BOSTON — City and town halls, schools and businesses are reopening as public health metrics improve, but the halls of state government remain shuttered.
The Massachusetts Statehouse, shut down a year ago to prevent spread of the coronavirus, remains closed to the public with no plans to reopen anytime soon.
Many employees are still working remotely, and the Legislature has been holding meetings virtually with only a skeleton crew in the House and Senate chambers. State leaders haven’t unveiled a timeline for reopening the building or for resuming in-person legislative sessions.
“There’s no question we need to start the process of looking at re-opening the Statehouse,” said Rep. Brad Hill, an Ipswich Republican and first assistant minority leader. “We have social distancing protocols in place, more people are getting the vaccine, and coronavirus cases are decreasing.”
Hill said other legislative bodies have shown that they can hold meetings in person safely with face coverings and social distancing precautions.
“The Statehouse is a big building,” he said. “I don’t see why we can’t figure out a way, with social distancing in place, to hold our meetings in person.”
Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem, said he too wants to see the building reopen but said he thinks the state should wait until more people are vaccinated. He said the process of remote legislating, while not perfect, is working under the circumstances.
“I think we need to wait a little longer, until more people get vaccinated,” he said. “But people should know that the government is functioning.”
Rep. Linda Campbell, D-Methuen, said a return to in-person lawmaking will likely depend on more people getting vaccinated, especially with more contagious strains of the coronavirus showing up in tests.
“Getting everyone vaccinated has to be the first step,” she said. “That has to be the bar.”
Recently, there has been pressure from a top state official to begin the process of re-opening the Statehouse. During a budget hearing two weeks ago, Secretary of State Bill Galvin asked lawmakers to allow a limited reopening of the building for tours.
While the building houses the Legislature and governor’s offices, it’s also an attraction along Boston’s Freedom Trail. Its marbled halls are festooned with statues, paintings, historical artifacts and other museum-like attractions that draw thousands of people in tourism season.
David Tuerck, president of the Beacon Hill Institute, points out that Boston City Hall has reopened to the public on some days, as have many surrounding office buildings and businesses in downtown Boston, under limited capacity and with social distancing restrictions.
“If you’re allowing people into a restaurant to have a meal, I think you could get lawmakers into the Statehouse to do the people’s business,” he said.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com.