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Vermont lawmakers puzzle over how to meet safely

Vermont Statehouse-File photo
Vermont Statehouse-File photo(WCAX)
Published: Aug. 6, 2020 at 3:25 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont lawmakers are trying to figure out how to safely return to the Statehouse for next year's legislative session. Our Calvin Cutler has more on the issues they're trying to overcome.

There are tons of logistical hurdles the Legislature will have to overcome should they return to the Statehouse. They’ve been holding committee hearings and floor votes over Zoom these past few months, but in many cases, that’s made the legislative process slow and cumbersome.

Many are concerned about the high risk of spreading COVID-19 under the golden dome since older Vermont lawmakers from all over the state spend hours in small committee rooms.

A preliminary study from the architecture firm Freeman French Freeman in Burlington shows that holding committee meetings and floor sessions would be nearly impossible while social distancing.

The House chamber, the Statehouse's biggest room, normally has a maximum capacity of 300 people. With social distancing, the room would be limited to just 70.

Top lawmakers are faced with the tough tasks of finding new facilities which can safely accommodate everyone or cutting back on how many people attend meetings.

"Beating this virus is all about hygiene and people per square foot. To deal with the people per square foot, you decrease the number of people or increase the amount of space," said Rep. Mitzi Johnson, D-Vt. House Speaker.

Lawmakers and Statehouse staffers are also looking for alternative spaces to hold in-person hearings such as the National Life Building or the tax department. But even then, those buildings won't be big enough to hold the full 150-member House of Representatives or a 180-person joint session of the House and Senate.

A contractor will present recommendations as to how lawmakers can safely reconvene in about two weeks’ time.

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