Iowa will soon join 11 other states in suspending its legislative session amid a mounting number of coronavirus cases here and across the country.
Leadership in the GOP-controlled House and Senate announced Sunday afternoon the Iowa Legislature will be suspended for a minimum of 30 days in light of news the coronavirus pandemic has hit the phase of “community spread” in Iowa, meaning people are becoming infected without knowing how they contracted the disease.
The House and Senate gavels in at 1 p.m. today “to consider resolutions regarding continuity of government to ensure delivery of essential services to Iowans.”
In a post on Facebook Sunday, House Democrats said: “In the next few days, we will take emergency measures to ensure the continuity of state government and the state budget as well as provide the tools necessary to respond to this pandemic. We will finish our legislative work sometime later this year.”
State Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Mount Pleasant, initially was against suspending the legislative session because of work he wanted to complete on behalf of his constituents.
“We’re in the middle of a lot of things that are very important to a lot of people, and for us to just say well, we’re not going to work on your issue because we’re too scared of the virus, I think that’s probably the wrong approach,” Taylor said Friday afternoon.
By Monday morning, circumstances had changed.
“Thankfully they decided that we’re only suspending it, not ending it … That’s encouraging,” he said, “because I was afraid that they were going to try and just rush it all done this week and then leave town for the year. I just don’t think that would be the right thing to do. There’s too many people with too many important issues — important to them, at least.”
Taylor, a retired electrician and HVAC technician, has no job to return to. So, like many other Iowans, he will try to limit his public interactions while back home.
“I doubt that we do the forums,” he said, of the monthly town hall meetings held with constituents. “I don’t think that seems very likely if we’re going to suggest that our schools close down and close down the Capitol. I don’t think it’s very wise to have 60 to 100 people gathered at a public forum. We’re not doing anything, so we won’t have any news to share about what’s going on.”
In addition to suspending the legislative session, initially tentatively set to adjourn April 21, all scheduled tours, events and receptions at the Capitol “are cancelled until further notice.”
Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, on Twitter Sunday called leadership’s decision “good albeit belated.”
Last week, Hogg called on lawmakers to suspend the session as a precaution against spreading the virus, which has been said to live on hard surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours.
“When you have the national guidance that we should avoid large-scale gatherings, it seems to me that includes the Iowa Legislature,” Hogg said Friday. “If we were in a different situation where there was something absolutely critical that we had to pass right now … there might be a need to convene in that circumstance and run the risk, but I don’t see anything that’s being done other than kind of routine legislative matters.”
In a statement over the weekend, Gov. Kim Reynolds said there now are 22 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state, leading her to recommend Iowans avoid any gatherings with more than 250 people.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends no gatherings greater than 50 people for the next eight weeks.
On Sunday, Reynolds recommended, but did not mandate, schools close for four weeks.
Elsewhere in the Capitol, Auditor Rob Sand said “high-risk individuals” should begin working from home today “until further notice.” He also suspended all travel for his employees.
“If you think I am overreacting, I hope it turns out you are right,” Sand said, in a copy of his email posted to Facebook. “But I would rather myself be wrong than anyone in our office become seriously ill because I did not act.”
By Elizabeth Meyer