MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - The People’s House is back open for business.
On Tuesday, members of the public can once again enter the Vermont Statehouse, but plans for a full return of lawmakers remain to be seen.
It’s one of the most-photographed destinations in the Northeast. And it was a busy site for visitors Monday.
“We wanted to come and see our family and see all of the sights,” said Dana Barrett of Sarasota, Florida.
The Statehouse closed at the onset of the pandemic over fears of disease spreading in cramped committee rooms.
A skeleton crew of lawmakers, staff and Capitol Police have worked there since, occasionally hosting public events such as swearing in a Superior Court judge last week.
City Hall and other city facilities have also returned to being fully open.
Montpelier businesses are waiting eagerly for the doors to open and for lawmakers, lobbyists and visitors to return.
“We love to see the tourists coming back and we can’t wait to serve them our coffee, chocolate and granola,” said Maia Castonguay who co-owns Rabble Rouser Chocolate & Craft.
There won’t be guided tours at the Statehouse just yet but people can take self-guided tours on their phones. Vaccinations are not required but are recommended.
At the same time, lawmakers are grappling with how to conduct the next legislative session in January.
“We were able to flip the lights off pretty quick. I think that’s a testament to the flexibility of the Legislature and the public. But flipping it back on is going to take a little bit of work,” Capitol Police Chief Matthew Romei said.
Summer study committees will meet in person this summer as a trial run.
Staffers are considering investments in livestream technology, such as the 360-degree camera presented to lawmakers in the spring.
But some say lawmakers need to tread carefully going forward. Key lawmakers say creating public policy happens through face-to-face interactions and they say some decorum is lost over Zoom.
“That is done through personal relationships where you build trust and your work is your word and you can do that when you’re working face to face with people. That’s the value of the Vermont Legislature and our government here in this state,” said Rep. Alice Emmons, D-Springfield.
Facing lots of unknowns surrounding vaccinations and variants in the winter, lawmakers are weighing their options. But they stress public access is paramount.
“Figuring out how to do that while keeping both legislators and the people who come to visit us safe is the ultimate objective. It’s going to take a lot of census building to arrive at a point where we’re all comfortable walking back in in January,” said Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia County.
Built in 1859, the Statehouse never accounted for modern technology and hundreds of people roaming the halls.
Lawmakers are also considering potential additions to the building to accommodate more people.
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