‘You can still be open, you just aren’t face to face’: Texas lawmakers address coronavirus protocols

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Both the Texas House and Senate adopted rules for their respective chambers this week, and in them — regulations on how to balance public health with their ability to legislate.

The Senate voted on its rules Wednesday. The House passed its rules Thursday.

Lawmakers are taking different approaches to how they and their staffs will interact with constituents.

State Rep. Michelle Beckley, D-Carrollton, skipped Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony, calling it a “superspreader event.” Her Capitol office is closed to the public, but she is still taking virtual meetings.

“I bought an air purifier for this office,” she said. “Everybody’s facing walls instead of facing each other. We keep the masks on in the office.”

“What you’re trying to do is if one person gets COVID, that your whole office doesn’t get COVID,” Beckley, entering her second term in the statehouse, said.

“You can still be open, you just aren’t face to face,” she explained.

Across the dome, State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, is keeping his new office open to the public.

“We welcome folks to make appointments; we welcome folks to come by,” Hughes said. “That hasn’t changed.”

“We’re here, we’ve all tested negative,” Hughes mentioned, citing Senate rules he crafted requiring regular testing of members and staff.

“Masks are worn in the common areas of the Capitol,” Hughes stated. “When we’re on the Senate floor, we wear a mask until we get to our desk.”

The start of the legislative session, combined with potential protests at state Capitols around the nation following the unrest at the nation’s Capitol, has spurred a stronger law enforcement presence at the Texas Capitol Complex. Extra state troopers were called in to protect the building and its occupants. The Texas Department of Public Safety confirmed it deployed additional personnel, but refused to discuss operational specifics.

Capitol visitors are required to wear masks in public spaces of the building. Free COVID-19 testing is available in front of the north entrance. Testing is optional for entry, but some lawmakers may require a negative test to enter their office, and the Senate requires a negative test to enter the chamber.

Both the House and Senate adjourned until Jan. 26.

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