By Senator Jason Schultz (R-District 9, Schleswig)
The COVID-19 virus has disrupted the lives of Iowans and all of America in a way we haven’t seen in decades. As we find ourselves in a new world, it is important not to assume the worst.
I have seen little of the drama that has taken place around the country, and that speaks well of Iowans. It is our job as thoughtful adults to consider the news as it comes, make plans to care for our friends and loved ones, and guide our children through these difficult, unknown situations.
The most obvious change is the closure of gathering places, including churches, schools, and restaurants. It is important to understand what is happening here. The effort is all aimed at slowing down the spread of the Wuhan virus among the general population.
I have looked at the mathematical models of viral spread, and unlimited contact with infected individuals will lead to the health disasters of China and Italy. Their problems arose when actions, such as ending large group gatherings, were not taken early.
South Korea and Russia immediately stopped such activity, along with closing their borders immediately. Their outcomes are becoming models for how to react to news of the coronavirus. The unknown variable is how well the population will cooperate.
In order to assist with the governor’s order to end group gatherings, the Iowa Legislature suspended our session on March 16. We are taking a 30-day pause in order to not help the spread of the virus. Each week, 150 office holders go back home and see countless people from multiple counties. We then go back to Des Moines and work with people from around the state. That is a recipe for disaster, so the Legislature tied up a few loose ends in order to keep the state running.
The main bill we debated was SF 2408. The first division of the bill dealt with supplemental appropriations necessary even before the outbreak of the virus. Medicaid, HAWK-I, and the Glenwood Resource Center all received funding to deal with immediate needs. Also approved was funding to the State Hygienic Lab for testing of the coronavirus.
Division II authorizes status quo funding for education items other than the annual State Supplemental Aid, which was passed earlier this year.
Division III sets up the structure to authorize two additional months of funding for state agencies at the beginning of the fiscal year, which starts July 1. We do not believe the current isolation policy will last the whole summer, but it would be irresponsible to not have a contingency plan.
Division IV sets aside the current limitations on the governor’s fiscal transfer authority. This language permits the governor to make move money around in the current fiscal year.
Division V waived the instructional time requirements for students in schools for 30 days. It also allows the governor to continue the waiver until July 1.
Division VI pre-authorizes 10 percent of the Economic Emergency Fund ($19.6 million) to be used by the governor in order to handle current emergencies. The Legislative Council again has the authority to allow additional transfers if needed.
I will be sending newsletters out more frequently for the duration of the legislative pause with information concerning the state’s reaction to the COVID-19 emergency.