is willing to challenge the federal government in court once Biden’s vaccine mandate rules are released.

Other Republican-led states also have pushed back against efforts to require employee vaccinations including Montana, Arkansas, Texas and West Virginia.

Eight states including Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Montana, Tennessee, Texas and Utah ban such mandates for state workers and school faculty or staff.

Reynolds signed into law in May a measure that prevents state and local governments from requiring an individual to prove vaccination status using so-called vaccine passports. Iowa is among 21 states to ban such proof of vaccination, according to the nonprofit National Constitution Center.

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