Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed legislation into law Thursday that blocks mask mandates from being implemented in K-12 schools and prohibits cities and counties from requiring facial coverings in businesses.
Under the new law, public and private schools cannot enforce or implement a policy requiring school employees, students, or visitors to wear a facial covering while on the premises — unless for a “specific extracurricular or instructional purpose” or as required under existing Iowa law for eye and ear protective devices. Masks can still be worn optionally.
Cities and counties will not be allowed to require property owners to have a mask policy “that is more stringent than a policy imposed by the state.”
While states are starting to relax mask policies in the wake of US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance released last week allowing vaccinated people to go maskless in most cases, Iowa joins a small set of GOP-led states going further in pressuring localities to lift their mask requirements and ensuring that masks mandates won’t be enforced again after the pandemic.
“The state of Iowa is putting parents back in control of their child’s education and taking greater steps to protect the rights of all Iowans to make their own health care decisions,” Reynolds, a Republican, said in a news release Thursday about the legislation. “I am proud to be a governor of a state that values personal responsibility and individual liberties.”
The new mask provision was part of a larger education bill, HF 847, related to open enrollment and expanding tax programs. The bill was passed on party-line votes by both Republican-majority chambers of the Iowa legislature Wednesday, the last day of the legislative session, and House Speaker Pat Grassley posted a video to Twitter after midnight that showed him delivering the bill to the governor for her signature.
“Parents, now you get to make the choice on whether your kids will wear a mask or not,” he wrote in his early Thursday post.
Iowa school districts have begun compiling with the new law, while still strongly recommending its staff and students wear masks to protect those not yet vaccinated.
Des Moines Public Schools, one of the state’s largest school districts, said face coverings would be optional in its buildings effectively immediately, but that it would continue to “strongly encourage masks while indoors” due to the “size of our district, limited space in our buildings and the number of students still unvaccinated.”
“Face coverings are still the best method available to protect the unvaccinated,” the district said in a statement. “Masks will continue to be required on school buses in accordance with a federal order requiring masks on all public transportation.”
Iowa is not the only state this week to issue such a mandate. In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Tuesday prohibiting state governmental entities such as counties, public school districts, public health authorities and government officials from requiring mask wearing.
The executive order allows Texas public schools to continue current mask-wearing guidelines through June 4. And starting Friday, local governments or officials attempting to impose a mask mandate will be subject to a fine of up to $1,000.
Meanwhile, the Utah Republican-led legislature also sent legislation to the governor for his signature that will prohibit public schools and universities in the state from requiring mask mandates after the end of this school year.
According to the bill, schools will be banned from “requiring a face covering to participate in or attend instruction, activities, or in any other place on the campus of the institution after the end of the spring semester in 2021.”
The measure also prohibits colleges and universities from requiring proof of a vaccination unless it allows for medical and religious exemptions.