During a phone interview on a conservative talk radio show on Wednesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds said she’s “continuing to have good conversations with the legislature” about passing a bill banning any kind of COVID-19 vaccine mandate during its upcoming special session.
That session, scheduled for Oct. 28, has been called to consider the second set of redistricting maps prepared by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, after the first set of maps was rejected on Oct. 5 by Iowa Senate Republicans on a party-line vote.
Although consideration of a new set of proposed maps for legislative and congressional districts is currently the only thing on the agenda for the special session, the Republican leadership of the Iowa Legislature can add other agenda items if they choose to do so.
At the beginning of Wednesday’s interview, WHO host Simon Conway said he’d received many emails and texts from listeners asking why Reynolds hasn’t followed the example of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and issued an executive order prohibiting any vaccine mandates.
Abbott signed an executive order on Oct. 11 that bans both government and private businesses from mandating employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Abbott, who will likely face primary challenges from Republicans even more conservative than he is in next year’s election, issued his likely unenforceable order in response the vaccine mandates President Joe Biden announced last month and vaccine requirements put in place by some of the largest employers in Texas.
Reynolds told Conway that she can’t issue such an executive order because it would violate the separation of powers in the Iowa Constitution. A new law would have to be passed by the legislature to ban vaccine mandates.
“I believe, and my legal counsel believes, I do not have the authority to do that,” the governor said. “I don’t support mandates, I support freedom of choice, will continue working with the legislature, but I can’t fix one unconstitutional mandate with another unconstitutional mandate.”
Reynolds noted that a bill to ban COVID-19 vaccine mandates was introduced in the legislature during this year’s regular session but never made it to the floor of either chamber. The governor did not mention that the bill would not have banned any of the vaccine mandates that Iowa has had for decades. Conway did not ask, and Reynolds did not say if she would be in favor of overturning the state law that requires all Iowa school children to be vaccinated against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, poliomyelitis, rubeola, rubella and varicella.
The governor then launched into a somewhat rambling attack on President Biden.
“He has no consistency in what he’s doing — mandating Americans to get a vaccine, but he’s not illegal immigrants and he’s not requiring Congress [sic],” Reynolds said. “I mean, the list goes on and on.”
Leaving aside the first group Reynolds cited, because it’s unclear why she brought immigrants into the discussion other than to appeal to xenophobia, the reason Biden can’t require members of Congress to be vaccinated is the same reason Reynolds said she can’t issue an executive order: separation of powers. No president can issue an order compelling Congress to take a particular action.
The vaccine push Biden announced last month will require all executive branch employees to be vaccinated, as well as all employees of contractors working for the executive branch and all employees at healthcare facilities that receive federal funds through Medicare or Medicaid. The Department of Labor is also drafting emergency regulations to require all businesses with more than 100 employees have their workers show either proof of vaccination or be tested weekly for COVID-19 as a matter of workplace safety.
“This is not about freedom or personal choice,” the president said when he announced his plan. “It’s about protecting yourself and those around you — people you work with, the people you care about, people you love.”
Reynolds said her administration is ready to sue the federal government as soon as the Department of Labor issues its emergency regulation.
Iowans “have said enough is enough,” Reynolds told Conway. “They are tired of the overreach, they are tired of the mandates.”
According to the latest update from the Iowa Department of Public Health, 61.2 percent of Iowans 12 or older are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. When all Iowans are counted, that number drops to 51.9 percent.
According to the CDC’s COVID-19 Data Tracker, all 99 of Iowa’s counties are currently experiencing a high rate of virus spread.
For the second consecutive week, the number of new COVID-19 cases reported in IDPH’s weekly update declined, although the department still recorded an average of more than 1,100 new cases a day during the latest seven-day period, with a total of 8,167 Iowans testing positive for the virus.
For the sixth straight week, children accounted for the highest percentage of new cases, according to IDPH’s demographic breakdown by age. Iowans under 18 made up 22 percent of the news cases in the update.
Hospitalizations declined from 626 in the previous update to 598. The number of Iowans hospitalized with COVID-19 has been above 500 in every IDPH update since Sept. 8.
IDPH reported another 94 deaths from the virus in its update on Wednesday, bringing Iowa’s official COVID-19 death toll to 6,748.
Although Reynolds has not held a news conference on COVID-19 this month, her interview with Conway wasn’t her only recent public comments on the pandemic. On Saturday, the governor was a featured speaker at Donald Trump’s “Save America” rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
“COVID mandates, lockdowns,” Reynolds said as she criticized the Biden administration for “radical, irresponsible, reckless policies,” while the crowd booed. “They don’t respect you, they don’t respect your faith, your values, they don’t think you’re capable of making your own decisions and they don’t think you should.”
The governor contrasted that approach to hers.
“In Iowa we prioritized freedom and personal responsibility,” she said. “We put our trust in Iowans to do the right thing. And guess what? You did.”
The tightly packed crowd at the fairgrounds cheered loudly.