Hour-plus lines ensnare access to General Assembly building on first day of new security measures

The line for credentialed personnel -- including legislative staffers, aides, reporters and lobbyists -- to enter the General Assembly's office buildings stretched down the street on the first day of heightened security measures implemented by the new Democratic majority. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Long security lines had General Assembly staff members, lobbyists and the general public waiting more than an hour Monday to get into the building where much of the state’s legislative work is done.

Even sitting Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine got caught in the backup when he appeared with a box of donuts he had intended to drop off.

“I don’t want to cut in front of people,” he’s heard telling police officers in a video recorded by WRIC. “Is there another door, like a members door?”

Long lines for members of the general public, who have always been screened by Capitol Police prior to entering, aren’t unusual on busy days. But under new rules banning guns from the Capitol, hundreds of credentialed staff members, lobbyists and reporters are now also required to submit their bags for scanning and go through a metal detector prior to entering the building. Only lawmakers are exempt from search.

That created long backups at the building’s staff entrance. By late morning, people waiting in a line reserved for credentialed staff estimated they’d been held up anywhere from half an hour to more than an hour. The wait gave them plenty of time to grouse about the news rules and question the practicality of waiting in line to move between the General Assembly’s office building and the Capitol across the street.

Questions about the backups also worked their way into a closely watched committee hearing on guns, during which Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, questioned Gov. Ralph Northam’s secretary of public safety, Brian Moran, about reports he’d skipped the screening requirements. In response, Moran suggested that he had cut the line but did go through the metal detectors.

House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, asked House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, to “quickly revisit how to best implement your new policy” after witnessing the lines, suggesting that credentialed visitors such as journalists, legislative staffers and lobbyists be allowed speedier entry.

“All members of the General Assembly have a duty to serve our constituents. This requires staff to be available and at their posts when we need them. Likewise, government affairs professionals and journalists who have valid state credentials are unable to access the building to do their jobs in a timely manner.”

Democrats noted it was the first day and said they expected things to move quicker going forward.

“The new security policy ensures the public can participate in democracy here in the Commonwealth in the safest possible environment,” said Filler-Corn’s spokesman, Jake Rubenstein.

This post has been updated to include a statement from House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert.