The Back Mic: COVID-19 Protocols Announced for First Day of Legislative Session, Capitol Grounds Reopen, Abbott Weighs in on Building Access

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Safety Protocols for Legislative Session’s Opening Ceremony Outlined

Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), who chairs the committee in the Texas House responsible for overseeing the operational functions of the body, released a memo this week detailing protocols to be enforced on the first day of the legislative session in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The protocols and changes outlined by the chairman specifically relate to the session’s opening ceremony, and include: 

  • Required face coverings
  • Required COVID-19 testing for members, guests, media, and staff attending the opening day ceremony
  • Restricted seating on the House floor, with accommodations for guests, press, and public in the gallery
  • No overflow seating
  • Hand sanitation stations on the House floor and in the gallery
  • Puradigm air purification systems installed above the House floor
  • Additional spacing between members’ desks and gallery seats

The session will begin on January 12, 2021.

Capitol Grounds Reopen to the Public

After a long closure in light of protests and riots following the murder of George Floyd, the grounds of the state capitol were opened back up to the public this week for the first time since May. 

Legislators from both parties largely voiced support for the motion. 

Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock) told KXAN “I don’t see much public health risk for folks having access to the grounds if they’re not gathering indoors and not gathering in large groups,” and said the move was “long-overdue.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville) said, “It’s a step in the right direction…I think it should have happened sooner.”

Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg) called on Governor Greg Abbott to reopen the grounds ahead of the move, tweeting, “[Abbott] It is time to open the Texas Capitol Grounds. Please remove the metal barricades, and send the National Guard home. We are not under attack. The Capitol is the peoples house, not a military installation or barracks. For love of Texas, open the Capitol!”

The capitol building itself has remained shuttered to the public due to coronavirus concerns since March.

Governor Weighs in on Capitol Reopening 

At a press conference scheduled as an update on the delivery of COVID-19 vaccine doses to Texas, Abbott said, “I do think the capitol should be reopened and the capitol will be reopened.”

The governor has largely remained quiet on the subject, as legislators and activists have increasingly called for expanded access to the building as the beginning of the session approaches. 

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