DES MOINES — Even though it comes just once every four years, Leap Day — Feb. 29 is a day like any other day for Iowa state government.
“I’m trying to think if there are any consequences for that extra day in February,” Richard Johnson, the Legislative Services Agency’s legal services division director, said. Long pause. “I can’t think of any.
“It’s just an extra day,” Johnson said about Leap Day. “I can’t think of any complications it causes us. I can’t think where it ever has been addressed in all my years.”
After more thought, Johnson suggests that the state Treasurer’s Office might be affected by the 366th day that is inserted into the calendar every fourth year in order to keep the calendar year synchronized with the astronomical or seasonal year.
“Nope, it has no effect on us,” said Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald. “Not for money coming in or going out.”
That comes as no surprise to John Reitz, a University of Iowa law professor and expert in administrative law, the field of law that includes the administration of government. While leap years are an interesting topic for discussion, he’s not aware of any laws speaking to the issue.
Like Johnson, Reitz said, the consequences of Leap Day aren’t the sort of thing that governments or the law really spend much time thinking about.
“I don’t know of any statute or general rule that has anything to do with leap day,” he said. That absence that suggests the issue has never caused any problems significant enough that they require attention from legislators or other elected bodies.
“Any laws that are time sensitive define a time period — 30 days, 60 days, one year. So any impacts of Leap Day are covered there,” Reitz said.
Johnson said that the legislative calendar is regulated by weeks, “so it really doesn’t matter that there is an extra day in February. When reporting dates are called for in legislation, bill drafters always try to make sure the reports are due on a business day. “But that’s not peculiar to Leap Day.”
Reitz speculates that March 1 would likely be considered the legal birthday in non-leap years of someone born on leap day. His reasoning is that Feb. 29 is the day after Feb. 28, so a person born on Feb. 29 is legally considered to have aged one year on the day after Feb. 28. In non-leap years, that day is March 1.
So for someone born on Feb. 29, the first day they can legally drive, vote, join the Army, buy alcohol or start collecting Social Security is presumably March 1 in non-leap years, Reitz said.
Seasons and astronomical events do not repeat in a whole number of days, so a calendar that had the same number of days in each year would, over time, drift with respect to the event it was supposed to track.