WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Iowa House Speaker Enforces Dress Code Against Democratic Lawmaker Protesting Lack of Mask Mandate

Feb 4, 2021

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, did not allow a Democratic representative to speak during a debate Tuesday evening because she violated the chamber dress code by wearing jeans. She said she was testing Grassley's claims that he can't enforce a mask mandate.

Grassley has repeatedly said that he would not be able to enforce a mask mandate in the Iowa House, where the legislative session is being conducted in person during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, and other Democrats have pushed back on that claim and have called on Grassley to require masks.

“You enforce things by example,” Wessel-Kroeschell said. “And you enforce things by telling the truth and being honest about how dangerous this virus is. So I decided to test the situation.”

Wessel-Kroeschell wore jeans on the floor of the Iowa House. When she requested to speak during a debate, Grassley enforced the House dress code (jacket or tie required for men, no jeans allowed) by not allowing her to speak.

Wessel-Kroeschell was allowed to remain in the chamber and vote on bills from her desk.

“The speaker has been clear and consistent since the start of session,” Melissa Deatsch, spokesperson for Grassley, said in a statement. “There is no way to enforce a mask mandate short of having state patrol remove a duly elected representative from the floor, which is not something he is willing to do, for masks or for jeans. Rep. Wessel-Kroeschell was in violation of House rules tonight and it is within the Speaker of the House’s discretion to handle such violations as he sees fit.”

Wessel-Kroeschell said she doesn’t think state troopers should be involved in enforcing a mask requirement.

“If everybody would wear a mask, we would be so much safer here,” she said, adding that she has counted six Republican representatives who she says “never” wear a mask.

On Tuesday afternoon, the chief clerk of the Iowa House notified lawmakers and staff that a fifth person “associated with the Iowa House of Representatives” had tested positive for COVID-19. The Des Moines Register reported one of those people is Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty.

The Republican leadership of the Iowa Senate has also not required masks. The Senate holds subcommittee meetings virtually and committee meetings in the chamber, providing more space for social distancing. But the Republican senators who appear on the virtual subcommittees are often sitting very close together without wearing masks while Democrats call into the meetings from a different location.

The Iowa Public Health Association has raised concerns about the lack of mask wearing at the Iowa Capitol, and labor organizations filed a workplace safety complaint about the statehouse with Iowa OSHA.