BOSTON — Legislative leaders should allow members of the public into several of the large halls within the Statehouse as the tourism season picks up in Boston and people start visiting many of the historical sites in the capital city, Secretary of State William Galvin said Wednesday morning.
The Legislature closed the Statehouse in March 2020 as the pandemic quickly consumed and upended every facet of life. But with the state of emergency lifted two weeks ago and pre-pandemic norms slowly returning, the Statehouse remains closed and Beacon Hill officials have not outlined reopening plans.
House and Senate leadership have expressed concerns about allowing large crowds into a space that operates as a hotspot for tourists, a public meeting area, and office building for lawmakers and administration officials.
Galvin said he understands those concerns but urged lawmakers to consider opening Doric Hall, the Hall of Flags, Nurses Hall, and the Great Hall — all larger spaces within the building.
"I understand the concerns that are legitimate relating to large crowds, and perhaps people who are not fully vaccinated, especially in the areas where people work," Galvin said. "But I think these public halls could be opened without a great risk and I would hope that we'll move expeditiously towards that."
Gov Charlie Baker, at a press conference last week, said "it's very hard" to have rules regarding congregating inside the capitol building and determining whether people are vaccinated or not. Baker said he has talked to the Legislature about reopening the building and hopes "at some point we'll be able to put some policies together that will satisfy the concern about indoor versus outdoor and at the same time keep people safe."
House leadership announced in mid-May that they were creating a "comprehensive plan" to reopen the building to staff and the public. Speaker Pro Tempore Kate Hogan sent an email to members where she acknowledged then-days-old CDC mask guidance that said it was safe for fully vaccinated people to stop wearing masks and practicing social distancing indoors and outdoors.
"To these ends, my office, along with staff from the Speaker's Office and other members of the leadership team, are engaged in the development of a comprehensive plan that will allow all of us to return to the Statehouse in a safe manner and to then be able to open the Statehouse to the members of the general public," the email read.
A Hogan spokesperson told the News Service on June 15 that information about the plan would "be forthcoming." The spokesperson did not immediately respond to request for comment Wednesday. Aides to House Speaker Ronald Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Any plan to reopen the building would need buy-in from multiple stakeholders and the two branches, who control access to the Statehouse. Galvin said he told legislative leaders, including Hogan, and members of the Baker administration about his idea to reopen certain halls.
"Those are all the large public spaces which could accommodate, it seems to me, visitors from outside safely if protocols are followed. My tours division is pretty efficient at dealing with large groups of people, we bring them in an orderly way," Galvin said. "I think if this was planned out properly, we could reopen at least partially and I think it'll be a step towards gradual reopening of the building."
In the meantime, as the building remains shuttered, the secretary of state's office plans to start offering exterior tours of the Statehouse. Galvin said his office wants "to share this very unique capitol with the visitors from our own state and around the country."
The secretary said he was "struck" by the fact that so many visitors -- a few of which he said he talked to — are families traveling to Massachusetts because of the state's high vaccination rate.
"They believe it's a safe place to come and they want to show to their children our history. We want to help them, we want to make sure that history is available to them," Galvin said. "And I hope we can do more over the next few days and in the coming month to make that happen."