Florida House precautions remain largely unchanged

State workers swab down Florida's House floor at the state Capitol in Tallahassee in March 2020 after several lawmakers reported exposure to a person who tested positive for COVID-19 while attending a political event in Washington. (AP photo/Bobby Caina Calvan)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida House will largely stick with existing COVID-19 restrictions when lawmakers return to Tallahassee for the 2021 legislative session that begins Tuesday, according to protocols released Friday by Speaker Chris Sprowls’ office.

Under the House pandemic procedures, lobbyists and other visitors must register online at least three hours before committee meetings, show identification and pick up passes to gain access to meeting rooms. Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, initiated the process before committee meetings began in January.

The state Capitol complex continues to remain largely closed to the public, and the Senate is requiring lobbyists and members of the public to testify remotely from the nearby Donald L. Tucker Civic Center. To adhere to social-distancing requirements during the 60-day legislative session, the House is offering limited seating on a “first-come, first-served basis” for committee meetings in which legislation is discussed.

The updated House protocols won’t allow people who can’t get access to committee rooms to testify remotely from an overflow room, a change from the earlier coronavirus precautions. Registered lobbyists who don’t want to attend meetings have the option of submitting an “electronic committee appearance record to waive in support or opposition of filed bills, amendments or draft legislation instead of appearing in person,” the House protocols said.

Members of the public who aren’t registered lobbyists and can’t attend committee meetings in person will be allowed to submit written comments to committee members electronically. House visitors will be required to wear face masks, including when they are addressing committees, and won’t be allowed to show up unannounced.

“Visitors in House spaces who are unescorted or who do not have a valid pass for an upcoming committee meeting will be directed to leave the building by the House Sergeant’s Office staff,” the updated protocols released Friday said.