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House disinfected amid coronavirus scare on Monday, March 9. Photo by A.G. Gancarski.

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José Oliva outlines health precautions in advance of Thursday’s budget vote

All staff will be screened before entering the chamber.

House staffers are taking “exceptional precautions” to sanitize the chamber of the novel coronavirus and clear people to vote on the state budget Thursday.

In a memo sent to House members and staffers on Tuesday, Speaker José Oliva outlined the special measures the House will take to ensure the health and well-being of people in the Capitol.

Health screening stations will be set up at the side entrances on either side of the House chamber, and they will provide the only access to the floor, the Speaker’s Office and the Members’ Lounge. The House will provide lunch boxes for members.

Staff will be required to take a screening at 8 a.m. before entering the chamber, and lawmakers are encouraged to take a 10 a.m. screening. That screening includes a no-touch thermometer and a series of questions to determine an individual’s risk level.

Staffers from the Sergeant at Arms’ Office staff are repeatedly disinfecting surfaces on the chamber floor and have replaced microphone windscreens. Staffers will give the room one last clean Thursday before lawmakers arrive.

Rep. Cary Pigman, an emergency medicine physician, played a role in creating the safety measures. He and nurse practitioners will conduct health screenings for members and staffers using the standard Centers for Disease Control and Prevention coronavirus precautions.

If any member meets a level of risk, they will be kept off the floor. Any member who is standing on blue carpet that stretches to the adjoining back rooms, including the Speaker’s and Members’ lounges, is allowed to cast a vote. Desk mates would be responsible for pressing their green — or red — button.

Oliva encouraged members who are in the high-risk population, those experiencing flu or respiratory illness symptoms or those who may have been exposed to the virus in the last 14 days to seek an excused absence from the Session.

Only representatives and essential staffers, including IT personnel, will be allowed on the floor. Oliva said lawmakers “should be very cautious about bringing others with them to Tallahassee,” including family and staff. The usual child care and Spouses’ Lounge services won’t be available.

The state constitution does not permit members to vote remotely, but they may submit a statement afterward showing their intent to vote. Those statements, as usual, will be recorded in the Journal.

The CDC has recommended groups cancel gatherings of 50 or more people, and President Donald Trump has suggested no more than 10 people should gather at once. But the Florida House of Representatives, which has 120 seats, is required to vote in person this week to pass the state budget after lawmakers tacked another week onto the Session on Friday.

Written By

Renzo Downey covers the Florida Legislature for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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