Tennessee House and Senate remain divided on opening capitol buildings to public

Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Plexiglass, masks, and social distancing are some of the things Tennesseans will see when state lawmakers return next week from their COVID-19 recess, but will the public be there?

It’s a lingering issue that has created division between between the House and Senate.

When members fill committee rooms next week and the House and Senate chambers the following week, masks are strongly encouraged for the lawmakers by legislative leadership when the members are in public areas outside their offices.

That’s where there’s agreement, but House Republican leaders like judiciary committee chair Rep. Michael Curcio say his chamber wants the public there next week as well.

“Part of what we are going to do is intentional so that the public can engage,” said Rep. Curcio Monday. “So for example in the committee rooms expect to see some plexiglass partitions in between the members and we actually did that specifically so the public can come in the room.”

Later on Monday, there was mockup in committee room number one of the legislative office building.

Over in the Senate, staffers said there were no such plexiglass plans being considered as a way to let the public in next week. 

Senate leaders more hesitant about allowing the public into capitol hill facilities just yet.

“Its critically important that the people of Tennessee be able to come to the capitol and see their legislature at work to meet with their state representatives and state senators.” said Senate Republican Majority Leader early last week. “When that will happen, I would say ‘when its safe to do so.’ “

Other senators point to the legislature’s streaming system that’s always available for the public to see committees and floor sessions

Right now, to let or not let the public in safely may be the first big issue for lawmakers when they come back from their COVID-19 recess.

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