Stamford votes to ‘terminate’ state virus restrictions
STAMFORD, Vt. (WCAX) - The Vermont town of Stamford claims the state is violating constitutional rights with its COVID-19 restrictions. The Bennington County bordering Massachusetts narrowly voted for President Trump in the election and now the selectboard is sending the governor a strong message.
“I’ve looked around the other counties in the state, I don’t see where it’s an emergency anywhere,” said Daniel Potvin, one of three Stamford Selectboard members who voted to terminate the governor’s executive orders.
The Vermont town borders Massachusetts and Potvin says the ban on non-essential travel outside the state means many residents can’t visit their family in the next town over. “If the governments can come in and tell us we can’t visit with our families, what’s the next step? Where do you draw the line?” he said.
Potvin says COVID-19 has become an overreach of state government. He argues the town has the legal right to opt-out of emergency declarations. On top of that, he says state restrictions have created an economic disaster, especially for small businesses. “The other side is just telling us, you know, sit down, shut up and do as you’re told, and that’s not going to fly. Not in this town,” he said.
Potvin said the town is very divided over this. We spoke with some residents who say they were afraid to go on camera and state their point of view, especially if it is different from the way the selectboard voted.
One act of defiance -- the town held a Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the beginning of December, against Governor Phil Scott’s orders to avoid gatherings.
The Republican governor says he understands people are frustrated, but the guidance he put in place is to keep Vermonters safe. “We’re on very solid ground constitutionally on this issue. We’ve been talking about this for quite some time. An entity doesn’t get to opt-out. They’re all part of Vermont,” Scott said
“The governor has the sole authority to declare the state of emergency. And when it is a public health crisis, has the sole authority to decide when to end the emergency,” said Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan. He says Scott is right and sent a letter to Stamford to let the selectboard know their action was illegal. Donovan says towns can’t assume local control in a state of emergency. “When it’s a natural disaster, say a flood, a local legislative body like a select board can petition the governor to declare it an end to the state of emergency, but that can be a localized natural disaster. This is a global pandemic.” Donovan says enforcement comes through education, explaining reasons for the order and why Vermonters need to follow it.
“We’re strong and we can take care of ourselves,” said Potvin, adding that he thinks the rules violate Vermonters constitutional rights. He says he’s ready to take on the state. “This is a fight worth fighting.”
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