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House members given safety measures to follow while voting on coronavirus bill

House members given safety measures to follow while voting on coronavirus bill

The House sergeant-at-arms and attending physician told House members there would be changes to voting procedures Friday as part of an attempt to tamp down the health risks to lawmakers who are set to vote on the Senate's $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package.

In a notice sent to lawmakers on Thursday, members were provided with safety protocols, which include a requirement for all members to use hand sanitizer before entering the chamber and a restriction on members being on the floor during debate unless they are scheduled to speak. 

“In order to accommodate the session of the House of Representatives on Friday, March 27, 2020, the following guidelines have been developed in consultation with the Office of the Attending Physician (OAP) and House Leadership,” they wrote. 

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“Members should use extreme care and deliberation when making the determination to travel to Washington, D.C. The OAP continues to recommend teleworking for all Congressional offices. In all cases, Members and staff must maintain 6-foot social distance spacing as much as practicable when in the offices or the Capitol.”

While leaders are looking to pass the measure via voice vote, if a member objects and calls for a roll call vote members will be brought into the chamber in small groups to ensure social distancing practices are maintained.  

“Please note that throughout the vote, we will be monitoring the number of Members in the Capitol and on the Floor to ensure we maintain safe social distancing at all times,” the notice says. “Members who are ill with respiratory symptoms or fever are discouraged from attending. In the event of a recorded vote, Members will be notified. At such time, voting will be done alphabetically in groups of 30 Members over an extended period of time, to minimize the risks posed by placing too many individuals in one location.”

In addition to the restrictions on the number of members allowed on the floor, access to the Capitol will be limited to lawmakers, staff that have an office that’s located in the Capitol or floor access, credentialed press and visitors on official business. Staffers who don’t have Capitol offices will not be permitted even if they are accompanied by a member but are granted access to the House office buildings.  

Members are also being encouraged to use the stairwells to enter the chamber, and advised to only have one or two people in an elevator, if they must use one, at a time.

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House documents that staff would normally submit in the Capitol will temporarily be submitted in a room in the Legislative Resource Center in the Cannon House office building and transferred to the hopper by Clerk staffers. 

While the press is permitted in the Capitol, reporters won’t be permitted to enter the Speaker’s Lobby where journalists often ask members questions off the floor. The gallery overlooking the chamber will, however, remain open so reporters can see the vote. 

The note comes after leadership has grappled with to best move forward with voting without imposing a safety risk amid the pandemic. While a number of members have pushed for remote voting, concerns over security risks and its constitutionality have been raised by top lawmakers. 

With two House members having been diagnosed with coronavirus and others self-quarantining, a sizable number of lawmakers likely will not make the trek to Washington. C-SPAN announced it will air members’ statements on the bill.