Iowa lawmakers meet to suspend session, ensure continuity of government during COVID-19 pandemic

Iowa lawmakers meet to suspend session, ensure continuity of government during COVID-19 pandemic

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DES MOINES – Iowa legislators plan to waive instructional time requirements for K-12 schools in response to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ recommendation that schools close for four weeks.

Lawmakers are meeting in Des Moines to ensure the continuity of government during the COVID-19 pandemic. On the advices of public health officials, the Legislature plans to suspend its session for 30 days. It will re-evaluate the situation then to determine whether to continue to meet or extend the suspension.

Lawmakers reached agreement Monday afternoon to waive the requirements that schools provide 180 days or 1,080 hours of instruction.

Schools will not be required to make up classes previously scheduled from March 16 to April 12. Legislators expect to approve the waiver later today and Reynolds has said she will sign the bill.

“This decision will provide Iowa school districts with the certainty that they need to make decisions locally and move ahead this school year,” said House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford.

The waiver is part of lawmakers’ efforts to “deliver some certainty for Iowans,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny.

“One of the most common questions our members receive is about rescheduling canceled schools days,” he said. “Now, Iowa schools and families can have some certainty regarding these four weeks of the school calendar.”

The actions are not what Grassley expected to be doing when he left the Capitol last week.

The situation “when I left Thursday was completely different than where I'm standing today,” he said. “So we're going to continue to monitor the situation as it changes.” Legislative leaders are recommending a 30-day suspension and will re-evaluate then whether it’s safe to resume the session, which was scheduled to conclude April 21.

Lawmakers will be challenged to make decisions to help Iowans cope with the disruptions caused by the rising numbers of COVID-19, said House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City. State public health officials have confirmed 22 cases in Iowa, the last few attributed to community spread. Earlier cases had been traced to an international cruise.

“What we need to be focused on at all levels is minimizing the impact of those disruptions,” he said. Lawmakers need to find creative ways to make sure Iowa children who aren’t’ in school continue to receive the food and supervision they need, that employers have what they need to run a business, that the health care system can withstand the pressure that may be placed on it.

“So that's what we need to be focused on -- just minimizing the disruption and making sure that that for the state, life goes on,” Prichard said.

Before entering the Capitol, members of the public went through a screening process that included having their temperature taken and answering questions about sore throats, runny noses and travel outside the United States. Lawmakers did not have to go through the screening.

Although both chambers gaveled in about 1 p.m., many members did not arrive at the Capitol until later. Leaders had a number of meetings to plan their actions, which might spill into Tuesday.

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