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Iowa lawmakers won’t reconvene until at least May 15
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Iowa lawmakers won’t reconvene until at least May 15

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DES MOINES - Leaders in the Iowa Legislature announced plans Monday to extend the “pause” in their 2020 session again until at least May 15 due to continued concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawmakers, who left the Capitol temporarily on March 17 with plans to restart the session on April 15, previously had moved the date to Thursday of this week but decided the April 30 target to reconvene was overly optimistic given that Iowa Department of Public Health officials and Gov. Kim Reynolds don’t expect the state to hit the apex of its positive COVID-19 cases until sometime in mid-May.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said lawmakers plan to monitor conditions over the next two weeks regarding the coronavirus activity in Iowa’s “hot-spot” regions that include the Des Moines area and to assess the outlook for state tax collections that will impact budget decisions for the current and 2021 fiscal years.

Iowa Legislature Prep

The Statehouse rotunda.

The May 15 extension coincides with Gov. Kim Reynolds announcement Monday that she is reopening some restaurants, shopping malls and a limited number of other businesses in 77 of 99 counties where COVID-19 activity has stabilized, declined or not been detected effective Friday but other parts of Iowa – including Polk County – will remain under a more-restrictive emergency order for at least two more weeks. That order was scheduled to expire statewide later this week but now will be extended except in areas that were subject to the governor’s new directive she unveiled on Monday.

“I appreciate the governor’s leadership through this public health emergency and I fully support her decision to begin to safely reopen the Iowa economy,” said Whitver, R-Ankeny. “Prior to the pandemic, Iowa had the best economy in state history. As we begin to set the stage for a return of the Iowa Legislature, I look forward to working with the House of Representatives and Governor Reynolds to put policies in place to rebuild the economy to that level.”

A meeting of the 20-member Legislative Council is slated later this week to formally extend the suspension of session. The council will meet via teleconference.

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“The health and safety of all Iowans continues to be our primary focus as we monitor the situation and make decisions. I know my colleagues are eager to return to the Capitol to address priorities and complete our legislative work as soon as we can,” said House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford.

“Iowans have been patient and played a critical role in slowing the spread of the Coronavirus during this unprecedented public health emergency,” he added. “We need to get folks back to their jobs, schools, churches, and social lives in a responsible way as soon as possible. I want to thank Governor Reynolds for her cautious approach to reopen our state and return to normal.”

Lawmakers made contingency plans before suspending their 2020 session for at least 30 days that included giving Reynolds authority to use nearly $20 million from the state’s Economic Emergency Fund to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Before leaving the Capitol building — which has been closed to the public since March 18 — the Legislature controlled by Republicans with a 32-18 majority in the Iowa Senate and a 53-47 edge in the Iowa House voted to lift all limits and let the governor shift money around within the current state budget, if needed. As an added precaution, lawmakers voted in a bipartisan manner to set aside enough money to keep state government operating under a “status-quo” spending plan until Sept. 1 — which is two months into the new state fiscal year that begins July 1.

Members of the General Assembly also empowered the Legislative Council to convene in the event that Reynolds decides more than $20 million is needed from the Economic Emergency Fund to meet any additional state funding challenges.

Iowa is in line to receive the minimum $1.25 billion funding to state governments included in the $2.2 trillion federal CARES rescue package, and legislative and Reynolds’ administration officials continue to assess details in the 800-page document to determine what their next steps will be.

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