CORONAVIRUS

Iowa lawmakers won't reconvene until at least April 30

'A lot of things to sort through,' Senate leader says

The House chamber at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines has been empty since lawmakers suspended the 2020 session
The House chamber at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines has been empty since lawmakers suspended the 2020 session in March because of the coronavirus. On Thursday, legislative leaders extended the recess through April 30. (The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — Leaders in the Iowa Legislature announced plans Thursday to extend the “pause” in their 2020 session until at least April 30 due to continued concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawmakers, who left the Capitol on March 17 with plans to restart the session April 15, said the decision to further suspend legislative activities was influenced by President Donald Trump’s directive to continue social-distancing through April 30 and by the uncertainty about the fiscal 2021 budget, given the coronavirus impact on state tax collections.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny. said the Legislature is following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Iowa Department of Public Health.

“It is important for us to continue to lead by example and limit the possible spread of this disease,” he said “I am thankful for all work done by Iowans in the face of COVID-19. After this virus, I am confident Iowa will rebound stronger than ever.”

Leaders are working to schedule a Legislative Council meeting next week, via teleconference, to formally extend the suspension of session.

“Right now, with the entire economy shut down almost, it’s hard to write that budget,” Whitver said. “So we just need more time to sort through potential budget decisions before we’re ready to come back as well.”

GOP legislative leaders said their decision followed Gov. Kim Reynolds’ recommendation that schools remain closed until April 30.

“The health and safety of all Iowans is our top priority during this unprecedented situation,” House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said. “Continuing the pause on the session is the right decision at this time, but we hope to be back soon to complete our work.”

Legislators made contingency plans before suspending their 2020 session that included giving Reynolds authority to use nearly $20 million from the state’s Economic Emergency Fund to respond to the coronavirus.

Before leaving the Capitol building — which has been closed to the public since March 18 — the lawmakers voted to 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 20-member Legislative Council to convene in the event that Reynolds decides more than $20 million is needed from the emergency fund to meet coronavirus challenges.

Iowa is in line to receive the minimum $1.25 billion earmarked for state governments in the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus package. Legislative and Reynolds’ administration officials are reviewing the 800-page document to determine what their next steps will be.

Whitver said “right now is just a time for us to sort through” how the federal funds can apply to state government, “how it’s going to affect our budget next year and then kind of wait and see what revenues are like with so much being shut down in the economy.”

“So there are a lot of things to sort through,” he said. “To get that done in a quick amount of time is going to be very difficult.”

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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