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Source: Gov. Scott offers local mask mandate compromise to lawmakers, towns

Published: Nov. 15, 2021 at 3:51 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 16, 2021 at 7:01 AM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont municipalities could be getting the tools they need from the governor and lawmakers to pass their own mask mandates, but only for a limited time frame.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott says he’s open to allowing towns to create their own mask mandates-- with restrictions. That’s according to a letter to top lawmakers late Monday afternoon.

In the letter to the House speaker and Senate pro tem, the governor reiterated his position that he does not think that a statewide mask mandate or a state of emergency are needed. But he said it’s clear lawmakers and many towns want more tools to fight the virus as cases rise in Vermont.

As COVID-19 cases set new record daily highs last week, top legislative leaders and the Vermont League of Cities and Towns amped up their calls for the governor to take action. We’re told our interview last week with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, where they called on the governor to allow municipalities to create their own mask mandates, inspired the governor to offer this compromise to the Legislature and towns.

“Maybe the best thing to do is to allow municipalities to impose a general mask mandate in their community if they are in a community with a significant increase in cases,” VLCT’s Karen Horn told WCAX on Thursday.

Here’s the compromise the governor is now proposing for lawmakers:

  • The mask mandates would be narrow for towns that do pass them, focusing on their indoor spaces only.
  • Schools are not included in that.
  • The mandates would expire at end of April.
  • Each town would need to renew theirs every 30 days.
  • They would be able to start on Nov. 29 or earlier if lawmakers pass it before then.

In order for all that to happen, lawmakers need to hold a special session to grant municipalities that power.

The governor’s letter Monday gives them the chance to come back and do that on Nov. 22.

So what happens next is up to leaders in the House and Senate, and whether they agree with the terms of the governor’s compromise.

A source tells WCAX the governor will veto any other pandemic restrictions that lawmakers might want to add during that special session.

House Speaker, Jill Krowinski and Senate President Pro Tem, Becca Balint issued the following statement:

“We appreciated meeting with the Governor and discussing ways to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and the differences of opinion in the ways that we believe we should move forward. In our meeting today, the Governor told us that he would support the passage of legislation, similar to a proposal made by the League of Cities and Towns last week, granting limited authority to municipalities to mandate masks in their communities. While we appreciate this step toward giving Vermonters more tools to promote public health, we are deeply disappointed that there is not a broader approach to keeping Vermonters safe and our health care system afloat.

“Under current law, the Governor has the authority to approve local public health measures without the need for the legislature to reconvene, but at this point, we believe that taking any action is better than continuing down the path that we are currently on when it comes to preventing the spread of disease. The Governor has the authority to act now and he has also made it very clear that if the legislature attempted to pass any legislation other than what he has proposed during this special session, he would veto it. We are still discussing all policy options and will work with public health experts to help us evaluate alternative public health actions.

“Again, while this it is not what we had envisioned as a response to this moment in the pandemic, when Vermont has one of the highest case rates in the country, if it takes the legislature reconvening to step in on behalf of Vermonters, we are more than happy to provide a tool to help mitigate the spread of the virus in our communities.”

You can read a copy of the governor’s letter to lawmakers here.

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