Vermont Legislature gavels into session and goes remote
MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont’s citizen legislature returned briefly to Montpelier for a new biennium. But thanks to the omicron variant, Tuesday’s in-person reunion was short-lived.
lawmakers were back under the golden dome Tuesday... mostly. The 30-member Senate gaveled in the second half of the biennium remotely. But in the House chamber, Lawmakers appeared in person to kick off the session and to pass one policy, voting 106 to 19 to allow remote legislating for two weeks in an effort to ride out the omicron wave and avoid lawmaker quarantines that could strain the session.
“I think it’s really important that we start off our work in a way that is productive and we don’t have to shut down because of COVID cases in the building,” said House Speaker Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington.
The Statehouse brings legislators--including many seniors--from across the state into small committee rooms. Their work will be broadcast and recorded online for all Vermonters to see.
But some say this session’s issues are too complex to be debated online. “Madame speaker, out of deference to you and the work that has gone into allowing us to work remotely, I will support this today, but it will be the last time,” said Rep. Laura Sibilia I-Dover.
Others are leery of the optics of meeting remotely while thousands are working in person and children have returned to classrooms. “That message is something that I think is really problematic and is detrimental to our relationship with our constituents. My constituents are saying, ‘Who do you think you are?’” said Rep. Heidi Schuermann, R-Stowe.
As lawmakers once again boot up their computers, they’re faced with a heavy workload including housing, climate change, abortion rights protections, education finance reform, pension reform, legislative reapportionment, and how to disburse millions in COVID cash.
“I am optimistic that we can start this off and focus on the issues and the policies where we will have some consensus, and we will be talking about that more throughout the week,” Krowinski said.
And there could be new pandemic policies too. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee will be exploring masking policies approved in Nevada, New York, and California.
Lawmakers will now conduct their business remotely until January 18th and will re-evaluate infection data before then.
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