By Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The U.S. Capitol is shut down to the public because of COVID-19. Meanwhile, the Minnesota State Capitol remains open, not only for business but for public gatherings and large rallies.

Now, some legislators who are doctors say the capitol should be shut down to the public.

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Earlier this week, the Capitol Rotunda was packed with hundreds of rallying for disability rights. This morning it was mental health advocates who were packed in.

Three DFL lawmakers who are also doctors sent out a press release that among other things urges that the large gatherings be canceled. Senator Matt Klein is one of those doctors.

“Do you think the state should shut down the capitol to these gatherings, to large gatherings of constituents, just sort of their own free will?” Esme Murphy asked.

“I do think they should shut them down,” Sen. Klein replied.

But other lawmakers, including the governor, say while it’s under discussion, that step has yet to be taken.

“We are looking at CDC guidance on how to move through these steps of community mitigation, but to be very honest they are relatively vague in some area just because of the nuance of this virus developing differently,” Gov. Walz said.

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But concern for some is growing, even some lobbyists who make a living advocating at the legislature think it’s time.

“There are hundreds of thousands of people from around the state coming to this building every day and that’s putting people at risk,” Lobbyist Tom Lehman said.

“So you think the capitol should shut down to public gatherings?” Murphy asked.

“Oh definitely,” Lehman said.

This legislative session is scheduled to run through mid-May. The governor and top legislative leaders say there are discussions underway to speed up the passage of key bills and end the session early. But there is opposition to that too, and so far that is just talk, not action.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt and Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent jointly released this statement early Thursday evening:

The four legislative leaders are working closely together and will continue to be in conversation through the weekend about the agenda for the session and how to conduct legislative proceedings in light of COVID-19. No further decisions have been made regarding Capitol access or legislative activity at this time, and we will provide timely updates if there are any changes.

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Hortman announced later Thursday evening that all House business is suspended until Monday at 11 a.m.

Esme Murphy