As local governments shed COVID-19 requirements and Massachusetts ends mask mandates in schools, the Massachusetts State House, the last state capitol in the continental United States still closed to the public, is getting closer to reopening.
But there is daylight between legislative leaders in the Massachusetts House and the Senate on the specifics of the reopening policy.
Senate President Karen Spilka confirmed to the Globe this week that her chamber will open to vaccinated and masked members of the public on Tuesday, Feb. 22 — in less than two weeks.
“With public health data constantly evolving, we plan to revisit these requirements on an ongoing basis,” she said. “I continue to be optimistic that the State House will be fully open to the public in February.”
According to House Speaker Ronald Mariano’s office, the House wants those who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 or unwilling to provide proof of vaccination to have the option of providing a negative test as an alternative.
Conversations with the Senate are ongoing, Mariano’s office said.
By law, decisions made about State House operations are under the purview of both the House and Senate.
On Thursday, a spokesman for Spilka said her hope is that the whole building will be open by Feb. 22. In the meantime, her office is planning “the logistics around” having just the Senate open to the public.
“Conversations with the House continue to progress,” spokesman Antonio Caban said. “The next logical steps . . . those are still being worked out.”
Nearly every other state has taken more steps to let people back into their capitols since the onset of COVID-19, including states with lower vaccination rates than Massachusetts, where 76 percent of people are fully vaccinated. Hawaii’s capitol also is closed, but members of the public may enter by appointment, a Hawaii House clerk said Wednesday.
In Massachusetts, most state buildings and legislative district offices have reopened to offer in-person services, according to Governor Charlie Baker’s office. But the State House is only open to accredited journalists, lawmakers, state officials, and staff.
Baker told reporters at a news conference Wednesday that he does not support a vaccine requirement for entering the building, and that he is waiting on legislative leaders
‘We think the State House should be open,” he said.
State Senator Jamie Eldridge, who attended a caucus of lawmakers in person at the State House on Wednesday, said he feels that lawmakers are “reaching a tipping point” on the decision to reopen the building to the public.
“With Omicron cases declining and announcement of some of the mask mandates being reduced, I do think the State House now needs to set a date for opening up,” he said. “I am certainly hearing from more constituents and advocates who do feel that it has been harder to connect with their legislators in a virtual setting.”
State Representative Patricia Haddad said her constituents have plenty of access to her office by phone or at her district office in the Somerset Town Hall. And said she understands the arguments for opening the State House and the ones for keeping it closed, too.
“One side acknowledges the responsibility we have in having a public building and having all kinds of people having access,” she said. “The other side understands people are very reticent about being in big public spaces and want to keep the pandemic where it is by not doing a lot of interacting . . . there are really good, very emotional thoughts on both sides.”
Matt Stout of the Globe staff contributed to this report.