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Vt. lawmakers skirmish with Scott over ‘cancel Christmas’ barb

Published: Oct. 6, 2021 at 6:27 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Top Vermont lawmakers over the past month have pushed Governor Phil Scott to implement targeted masking policies as a response to the delta variant. Despite the recent surge in case numbers and deaths, the governor on Tuesday reiterated he has no immediate plans for further emergency restrictions.

The governor contends more restrictions aren’t appropriate and said he would not support lawmakers passing additional measures. “If they want to come back into session, introduce a mask mandate, limit travel, shut down bars and restaurants, limit gatherings, cancel Christmas -- that’s up to them,” Scott said.

Senate President Becca Balint, D-Windham County, responded Wednesday, saying nobody in the Legislature wants to cancel anything and that the governor’s comments came out of left field. “At no point were the speaker or I discussing a travel ban or a lockdown situation or a travel ban or any of those things he mentioned,” she said.

Balint says children catching the coronavirus and developing “long hauler syndrome” remains a concern for some parents. She and House Speaker Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, are advocating for regional masking strategies that would be triggered when infection levels reach a certain benchmark. “What will it take for us to get a mask mandate,” she said.

Scott says a mask mandate may not have an effect on data results and that vaccines are still the best prevention strategy. “In other states, a difference in guidelines in the data -- we’re not seeing any differences in the terms of the data,” he said.

Meanwhile, officials Tuesday said the state’s delta data appears to be improving. Vermont reported 129 new cases Wednesday with 34 people hospitalized and 11 in the ICU. It also reported four new deaths.

Balint says the policy would prepare Vermont for whatever surge comes next. “I believe that we will be here again in another surge at some point and that’s what my concern is -- and the speaker’s as well -- is making sure that we’re planning for that eventuality, whether it’s in a few months or a year from now,” Balint said.

Lawmakers penciled in a time to meet in mid-October, but Balint says it’s unlikely that they’ll reconvene. She stresses that a political fight at the Statehouse isn’t what Vermonters need or want. A key committee is meeting this week to determine whether lawmakers will return for an in-person session in January.

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