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Public to gain greater access to Nevada Legislature with two weeks left in session


The halls of Nevada’s legislative building have been quiet this session. That’s likely to change—at least a little bit, anyway. The Legislative Counsel Bureau announced this week that close to 500 visitors will be allowed inside at any given time starting Monday. 

The legislative building was at first closed to the general public and lobbyists in an effort to limit the risk of COVID-19 spreading among the state’s lawmakers as they convened for a session where much of their focus has been upon dealing with the fallout from the virus. Only legislators, certain essential staff and a handful of reporters were allowed inside. Everyone else, lobbyists included, has been required to participate virtually.

That’s been the case not only during the 81st legislative session, which began Feb. 1, but also for both of the special sessions during July and August of last year.

This, of course, drew the ire of a certain set of people for whom every COVID-19 mitigation measure has been taken as an assault on personal freedoms. Four conservative lobbyists took it as cause to file suit against Gov. Steve Sisolak, Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Brenda Erdoes, Attorney General Aaron Ford and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro.

Protesters gathered outside of the Nevada legislative building Feb. 1, 2021 at the start of the 81st Legislative Session to protest the presidential election and the closure of the legislative building due to COVID-19 restrictions. Image: Ty O’Neil / This Is Reno

Republican Assembly member Annie Black made a speech on the Assembly floor in early March arguing for the building to be opened to the public and calling for a motion and vote that was never taken.

The Nevada Republican Party posted a video of Black’s speech with the caption, “The People want OUR house open! When Assemblywoman Annie Black makes a motion on the assembly floor to #openthelegislature, Democrat Steve Yeager ignores her with no vote from the body. This is no way to operate the #nvleg! The Nevada Constitution states that the people’s house must always remain open. Democrats have made it evident they have no intention of following the constitution. That is why the NVGOP has taken legal action to open the Legislative Building and bring transparency back!”

Yet when the legislative building reopened in a limited capacity in mid-April, it wasn’t suddenly flooded with visitors, as several news sources noted. Perhaps it was the new bag searches, metal detectors, virus testing requirements, the continued closure of the visitors’ galleries in both chambers and the reservations needed to sit in committee rooms that kept them away.

It remains to be seen if this will change now that capacity inside the building will increase from 153 visitors to 495. The announcement came earlier this week from Erdoes, who made clear that some restrictions and COVID-19 mitigation measures will remain in place.

“Safety of staff, members and visitors is our top priority,” she said. “Those entering the building will still be required to register and test negative for COVID-19 or demonstrate that they are fully vaccinated, in addition to continuing to wear face coverings and maintaining social distance. We look forward to welcoming more Nevadans to the Legislature and continuing the work of the state over the remainder of this 81st Legislative Session.”

The remainder of the session is just two weeks.

Here’s a summary of the requirements to enter the legislative building:

  • Social distancing restrictions will be relaxed from six feet to the three feet, allowing committee rooms to accommodate 18 attendees per meeting, in addition to the continuation of remote participation.
  • Legislators will receive five in-person appointments per day.
  • Before entering the legislative building, each visitor must agree to submit to a free COVID-19 test or submit proof of vaccination. Testing will be done at the mobile units located in the parking lot across Fifth Street from the legislative building. It will begin at 6 a.m. each day and end at 2 p.m., except on Wednesdays when testing will continue until 6 p.m. A person may schedule an appointment for testing. Information concerning how to make an appointment for testing at this site will be posted and kept current on the legislature’s website. Walk-in testing is also allowed and will be completed as soon as possible.
  • If a visitor is fully vaccinated, the person may, in lieu of testing, present their vaccine information for verification. If verified, the visitor will not be required to be tested before entering the building.
  • A stick-on pass to enter will be provided once a visitor has completed the COVID-19 test and has received a negative result or has had vaccination information verified. The pass is valid only for the day on which it is issued. Information concerning how to have vaccine information verified will be posted and kept current on the Legislature’s website.
  • After receiving the pass to enter, the visitor may proceed directly to the front (west side) of the Building or to the garage area (immediately across from the east entrance to the Legislative Building) to pass through a metal detector. Once in the building, visitors must comply with all posted COVID-19 safety precautions.

Visitors to the Legislature can also get a COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccinations are free and will be given in the mobile units across Fifth Street from the legislative building, next to where the COVID-19 testing is provided. They’ll be provided on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. You may schedule an appointment here. Walk-ins are also welcome.

Jeri Chadwell
Jeri Chadwellhttp://thisisreno.com
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.