Health screening will not be required for lawmakers returning for June 3 session

By: - May 14, 2020 5:12 pm

Police tape covers the sign at the visitor’s entrance to the State Capitol, which was closed to the public on March 17, 2020. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa lawmakers will not be required to undergo a health screening for COVID-19 before entering the State Capitol when the Legislature returns to session on June 3, Republican legislative leaders said Thursday.

The health screening will be mandatory for members of the public and staff, House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said during a telephonic meeting of the Legislative Council. “As you know by the Constitution … we have no way of preventing any member from accessing the Capitol during session,” he said.

The health screening conducted at the Capitol March 16 included a temperature check and some questions about whether people were experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 or whether they may have been exposed through travel. Some lawmakers said they took the screening, provided in a tent outside the building. Others walked past the tent and entered the building.

March 16 was the last day lawmakers met before temporarily suspending the session to mitigate the spread of the virus. The 24-member Legislative Council voted Thursday to set the June 3 date for the return the regular session.

Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, asked whether lawmakers would be able to access a list of which of their colleagues completed the screening.

“I’ll take it under advisement,” Grassley said.

Face masks will be provided at the Capitol, according to guidelines given to legislators, but wearing one will also be voluntary.

“I would say the expectation is that members will be acting in a responsible manner, monitoring their own — whether they were to have any — symptoms, and using the best judgment,” Grassley said. He said the guidelines are ultimately up to lawmakers but were drafted in consultation with Iowa Department of Public Health and after researching what measures have been taken in other states.

Petersen asked if any provisions for remote voting would be made for lawmakers who may not feel comfortable returning to the Capitol because of their age or health conditions. Grassley said he did not anticipate offering remote voting.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, encouraged legislative leaders to set a very limited agenda. He noted the Legislature is a “risk group” with many vulnerable members who will have a difficult time maintaining social distance. “And the virus is deadly,” he said.

Governor, GOP leaders request new revenue estimate

Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said lawmakers will conduct committee work in the House and Senate chamber so that it can be livestreamed. Any subcommittee work will be conducted by the entire committee rather than in separate, small-group meetings.

While GOP legislative leaders did not offer many details about their agenda for the session, they have joined with Gov. Kim Reynolds to request a meeting of the state Revenue Estimating Conference to set new revenue estimates before the Legislature returns.

Economic factors suggest the state’s revenue picture may be dark. The state revenue department’s leading indicators index for March was dragged down by unemployment, the stock market, new orders, agricultural futures, average manufacturing hours, and diesel fuel consumption, the state reported.

Federal aid is expected to offset some costs of responding to the pandemic, however.

Lawmakers and the governor would use the REC estimate in setting a budget for the 2021 fiscal year. Grassley and Whitver did not answer questions about whether they would be legally bound by the new estimate. But Grassley indicated the GOP majority would treat any new estimate like regular March estimate: If it is lower than the official December 2019 estimate, budgets would be trimmed accordingly.

“Iowa’s fiscal health is strong and we are prepared for this time of uncertainty,” Reynolds said in a news release. “But as Iowa continues to recover and grow from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s critical that we have as much information available to us to make informed decisions. The Revenue Estimating Conference can provide guidance as we assess COVID-19’s impact on the state’s finances.”

The three-member REC is made up of the governor’s budget director, the fiscal division head of the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency and a public member.

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