Coronavirus Protocols Come With Truncated Opening Day Ceremony for Texas Legislature

After near on half a year of restricted access, the Texas State Capitol opened back up to the public today ahead of the 87th Legislative Session. With opening day set for January 12, the two legislative chambers issued guidelines for access in the last 24 hours.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, the president of the senate, announced the upper chamber’s opening day protocols Monday morning. All senators, staff, and guests will be tested for COVID-19 and on-floor attendance of the opening ceremony is limited to one guest per senator. The tests should take 15 minutes at most for results to materialize.

The press release stated, “We will fight the spread of COVID-19 by doing all we can to protect the public who visit the capitol as well as employees, staff and the senators. In addition to keeping everyone safe, we also want to avoid a potential shutdown due to the virus so we can carry out our constitutional duties over the next several months.”

Each member will be allotted three gallery tickets for the shorter-than-past ceremony. On the first day of the session, senate offices will be open only by appointment.

Media access will be stringently condensed as only four pool reporters will be allowed in the senate gallery for the opening day ceremony. Mandatory testing is required for all media to enter the capitol, as well.

Face masks were not mentioned by the release, but they are currently required for entry into the capitol building.

The protocols for the first 60 days of session, Patrick added, will be voted on during the first week by the body.

Issued by House Administration Chair Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), the lower chamber’s protocols are less stringent and leave more discretion to its members.

Geren’s notice to House members said, “House Members and staff are strongly encouraged to observe the following health and safety protocols in their Capitol offices.”

Daily temperature checks, six-foot distancing, and facemasks are all suggested practices. Virtual or outside meetings are encouraged for larger groups of people.

The option is available for legislative offices to implement testing for all its guests. The Texas Department of Emergency Management will provide them upon request.

For any staff or guests who come in close contact with the virus, House Administration recommends a 14-day quarantine period. The Centers for Disease Control currently recommends a two-week quarantine but stipulates that after 10 days with no symptoms, the individual can end their quarantine.

“As always, the implementation of COVID-19 health and safety standards are left entirely to the discretion of each House Member, and each office may adopt any additional protocols the office considers necessary to protect the health and safety of the office’s staff and guests,” the notice concludes.

On the legislative session’s first day, chamber rules, both health-wise and procedural, will be solidified. Additionally, the next House speaker will be elected by the body, presumptively Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont).

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