Central Iowa governments change course on vaccine, testing mandates after US Supreme Court blocks OSHA rules
Several central Iowa officials confirmed Thursday that their recently passed policies requiring employees to be vaccinated against or test weekly for COVID-19 while wearing face masks would not go into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's requirements Thursday.
The Biden administration had sought, through OSHA, to try to force the vaccine-or-testing requirements on businesses with more than 100 employees, a policy that would have affected about 84 million workers. Government officials estimated the move could had been capable of saving 6,500 lives and preventing 250,000 hospitalizations nationwide over six months.
The Supreme Court declared in an unsigned opinion, however, that OSHA had exceeded the power given to it by Congress in drafting the regulations.
While Biden said in a statement he was "disappointed" by the ruling and that it's "now up to states and individual employers to determine whether to make their workplaces as safe as possible for employees," Iowa's labor commissioner said last week that the state would not enforce the mandate were it to have been upheld by the court.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement Thursday that the court's decision in the case "is a major victory for Iowans, their personal freedoms and liberties."
Fearing the potential of hefty fines for non-compliance that could have been imposed by OSHA had its policy been upheld, some central Iowa city councils and school boards had considered and even enacted policies in line with OSHA's.
The city of Des Moines and Waukee school district enacted policies in line with OSHA's in recent weeks.
Waukee officials said Thursday the district would not be moving forward with its policy, and that that had already been communicated with district staff.
Des Moines officials could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
In Ames, where the school board put such a policy on the books Monday, when OSHA had said it planned to start enforcing the requirements, district spokesperson Eric Smidt said Thursday that though the ruling means the vaccine or testing requirements are unenforceable, "In the event that things change, the steps that we have already taken will allow us to be prepared to implement such a requirement.
"For now, the district is not required, and is not planning, to implement the OSHA vaccine and testing requirements," Smidt continued.
In Nevada, where officials implemented a similar policy earlier this month, Superintendent Steve Gray said that the district would recommend its policy be suspended, in light of the Supreme Court's decision.
"These aren't school district decisions as much as they are school districts reacting to the rules being put before them," Gray said.
Other Story County school districts, including Gilbert and Roland-Story, had held off on making any policy changes while officials awaited the court's ruling. Compliance had also been mixed among cities and school districts across central Iowa.
Phillip Sitter covers education for the Ames Tribune and Des Moines Register. He can be reached via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter, at @pslifeisabeauty.