BOSTON (SHNS) – Legislative leaders released a new statement on State House reopening plans Wednesday, but did not outline any concrete steps to reopen the building.
The statement comes just over two weeks after the Baker administration rescinded nearly all of the pandemic-era restrictions that governed life for 15 months across Massachusetts and as businesses start to reopen their offices to employees. The State House has been mostly closed for 471 days.
In a joint statement, Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ronald Mariano said the Legislature “is in the process of developing a comprehensive and nuanced reopening plan with the goal of returning employees and the public safely to the State House in the fall.” Fall begins Sept. 22 and ends on Dec. 21.
“The Legislature is engaged with employees and will give them advance notice and guidance so they can plan their return to the State House, and a rebalancing of in-person and remote work,” the statement read. “We are simultaneously planning a phased timeline of the reopening of the State House to the public as well.”
The State House first closed to the public in March 2020, when legislative leaders shuttered the building as COVID-19 cases started to surge. Since then, a small number of lawmakers, staff, and other workers have made their way to Beacon Hill, while many others who used to work in the building are working remotely instead.
Legislative leaders and Gov. Charlie Baker have pointed to many challenges associated with reopening the State House, including how the building functions as a tourism attraction, a workplace for staff, and as a public gathering space. But pressure has been building since the state of emergency ended to reopen the building as much of the state returns to post-pandemic lifestyles.
“There are a great number of factors to consider, as the State House is not only a workplace to hundreds of people, but a frequently visited public building,” the statement said.
Secretary of State William Galvin pushed legislative leaders earlier in the day to reopen to the public several of the large halls within the State House as tourism season gets underway and people start visiting historical sites around Boston.
During a morning press conference, he said he understands concerns relating to large crowds, especially if there are unvaccinated individuals, but believes halls like Doric Hall, Great Hall, and the Hall of Flags could be opened “without great risk.”
“Those are all the large public spaces which could accommodate, it seems to me, visitors from outside safely if protocols are followed. My tours division is pretty efficient at dealing with large groups of people, we bring them in an orderly way,” Galvin said. “I think if this was planned out properly, we could reopen at least partially and I think it’ll be a step towards gradual reopening of the building.”
House leadership announced in May that Speaker Pro Tempore Kate Hogan alongside Mariano’s office were in the process of creating a “comprehensive plan” to reopen the building to saff and the public.
A timeline for when a plan would be released was not included in Wednesday’s statement. A spokesperson for Hogan deferred to the statement released by Mariano and Spilka.
At a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce forum in March, Mariano also offered some hope for reopening the building in the fall.
“The hope is as we progress through the summer that maybe by the fall we can begin to open this building and start to have some hearings and get people in to testify and make their points,” he said.
Throughout the course of the pandemic, a majority of lawmakers and staff have participated in remote sessions while a small group have made their way into the House and Senate Chambers which Spilka and Mariano pointed to in their statement.
“Members have retained the ability to participate in Legislative sessions remotely or in-person in the Chambers when necessary,” they said. “Additionally, staff have continued to work in a hybrid manner throughout the State of Emergency and beyond, with the majority working from home and some in the State House.”