House lawmakers rush to Vt. Statehouse to vote on COVID-19 bills

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont lawmakers rushed to the Statehouse on Wednesday to try to get a package of COVID-19 bills passed. Our Calvin Cutler explains what happened.

Dozens of legislators had to scramble to Montpelier from across the state to vote on the package of bills passed by the Senate on Tuesday to expand unemployment and health care access.

House lawmakers also voted on whether they can vote remotely so they can continue to work from home.

But then Rep. Cynthia Browning of Arlington called a quorum, meaning more than half of the 150 members of the House had to be physically present.

Seventy-six lawmakers from across the state hopped in their cars and made their way to the Statehouse to vote.

Browning says she halted the proceedings because one of the resolutions undermined the democratic operations of the House.

"Approving a resolution which says we have remote voting using remote voting, I don't think that's right. I think Vermonters want things to be done properly, they want their reps to have a say in the proceedings, speak up and vote for them," said Browning, D-Arlington.

"We put out an all-House email saying we need you at the Statehouse in two hours and an unbelievable response came back with this tripartisan cavalry of Democrats, independents and Republicans stepping up and saying we'll be right there," said Rep. Mitzi Johnson, D-Vt. House Speaker.

Leading up to Wednesday, there was bipartisan support for the COVID-19 bills which had been agreed upon through negotiations last week.

Many lawmakers told WCAX News they understand that Browning is standing up for her constitutional right. But many are also frustrated that this vote brought dozens of lawmakers back into one room, posing potential health concerns amid the coronavirus outbreak

Lawmakers were able to pass the bills, meaning unemployment benefits will be expanded and health care workers will have more resources to fight the coronavirus.

House leadership and legislative staff scrambled to figure out how to fit 76 people into the House chamber while maintaining social distancing.

They were all able to fit in the chamber and vote from different locations like on windowsills, in the balcony and other places out of their seats.