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Bill looks to protect businesses and local governments from lawsuits related to COVID-19

Lawmakers are split on the issue of how to shield organizations from virus-related claims.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa businesses and local governments could be shielded from lawsuits related to COVID-19, based on one bill at the statehouse.

"The biggest concern we heard was from business owners, from churches, from cities from schools, concerned about getting sued if they open it up too early," Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver said. 

Whitver said the COVID-19 liability bill will help reassure businesses they're safe to reopen.

 "We put it in the law that you have to you have to follow guidelines. You have to follow the suggestions the government has made," he said.  "And you have to have a good faith effort towards doing the right thing but if you're doing in the right thing, we need to get our economy open as fast as we can." 

It also has protections for local governments. 

Without this bill, Ankeny city council member Kelly Whiting says she wouldn't have voted to reopen one of their city pools. 

"In this time, probably your number one concern is, you know, customer safety and employee safety, but right up behind that is liability," Whiting said. "And so when you're looking at opening a pool and or opening yourself you know, this bill really helps."

Democratic senator Nate Boulton  says he's not happy with this legislation. 

 "This was the only piece of COVID legislation that came through this resume session," Boulton said. "And all it did was actually protect businesses whose negligence causes injury, and it didn't do anything to make any workplace safer...or any business safer and really, it found a way to shield employers and businesses from liability for making the problem worse." 

The bill doesn't ban lawsuits all together, but it does set minimum requirements. 

In order to sue, a person must have been hospitalized or died from COVID-19.

And, it must be proven that a business recklessly disregarded risks or acted with malice

"Those are really high standards. So you're talking about, you know, very, very high levels of negligence that are still going to be protected," Boulton said.

Boulton worries there could be a spike in covid-19 cases as a result of this legislation. 

"I think that there is a risk here that we've almost incentivize  bad behavior," he said.

Text TRACK to 515-457-1026 to get the latest numbers about COVID-19 in Iowa.

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