Before the pandemic kept out tourists, school groups and advocates who trekked to the building from around the state, New York's state Capitol was an often bustling place.
COVID-19 has changed that, with the Capitol virtually empty for the last year, save for mask-wearing lawmakers, staff and some journalists who can access the building.
But now some lawmakers are calling for restrictions on the Capitol to ease as more people are vaccinated the virus rate declines.
The push also comes as the Capitol itself in many places has been surrounded with metal barricades and fencing, keeping people off stairs. State Street has been closed down. A government building celebrated for its architecture and reopening only a few years ago has been turned into a fortress.
"We always do optics in government — how people observe something," said Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt. "This does not look like the people's house. It certainly doesn't look like people would be invited into the people’s house."
While the pandemic shuttered the building, the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol in Washington led to new security rules. Fencing and barricades now line the building; a portion of State Street is closed to traffic. Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt says it's time to reopen the Capitol with proper precautions in place.
"To my knowledge there's no current, existing credible threat to the state Capitol," Ortt said. "In my time here, the state troopers and the State Police and the men and women on the civilian side responsible for keeping this building safe have always done a great job."
And then there's the transparency concern for a state government that, even on its best days, can have opaque processes.
"Many of the groups that came down are not necessarily Republican leaning, but they were here to advocate for an issue that's important to them or matter," Ortt said. "And many times it was important for us to hear that. We need to get plans to back to doing the people’s business with the people present.”
Ortt said that having the building reopen, albeit with some capacity limits in place and other pandemic-related precautions, would send a message to New Yorkers.
"I think these are kinds of the things people are going to look for to say we're turning a corner around this pandemic, we're getting back to some kind of normalcy and I think government really should be the leader on those things," he said.