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Despite wide reopening, some Vermont state services remain closed

Published: Jun. 24, 2021 at 6:27 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - With more than 80% of eligible Vermonters vaccinated, many are ready to get back to living and seeing friends and loved ones. But even now, some state services are still closed.

Across Vermont, life looks relatively normal. Restaurants, bars and clubs are open.

In Barre, many companies are returning to the office including Westaff moving into its new office space. Municipal government is coming back too. The Barre City Council had its first hybrid meeting this week.

“Everyone that was in attendance for the council was in person but if they wanted to they could attend remotely which gives an added benefit,” Barre City Mayor Lucas Herring said.

But inside Montpelier’s Agency of Agriculture, still closed to the public, meets Vermont’s Cannabis Control Board.

Two staff members in person, the rest phoning in virtually over Teams.

State employees are allowed to come back to the offices and everyone will be required to come back in the fall.

If they want to stay remote, they’ll have to submit an application.

Other public-facing government services such as the DMV are still closed.

The DMV has been administering road tests statewide since last summer, and DMV locations in Bennington, Montpelier, Newport, Rutland, South Burlington, and Springfield are open for in-person services now. However offices in St. Albans, St. Johnsbury, Dummerston, Middlebury and Hartford are still closed.

We’re told the DMV is in the early stages of deciding whether to open those five offices since many services can be offered online instead.

In a statement to WCAX, Vermont’s DMV says, “Over the last year, DMV has increased services available online, which has resulted in considerably less demand for in-person services. DMV is assessing whether returning to the previous operational schedule for the satellite offices is still effective and efficient for customers and the State. Several factors are being considered, including broadband availability in the respective areas, as well as drive times to other DMV branches from areas with limited internet access.”

But the DMV also says that no final decision has been made yet.

Across the street at the People’s House, lawmakers are chewing over the same questions.

“We’re getting out of the narrative of COVID-19 and into airflow management and committee comfort,” said Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia County.

The Statehouse has featured cramped, stuffy rooms for years.

Benning and other key stakeholders are working on a plan for what the return to the Statehouse should look like next session.

“Most people come to the Statehouse because they want to see legislators, they want to see lawmaking in action, they want to feel like they’re part of that process. We have to get back to that. Zoom doesn’t give you that ability with fairly limited exception,” Benning said.

The report on what the next legislative session should look like is due on Aug. 15.

However, in the years ahead, there’s broad consensus that Vermont has outgrown the Statehouse. Lawmakers are now just beginning discussions on expanding the footprint of the building.

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