CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — The Nevada Legislature reopened its doors to the public on Thursday after months of only allowing lawmakers, staff and a limited number of reporters into the building.
Lobbyists, activists and other members of the public are now allowed to attend committee hearings and enter the building for appointments with lawmakers, but few took advantage of the opportunity on the first day the change went into effect. Less than 20 people registered to enter the building for appointments on Thursday.
Before entry, registered visitors must submit to a COVID-19 rapid test in a parking lot next to the legislative building. Legislative staff originally intended to offer Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccines starting Thursday, but after Nevada elected to pause administering them earlier in the week, staff cancelled Thursday vaccine appointments and procured Moderna doses for Friday.
Up to 63 members of the public, or one per lawmaker per day, can enter the building by making appointments. Access to committee hearings is limited to ensure social distancing and adherence to state and local room capacity limits. Legislative staff sent out several emails on Thursday clarifying procedures and the appointment system.
The majority of those who registered to return on Thursday were lobbyists. Some wandered the building as they tried to acclimate to its relative quiet and reacquaint themselves with staff they have communicated with digitally through the first 11 weeks of the legislative session.
Will Adler, the principal of the lobbying firm Silver State Government Relations, applauded the Legislature's efforts to provide testing and vaccines to ensure the public can be let back into the building safely. The Carson City native said walking the corridors felt safe and a step toward a return to normalcy for what has historically been among the U.S.'s most open statehouses, where public participation is welcomed.
“The Nevada legislative session really is usually jam-packed and an ‘everyone in a committee room breathing on each other’ kind of event,” he said.
He hopes staff continue working to strike a balance between access and safety, particularly for the galleries above the Senate and Assembly chambers and committee meetings during time reserved for public comment.
Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.