Senate President Wilton Simpson said Monday the Florida Capitol will likely reopen to the public ahead of the Legislature’s Special Session in May.
“I believe we intend to fully open for Special Session,” Simpson told reporters Monday in St. Petersburg alongside Gov. Ron DeSantis, House Speaker Chris Sprowls and several Republican lawmakers.
The move marks the state’s latest efforts to roll back early COVID-19 restrictions. And it comes less than 72 hours after the Legislature concluded the 2021 Legislative Session.
Unlike the rest of Florida where DeSantis scaled back restrictions, the Capitol doors have remained closed to the public since last March.
Throughout the Session, in-person attendance was limited mostly to lawmakers and reporters.
Visitors, meanwhile, were permitted inside under limited circumstances and when participating in the legislative process. Other times they were required to provide public testimony across the street at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center via livestream.
Lawmakers, reporters and staff underwent weekly COVID-19 testing. Face mask requirements, however, applied only to those non-elected.
After the announcement, the Senate released its updated COVID-19 protocol. Masks “remain optional” and weekly testing will no longer be required under the new language.
The Legislature is scheduled to reconvene May 17 to take up a new gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe.
The 75-page document will determine the longterm future of gaming in the state and the Legislature must ratify the compact before it goes into effect.
If blessed, leaders expect the state to generate $2.5 billion in new revenue over the next five years and $6 billion through 2030.
The Special Session will also address three gaming bills. Two bills would establish a gaming commission. The third removes the live racing requirement for certain gaming permit holders.
Simpson reasoned in a recent memo that the gaming bills should be pushed to a Special Session so the Legislature “can discuss and address the future of gaming in our state in a more comprehensive manner at that time.”
The Senate will no longer require masks and weekly testing. Employees who prefer to maintain social distancing protocols within their own workspace can request signage to display outside their offices or workspaces.
The latest COVID-19 protocol is featured below: