Dear Florida public: Welcome back to your state Capitol

Florida Capitol
The Historic Capitol, foreground, and Florida Capitol buildings. Photo, Colin Hackley

Floridians will soon regain access to their own state Capitol.

Senate President Wilson Simpson announced Monday that the Florida Capitol Complex in Tallahassee will reopen to the public on Friday. The complex has been closed since the onset of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

“While the pandemic is not over, vaccines remain widely available to all adults and have been for more than a month,” Simpson wrote in a letter to senators and Senate staff.

“Therefore, at this time, I would anticipate that the protocols outlined above will be in place for the upcoming special session, and will also include in-person public testimony as we had during the recent budget conference,” he wrote.

Indeed the pandemic is not over. As of Monday, the state had reported that more than 2.2 million people in Florida, including nonresidents, had tested positive for the coronavirus. More than 36,000 Floridians and visitors had dies.

The special session Simpson referred to opens on May 17 to take up a deal Gov. Ron DeSantis struck with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to expand gambling in the state, including authorization of online sports betting, and bring billions of dollars in new revenue to state government.

The deal must secure approval of the Legislature and U.S. Department of the Interior.

Simpson cited an order issued by DeSantis on Monday cancelling local ordinances intended to combat transmission of the coronavirus.

The closure made for an unusual regular session of the Legislature that opened in early March and adjourned on Friday. The Senate, for example, required the public to testify about proposed legislation via video feeds from the local civic center building several blocks away.

The arrangement denied regular people direct contact with lawmakers. The usual swarms of lobbyists in the building during sessions also were absent.

The anti-COVID protocols Simpson referred to include suspension of the regular coronavirus testing required for lawmakers, staff, and news reporters to enter the Capitol, but Simpson encouraged workers to monitor their own health and stay home when sick.

“While no longer mandatory, masks remain optional, and all employees are encouraged to be sensitive to social distancing preferences of their coworkers,” Simpson wrote.

“The Senate maintains a supply of personal protective equipment, including N95 masks, which are available for your use upon request.”

Michael Moline
Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.