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Will Vt. Legislature return to Statehouse next year?

A new study released this week lays out several option for lawmakers in the fall.
Published: Aug. 20, 2020 at 6:02 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 20, 2020 at 6:10 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont lawmakers will return to a virtual statehouse for a special budget session next week, but there are still questions about whether they will return to the actual Statehouse for the next session in January.

Back in March, the coronavirus forced lawmakers to leave the Statehouse and to conduct all of their business over Zoom. But that has made the legislative process slow and cumbersome. Now, legislative leaders are searching for new solutions for next year.

There isn’t a single building in the Capitol complex that can hold the entire 150 members of the Vermont House while adhering to CDC safety guidelines, much less a joint session with the Senate, journalists, and members of the public.

"We are committed to making sure we can continue the work of the people's house, continue public accessibility and making sure that people can represent their communities and that the public has access," said House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero.

A new study released this week lays out several option for lawmakers in the fall. They could meet in a mix of locations including the Statehouse, the Barre Auditorium, The Capitol Plaza Hotel, the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and other parts of the state office complex. Similar to schools, lawmakers could also opt for a hybrid of online and in-person. Or, they could repeat the current all-remote session.

Some lobbyists and members of the public are concerned about accessibility and transparency of the legislative process online.

Wendy Mays with the Vermont Association of Broadcasters, of which WCAX is a member, says streaming committee meetings was acceptable for the short term crisis.

“Watching a meeting on YouTube does not give the public the opportunity to interact while they are creating, discussing and voting on laws,” Mays said.

Johnson agrees some level of in-person session is preferable and that the full Legislature will have to vote on which model to use. If they do choose in-person meetings away from the Statehouse, they would have to temporarily amend state law.

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