House GOP rejects Democrats’ proposal to require masks in state Capitol

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Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Fairfield, speaks to anti-mask demonstrators at the Iowa Capitol Jan. 11, 2021. (Photo by Jim Obradovich for Iowa Capital Dispatch)
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By Kathie Obradovich, Iowa Capital Dispatch

Republicans in the Iowa House on Thursday voted down proposals to require mask-wearing in the State Capitol and to allow members of the public to speak to lawmakers electronically during certain meetings.

One lawmaker, Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Fairfield, objected to a mask mandate in part because he said it would stifle the transmission of smiles, joy and “brotherly love.”

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The debate came during a discussion of House Resolution 3, which includes the rules used to conduct business in the House.

Democrats, who are the minority party in the House, called on lawmakers to require every person who enters the Capitol building to wear a face covering unless they have a doctor’s authorization that would exempt them from the requirement. Supporters of the proposal emphasized a desire to protect the public and Capitol employees.

“I truly believe that we’re allowing, at the very least, an unsafe workplace on first floor,” Rep. Steve Hansen, D-Sioux City. “I think it walks right up to the line of a hostile workplace on … the first floor.”

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Republican legislative leaders’ protocol has closed the House and Senate chamber floors to the public and media this year.

Shipley argued that requiring people to present a doctor’s note to avoid wearing a mask amounted to a violation of privacy. “Because I really do I cringe and shudder at the atrocious privacy intrusion that that language represents. I mean, really, that’s, that’s super triggering stuff,” he said.

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He also argued that mask-wearing gets in the way of “genuine human connection” through emotions conveyed by facial expressions.

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“And so as I’m reading it now, this proposed rule would certainly … stifle the transmission of smiles, stifle the transmission of joy, the transmission of brotherly love, would absolutely disrupt members’ ability to create genuine human connection among all colleagues,” Shipley said.

Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, said he agreed that love and laughter are contagious. “Let me tell you another thing that’s contagious: COVID-19. COVID-19 is a contagious disease that has killed 4,394 people in the state of Iowa as of midnight. It has also killed almost 417,000 people in the United States.”

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The House also voted against adopting a policy allowing Iowans to speak to lawmakers electronically during subcommittee meetings. The Senate allows Iowans to speak during subcommittee meetings held via Zoom. The House, which sets its own rules, requires people to either attend subcommittee meetings in person or submit comments in writing.

“Why do this when there is a solution?” Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said. “If we can watch weddings and funerals, participate in Zoom family gatherings and read bedtime stories to grandchildren over video across the country or across the street, surely we can allow people the opportunity to speak up about laws that government them in a safe way.”

She said emailed comments “aren’t consistently being read in subcommittees for the public to hear and they don’t carry the same weight as passionate pleas for or against an issue.”

Republicans in the House also voted down Democrats’ proposals to allow lawmakers, some of whom have health conditions that put them at risk if they’re infected with COVID-19, to participate in debate and vote remotely.

The rules passed on a 55-35 vote. They require no further action and take effect immediately

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