2 more House lawmakers provide proof of vaccination
Only 5 legislators now out of compliance with mandate
TWO MORE STATE representatives provided proof over the weekend that they have received COVID-19 shots, leaving the House with only five of its 160 members out of compliance with the chamber’s vaccine mandate.
House Speaker Ron Mariano did not identify which lawmakers stepped forward over the weekend, but indicated only five remained who either failed to provide proof of vaccination or had not sought an exemption from the vaccination requirement.
“We’re down to five,” he said after a State House meeting with Gov. Charlie Baker and Senate President Karen Spilka. “We’re happy with the progress we’re making and we’ll continue to work with folks.”
The issue is sensitive because lawmakers are elected by their constituents yet subject to the rules of the House. The Massachusetts House voted in September to impose a vaccine mandate on House members and staff. The 131-28 vote came after an intense debate, during which a number of Republicans voiced strong disagreement with the policy on a variety of grounds.
Lawmakers who are not in compliance do not lose their jobs. Instead, they are required to work remotely until they come into compliance.
The State House itself has not yet reopened to the public, even though schools, restaurants, and many businesses have reopened. Asked why the State House remained closed, Mariano said: “The people’s House welcomes all of the people and therefore you don’t have a closed environment that you would have with a school.” He added: “This isn’t just a workplace for us. It’s a tourist attraction.”
Mariano and Spilka also defended the work output of their two chambers during COVID. “We just did a very expansive ARPA bill as well as a budget as well as many good pieces of legislation all through the pandemic with virtual attendance by all our members. We’ve adapted to a very, very difficult situation and continue to do our work,” Mariano said.
Despite the State House being closed, Spilka said public participation in the legislative process has never been higher. She said many constituents like the ability to testify on bills without coming into the State House. “We have had an incredible amount of public participation in this last year and a half,” she said.
Neither Mariano nor Spilka said there was a timetable for reopening the State House. Much of the reopening process is being handled by working groups in the two branches. Reopening is expected to happen in four phases – first for lawmakers and core staff; second for all staff, employees, and others with House business; third for members of the public to attend meetings and committee hearings by appointment; and fourth for the public to return. The two branches are currently in the first phase, although Mariano said the House was moving into the second phase.Baker acknowledged he feels like he is working “in a very quiet space,” but praised the Legislature for carrying on remotely during the pandemic and doing a good job of dealing with constituent concerns.
“It’s certainly m y hope that this place will bustle again,” he said.