AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two Democratic members of the Texas House said Monday they do not plan to attend the first day of the legislative session, concerned “the ceremony may become a COVID-19 Superspreader Event.” Instead, while their colleagues were in the Texas House, they held a ceremony outside in downtown Austin. A mariachi band kicked off the festivities.
Rep. Michelle Beckley, D-Carrollton, and Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos, D-Richardson, swore each other in outside and in front of a mural at Fifth Street and Congress Avenue that honors COVID-19 victims in the Austin area.
According to a press release, state law allows them to hold an alternate ceremony.
Beckley called it “irresponsible” to have all house members together for an extended period of time.
“We members are supposed to only be seated three feet apart, and we are currently aware that some colleagues and staff have received recent positive COVID-19 tests,” Beckley wrote. Each chamber has made social distancing accommodations in some places, like the upstairs galleries, but Beckly said the sheer number of attendees on this first day of the session is problematic. She also added that she did not want more cases to put even more of a burden on hospitals in the area, which are seeing ICU beds fill up. On Sunday, COVID-19 hospitalizations in Austin and Central Texas triggered higher business capacity limits.
“I just think that sometimes you need to look at the bigger picture, and the bigger picture is that we’re the height of a pandemic,” Beckley said in an interview. “We don’t even know if we’re at the highest point yet, because every day is a record day.”
The Texas Capitol reopened to the public Jan. 4. The State Preservation Board is capping capacity, requiring masks and installing extra hand sanitizer stations in the area, and free, rapid testing is taking place on the north plaza. It’s encouraged, but not required, to enter. Meanwhile, each individual lawmaker can make his or her own rules when it comes to safety requirements in their offices.
Beckley said Ramos’ husband administered the oaths, and because he is a notary public, he’ll notarize the necessary documents.