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Parking lot participation for those stricken by the virus, or quarantining because of exposure, is just one way that legislatures are adapting to the pandemic era.
Lawmakers in Kentucky’s state House who test positive for the coronavirus, or suspect that they’ve come in contact with someone who has it, will still need to be on the capitol grounds to cast votes in the new legislative session, but can do so from inside their cars in the parking lot.
House Speaker David Osborne explained the policy on Tuesday, as the state’s 2021 session got underway. Osborne outlined other Covid-19-related rules as well. For instance, if members want to be on the floor, they’ll be required to wear masks. But those who choose not to wear a face covering, or don’t want to go to the floor for other reasons, will be able to vote from their offices.
“The members will be able to vote real-time from their office,” Osborne said. “It's just like they were there pushing a button.” He added that technology upgrades have allowed for greater flexibility with virtual participation by lawmakers.
The situation with casting votes in Kentucky is just one example of how state legislatures across the country are getting creative and adapting to lawmaking in the age of Covid-19, a highly contagious respiratory illness that continues to spread around the United States
Laura Leigh Goins, deputy chief of staff for media for the speaker’s office, emphasized that there’s a “very healthy dose of respect” within the House for precautionary public health guidelines related to the virus. "I think the car thing came about as a way to let people carry out their duty and their obligation and to do so safely,” she said.
“Those people still want to represent their districts, they still want to provide a voice to their constituents,” Goins added. “This was a way to ensure they were going to be able to do that.”
Asked about why House leaders decided against letting people who might have Covid-19 vote from home, instead of from their vehicles, Goins said she'd have to defer to the speaker for a comment, but Osborne wasn't immediately available.
Goins noted that there was a similar, but less formal, policy in place at the end of the 2020 session that enabled people to vote from their cars. She also said that at least one legislator used the option on Tuesday. “I foresee us having members do so going forward,” she added.
Bill Lucia is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.