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Labor unions file OSHA complaint, allege Iowa Capitol unsafe

DES MOINES — Democrats say COVID protocols in the legislature are falling short and endangering the health of employees and the general public. Representative Brian Meyer, a Democrat from Des Moines, said online testimony should be allowed at public hearings.

“They don’t feel like it’s safe to come here — I mean we don’t have a mask mandate,” Meyer said late Thursday  afternoon, “but they still want to participate in this great democracy that we have.”

House Republicans have voted to stick with their plan to livestream hearings, but only let people speak if they’re at the Capitol. The Iowa Federation of Labor and the Teamsters announced Thursday they have filed a complaint with OSHA, accusing GOP leaders of showing “reckless disregard” for the health of people inside the Iowa Capitol. Representative Meyer, during House debate this afternoon, said a mask mandate is common sense.

“We are falling short when it comes to a response to Covid and the safety of the public and the employees,” Meyer said, pounding on his desk on the House floor as he spoke.

House Speaker Pat Grassley, a Republican from New Hartford, told reporters earlier Thursday afternoon that he’s not going to block lawmakers from the House floor for failing to wear a suit or tie — or a face mask.

“At the end of the day, if a legislator — male or female — wants to walk in here in their bathing suit and take a vote on the House floor, they will be given that opportunity to do so,” Grassley said. “I’m not going to be in a situation where I’m calling in the State Patrol to remove a member who was duly elected, just like I was.”

Senate Republican Leader Jack Whitver of Ankeny told reporters he hasn’t seen the complaint filed with OSHA. Whitver said senators are taking the pandemic seriously.

“We have very few people in the chamber, just sitting around all day, potentially exposing themselves to the coronavirus,” Whitver said. “I’ve told everyone, the less people that are coming through the building every single day, the better it is for our likelihood to stay in session and we get things done.”

New operating rules in the Iowa Senate let people join online and speak during subcommittee hearings. In addition, many senators are participating in hearings electronically rather than in person.

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