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State Government News

GOP Leaders Announce COVID-19 Protocols For Iowa Legislative Session

Iowa Capitol with snow
Michael Leland
/
IPR News
Republican leaders of the Iowa Legislature announced their COVID-19 protocols for the legislative session that is set to begin Jan. 11.

Republican leaders of the Iowa Legislature announced their COVID-19 protocols this week for the legislative session that is set to begin Monday.

Hundreds of Iowans from across the state typically converge at the Statehouse four days a week for three to four months, a fact that could make people in the building more likely to contract or spread the coronavirus. Republican leaders, who set the rules because they hold the majority of House and Senate seats, said they are trying to balance safety with transparency in the lawmaking process.

The Iowa Capitol will be open to the public during the legislative session. Those who enter are supposed to get a temperature check and answer health questions and are asked to practice social distancing. Anyone who feels sick is asked to stay home.

Wearing a mask at the Statehouse is recommended, but not required.

“I’m going to strongly encourage our members to wear a mask when they can’t socially distance,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny. “The most important thing is we’re able to come down here, get the work done that we promised we’re going to do. And those that don’t want to socially distance or don’t want to wear a mask run the risk of having to quarantine or shutting down session.”

When the legislature met last June, all Democratic lawmakers wore masks most of the time in the House and Senate chambers, and many Republicans did not.

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said he is disappointed the legislature doesn’t have a mask mandate.

“Without a mask mandate at the Capitol, this could very well become a super-spreader event,” Wahls said. “And our two priorities have been, first, to protect the democratic process of the people of Iowa, and second, that Iowans don’t have to choose between their constitutional rights and their health and safety.”

Lawmakers and staff are also encouraged to report positive COVID-19 tests to their leaders, but not required to do so.

House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said he wouldn’t be able to enforce those measures anyway.

“There’s nothing we can do to stop a member from coming on the floor of the House to take a vote, even if they did have a positive case or they chose that they were not going to wear a mask,” Grassley said.

Most proceedings will be held in person, with live streaming options for the public and lawmakers to watch. But lawmakers are required to vote in person.

Here’s how the public can participate in the legislative process

In subcommittee meetings—the first hearing of a bill—any member of the public can voice their opinion on the legislation. In the past, dozens of people would crowd into very small spaces for these meetings.

This year, the Iowa Senate plans to hold subcommittees on Zoom.

In the House of Representatives, subcommittees will be held in person, but will be live-streamed for those who wish to watch remotely. To participate, members of the public will have to be there in person or submit written comments.

Links for virtual subcommittee viewing will be available on the Iowa Legislature’s website.

Full committees and floor debate will all be live-streamed. Members of the public can also watch these proceedings in person while remaining socially distanced.

Whitver and Grassley are also encouraging Iowans to contact their lawmakers by phone and email, instead of speaking to them in person, during the pandemic.

Top lawmakers made these comments Thursday in a pre-legislative session forum hosted by the Iowa Capitol Press Association.