By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) — Many municipal offices across Massachusetts are open for business, the Delta COVID variant notwithstanding. But not the State House, which has been closed to the public since the pandemic’s early days.

So what’s the holdup?

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“I’m the Speaker of the House, and I’m also the CEO of 500 people who are going to come into this building,” said House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy) last week. “I don’t want to have a two-tiered system where I’m asking folks to come in and work beside people who will not declare whether or not they’ve been vaccinated.”

An undetermined number of state reps have declined to get their shots, and there are several bills awaiting action that would impede efforts to force them to.

“I don’t think disclosing whether you’re vaccinated or not in order to enter the House should be a requirement,” says Representative Alyson Sullivan (R-Abington), who says she has been vaccinated but is also backing a bill barring any public sector vaccine mandates.

“Something that is so new and so fresh that is being pushed as far as the COVID-19 vaccine, I think it’s something we need to take precautions around because what are we setting the precedent to? What slippery slope are we going down?”

Sullivan argues that because vaccinated people with breakthrough infection can still spread the virus, vaccine requirements are a governmental overreach.

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But state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante (D-Gloucester), an immunocompromised cancer patient who spoke to WBZ-TV on her way back from radiation treatment, says she would return to a fully immunized State House and resents the refusal of some to clear the way.

“Having your colleagues who you both trust and admire for various reasons disappoint you by coming out and politicizing this issue. And I do take it personally,” she says.

So when will Beacon Hill return to normal?

That’s still unclear.

A House working group has proposed requiring members and staff to show proof of vaccination by November 1, with those who refuse required to work remotely. That would trigger a multi-stage return with the general public admitted in the final stage, but no idea exactly when that might happen.

Meanwhile, the Senate has set an October 15 deadline for its people to prove vaccination, and the governor has mandated vaccines for more than 40,000 state employees. But it seems access to the people’s house will remain fragmented as long as the people remain divided over whether or not to get vaccinated.

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Beacon Hill was the site of the nation’s first statewide school vaccination mandate in the 1850s, when smallpox was the killer virus, and there was plenty of political resistance back then as well. With Sullivan and other legislators from both parties still arguing that an over-abundance of caution is something worth fighting, it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Jon Keller