SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Capitol will remain closed to the general public for a few days next week out of concerns for violent protests and the spread of COVID-19.
The Capitol has been closed to the public since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
House and Senate leadership were planning to open the building up to the public for the start of the legislative session on Tuesday. Masks and physical distancing would be mandated, and security would be checking bags as people go into the buildings.
However, the riots at the US Capitol and talk of potentially violent protests at the Utah State Capitol has prompted a delay. The Utah Highway Patrol told FOX 13 it would keep the building closed indefinitely, not only because of the immediate potential for violence, but also because non-permitted demonstrations in the building could spread COVID-19.
"We don't want the Capitol to become the super-spreader," said Lt. Greg Holley, who oversees security at the building.
Instead, the House and Senate Republican leadership will continue to push people to weigh in on bills online, by allowing public comment in virtual hearings.
"We will convene as scheduled in a manner that is safe for everyone as we work on behalf of Utahns. Though this session will be unconventional, we recognize the value of public input and have worked to fine-tune a process that enables remote public comment. We encourage all Utahns to utilize this new process throughout the session," Senate President J. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said in a statement on Wednesday.
Security is being ramped up in light of the presidential inauguration, the start of the 2021 legislative session and Governor Spencer Cox's first "State of the State" address, all happening next week. The Utah Highway Patrol, which provides security for the Utah State Capitol, pulled its 40 troopers headed to the presidential inauguration in Washington DC and repurposed them to provide additional security at the statehouse.
FOX 13 first reported earlier this week that the Capitol Preservation Board, which oversees the Utah State Capitol grounds, is not granting permits for indoor demonstrations due to concerns about COVID-19 spread. It has, however, expanded areas for permitted demonstrations outside. At least one group has filed for a permit on Jan. 17 for a "We Are Not the Enemy rally."
"If we have permitted protests, we're able to plan for it and have contact with the organizers," Lt. Holley said. "The un-permitted protests that show up and fill the Capitol, we've got 3,000 people in the Capitol and it turns into one, a security concern but also two-fold security and COVID concern."