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Iowa Legislature reconvenes following absence due to COVID-19

Local 5 is breaking down the top items to be discussed, as well as safety precautions being taken at the statehouse.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Following a nearly two-month hiatus due to the spread of COVID-19, state legislators returned to the Capitol on Wednesday to resume budget talks and virus safety.

While Republicans control both chambers of the Iowa Legislature, Democratic leaders are looking for more transparency in reporting coronavirus outbreaks.

"We do a better job of informing parents of lice outbreaks and strep throat
outbreaks in our classrooms then the governor has done in informing Iowans of the number of COVID cases and where they are occurring," said Senante Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines. "And that has to stop."

The legislative session was suspended on March 16.

Safety precautions expected implemented at the Iowa State Capitol include: 

  • Encouraging members and staff to stay home if they are sick, have a fever or any symptoms, or have compromised immune systems.
  • Requiring staff members and the public to undergo a health screening before entering the Capitol.
  • Recommending that all individuals follow social distancing guidelines issued by the Department of Public Health.
  • Recommending the use of face masks when unable to properly social distance, as recommended by the CDC. Face masks will be provided to those who want one.
  • Deploying hand sanitizer stations throughout the Capitol, at entrances to the building, and the House and Senate chambers.
  • Limiting individuals on the House floor to only Representatives and necessary staff as deemed appropriate by supervisors.

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Temperature scans are also being administered.

Lawmakers are hoping increased live-streaming capabilities will help Iowans stay informed while adhering to social distancing.

"With not as many people wanting or able to come down to the Capitol, we wanted to live-stream more of our meetings so that people can stay home and still follow what we're doing here at the Capitol," said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny. "That's probably the biggest change that people will notice is we're using the chamber for smaller committee meetings. "

Here are some top issues scheduled for debate by House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley:

  • Abortion Amendment: Says the Iowa Constitution does not protect the right to abortion, reversing a Supreme Court decision justices decided to write into law. That power is given to the legislative branch. "This amendment is about restoring our system of checks and balances," Communications Director for the Iowa House Republicans Colin Tadlock said. 
  • Tobacco Age: A bill that increases the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21. 
  • Felon Voting Rights: Restoring the rights of certain convicted felons to vote. 
  • Broadband Expansion: This is part of the Governor's Empower Rural Iowa Act.
Credit: AP
Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley, right, stands in the Iowa House chambers, Wednesday, June 3, 2020, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. Lawmakers returned Wednesday after suspending the session when the coronavirus pandemic surfaced in Iowa in March, prompting state officials to close the state Capitol. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

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