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The Iowa Legislature is hitting the pause button on the 2020 session as the state, and nation, try to keep the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in check.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver (R-Ankeny) said it’s a unique situation.

“We are doing our best to follow guidance to make the best decisions that we can with the information that we have,” Whitver said. “CDC recommendations are saying that you should avoid large gatherings, as well as vulnerable populations should stay home. That is largely what the legislature is made of — large gathering of vulnerable people.”

Taking a pause also allows Gov. Kim Reynolds, legislators and government employees to focus exclusively on dealing with the Coronavirus outbreak.

“It’s our duty as legislators to ensure that we have a continuity of government,” Whitver said. “So the measures that we’re going to take tonight will give the Governor the authority to do what she needs to do while we’re not in session to make sure that there’s confidence that government will function appropriately at this time.”

House Speaker Pat Grassley (R-Hartford) said the agreement between the House and Senate provides a supplemental appropriation for Medicaid ($89 million), Hawk-I ($1.7 million) and the Glenwood Resource Center ($600,000). There’s a new appropriation of $525,000 to the State Hygienic Lab for COVID-19 testing kits.

The two chambers also came to an agreement for a two-month appropriation to the FY21 budget at FY20 spending levels if the legislature cannot meet prior. The Fiscal Year starts on July 1.

Reynolds will also have additional transfer authority during the first two months of the FY21 budget, making it easier for her to shift money between state departments and properly respond to emergency situations.

The Legislature is also granting Reynolds the ability to spend 10 percent of the current Economic Emergency Fund to address the COVID-19 emergency. Anything above 10 percent will require approval from the Legislative Council. There is currently just under $200 million in the current Economic Emergency Fund.

The bill that will pass Monday will provide a blanket forgiveness for school days through Sunday, April 12. After that, the Legislature has provided Reynolds with the ability to forgive school days statewide or on a district-by-district basis.

Grassley said the Legislature hopes to return sooner than April 15, but if it needs to push that return date back, it will.

When, and if, the Legislature does reconvene, Whitver said the Senate still has legislative priorities it would like to address.

“I know from a Senate perspective there are a lot of members that have a lot of priorities that are still out there,” Whitver said. “Obviously we want to pass as much as the People’s business that we can, but all that’s to be determined on when we come back. But, it’s our intent to continue to pass policy along with the budget when we come back.”

Grassley agreed there is still business to continue, in addition to the budget, but said that isn’t today’s focus.

“I think the focus of today though is making sure that we have some clarity,” he said. “Not knowing when that day exactly will be we’re going to be coming back here, at least some of the things to make sure there’s not a shut down of state government.”

As for this week’s second funnel deadline, Whitver said the resolution being passed to pause session will also suspend Joint Rule 20, which is the legislative second funnel.

The $525,000 provided for testing kits is expected to cover six months’ worth of testing.