The Massachusetts House appears to be taking a small step toward normalcy with the chamber’s leaders rolling out a plan that would see staff begin to return to in-person work at the Statehouse next month. Better late than never, and while we would prefer to see the only state capitol on the North American continent still shuttered to the public take more meaningful strides toward conducting the people’s business as usual, baby steps are preferable to no steps at all.

Still, the next phase of the House’s reopening plan has a pretty glaring hole. It calls for all House officers and staff to comply with a vaccine mandate and be “available and able to work in person at the State House as a condition of their employment” by Dec. 13. These updated in-person rules will apply to all House personnel except for the most important ones: representatives. They’ll still be able to work and vote remotely for the foreseeable future. So will lawmakers in the state Senate, who decided last week to retain that chamber’s emergency rules and allow for remote voting through at least March 31, 2022.

Phase 2A will see Beacon Hill staffers join the ranks of countless other public servants, from teachers to first responders to executive office employees, who have returned to work in their usual domain while state lawmakers still claim that they can’t. It stands to reason that if other Statehouse personnel can safely return to work and indeed will have to “as a condition of their employment,” then that should certainly apply to lawmakers tasked with the most important of duties under the Golden Dome. We the people do not hire Statehouse officers and staff at the ballot box, but we do elect our representatives and senators for the critical job of deliberating and legislating, which should no longer be sealed away from the commonwealth’s highest democratic institutions.

We hope that this next phase of the Statehouse’s reopening sets the table for a full return so that the people’s business might soon be conducted in the people’s House once again. The available timeline, however, is not encouraging. The House working group’s plan eyes winter 2022 for Phase 2B a return of “larger cohorts” of legislators and other Statehouse employees with no mention of public access and no target date for a broader reopening. Even as Massachusetts’ vaccination numbers outshine other parts of the country where people have access to their state capitols and officials, the House working group envisions another year passing before getting to the second subset of the second phase of its reopening plan. This projects the wrong message to constituents: that the Legislature is sclerotic and unresponsive in a time where the commonwealth is seeking a road to recovery. It seemed to confirm that concern recently by failing to wrap up a critical $3.8 billion American Rescue Plan spending bill before the Thanksgiving recess and the end of the year’s formal sessions.

The Legislature can project a different message by returning to work in a more reasonably swift time frame.

If Statehouse staff and officers can, then so can lawmakers.