With COVID-19 precautions in place to restrict how the state legislature conducts business this session, the public will have limited ways in which it can weigh in on proposed legislation.
The Senate building is closed to the public, and can only be accessed in most cases by elected officials, staff and the media. On the other side of the lawn, the House of Representatives is allowing visitors to attend committee hearings and meet with legislators in their offices.
Both legislative buildings will have temperature checks upon entry and require facemasks.
All live proceedings of legislative action are streamed live online.
The Senate has more strict and consistent guidelines for how the public can participate in hearings, while the House’s protocols allow committees to set their own rules.
To participate in Senate hearings
In the Senate, only five legislators can be present inside the hearing rooms when a committee convenes. Senators are allowed to participate in the proceedings and vote remotely.
Because the public can’t enter the Senate building, those who want to voice an opinion on legislation can either send in a request to speak to legislators about a bill remotely or record their opinions in writing.
Each committee meeting agenda will have instructions on how the public can speak during the public comment portion of the hearing. But generally, the public has to send their request to speak in a committee 24 hours in advance via email. The request must state the bill the person wants to comment on, and who the person represents (a particular organization or themselves). According to the Senate protocol, “timely requests will receive a response that includes the meeting access information to participate in the committee remotely.”
Anyone can still record their position on proposed legislation using the Request To Speak system.
To participate in House hearings
The House protocols don’t outline how committee meetings will be conducted. Instead, each committee will decide whether hearings can be held virtually and how public testimony is handled, said Andrew Wilder, a spokesman for House Republicans.
“Currently it is determined by each committee whether its hearings will be conducted in a hybrid format (in-person and virtual) or as entirely virtual,” Wilder said in an email. “It is also up to the committee how it will handle public testimony (in-person/virtual/hybrid).”
The House is allowing the public to access the building. Wearing a facemask and maintaining a distance of at least six feets with others is required.
The seating capacity at each House hearing room will be limited. Chairs will be placed six feet apart. The public has a narrow window of time on when they can enter the House building.
“Visitors may enter up to 10 minutes prior to a scheduled committee meeting and may remain only for the duration of the committee meeting,” the House protocol states. “Occupancy for each committee meeting is subject to change without notice.”
Overflow rooms will be available on a case-by-case basis.