The top Republican lawmakers in the state Senate and Assembly on Friday urged state officials to develop a plan for reopening the state Capitol building in Albany more than a year after it closed to the general public.
Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt and Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay in a letter to Office of General Services Commissioner RoAnn Destito called for the reopening as more people are being vaccinated and the COVID-19 positive rate has decline in recent weeks.
“As the infection rate goes down and the vaccination rate goes up, COVID-related restrictions in place at our Capitol and Empire State Plaza have become clearly outdated and unnecessary in many cases," Ortt said in a statement. "It is well past time for leaders in Albany to commit to safely reopening the seat of our state government for the sake of the people we were elected to represent."
The state Capitol is normally a bustling place, especially on days in which lawmakers are in Albany for the session. In normal times, lobbyists fill the hallways outside of the legislative chambers, advocates roam the halls and demonstrators push for their issues. School groups and tourists gawk at the spectacle.
The area around in the Capitol in Albany has started to resemble a fortress, however, as the pandemic forced many people to work from home. Lawmakers have limited the number of people in the legislative chambers and many legislators appear via video conference.
The riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 led to law enforcement officials to close a portion of State Street to vehicle traffic indefinitely. Fencing and other barriers have also been erected at parts around the building.
“When state government is functioning as it should, the public has a presence and a voice in everything we do," Barclay said. "The precautionary measures resulting from the COVID crisis severely restricted the people’s ability to participate in the daily operations at the Capitol. Fortunately, the worst of the pandemic is behind us and numbers are trending in a positive direction. It’s time to move on from the dark corridors, empty hallways, obstructive fencing and barricades. Businesses and public venues are safely reopening. The State Capitol and Empire State Plaza should be included in that process and once again welcome New Yorkers to the center of state government."