Iowa restaurants and bars fined for violating COVID-19 protocols could get repaid by the state under a bill filed this week by Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale.
Senate File 498 also would require all state agencies to cancel any fine that was levied, but not yet paid. The law would apply to retailers, restaurants and bars and would take effect immediately if passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor.
At issue are elements of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proclamation that limited capacities, seating arrangements and hours in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The bill was introduced Monday. Most policy bills need to clear a committee by Friday to remain eligible for consideration.
The law would affect “certain fines issued pursuant to a proclamation of disaster emergency relating to the novel coronavirus pandemic,” the proposed legislation reads.
The bill has gained the support of Americans for Prosperity; no other interest groups are favoring the bill so far.
Lobbyist Drew Klein of Americans for Prosperity said while his organization didn’t propose the bill, it would be a common-sense way to help small businesses continue to operate.
“I think the cure is worse than the illness at some level,” Klein said of the governor’s coronavirus proclamations. “These are businesses that are just struggling to keep their doors open. They weren’t making their decisions out of spite or out of rebellion. We want those businesses to stay there so trying to alleviate that burden seems like a good approach.”
Zaun did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said the legislation is misguided and could lead other businesses to want out of their state fines, too.
“He’s just politically pandering,” Bolkcom said. “ Those proclamations were no fun for anybody, but they were intended to save lives. Businesses that didn’t follow them were breaking the law.”
Bolkcom said the proposal is odd coming from Zaun, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and has backed dozens of bills assessing fines for various other offenses this session.
“He’s a law-and-order guy,” Bolkcom said of Zaun. “What does this say to law enforcement and health officials doing their work? ‘Oh, never mind.’”
The bill would require the state treasurer’s office to repay the fines after the business applies to get its money back. The state Alcoholic Beverages Division has opened dozens of cases involving alleged violations of the proclamations since March 2020, in some cases assessing $1,000 fines.