By Amanda C. Coyne | Atlanta Journal-Constitution| March 10, 2020
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston is discouraging the public from visiting the Capitol for the remainder of he legislative session out of an “abundance of caution” regarding COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The state Senate will not be making any changes in its operations, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said in a statement.
Georgia currently has six confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 11 presumptive positives. Most of them are in metro Atlanta.
The House is suspending its page program, in which students ages 12 to 18 help pass messages between legislators. Guests will no longer be welcomed for resolutions honoring them, and while the House will continue hosting a new chaplain each day, the chaplain will not be allowed to bring any guests.
While the House gallery will remain open for spectators, Ralston urged the public “in the strongest possible terms” to instead watch the free live streams the legislature provides of House session and committees. Subcommittees are not available on the House live stream.
“We’re not trying to be alarmist ,” Ralston said. “We’re trying to be cautious, and we’re trying to protect people that need to be here so that we can continue our work and work towards the conclusion of the session.”
The ACLU of Georgia said it will be monitoring the House’s response to ensure public access is not unduly restricted.
“Any response to the coronavirus should be grounded in science and public health, and not be politicized,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia. “The ACLU will be watching closely to make sure that the government’s response is scientifically justified and no more intrusive on civil liberties than absolutely necessary.”
Ralston said he does not believe at this point the House will need to pause work in the 40-day session, which is expected to end in early April. The Georgia Senate has not announced any specific precautions related to the coronavirus.
The House’s changes are effective until further notice, Ralston said.