Legislating During COVID-19

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The Legislature has convened for the first session of the 85th Legislature.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the West Virginia Legislature has assembled with new guidelines in place. Each chamber has released its own set of guidelines.

Both, the House and the Senate require all persons within the chambers to wear a face covering, which may only be removed when recognized to speak, or when actively eating or drinking. Only essential staff and members are permitted to be on the floor of the chambers.

The House galleries are reserved for members requiring additional space due to safety concerns in the north and the south galleries and for the media in the rear gallery. The Senate galleries are reserved for guests in the rear gallery and the media in the north and south galleries. All floor sessions in both chambers will be live-streamed with audio and video.

“This is a legislative session unlike any other due to the constraints of COVID,” House Speaker Roger Hanshaw said. “We have made several adjustments to be sure we can carry out our obligations while keeping everyone involved as safe as possible.”

House committees will be held only in the largest rooms available to allow for extra space. For the House, all committee meetings will be live-streamed with audio. For the Senate, all committee meetings will be live-streamed with audio and video.

“It has been an adjustment this year, but the Senate was already equipped with technology that enables us to video stream and archive all of our committee meetings and floor sessions,” said Senate President Craig Blair. “This year, we integrated the capability to host meeting participants remotely and have them be a part of the live stream as well, which helps keep the public safe and our members and staff safe by minimizing the number of people in our committee rooms.”

Physical access to the Capitol is limited this session. However, constituents and advocacy groups can still set up meetings with legislators and be given access. Legislators and staff must notify Capitol Police about the meetings. Masks are required to enter the building and temperature checks will take place upon arrival.

“I am doing my best to spend time with folks from the district back home via phone, social media, and video chats,” Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin said. “It is incumbent on us to find ways to be in direct contact with citizens since we’re voting on legislation that affects the lives of every citizen.”

House Minority Leader Doug Skaff stated that the minority are sharing information on social media and setting up zoom meetings with constituents.

“We are doing our best to make the legislative process as open and transparent – and safe – as we can,” Skaff said.

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