Ernst’s Next COVID Focus: Protecting Business From Safety Lawsuits

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst has talked with members of the media this week to promote her book debut, but on CBS “This Morning,” the reporter also used the interview to ask Ernst what type of assistance should be included in Congress’ next coronavirus relief package.

Though she commended “heroes” working in meatpacking plants, grocery stores and health care facilities, Ernst first used the question to talk about liability protections for business.

“Working together, of course, we need to make sure that there are liability protections in place for those businesses that are getting things back up and going in our economy,” Ernst said in the Tuesday interview.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called liability protections for business owners his “redline going forward” on another coronavirus relief bill.

“Imagine you are a businessman thinking about reopening, and you’ve heard that the trial lawyers all over the country are sharpening their pencils getting ready to sue you, claiming that you didn’t engage in proper distancing or other issues related to health and safety,” McConnell said during an April 28 interview on Fox News.

“We can’t pass another bill unless we have liability protections,” he emphasized.

Since then, his Republican colleagues have taken up the mantle of promoting liability protections as a must-have component of future legislation.

Ernst also says she supports a “federal tax suspension” and federal payroll tax holiday for essential workers, though in the past she voted against the extra $600 weekly unemployment insurance afforded to workers and did not support a paid sick leave provision in the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act.”

“Our senators had an opportunity to stand up to Mitch McConnell’s dangerous, corporatist agenda and put Iowa workers first, but they failed to do so,” said Iowa Forward spokesperson Mazie Stilwell. “Our senators should be standing up for Iowans’ health and safety, not corporate executives and profits.”

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The $3 trillion “Heroes Act” passed May 15 by House Democrats — which Iowa Reps. Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne voted against — did not include the business liability protections championed by McConnell.

While the Senate is recessed this week, McConnell told reporters in his home state of Kentucky “in the next few weeks we’ll determine whether there is yet another bill.”

Though Ernst and other elected Republicans have applauded frontline workers and advocated for the personal protective equipment needed to safely do their jobs, their actions largely favor corporate interests over individuals.

Iowa Republicans have praised President Donald Trump for invoking the Defense Production Act to keep meatpacking plants open during the pandemic despite climbing cases of COVID-19 inside the facilities. Buena Vista County, for example, has surpassed Louisa County as having the highest number of coronavirus cases per capita due to its new Tyson plant outbreaks in Storm Lake. The county’s infection rate of 3,527 individuals per 100,000 cases — as of Thursday morning — is the highest in the state.

Today, state officials confirmed a COVID-19 outbreak at the Tyson pork processing plant in Storm Lake where 555 employees have tested positive.

Most Democratic leaders do not oppose keeping the plants open, but they insist on mandates, not just guidelines, for companies to follow regarding PPE, testing, contact tracing and social distancing.

During Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Wednesday press conference, Sarah Reisetter, deputy director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, said it was state policy to confirm outbreaks of COVID-19 only when asked by the media. Throughout the pandemic, IDPH has classified COVID-19 cases at businesses as an “outbreak” only if 10% of the workforce tests positive for coronavirus.


By Elizabeth Meyer
Posted 5/28/20

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