Florida Capitol to reopen to public Friday after a year of being closed

If you are planning a Florida road trip which includes Tallahassee, or want to address lawmakers, you will now be able to visit your state Capitol in person.

Senate President Wilson Simpson says the Florida Capitol Complex in Tallahassee will reopen to the public on Friday. The complex has been closed since the onset of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

“While the pandemic is not over, vaccines remain widely available to all adults and have been for more than a month,” Simpson wrote in a letter to senators and Senate staff. He added that the upcoming May 17 special session to take up a deal Gov. Ron DeSantis struck with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to expand gambling in the state, including authorization of online sports betting, will include in-person public.

The compact DeSantis signed with the Seminole Tribe deal must secure approval of the Legislature and U.S. Department of the Interior.

Simpson cited an order issued by DeSantis on Monday cancelling local ordinances intended to combat transmission of the coronavirus.

The COVID related closure made for an unusual regular session of the Legislature that opened in early March and adjourned on last Friday. The Senate, for example, required the public to testify about proposed legislation via video feeds from the local civic center building several blocks away.

The arrangement denied regular people direct contact with lawmakers. The usual swarms of lobbyists in the building during sessions also were absent.

The anti-COVID protocols going away include suspension of the regular coronavirus testing required for lawmakers, staff, and news reporters to enter the Capitol. Simpson encouraged workers to monitor their own health and stay home when sick.

“While no longer mandatory, masks remain optional, and all employees are encouraged to be sensitive to social distancing preferences of their coworkers,” Simpson wrote.

“The Senate maintains a supply of personal protective equipment, including N95 masks, which are available for your use upon request.”

This report first appeared on the website of the Florida Phoenix, a nonprofit news organization dedicated to coverage of state government and politics from Tallahassee.