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There have been many changes since I wrote my last newsletter. That is the risk you run when you write a newsletter that will not be published for up to a week. On March 16, we passed several resolutions and bills to pause the legislative session for up to 30 days while the state works to slow the spread of COVID-19. I am working at home especially on my budget subcommittee numbers and several of the governor’s appointments that require confirmation by the senate and where I chair the subcommittee that is considering them.
We passed a resolution, SCR 102, to allow us to recess until April 15, 2020 and pause the legislative deadlines for this year. It would also allow us to come back into session before that date, if necessary, or after that date if we cannot come back in 30 days.

We also passed Senate File 2408, which included a supplemental appropriation to the State Hygienic Lab for additional COVID-19 testing, additional money for Medicaid, Hawk-I, and the Glenwood Resource Center. It also increases the governor’s transfer authority, allowing her the power to move around money between budget items as necessary. The total for this supplemental appropriation is $91.8 million. Additionally, this bill gave Governor Kim Reynolds access to the Economic Emergency Fund while the session is suspended for needs related to the COVID-19 outbreak. Under this legislation, Governor Reynolds can spend up to 10 percent of the fund to address the impact of the virus. The Legislative Council, a committee of both senators and representatives, may approve up to $196 million without the legislature having to reconvene.

Additionally, we set a level of spending to go into effect if legislators cannot make it back to the Capitol before the end of the current budget year on June 30. It sets spending levels for July and August 2020 at the current rate of funding for FY 2020, with the exception of K-12 education funding, which was passed and signed into law earlier this year.

Over the weekend, Governor Reynolds recommended schools cancel classes for four weeks. Since then, we have been getting a lot of questions from parents and teachers about what the school year would look like after the four weeks. The Legislature included in our legislation a provision to waive the requirement for Iowa schools to reschedule days canceled in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Schools will continue to provide meals. All of these changes are temporary to address the situation our state is facing. We have not had to face a situation like this before. It was important for us to consider the precedent our actions would set for future emergencies, as well as ensure the resources would be there when we need them.

Information on the COVID-19 outbreak is constantly changing and I urge you to stay updated as much as possible to keep you and your families safe. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) have put out information on appropriate actions to take and what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones.

These include:

Limit non-essential work travel and gatherings. Individuals 60 years of age and older or people with underlying health conditions especially should stay at home and avoid gatherings or other situations of potential exposures, including travel to affected areas.

Consider working remotely or using online learning as much as possible.

Iowa currently has several cases of this virus and community spread appears to be occurring. Community spread occurs when a person has the virus but cannot specifically say when or where they got the infection or why they have it. As part of her efforts to control the public health situation, Governor Reynolds has implemented a number of emergency actions. She prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people. She ordered the closing of restaurants and bars and other businesses where large numbers of people gather. Carry-outs are ok.

To keep up to date on what is happening or to answer any questions, I encourage you to check the CDC website on COVID-19 or the IDPH website. Also, a hotline has been established you can call 24/7 with questions. It can be reached by dialing either 211 or 1-800-244-7431.

Author: Julian Garrett