By Guy Page
The Vermont Legislature will reconvene in person tomorrow at 10 AM for the second half of the 2021-22 biennium tomorrow. Both Senate and House are expected to immediately vote to meet remotely via Zoom for at least two weeks.
The decision to not meet in person during the first two weeks of the session was made by the Joint Rules Committee last week, in response to concerns about the growing number of Omicron-variant cases of Covid-19. The committee promised to revisit the need for a remote Legislature two weeks after tomorrow.
Vermont hit a single-day record of 1,352 reported cases Thursday Dec. 30, passing the previous day’s record of 940. Four more deaths were reported, bringing the official Vermont Covid-19 death total to 471.
During the in-person House gathering tomorrow, the downstairs public gallery will be closed to the public, and instead will be occupied by socially-distanced House members. The upstairs gallery press section will be open. The upstairs gallery public section will be limited to 20 people, on a first-come-first-serve basis, per order of the Speaker of the House, State House officials said today.
Vicki Strong update – Rep. Vicki Strong (R-Albany) plans to attend the first day of the Legislature in person. She hopes her request for a religious exemption will excuse her from the Joint Rules requirement that all lawmakers and legislative staff either show proof of vaccination or submit to a test.
“I plan on respectfully attending the first day of the legislative session tomorrow morning. I have submitted my statement of faith, a religious exemption, and simply explained my reasons for not sending in a vaccination status,” Strong told Vermont Daily Chronicle today. “I will wear a mask going into the building but I hope that as the weeks progress they will loosen the mask restriction and allow us more freedom in that regard.”
But regardless, she will not comply with either, she has said in recent statements.
Statewide Mask Mandate? – Both Speaker of the House Jill Krowinski and Senate Pro Tem Becca Balint have said the Legislature may consider a statewide mask mandate, to replace the municipal mask mandate law enacted in November. At present, 92 towns are saying no to a local mask mandate, with 20 saying yes. Middlebury College political science professor Bert Johnson told WAMC today he expects to see legislative action on a statewide mandate.
New look for old rooms – If/when the Legislature returns to in-person committee meetings, their committee rooms will look a lot different. For example, big public gathering rooms like Room 10, Room 11, and the Coat Room have been converted into committee rooms to provide more social distancing. They are also equipped with large video screens to allow committees to take witness testimony remotely.
Even the venerable legislative lounge – the only State House room where lawmakers gather but the public is not been welcome – has been converted into the House Appropriations Committee room.