Republican leaders of the Iowa Legislature announced Wednesday that the legislative session will resume June 3.
This is the third time top lawmakers have decided to delay their return to the Statehouse since they put the session on hold in the early hours of March 17 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The decision follows Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ announcement Wednesday that many business restrictions will be lifted May 15.
“With the situation much improved, it is also time for the legislature to return to Des Moines so we can complete our work,” House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said in a news release. “Once we return, I look forward to addressing the priorities of Iowans and passing a conservative and responsible state budget.”
It is unclear what Grassley is referring to as “much improved.” The state reported the second- and third-highest number of deaths on Tuesday and Wednesday, and Reynolds acknowledged virus activity is increasing in Polk County, where the state Capitol is located.
“Suspending the legislative session was necessary to ensure Iowa’s health care infrastructure was not overwhelmed,” Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said in a separate news release. “It is now time for the Senate to resume its constitutional duty to represent the people of Iowa, implement policy priorities, and pass a conservative budget to fund the necessary functions of government.”
Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, pointed out in a statement that when lawmakers left the Capitol in mid-March, there were 29 confirmed coronavirus cases and no related deaths.
“Today, we are faced with more than 13,000 confirmed cases and more than 300 COVID-related deaths,” Petersen said. “We hope the focus of the reconvened legislature will be to complete a balanced state budget and provide necessary oversight of the executive branch’s actions during this pandemic.”
A group of top lawmakers is scheduled to vote Thursday afternoon to make the June 3 return date official.
Health precautions at the statehouse
News releases from House and Senate Republican leaders encourage the public to avoid the Capitol, especially if they’re older or have a preexisting condition that could leave them more vulnerable to severe illness.
The leaders announced plans to livestream all committee meetings in addition to full House and Senate debate.
They’re encouraging the public to submit comments about proposed laws on the legislature’s website instead of attending in-person subcommittee meetings. A spokesperson for House Republicans said they have not decided if subcommittee meetings will be livestreamed.
Staff and the public will be required to undergo a health screening before entering the Capitol building, but it’s not a requirement for lawmakers.
Social distancing and face masks are also recommended, and hand sanitizer will be available.
The Capitol building will open to the public May 18, but tour groups will not be allowed.