by Guy Page
Before addressing a temporary municipal mask mandate bill, Vermont senators meeting today in special session first approved a resolution urging Gov. Phil Scott to reimpose a State of Emergency.
The resolution passed 18-9. The discussion revealed many of the senators’ positions pro and con. Gov. Scott has repeatedly said he will not enact another SOE under current circumstances.
Tension and confusion surfaced in the minutes before and after Lt. Gov. Molly Gray rapped the opening gavel.
Clearly stressed with last minute details before the opening of the Special Session, Secretary of the Senate John Bloomer laid a firm hand on the shoulder of a reporter chatting with a senator, directing him to leave the Senate floor “while the Senate is in session.” He also cited legislative Covid-19 guidelines. Protests that the Senate was not in session yet was met by a terse repetition.
When the gavel fell, 12 senators were physically present; the rest attended via Zoom. In the opening minutes, Gray declared the resolution to immediately take up the bill passed by 22-6 on a division vote. Sen. Christopher Pearson (P-Chittenden) noted only 27 senators responded to the roll call, and “your division had 28.” Gray subsequently changed the vote to 21-6, explaining a Zoom vote had been double-counted.
Then the Senate got down to discussing whether to endorse resolution SR-4, urging the governor to enact a State of Emergency.
“I do not believe this resolution is necessary,” Sen. Randy Brock (R- Franklin) said, citing low hospitalization and death rates during the delta wave. He criticized the resolution’s “attempt to micromanage” the State’s pandemic response.
“Our case rate has gone through a roller coaster, and no one seems to understand why,” Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) said. Both hospitalization and ICU Covid cases are down at present, he said.
Benning noted that the Agency of Human Services said that right now, 991 adult patient hospital beds are open. 56 beds are occupied by Covid. 93 adult ICU beds are open. 12 are filled with Covid patients.
Those numbers speak volumes about the current level of non-crisis, Benning said.
The resolution claims Covid-19 is “worse than it’s ever been and that’s not true,” Benning said. “We are nowhere near the point of crisis now. For what reason are we insisting the governor declare a State of Emergency?”
Benning agreed Vermont schools are a mess due to Covid-19, adding that masking impacts children, too. “We need to look further into this narrative.”
Sen. Alison Clarkson said Benning’s stats don’t tell the story about impact on students and parents.
“We thought our vaccine wall would protect us, and it isn’t,” Clarkson said.
Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale said this is a time for the many to sacrifice to save the lives of the few. Sen. Richard McCormack (D-Windsor) said the choice to not vaccinate carries with it the obligation to not make others breathe their exhalations.
“I do support a Declaration of Emergency,” Sen. Thomas Chittenden said. “I do not support the use of that tool within State Government.”
Sen Mark MacDonald likened Gov. Scott to a “Gold Glove fielder” – not much gets by him. Like good team players, the Senate needs to back him up because “even great fielders let one go by.”
At 11:10, the resolution passed and the Senate took up S1, the Temporary Municipal Mask Mandate bill.