Oct. 07--Visiting the Statehouse apparently will no longer be as simple as strolling through the doors.
Desks have appeared at a number of Statehouse entrances, with signs informing visitors that packages will be searched. The State Highway Patrol is expected to start staffing the desks on Nov.1 at the High Street, Third Street, State Street and south parking garage entrances.
The Broad Street entrance has been closed.
The Senate posted a trooper outside the chamber last week to check the bags of those entering. That effort might end once there is confidence that bags are being checked as people enter the Statehouse.
Security changes are continuing throughout the Statehouse as part of a $1.9 million upgrade. Details are still being worked out, including how security will interact with visitors.
"I am one, over the many years, who has rejected the idea of further implementation of security devices," said House Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina. But after discussions with Capitol Square officials, security and technology staffers, "The conclusion is we probably do need more security," he said.
"Frankly, it's an idea whose time may have come."
Security measures around the House are largely technological, Batchelder said. An additional camera will be added outside the chamber, and other cameras throughout the Statehouse, many of which are more than 10 years old, are being upgraded.
"A lot of the changes you're not even going to really see," said House Sergeant-at-Arms Richard " Butch" Collins. "Changes here are minimal at best, and we're trying to be as non-intrusive as possible."
Current access to the House and Senate are different. In the House, anyone who is not a member, staff, or credentialed media must wait outside or sit in the balcony. In the Senate, which has no balcony, any member of the public can enter.
Batchelder noted that it was suggested several years ago that a glass barrier be installed in the balcony to stop anyone from firing weapons at lawmakers.
"I suggested that perhaps anyone who would shoot a member of the House was lacking in ambition," he said.
House offices are behind security doors in the Riffe Center, but anyone can walk into a Senate office, including that of Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina. Just last week, a group of about 20 people dropping off petitions walked into his office.
The Senate recently installed a desk outside the president's office, where a sergeant-at-arms will monitor who enters.
The Senate also is expected to require a badge to enter a side entrance to the chamber, and a badge to get onto the catwalks that go across the atrium.
Exactly who gets a badge remains under discussion.
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