Swanson urges board to take no action on vaccine mandate
The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors will take no action on the county’s COVID-19 vaccination, testing, and face covering policy.
While action on the policy remains in question, Assistant County Attorney Bruce Swanson praised County Auditor Stephanie Burke and the others who put together the current policy.
“They have all put together a really good resolution that will fill in a few blanks and allow you to have something strong that is ready to go if necessary,” Swanson said.
The policy issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration states that all businesses and organizations with over 100 employees must require employees to be vaccinated, unless for health or religious reasons, and barring that, would require those non-vaccinated to wear masks at all times and submit a negative COVID-19 test once per week. The policy was immediately challenged in the courts, and the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the policy on Jan. 7.
Swanson said with the policy remaining in limbo pending a Supreme Court ruling, he didn’t feel the county needed to rush into action to adopt what had been currently drafted, specific to Montgomery County Employees.
“I believe this thing is on a fast-track in the Supreme Court, and I’m fairly certain we’ll have a ruling in a week or two, which will set the record straight. If I’m wrong, then we can come back, pull this off the shelf and pass it. However, at this point, I don’t think we should pass it now, because there’s a good chance the Supreme Court will throw everything out,” Swanson explained.
Also, Swanson said it was still in question whether it would be a violation to ask people whether or not they’ve been vaccinated.
“I think, personally, it’s infringing on people’s rights, and I don’t feel the government should be sticking their nose in this. So at this point, you’ve done a good job in getting something in place, and it can be tweaked on a moment’s notice and passed if needed,” commented Swanson.
Supervisor Mark Peterson shared similar feelings, and also cited comments from Labor Commissioner Rod Roberts, Iowa’s OSHA regulations trumped the federal OSHA regulations as far as their ruling right now.
Swanson questioned whether the state had the power to trump regulations from the federal government, but still felt it wasn’t prudent to pass local regulations that could be thrown out by the courts very quickly.
Supervisor Donna Robinson agreed with Swanson that it may be thrown out, but her concern was that if this was another mandate being put on the county, and they did not have something already in place, whether it would affect the county receiving federal money.
“For anyone thinking we’re trying to overstep our bounds again, we’re not. If the OSHA hands this down, and we don’t do it, we could lose millions of dollars for several departments within the county, and the county can’t afford to be in that position. So should we put something in place and not enforce it, or can we wait. That’s my question,” Robinson stated.
Swanson said his best legal opinion was that it was still being debated in the courts, and he didn’t feel the county could be threatened with termination of federal funding, but if the county were to go ahead and pass it, and just not enforce it, it was perfectly fine.
Supervisor Mike Olson said it was his understanding that if OSHA mandated something from the federal level, and the state regulations met or exceeded OSHA’s regulations that the state superseded the federal government in the state, and that currently, Iowa had more restrictive laws regarding COVID-19 than the current mandate under debate from OSHA.
Robinson wanted to clarify for those in attendance that the policy was something the supervisors wanted to do, or were doing on their own.
“This is being dictated to us, and we want to protect our employees, but again, this is something that is not our idea, it’s not something that anyone here is supportive of,” said Robinson.
Peterson said his recommendation was that they take no action on the ordinance, and only approve the county’s vaccination, testing, and face covering policy if absolutely necessary, either on the regular weekly agenda or through a special meeting.