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Much of Massachusetts has fully reopened, yet the State House remains off-limits to the public

A sign outside of the State House entrance on Beacon Street announces its closure to the public.
A sign outside of the State House entrance on Beacon Street announces its closure to the public.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Fenway Park on May 29 welcomed over 25,000 fans to the first Red Sox game with the ballpark back at full capacity.

The state of emergency ended June 15.

And with coronavirus case rates low, masking is now largely optional across Massachusetts.

But the State House, home to offices of the Commonwealth’s top officials, remains closed to the public.

Massachusetts is the only New England state that has not reopened its State House or locked in a date to do so. For months, House and Senate leaders have offered only vague expectations about when the building will reopen to the public, leaving some observers frustrated.

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“It’s important for constituents to have some place to go if they want to meet with and interact with the legislators,” said David G. Tuerck, president of the conservative Beacon Hill Institute. Tuerck said legislators should “accelerate the process” of fully reopening the historic building.

At a news conference outside the State House on Wednesday, Secretary of State William F. Galvin also urged lawmakers to begin allowing the public back into spacious areas of the building, though he said in an interview that he is “sympathetic” to concerns expressed about crowds gathering inside.

“I think the issue is putting together something as soon as we can that will open portions of the building,” he said.

Galvin’s office has begun offering outdoor tours to visitors while the interior of the building remains shut. (Prior to COVID, the State House saw approximately 95,000 visitors per year.)

Later on Wednesday, Senate President Karen E. Spilka and House Speaker Ronald J. Mariano released a statement saying the Legislature is developing “a comprehensive and nuanced reopening plan with the goal of returning employees and the public safely to the State House in the fall.” It did not provide any specifics.

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“While a large focus of the upcoming summer months will be the legislation ahead of us, we are also actively preparing our workplace for a safe return of Members, staff, and the public,” the Democratic leaders said. “There are a great number of factors to consider, as the State House is not only a workplace to hundreds of people, but a frequently visited public building.”

They added that the Legislature is “engaged with employees” about when they may return to Beacon Hill.

“We are simultaneously planning a phased timeline of the reopening of the State House to the public as well,” they wrote.

Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont are the only New England states that haven’t reopened their state houses — but the latter two have specified that they plan to do so next Tuesday.

“They are dodging the issue,” Tuerck said of the Massachusetts legislative leaders. “I think the public needs assurance that there’s going to be reopening according to an accelerated schedule. And I don’t see that here.”

Galvin said it was encouraging that lawmakers were beginning to work on a plan.

Outside the building’s gates on Wednesday, tourists and passersby stopped for selfies, with some expressing disappointment that they could not enter.

“The society needs a functioning government, and that means that the population has to be able to access that,” said Owen Geoghegan, of Norton, who was visiting with out-of-town family members.

David Waalewyn, of Orlando, said he was disappointed not to be able to enter. “I think things should be opening up,” he said. “It’s time, with proper precautions.”

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The building’s reopening is complicated by a number of factors, including construction in and around it, said Representative Bradley H. Jones Jr., the House’s top Republican. Still, Jones said he hopes to see a plan “sooner rather than later that can create some expectations for members, staff, [and the] public.”

Some lawmakers expressed hope that pandemic-era policies allowing for greater participation will be kept in place. Representative Erika Uyterhoeven — a first-term Somerville Democrat who cofounded the progressive group Act on Mass, which calls for greater transparency in the Legislature — said she hopes to see policies allowing virtual participation in public hearings “extended in perpetuity.”

“Having those options has been really critical, actually, to getting more engagement,” she said.

Geoff Foster, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, said he, too, hopes to see an expansion of the Open Meeting Law allowing for virtual public engagement.

“We know that there were many advances made to accommodate for the pandemic that resulted in increased access and transparency from the public,” Foster said. “We think, now that the emergency order has been lifted, there are some things that should be made permanent.”


Jasper Goodman can be reached at jasper.goodman@globe.com.