When the 2022 session of the Minnesota Legislature convenes Monday, citizens will have more access to the Capitol and its activities than they did last year at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A year ago, the Capitol and most legislative offices were closed to the public, and Cass Gilbert’s architectural masterpiece was surrounded by a chain-link fence erected after the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent public unrest.
Now, the fence is gone and the doors to the “people’s house” are open to the public. But in-person contacts between Minnesotans and their elected representatives will still be limited.
Visitors will have to leave the Capitol campus to find food. The Rathskeller café in the Capitol basement remains closed, as do the cafeterias in the nearby state office buildings.
Citizens can, however, still make their voices heard.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
Members of the public will be able to see, hear and express their views virtually. Committee hearings and floor sessions will be accessible on Zoom, webcasts or television.
Lawmakers have shown they can do their jobs remotely. After the coronavirus pandemic erupted in March 2020, the Legislature shut down most of their in-person operations, conducted their business online and communicated by phone, email and text messages. It didn’t always work smoothly, but eventually they got their essential work done.
This year public access will be a little more relaxed. The public will have access to the ground and first floors of the Capitol. They will have to request an escort to reach the second and third floors, where the House and Senate chambers are located.
HOUSE TAKES CAUTIOUS APPROACH
In a message to House members and staff last fall, DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman wrote: “We had hoped for a normal return to session, but like private and public sector employers that have had to postpone plans for a return to in-person work, the House will continue remote and hybrid operations at least through the end of the 2022 session.”
The State Office Building, where representatives are housed, will remain closed to the public. Committee meetings will be conducted remotely with limited exceptions for hybrid meetings in Capitol room 120. Committees are required to provide adequate public notice so people have opportunities to testify on legislative issues.
Floor sessions will be hybrid with members encouraged to attend in person whenever possible. Masks are required on the House floor. The mask mandate also remains in place for spaces under House control in the Capitol and State Office Building. Most staff will continue to work remotely.
SENATE MORE OPEN
The Republican-controlled Senate recommends, but does not mandate, wearing masks and calls for “respect for all individual decisions regarding mask-wearing.”
The Senate will conduct some committee hearings remotely, while others use a hybrid format — a mix of in-person and online meetings. Senate hearing rooms will have social distancing indicators at committee tables and public seating sessions.
The public will have access to the ground and first floors of the Minnesota Senate Building but must be escorted to the second and third floors. Citizens can make appointments to visit senators, but in-person meetings will be limited and safety precautions will be required.
HOW TO STAY INFORMED
- Most information is available on the Legislature’s website: www.leg.mn.gov.
- Who represents you? You can find out by clicking on the “Who represents me?” lines on the House and Senate columns on www.leg.mn.gov.
- Legislative meeting times and locations are available on the calendar on the legislative website.
- To watch committee hearings and floor sessions, click on the “live video” icon on the legislative calendar.
- The House Public Information Service produces Session Daily, which provides news and information about legislative activities at www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hinfo/hinfo.asp.
- Senate Media Services provides television coverage of floor sessions and committee hearings, produces a weekly public affairs TV show, Capitol Report, and Session Update, which provide information on legislative actions at www.senate.mn/departments/media.
- Gov. Tim Walz’s website is mn.gov/governor.
- Read the Pioneer Press or TwinCities.com. You can also follow us at Facebook.com/PioneerPress.