BOSTON (State House News Service) — On the same day that Gov. Charlie Baker's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for executive branch employees took effect, House lawmakers and staff were informed that they must show proof of vaccination by Nov. 1 if they want to work physically from the State House, where they must also wear masks in all House-controlled spaces.
The new rules were issued by the House COVID-19 Working Group, led by Speaker Pro Tempore Kate Hogan, and were expected after the House in late September voted to require vaccinations to be present in the State House.
The guidelines are consistent with the recommendation made by a previous iteration of Hogan's group on how to proceed with reopening the State House in four phases, beginning with essential personal and concluding when the public can be welcomed back to the building.
Of the nearly 40,500 executive branch employees covered by Baker mandate, the administration reported that 95.2 percent complied by Sunday's deadline to show proof of vaccination or request an exemption. That left 1,571 employees in violation of the policy.
While Baker's mandate covered state employees regardless of whether they work remotely, the House policy continues to allow anyone who is not vaccinated to work from home, or to come into compliance to return to the State House after the Nov. 1 deadline.
The memo sent Monday to all staff included instructions for how employees can upload written proof of vaccination, such as a copy of a COVID-19 vaccination card, as well as guidelines for mask wearing in the building and a recommendation that employees open windows in their office during work hours as weather allows to improve airflow.
House Democrats and Republicans engaged in a heated debate over the vaccine mandate last month during which Minority Leader Brad Jones questioned the amount of authority the House was voting to give to Hogan's group to set working conditions for hundreds of members and staff.
Jones specifically wondered how the policies would be enforced, and whether he would be forced to wear a mask while sitting alone in his office. The new rules make clear he would not.
"I am very uncomfortable with the institution giving that power to the working group," said Jones, who is vaccinated.
All House members and staff were told to provide proof of vaccination, or request a religious or medical exemption, by Nov. 1 in order to continuing working from the State House, regardless of whether they are considered "core" House employees and part of "Phase 1."
Written by: Matt Murphy, SHNS