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Discussing ‘profound questions’ about governor’s emergency powers

DES MOINES — The chairman of a key House committee and a few other legislators have begun discussing new limits on the powers Iowa governors may exercise during emergencies. Representative Steven Holt, a Republican from Denison, said in California, for example, churches could not hold indoor services, but strip clubs got a court order in November to stay open.

“It really is not related to Governor Reynolds. Governor Reynolds is not always going to be the governor,” Holt said. “…We need to have a discussion as to how far we believe these emergency powers should be allowed to go.”

House Speaker Pat Grassley said Republicans are “in total agreement” that Governor Reynolds has done “a tremendous job” during the pandemic.

“There wasn’t a playbook that we had to work with,” Grassley said in January on Iowa PBS. “The governor didn’t have a playbook to work with that you can look back to another situation.”

Senate Republican Leader Jack Whitver said there’s a time and a place to address general concerns about emergency powers for Iowa governors, but it’s not during the 2021 session.

“In the middle of a pandemic is a really difficult to have that conversation and try to change executive powers,” Whitver said on Iowa PBS.

Whitver said the pandemic has been “an extremely difficult time” for everyone.

“I’m not sure that anyone’s had a more difficult year than governors in this country and the decisions they have to make every day, sometimes with not nearly the information they need to make those decisions,” Whitver said. “…I commend Governor Reynolds on quick, decisive action, trying to balance the various interests.”

Holt, who also commends Reynolds for the way she’s handled the pandemic, said it will take a while to ponder the “profound questions” that could be answered by lawmakers next year, before the next emergency happens.

“What right does government have to pick winners and losers and tell businesses that they have to close and that this one’s essential and this one is not when every job is essential when you’ve got to put food on the table and every business is essential when you’re put your life savings into it and your heart and soul into it for decades and maybe your parents and grandparents before you?” Holt asks. “So I think these discussions are absolutely essential.”

Governor Kim Reynolds issued her first public health emergency proclamation last March. She ordered churches, schools and a variety of businesses to close at the start of the pandemic.

“Governor Reynolds, compared to many other governors, has taken very reasonable approaches,” Holt said. “…Nonetheless, there have been a lot of businesses and families profoundly impacted by government’s response to the coronavirus and it is no secret I have said on social media that I believe that government’s response to the coronavirus is now worse than the virus itself and I will stand by that.”

The governor’s current public health emergency proclamation calls for mask wearing in many public places. The proclamation will expire this Saturday, February 6 unless that governor extends or amends it, which she has done through the pandemic.

Democrats have been critical of Governor Reynolds’ approach to pandemic issues and called on her to issue a statewide mask mandate early in the pandemic. They’ve also criticized her for signing a bill on Friday that requires every Iowa K-12 school to hold all classes in-person.

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