Iowa governor facing lawsuits over mask mandate bans, cutting federal benefits

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) is facing two lawsuits over a ban on mask mandates and her decision to cut federal pandemic unemployment benefits.

Frances Parr, a mother of two boys, filed a lawsuit in state court on Monday seeking to require the state to issue a universal mask mandate for schools, at least temporarily, according to a copy of the complaint published by The Des Moines Register.

Reynolds signed a bill into law in May that bans school officials and local jurisdictions from implementing mask mandates.

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Similar laws and executive orders have been challenged in several GOP-governed states, with the battle notably playing out in Texas and Florida. Most recently, a similar lawsuit filed in South Carolina alleges that a law banning mask mandates in schools discriminates against disabled children.

Parr’s complaint alleges that while state law bans school districts from having their own mask mandates, the state could issue a universal mandate.

Parr alleges that she tried to ask the state’s education department to issue such mandate, but the agency “responded to the demand by stating they have no duty to protect plaintiffs or students.”

Parr wants the court to declare that Reynolds and the Iowa Department of Education have the authority to issue a mandate and to restrain the state from blocking the mandates.  

Pat Garrett, a spokesperson for Reynolds, told The Hill in a statement that mask wearing is "a mitigation strategy that parents and students have the option to use."

"Experts have raised concerns about the potential negative impact to students’ social, behavioral, and speech development. And they’ve noted that cloth face masks can become vectors for pathogens when they’re not used and washed properly. Ultimately, parents know the health of their children best  which is why the Governor supports parental choice over mandates," Garrett said.

Garrett emphasized that vaccines are the best tool to protect against COVID-19, noting that 65.4 percent of the population has received at least one vaccine dose. 

Separately, Reynolds is facing a proposed class-action lawsuit over her decision to cut off pandemic unemployment benefits.

Iowa was among the first four of 25 GOP-led states to cut off pandemic unemployment benefits in June. The aid was originally set to expire Sept. 6, but many Republicans have argued that the programs were a hindrance to employment.

According to The Associated Press, the complaint describes how the decision affected employment prospects before the cut. That complaint seeks to make the state resume participation in the programs and to payout the aid they have since been denied, the AP noted.

Garrett said Reynolds made the "right decision" to cut off unemployment benefits, noting that the state has seen a "175 percent increase" in people seeking employment since the decision was announced in May. 

“The governor believes that we cannot continue to pay able-bodied people to stay home," Garrett said. "This was not only the right decision, but also in accordance with the law and this lawsuit has no merit."