Long Security Lines Create Public Participation Challenges at the Capitol

Teachers, service personnel, and other employees crowd in lines stretching around the Culture Center and over to the Kanawha Boulevard on Thursday, February 22. Photo by Jake Jarvis.

BY: KATELYN CAMPBELL, COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT POLICY VISTA, THE HUB

Gaining physical access to the Capitol is relatively simple on a normal day – lines to get through metal detectors at the building’s two entry points are typically short – but the process quickly grows lengthy when many visitors are trying to enter the Capitol at the same time.

Images of teachers, service personnel, and other public employees crowding into line outside of the Capitol have been making the rounds through social media and news outlets over the past two weeks.

Clad in bright red and carrying signs, many have waited for hours in the rain to gain entrance to the Capitol for demonstrations advocating for better pay and a fix to the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA). When there are clearly more than two doors to the Capitol, one might wonder why visitors are restricted to only two entry points.

Prior to the approval of enhanced security measures in 2015, visitors to the Capitol could come and go as they pleased. Concerns about safety following acts of gun violence against government buildings around the US and Canada prompted the installation of metal detectors and the limiting of entry points to the building, which are now situated inside the doors to the East and West wings.

Capitol security staff are not currently able to add more entry points to the building, meaning that as the crowds swell, so do the lines. Lengthy lines create an added burden for visitors hoping to meet with their legislators – particularly for those who live far from Charleston and are unable to afford to visit another day, as well as for visitors with disabilities that make them unable to stand for long periods of time.

Once visitors enter the Capitol, figuring out where to go can be challenging. While personnel at the Information Desk (located in the rotunda) are happy to provide a map and Capitol staff are typically helpful in pointing people in the right direction, their capacity to assist is quickly maxed out as crowds gather.

Even greater challenges exist for visitors who are unable to traverse stairs. Although there are three sets of elevators in the Capitol, each is situated to give access to distinct sections of the building rather than providing a way to conveniently get from one wing to another area. Visitors who can’t use stairs and want to travel from the East Wing to the West Wing are required to take a complicated, roundabout route and can spend double or triple the time getting where they need to go compared to people who are able to use the stairs.

The Capitol belongs to the people, no matter how many decide to come together to petition their government at the same time. It’s a reasonable expectation that the Capitol should be able to accommodate them.

We’re so thankful for the Capitol Information Desk staff and security officers who help citizens in and around the Capitol each day, as well as the thousands of West Virginians who have traveled to Charleston, made calls, emailed, tweeted, and otherwise engaged with their representatives so far this Session.

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