The legislature will meet in a special session in two weeks to debate police accountability and absentee ballots, but the logistics during a pandemic are a little tricky.
When lawmakers return later this month they won’t be able to pack the chamber to debate police accountability and no excuse absentee balloting. The last time all 151 state representatives were in the chamber, the coronavirus was just getting started and social distancing was just starting.
Months later mask wearing is the norm and six feet is the acceptable distance. But it’s not easy in a chamber built more than 100 years ago.
“A couple months ago we procured technology that will allow our members to vote from their LOB office or in the physical Capitol where you hit the button,” House Majority Leader Matt Ritter said. “So any member who doesn’t feel safe they can literally drive into the parking lot of the LOB underneath the garage, take an elevator up, go into their room and close the door.”
Ritter said they can watch the entire debate on TV, but if they want to participate they will need to come down to the House chamber. Once they line up, they will be brought into the chamber.
Ritter said if members want to cast their vote from the House chamber they are going to have to do it in waves of about 10.
“Instead of having 151 people in there we’re going to try and limit it to those that are critical to that particular bill or concept. A couple of deputies in leadership and a couple of key staff.”
It won’t be easy with the desks so close together.
“We have to make sure we’re social distancing and there aren’t too many people in the House chamber at the same time. Debate will go on as you can imagine, as usual,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides explained.
She said hypothetically if a member wanted to speak they would have to make sure the people to the right and the left of the member were not in the chamber.
“We strongly believe we need to be back in special session making the decisions of the people so the governor’s not making all these decisions.”
It’s unclear what the state Senate plans to do. They could use the House chamber, but no decision has been made.
Klarides said police accountability and absentee ballots will be the only topics up for discussion. Other lawmakers have called to expand the agenda.