SALEM, Ore. — Leaders in the Oregon House and Senate announced on Monday that the capitol in Salem will be largely accessible to the public again for the first time since March of last year.
In a joint statement, Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek said that the decision stemmed from new Oregon Health Authority guidance and Governor Kate Brown's decision to lift most COVID-19 restrictions on July 1.
“The last year has been extremely hard on our state. Oregonians have suffered devastating wildfires, an ice storm, a historic heatwave, and extreme drought," the lawmakers said. "Through it all, we have battled a global pandemic that has dramatically changed our daily lives.
“Last March, we consulted with infectious disease doctors and public health officials about what changes were needed to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the Capitol. In the end, we made the very difficult decision to limit Capitol entry to legislators, essential staff, and members of the press.
“Over 70% of Oregonians 18 and older are now vaccinated against COVID-19 and community spread has reduced considerably. We are extremely grateful to Oregonians for stepping up to help beat this pandemic. With new guidance from the Oregon Health Authority and the lifting of county risk levels, we are excited to expand entry to the Capitol today to include members of the public.”
The decision to close the capitol to the public became a point of contention as the pandemic dragged on. Republicans in the House and Senate made complaints about the lack of public access a refrain that accompanied nearly every piece of legislation considered by the two chambers during the 2021 session. Public comment and viewership of hearings continued over Zoom.
Courtney and Kotek said that certain areas of the capitol will be under construction over the summer and through fall, and access to the Senate and House wings will be limited to construction crews until December. The State Street entrances and front steps will also be temporarily closed for construction, though the north ADA entrances will be accessible to visitors.
The Oregon State Capitol Visitor Services staff will be bringing back many of the customary services for visitors over the next few weeks:
- The Capitol Store will be open from 10:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. for the next few weeks. Visit their website or Facebook page for updates.
- Capitol tours will be self-guided for the week of July 12th.
- Guided tours will be offered daily at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. beginning July 19th. Beginning mid-August, guided tours will be expanded to four tours per day.
- Tower tours will resume in 2022.