Vermont lawmakers consider changes at the Statehouse as COVID continues

Published: Oct. 10, 2022 at 6:02 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont lawmakers are trying to figure out what the upcoming legislative session should look like as COVID continues.

At this point in the year, Vermont’s Statehouse is brimming with visitors from around the globe. But in the next few months, the Statehouse will be chock full of lawmakers, so decision-makers in Montpelier are making pandemic preparations.

The pandemic and social distancing measures forced lawmakers to conduct their work remotely. Two-and-a-half years later, lawmakers are once again holding the COVID conversation.

“We’ll continue to monitor and update policies as we get closer to January,” said Rep. Jill Krowinski, D-Vt. House Speaker.

The Health Department ranks Vermont’s community COVID levels as low.

So next session, rapid antigen tests will no longer be free for the public and masking will be optional. And unlike pre-pandemic, committee meetings will continue to be streamed online so Vermonters will be able to tune in or testify on legislation from all corners of the state.

“We did really good work creating this platform online,” Krowinski said.

There’s no decision yet on whether lawmakers will be able to vote remotely.

Meanwhile, the concern of coronavirus in cramped committee rooms also jump-started the conversation about legislative space, a long-simmering conversation about whether to add on to the Statehouse.

Outgoing state Sen. Joe Benning says if the Legislature moved forward with an expansion, it would likely be a new floor above the cafeteria.

“By turning what’s now a cafeteria into a series of House committee rooms. The rest of the building would probably be brought back to normal,” said Benning, R-Caledonia County.

The Legislature has two requests for proposals for contractors to assess whether changes need to be made and where and how to expand if necessary. But first, lawmakers are moving forward with plans to overhaul the building’s airflow problems with a new HVAC system.

“Because of supply chain issues and other issues, it doesn’t look like we’ll have that work done until 2024,” Krowinski said.