Special Public Policy Update 3-17-2020

Mar 17, 2020

Iowa Legislature Suspends – Grants Governor Expanded Powers

On March 15, the Iowa House and Senate announced the legislative session will suspend for a minimum of 30 days following the announcement of community spread in Iowa. The decision was made in consultation with the Department of Public Health and Governor’s Office based on recommendations from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) related to COVID-19. On March 16, the House and Senate convened to consider legislation regarding continuity of government to ensure delivery of essential services to Iowans and granted Governor Reynolds expanded powers to combat the virus.

SF2408 provides Reynolds with the ability to transfer spending between state agencies and departments and allows for access to 10% of the state’s $200 million Economic Emergency Fund. It also waives schools’ requirement to make up time lost due to classes being canceled and appropriated monies for testing kits. Other details:

  • The bill appropriates monies from the general fund for FY 2019-2020 to the Department of Human Services for medical assistance program reimbursement and associated costs, the children’s health insurance program, and the state resource center at Glenwood, and to the state board of regents for the state hygienic laboratory.
  • The bill appropriates from the Iowa economic emergency fund to the Department of Management an amount not to exceed 10% of the balance of the Iowa Economic Emergency Fund to be used for purposes approved by the governor. In the event the amount appropriated is insufficient, the bill appropriates from the Iowa Economic Emergency Fund to the Department of Management for an amount not to exceed the maximum balance of the Iowa Economic Emergency Fund to be used for purposes approved by the governor and the legislative council. This provision of the bill will be repealed on the date the 2020 regular session of the 88th general assembly reconvenes after the effective date of this division of the bill, or August 31, 2020, whichever occurs earlier. Essentially what this means is lawmakers are trying to build in flexibility to grant more monies where needed, if more is needed down the road.
  • The bill waives the instructional time requirements for school districts and accredited nonpublic schools that are closed or close on or before April 12, 2020, in order to prevent or contain the spread of COVID-19. The bill authorizes the governor to waive such requirements for school districts or accredited nonpublic schools that are closed or close after April 12, 2020, for such purposes.

Webinars on Unemployment Happening Today

The governor announced on Monday assistance for employees and employers impacted by COVID-19 related layoffs. The guidance includes information for employees filing for unemployment insurance claims, as well as information for employers. Iowa Workforce Development will hold two informational webinars today about unemployment insurance at noon. Employers can participate by signing up here and employees can participate here.

Work on Federal Assistance Continues

The US House voted again Monday to revise legislation they passed over the weekend that will provide paid sick leave and free COVID-19 testing, expand food assistance and unemployment benefits and require employers to provide additional protections for health care workers. The updated bill included changes that would only allocate paid family and medical leave to parents whose minor children’s care facilities or schools are shut down due to the virus. New language also clarifies that the mandated benefit given to employees cannot exceed the tax credit employers receive, that tax credits fully reimburse employers for health care premiums for employees on leave due to the illness, and that employees at qualifying companies will not get 10 additional days of paid sick leave, but rather the will be ensured 10 total.

The House bill’s leave provision only applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees and provides tax credits to assist employers in making leave payments. The Senate may address companies that have more than 500 employees and is also said to be addressing more provisions for small business and employers.

Some of the provisions in the House bill include the following:

Paid Family Medical Leave

  • The bill provides 12 weeks of job-protected paid Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave—of which the first 14 days may be unpaid—for employees of employers with fewer than 500 employees.
  • Employees may use accrued personal or sick leave during the first 14 days, but employers may not require employees to do so.
  • This leave benefit covers employees who have been working for at least 30 calendar days.
  • Among other uses, employees may use the leave to respond to quarantine requirements or recommendations, to care for family members who are responding to quarantine requirements or recommendations, and to care for a child whose school has been closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • After the first 14 days, employers must compensate employees in an amount that is not less than two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay. These pay requirements apply to only the COVID-19-related leave reasons listed above.
  • The provisions will go into effect 15 days after the date of enactment and expire on December 31, 2020.

Paid Sick Leave

  • Employers with fewer than 500 employees will be required to provide full-time employees 2 weeks (80 hours) of paid sick leave for specific circumstances related to COVID-19 (e.g., self-isolating, doctors’ visits, etc.).
  • Part-time employees are entitled to the number of hours of paid sick time equal to the number of hours they work, on average, over a two week period.
  • Employers must compensate employees for any paid sick time they take at their regular rates of pay.
  • Employers will be required to post a notice informing employees of their rights to leave.
  • As currently drafted, the bill expressly provides that it does not preempt existing state or local paid sick leave entitlements.
  • The provisions will go into effect 15 days after the date of enactment and expire on December 31, 2020.
The Economic Alliance will continue to sort out details of the final legislation, what it means to our members and how they can access virus-related benefits. We will also continue to update you on state policy that may affect our members.

More Business Resources Related to COVID-19 at www.cedarrapids.org/coronavirus

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