GOP Advances Bill To Protect Plants From Worker Safety Lawsuits

House Republicans on Tuesday pushed forward a bill that would give Iowa’s large employers like Tyson Foods “immunity” from claiming responsibility for their employees sick with coronavirus– the same day Iowa’s COVID-19 cases surpassed 20,000.

The removal of liability for corporations whose workers got sick from COVID-19 passed through the House Commerce Committee on a party-line vote, via an amendment to a medical malpractice bill. House Democrats said the legislation would protect meatpacking plants like Tyson with large outbreaks at their facilities — often criticized for not doing enough to protect their workers from the threat of the virus — and will reward “bad actors,” preventing people who get the virus at work or other spaces from seeking justice.

“Tyson Foods is responsible for hundreds upon hundreds of COVID-19 cases in this state. And yet— no matter what those workers do, Tyson Foods is immune to any type of litigation under this bill. They are immune from any responsibility under this amendment,” Rep. Brian Meyer, D-Polk, said on the chamber floor.

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Proof of malice, intent and negligence is required for a company to be held responsible according to the bill. 

The committee rejected an amendment presented on the floor by Meyer that would remove liability from companies only if they can show they followed CDC guidelines for sanitation and social distancing.  

Rep. Gary Carlson, R-Muscatine, said he thought that Meyer’s bill was “inadequate for what we’re trying to accomplish to protect Iowans,” before urging his colleagues to reject it.

Other Democrats on the committee, including Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty, spoke out in favor of Meyer’s amendment and against Carlson’s.

“Democrats want to work with the majority to pass legislation that protects workers, not bad actors,” Nielsen said. 

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The Iowa Association of Justice was also critical of the amendment, stating that it would provide a “get-out-of-jail-free cards” to companies. They added in their statement, “Instead of protecting Iowans, however, the House Commerce Committee’s current proposal covers up wrongdoing and turns a blind eye to every single lost life in Iowa’s nursing homes, factories, and processing plants. Blanket liability immunity is the easy way out. It’s pathetic.”

The bill will now advance to a vote in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, and if it passes there, it will advance to the Senate for approval. 

 

by Isabella Murray and Adam Henderson
Posted 6/3/20

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