The leaders of the Delaware House of Representatives and Senate plan to open Legislative Hall to the public effective immediately, they said during a committee meeting Thursday.
Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf and Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Dave Sokola plan to announce the building’s opening later Thursday or Friday.
“My intent is open to building up, get us back in session, and get back to as much normalcy as possible, Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth, said during a Joint Legislative Council meeting.
Senate Minority Leader Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, agrees with the decision to open.
“It should be opened up,” Hocker said. “Everything else is and I don’t know why we’re not.”
Senate Minority Whip Bryan Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, said that with other facilities like schools and courts reopening without mask requirements, “there’s no reason why the public can’t be in the building and participate in the process like they had done before.”
Senate Majority Whip Larry Mitchell, D-Elsmere, said that not only should Legislative Hall be open to the public, “I think we have a responsibility to be open at this point.”
Committees will continue to be held in virtual or hybrid format for at least the first week of March and potentially the entire month.
That’s because the COVID-19 Omicron variant made it difficult for legislative staff members to be trained on the technology required to livestream in-person committee meetings, Schwartzkopf explained.
Staff will undergo necessary training and the full transition will occur as soon as that’s complete, he said.
Staff in the building will also no longer be required to wear masks or report weekly tests for the virus if they are not vaccinated.
Sokola, D-Newark, said that even though fully-virtual committee meetings are easier to conduct and participate in than hybrid meetings, both forms have led to unprecedented public engagement when compared against strictly in-person meetings.
Legislative proceedings will continue to be broadcast online via the General Assembly website.
Lawmakers planned to invite the public back prior to the start of the legislative session in January, but the rise in COVID-19 cases attributed to the omicron variant foiled those plans.
Schwartzkopf and Sokola will finalize the details of the transition and make a formal announcement soon.
This is a developing story. Come back for updates.
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