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Vermont lawmakers kick off largely virtual 2021 session

Published: Jan. 6, 2021 at 6:08 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - It’s off to the races for Vermont lawmakers as they officially kick off the 2021 legislative session, defined by coronavirus recovery. And with the pandemic still raging, the opening ceremonies looked a lot different.

COVID-19 and the risk of its spread under the golden dome meant almost every lawmaker had to attend virtually. The beginning of this historic session is marked by pandemic politics, new leadership and arguably one of the biggest workloads ahead of lawmakers.

The first official day of the new biennium is normally marked by pomp and circumstance and reunions with colleagues. But not this year.

The Vermont Statehouse opened to a handful of staff, press and Senate lawmakers, complete with pandemic essentials like plexiglass barriers, social distancing and masks. New Vermont House Speaker Jill Krowinski presided over an empty House chamber while thousands watch online.

Turning the page on a new legislative session is taking on new meaning after a tumultuous national election cycle. Leaders say it’s a day to pass on the baton with a reverence for the process.

“We value the institution of our democracy and we trust it and we trust the votes and in this moment around the country it felt very grounding to be here,” Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman said.

Some 152 lawmakers took the oath of office over video chat while a small number of senators were sworn in with a hybrid approach.

“Knowing we are about to make history as we go into this recovery session with a plan that leaves nobody behind,” said Krowinski, D-Burlington.

This new session is also a historic landmark for women in Vermont politics. Krowinski and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint are two of a slate of women leaders taking the reigns.

“We can model to women and girls across the state that they can be in these leadership positions too,” said Krowinski.

This session will be defined by pandemic recovery, wrestling with spending hundreds of millions in new federal money, stabilizing a budget millions in the red and helping starving businesses.

“Even though it feels like the hardship ahead is overwhelming and we are all still very much in the midst of this emergency, out of hard times can come a lot of possibility,” said Balint said, D-Windham County.

There will be hard discussions and choices ahead. too.

Republican leaders say they’re hopeful new Democratic leaders will reach across the aisle, much like lawmakers did in the spring when the state of emergency was declared.

“Hopefully, she will listen and reach across the aisle as much as possible,” said Pattie McCoy, R-Poultney.

Lawmakers are slated to be fully remote until after Town Meeting Day. Then they will reassess how our case counts are looking and see if they can return to in-person meetings. Until then, lawmakers tell me they’re eager and ready to dig into work.

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