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Iowa lawmakers won’t reconvene until at least April 30
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Iowa lawmakers won’t reconvene until at least April 30

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The Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.

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 over the potentially deadly coronavirus outbreak.

Lawmakers, who left the Capitol temporarily on March 17 with plans to restart the session on April 15, said the decision to further suspend legislative activities at the Iowa Capitol building was influenced by President Donald Trump’s directive to set a national social-distancing policy through April 30 that avoids large gatherings and concern over the uncertain outlook for state tax collections that will impact budget decisions for the current and 2021 fiscal years.

“The Iowa Legislature continues to follow the guidance of the CDC 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,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny. “I am thankful for all work done by Iowans in the face of the 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 to formally extend the suspension of session. The council will meet via teleconference.

“Right now with the entire economy shut down almost, it’s hard to write that budget,” said Whitver. “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. Continuing the pause on session is the right decision at this time but we hope to be back soon to complete our work,” said House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford.

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 20-member 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 are reviewing the 800-page document to determine what their next steps will be.

“I think right now is just a time for us to sort through what the CARES Act did, how it applies 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,” said Whitver. “So there are a lot of things to sort through. To get that done in a quick amount of time is going to be very difficult.”

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