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Lawmakers outline priorities as Iowa Legislature gavels into session during pandemic

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DES MOINES, Iowa (KTIV) - When the gavel dropped, Monday morning, to begin the Iowa Legislative session, lawmakers faced a very different scene than they did one year ago. Many wonder whether the pandemic will change lawmakers' plans and priorities in Des Moines.

"What precautions do you know will be taken to protect lawmakers?" asked Matt Breen. "We'll I don't know that there's going to be a mask mandate, Matt, and I don't think there is in the chamber," said Sen. Jim Carlin, (R) Sioux City. In fact, masks won't be required, simply "encouraged" in the capitol building, according to a memo from House and Senate leadership. Social distancing, however, will be practiced.

There are also changes for committee and subcommittee meetings. "Our subcommittee meetings, and I think this is important, will be all virtual," said Sen. Jackie Smith, (D) Sioux City. "They'll have a virtual component. That's how I plan to participate."

As the pandemic persists, some are asking… "Should lawmakers meet, in person, at all?" asked Matt Breen. "If I were in charge, and I'm not, if I were, I would go the first day because constitutionally we have to do that," said Sen. Jackie Smith, (D) Sioux City. "Get your seat assignments, take care of a few things, get sworn in." Then, Smith says, go completely virtual for several weeks.

Representative Jacob Bossman of Sioux City disagrees. "I think there's a lot of process of government that doesn't work that well without everybody together to share ideas and bounce things off one another," said Rep. Jacob Bossman, (R) Sioux City. Like a one-cent sales tax hike floated by Governor Kim Reynolds, last January, as a way to offset cuts to income and property taxes… plus fund Iowa's mental health system, and pay for programs to preserve Iowa's natural resources. "The environmental issues, and mental health funding such as I-WILL… that was the governor's proposal… should be looked at this year," said Sen. Jackie Smith, (D) Sioux City.

Smith, a Democrat, worries Iowans won't accept the tax hike. Republican Senator Jim Carlin shares Smith's concern. "I would not be in favor of a one-cent sales tax increase," said Sen. Jim Carlin, (R) Sioux City. "I know some people want to fund water quality that way. I'm not one of them. That is a tax that would, in all likelihood, never go away."

Lawmakers have priorities of their own to push this session. Like funding for child care. "I think now, especially, we run into issues of access… particularly a lot of people like nurses, teachers, and other frontline workers, who need to work," said Rep. Jacob Bossman, (R) Sioux City. Bossman also favors increasing the reimbursement rate to make the industry more profitable for the child care providers.

Carlin says the new composition of the Iowa Supreme Court means lawmakers have a shot at having a new "heartbeat bill" upheld. A version of the bill, passed in 2018, made abortion illegal in Iowa after a fetal heartbeat if detected. "It's a bill that defines, and would subsequently result in saving lives in my mind," said Sen. Jim Carlin, (R) Sioux City. "And, that is something that I intend on working on."

Lawmakers passed the bill in 2018, and the governor signed it into law. But, a Polk County judge found the law unconstitutional. The governor chose not to appeal the ruling.

Governor Kim Reynolds will outline her priorities during Tuesday's "Condition of the State" speech to a joint session of the Iowa Legislature. The speech starts at 6:00pm. We'll stream it live at KTIV-dot-com, on our Facebook page, and on the KTIV News 4 app starting at 6:00pm Tuesday night.

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Matt Breen

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