House and Senate committees this week kicked off meetings in advance of the 2021 Legislative Session, as a pandemic-created “new normal” transformed the Capitol and neighboring environs.
Adams Street, where restaurants, the members-only Governors Club and swanky offices are situated just steps from the Capitol, typically would have been abuzz.
But new COVID-19 protocols imposed by Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls restricting people from showing up at the Capitol have morphed the landscape in and around the 22-story building.
“It is a straight-up ghost town,” lobbyist Lisa Henning said in a text message Wednesday, describing the scene in downtown Tallahassee.
Due to COVID-19, Sprowls is requiring lobbyists to make appointments to meet with House members. Simpson, meanwhile, has asked senators not to hold face-to-face meetings in their offices throughout January.
The Senate President apparently means business.
Lobbyist Lisa Miller told The News Service of Florida that a Senator invited her into the Senate Office Building for a quick briefing this week.
On her way out, one of Simpson’s aides spotted Miller and asked if she had undergone COVID-19 testing.
Although Miller told the aide she had received a negative test result a few days earlier, the lobbyist said she was asked to take an on-site test, which also turned out to be negative.
“I read the protocols prior to entering and made sure to follow them for the quick meeting prior to leaving the building,” Miller said in an interview.
The House and Senate are requiring legislators, staff members and reporters to take COVID-19 tests — provided gratis — before entering the Capitol Complex. But lobbyists and state agency personnel aren’t required to show that they’re COVID-free to gain access to the buildings.
The Senate has set up a remote location for lobbyists and others to testify at committee meetings but is allowing state agency heads and staff to appear in person. The Senate is observing federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, such as the use of face masks and social distancing.
Visitors to the House Office Building are required to wear face masks “when in the company of another person, including when providing in-person testimony during a committee meeting,” keep six feet away from others and practice other COVID-19 precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Republished with permission of The News Service of Florida.