House members to undergo health screening before today’s budget vote in Tallahassee
House disinfected amid coronavirus scare on Monday, March 9. Image via Florida Politics/A.G. Gancarski.

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The process will consist of a brief series of questions and use of a no-touch thermometer.

Members of the House of Representatives will go through a health screening Thursday before being allowed into the chamber for the budget votes. The new check is in addition to the safety measures the House has already put in place for mitigating risks associated with the novel coronavirus

The House will convene at noon for the votes on HB 5001, HB 5003 and HB 5005. The Legislative Session had to be extended because of delays negotiating the budget and reworking aspects of it because of the economic uncertainty surrounding the spread of the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19. 

Beginning at 8 a.m. Rep. Cary Pigman, an emergency-medicine physician from Okeechobee, will work with a team of three volunteer nurse practitioners as they complete the screenings. The process will consist of a brief series of questions and use of a no-touch thermometer — consistent with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. 

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.

The House has canceled the traditional sine die ceremony to limit large gatherings and has closed the House galleries to all visitors. Lawmakers are encouraging all members of the public and House staffers to watch the proceedings live at thefloridachannel.org

The Speaker plans to excuse any member from attending who has symptoms associated with the coronavirus or who meets the criteria for being part of the higher risk population.

Any member who shows signs of a fever, other symptoms, or who may have had exposure to the virus will be asked to self-isolate. 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 House Journal.

House members are also being encouraged to travel alone, without their district staffers, and by car instead of by plane so they can limit their physical exposure to others.

Katie Betta, spokeswoman for Senate President Bill Galvano, says he has asked Senators to self-screen themselves for symptoms of COVID-19 and not to attend if they are feeling ill or have a fever. There will be just a skeleton staff on-hand Thursday to help with the vote. Betta says no-touch thermometers will also be available inside the chamber if needed.

Sarah Mueller

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to [email protected]


One comment

  • Legislative staffers

    March 19, 2020 at 9:20 am

    What the article doesn’t mention when it says “there will be just a skeleton staff on-hand” is that legislative professional staff (those that work in Tallahassee) are still required to come to work and be in the building (just not in the Chamber) despite the Governor saying that state employees should be allowed to telework. We all have the ability to telework so one wonders why the refusal to allow us to do so.

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