Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), the most senior member in the chamber carrying the title of “Dean of the Senate,” introduced Senate Resolution (SR) 341 to amend the rules established with COVID-19 precautionary measures at the beginning of the legislative session in January.
“I believe it’s a strong consensus [. . .] that it would be reasonable, sensible for us to not require members now to have a mask, considering that we’ve been vaccinated,” said Whitmire.
Whitmire said that he brought the resolution to the floor “after conversing with most” other senators.
After passing in a 30 to 0 vote, with only an excused absence from Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), SR 341 modified the original Senate caucus report that contained the temporary Senate rules in response to the dwindling pandemic.
“And I would like to have a popularity contest among the staff if we have time for it later in the day,” joked Whitmire after the unanimous vote.
With the resolution passed, senators and staff are no longer required to wear masks and the number of staff members that senators can have join them on the floor increased from one to two.
The COVID-19 testing requirement did not change, and members of the public will need to be tested for the virus in order to enter the Senate Gallery or Senate committee hearings. Tests are provided free of charge at the tents on the north side of the Capitol, where the required wristbands are given to individuals who test negative.
According to the office of the secretary of the Senate, “masks are optional” for the public who visit the gallery or committee hearings.
The original caucus report did not include a mask mandate for the public, so it is unclear what has been the basis for the Senate’s enforcement of masks for the past eight weeks since Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide mask mandate was lifted.
The measure in the Senate comes after the state House ended the mask mandate for everyone in their chamber, gallery, and hearings last week. Unlike the Senate, the House did not implement a COVID-19 testing requirement to access their proceedings.
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Daniel Friend is the Marketing and Media Manager for The Texan. After graduating with a double-major in Political Science and Humanities, he wrote for The Texan as a reporter through June 2022. In his spare time, you're likely to find him working on The Testimony of Calvin Lewis, an Abolition of Man-inspired novel and theatrical podcast.