Several colleagues, friends and even family members have inquired how lobbying occurs in the midst of a pandemic. I thought I would share some insights and stories about this now that we have passed the one-year anniversary since the World Health Organization officially identified COVID-19 as a pandemic.
COVID-19 is ubiquitous to our whole lives this past year. In Tallahassee, our state Capital, government buildings have limited access to the general public. The Capitol Complex, which includes the offices of the senators and representatives, their staff, the offices of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer and Commissioner of Agriculture, has been largely devoid of visitors. Unless you are an elected official or staff, you must schedule appointments with House members or register in advance to give public testimony before House committees in order to appear in person.
The Senate President and House Speaker continue COVID-19 safety protocols established prior to the Organizational Session last November. The Senate hired University of South Florida Health to assess and recommend practices to prevent the spread of the virus. As a result, the Senate opted to utilize live-stream technology for public testimony during committee meetings. Lobbyists and concerned citizens go to the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center, a few blocks from the Capitol, to testify virtually.
The legislators, staff and news media are expected to test weekly for COVID-19. Some have had to return to their districts to quarantine when they tested positive, which delays members’ bills being heard in committee. To my knowledge, it has not affected committee quorum to date. Most members wear masks during committee meetings and/or social distance depending on the physical size of the committee room. Meetings with legislators have largely occurred virtually or by conference call, though some welcome in-person meetings, which mainly happen in nearby downtown offices or restaurants. There are no advocacy days in the Capitol courtyard or inside the building this year where groups would serve paella, Cuban sandwiches and hot dogs, university bands would play their fight songs or military vehicles and other equipment would be on display for the public.
For me personally, this has been a strange experience since lobbying and advocating is more effective when done face to face. I do have some top 5 stories of my career for the record books! I look forward to seeing our senators, representatives and their staffs as well as my colleagues in person once this pandemic is over!