PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As the rest of the state reopens, the Rhode Island State House is still closed to the general public, that is, unless you receive special permission.
The State House closed roughly one year ago due to the pandemic, meaning only staff and legislators are allowed inside.
12 News asked Gov. Dan McKee about the decision to keep the building closed at the state’s weekly coronavirus briefing.
“We are following the guidelines that are set in terms of the 50% capacity in our office building and we look at the State House as that,” McKee said.
A government watchdog group believes the State House is also considered a venue of assembly. Current state guidelines allow venues of assembly to operate at 50% capacity.
Common Cause RI Executive Director John Marion said the McKee administration should come up with a plan to reopen the State House safely.
“The State house is the ultimate venue of assembly in the sense it is the public square where our government sits and where people normally go to observe our government,” Marion said. “[The McKee administration] needs to figure out what capacity they can bring people in for the public gathering portions of the State House.”
The State House halls and rotunda are usually filled with people when lawmakers are discussing important bills in committee rooms.
Testimony at hearings is typically done in person, but it’s currently being done over the phone because the building is closed. It’s a practice Marion believes is impacting the proceedings.
“In my experience, there are far fewer questions and less back and forth with the witnesses on the issues,” Marion said.
When asked when the State House will reopen, a spokesperson for the governor’s office said they are looking into it.
“The Governor’s Office and the Rhode Island Department of Health are currently in the process of evaluating the appropriate time to reopen the State House in a way that is safe for our employees and members of the public,” the spokesperson said in a statement.