BOSTON — The Massachusetts House took a first step toward fully reopening the Statehouse by voting Thursday to require all members and staff to be fully vaccinated if they want to work out of the building.
Democratic leaders described the mandate as critical to protecting the health of the hundreds of employees who work in the building. Masks will be also required in all House-controlled spaces in the Statehouse.
The 131-28 vote came after hours of debate.
Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester, who is fighting pancreatic cancer, said her life could literally depend on the policy, while Rep. Peter Durant, R-Spencer, suggested she and anyone else at severe risk from COVID-19 could simply stay home.
"I thought my colleagues would join together and unite behind an order that says the protection of the least among us has to be first and on the forefront," said Ferrante, describing herself as "deeply disappointed" that her some of her colleagues would value "political showmanship" over her health.
The move was opposed by nearly all Republicans. In a press release from the state Republican Party after the debate, Billerica GOP Rep. Marc Lombardo compared the mandate to the actions of a totalitarian regime.
“Elected representatives, provide proof of vaccination or be banned from coming into your office or the chamber, fail to comply, and you will lose your office staff,” he said. “This coercion would be expected in communist China, but not in the birthplace of American freedom.”
Democrats said the mandate will help safeguard those working in and visiting the historic building.
“Hey colleagues, in order to stop transmission of COVID, we need vaccination AND masks. Let’s mandate both for people in the State House,” Amherst Democratic Rep. Mindy Domb tweeted. “Masks prevent transmission, vaccines prevent illness and death.”
Material from The Associated Press and State House News Service was used in this report.