No timeline as House works on Boston State House reopen plan

Boston Statehouse

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON (01/27/2021) – Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled his $45.6 billion fiscal 2022 budget proposal at a press conference in the Massachusetts State House and also spoke to reporters about availability and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. (Sam Doran/State House News Service)

BOSTON (SHNS) – A top House Democrat is working with House Speaker Ron Mariano’s staff on a “comprehensive plan” to reopen the State House to staff and the public, according to an email obtained by the News Service.

While most House staff members will continue working remotely and sessions in the near term will continue in their pandemic-era mostly remote format, the announcement of a plan is the first move House leaders have made toward a potential reopening. The email was sent minutes before Gov. Charlie Baker formally announced the state’s plan to lift COVID-19 restrictions by May 29 and end the state of emergency on June 15.

Speaker Pro Tempore Kate Hogan sent the email Monday to representatives where she acknowledged new days-old guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that say fully vaccinated people can resume activities in most places without wearing masks or physically distancing themselves.

“To these ends, my office, along with staff from the Speaker’s Office and other members of the leadership team, are engaged in the development of a comprehensive plan that will allow all of us to return to the State House in a safe manner and to then be able to open the State House to the members of the general public,” the email read.

A timeline for the release of the plan was not specified in the email and Hogan said only staff members who are essential to House operations should be physically present at the State House. Updated face covering and social distancing guidance for the House chamber, members, and staff “is forthcoming,” the email said.

“There is a need to assess what the new guidance makes possible, for those of us who work here as well as for those who visit here, to determine the best approaches to get us there and to then work through all of those decisions with the appropriate stakeholders to be certain that we are all on the same page,” the email read. “We will probably also need a significant communications effort.”

A plan to reopen the State House would need to include buy-in from counterparts in the Senate. In a statement to the News Service Monday, a spokeperson for Spilka said “the Senate is currently focused on conducting a successful and safe budget debate.”

“Once that has concluded, we will immediately turn our attention to the new deadlines announced today regarding reopening and the end of the State of Emergency,” the spokesperson said. “As always, we will work in close consultation with the House and the Administration to ensure members, staff and the public are kept safe.”

Spilka said in March of last year that the building would remain closed “through the duration of the state of emergency.”

The state of emergency is set to lift in just under a month, Baker said Monday while citing improved vaccination rates across the state.

“Massachusetts is on track to reach its goal of vaccinating 4.1 million residents by early June and this level of protection makes this step possible for the people of the commonwealth,” Baker said. “The science shows that vaccinated people are well protected against the virus and unlikely to spread COVID.”

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