senate may soon meet, vote remotely

PHOTO: screenshot from Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe Sunday night Facebook message.

Senate to vote Tuesday on meeting and voting remotely, expanding unemployment insurance and telemedicine, extending DMV renewal deadline

By Guy Page

March 23, 2020 – As reported by Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe (D/P Chittenden) during his Sunday evening Facebook report, the Vermont Senate will meet in their chambers at the Vermont State House Tuesday to:

  • Adopt legislative rules to allow remote Senate meetings and voting
  • Change Vermont Open Meeting Law to allow local and state government (not including Legislature) to meet remotely
  • Affirm in state law Department of Motor Vehicle’s emergency 90-day extension for license and registration renewal
  • Expand unemployment insurance
  • Expand telemedicine

Both time and meeting guidelines regarding press and general public attendance were unclear as of 8:30 Monday morning, Sgt. at Arms Janet Miller said. Details will be published later today on an updated Senate Calendar. Ashe said the Senate will practice “social distancing” by having just enough senators present to hold a vote. He said he expects the measures to pass by consensus. He is encouraging non-participants not to come.

If the Senate opts to hold meetings remotely, it will allow the body to take action during the State of Emergency and State House shutdown on climate-related legislation that many of its members have said are a high priority: House bills for the revision of Act 250, the Global Warming Solutions Act, and its own bills to allow the governor to join the Transportation & Climate Initiative, require 100% instate renewable power by 2050, and amend the Vermont Constitution to make natural resources the common property of the people.

Ashe explained why the Senate must meet in person to allow future remote meeting/voting: “The Senate is governed by rules,” Ashe said. “And one of our rules is that a senator shall be seated in his or her seat when voting. The reason for cherishing the rules we have is to make sure that both sides are treated fairly. They are there to protect whichever side is in the minority at the time.”

“We are going to move to create more flexibilty for remote senate voting,” Ashe said. “We are going to have to figure out what technology ensures that the individual senator can be clearly heard and hopefully seen.”

Ashe concluded his evening Facebook message by noting, “ We are expected to face a multi hundreds of million reduction in state revenue just over the next few months.” The times are “very bleak” but “we are all in this together, in the collective challenge before us. We are experiencing this individually, But our response needs to be collective.”

Correction: Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas (D-Bradford) is indeed a “D,” not an “R” as indicated in a photo caption this weekend.