Oregon State Capitol Reopens

On Monday, July 12, the Oregon State Capitol reopened to the public. According to a joint statement issued by House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney — both democrats, the decision was partially made in light of a growing number of Oregonians ages 18 and over having now been vaccinated against COVID-19.   

“We are extremely grateful to Oregonians for stepping up to help beat this pandemic,” the statement said. “With new guidance from the Oregon Health Authority and the lifting of county risk levels, we are excited to expand entry to the Capitol today to include members of the public.”   

The announcement follows a 16-month closure of the Capitol due to the pandemic, which entailed limited entry for only legislators, staff and media. Republican members of the legislature were outspokenly opposed to the closure, asserting the claim that it is “the people’s building” and should therefore remain open to the public.   

In the Senate, some Republicans in a recent legislative session voted no on every bill unrelated to COVID-19 in protest. In the House, Republicans refused to suspend rules requiring bills to be read in their entirety upon final passage, which significantly slowed the pace of lawmaking until a deal was struck with House Republicans related to redistricting in an attempt to end these delay tactics.   

Though perhaps the most notorious moment in the partisan dispute over the Capitol’s closure took place on December 21, 2020, when former State Representative Mike Nearman allowed far-right protestors — some armed — into the building during a special session, endangering his colleagues and breaching public trust. Nearman’s actions were caught on camera and investigated, and the House unanimously voted to expel him on June 10.    

Despite reopening, many parts of the Capitol, including the Senate and House wings, will remain inaccessible due to the Capitol Accessibility, Maintenance and Safety (CAMS) construction project taking place throughout the summer and into December.   

Over the next few weeks, however, Oregon State Capitol Visitor Services staff will be bringing back many of the services provided to visitors, including Capitol tours, which will be self-guided for the first week, but will be offered daily at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. beginning July 19. Guided tours are expected to increase to four tours a day in mid-August, though tours of the Capitol rotunda tower won’t resume until 2022.  

Lawmakers aren’t expected to return to the Capitol until at least late August, when they’ll begin deliberating over redrawing the state’s legislative and congressional district maps. A special session will likely follow around the later half of September. 

By Emilie Ratcliff