Legislature passes municipal mask mandate

Rep. Mark Higley (R-Lowell) expresses concern about possible criminal penalties in the municipal mask mandate bill. The House rejected an amendment to eliminate any possible criminal penalties and passed the bill 90-41. Page photo

By Guy Page

The Vermont Legislature, meeting Monday in Special Session, approved a municipal mask mandate. 

The Democratic House majority turned aside Republican and independent concerns about enforcement. The final vote was 90-41 (see head count below). 

ENFORCEMENT, PENALTIES – Much of the questioning by critics focused on possible enforcement of a municipal mask ordinance. In particular, several lawmakers were very concerned about the possibility of criminal penalties of up to a year in jail. 

Early in the floor discussion, Rep. Mark Higley (R-Lowell) expressed concern about the bill giving towns the power to impose civil and criminal penalties. He recounted the November 4 episode in which Mike and Amy Desautels were threatened by a state trooper with arrest for trespassing or losing custody of their maskless Lowell Graded School second-grader if they didn’t immediately take her home.

“You can’t tell me there isn’t another alternative besides having parents being met by state police. I can guarantee there will be other situations,” Higley said.

“Who’s gonna enforce it?,” Higley asked. “This is just ludicrous in my mind.” 

Brandon-Pittsford Republican Butch Shaw asked if anything in the bill prevented “an overzealous governing body” to enact criminal penalties. John Gannon (D-Wilmington) said criminal penalties would be permittted under the law. 

Rep. Anne Donahue (R-Northfield/Berlin) asked whether a municipality could impose a felony criminal penalty. In response, Rep. Gannon said a municipality could impose jail terms of up to one year. 

Donahue proposed an amendment eliminating criminal penalties for infractions. There is precedent – animal control laws cannot be felonies, Donohue said. Mask wearers should not end up with a criminal record, she said. The amendment proposed by Donohue removing possible criminal convictions failed 46-86.

Jim Harrison (R-Mendon) asked if masking penalties under Gov. Phil Scott’s State of Emergency masking penalties were criminal or civil. The Governor’s Executive Order did not specify penalties, he was told. 

“I came into this chamber today – I want this pandemic to be over with. I took the shot, I wear the mask,” Harrison said. “I want it to be done. I am not a health expert. I do not think we should have criminal penalties.”

It’s unlikely people who aren’t wearing masks will be stirred to wear masks by a municipal mandate, Barbara Murphy (I-Fairfax) said. She also expressed concern about possible criminal penalties. “I do ask that we seach our hearts if this is the proper thing to be doing.”

CHURCHES: Vicki Strong (R-Albany) asked whether a municipal ordinance would cover houses of worship – “how would that work?” she asked. Gannon said the ordinance would impact all buildings “open to the public.” 

“Okay, so that would affect houses of worship, churches,” Strong said. 

“The right to our bodily autonomy is vital,” as is “the right to refuse or accept any medical treatment,” Strong said. “I will be voting no.”

WON’T AFFECT SCHOOLS – When Erin Brady (D-Williston) argued for the municipal mask mandate due to the effect of the pandemic on public schools, several Republican lawmakers – including Higley – argued that the bill specifically exempts schools from the bill. House Speaker Jill Krowinski then called a meeting of Republican, Democratic, Progressive and independent caucus leaders. After a several minute discussion, Brady clarified that the pandemic is affecting the entire community – including schools. 

WHAT’S NEXT? Municipalities will have 45 days to enact an ordinance. Selectboard approval only is necessary – it doesn’t need to go to voters, Karen Horn, spokesperson for Vermont League of Cities and Towns, said. Mask freedom groups are predicting lively opposition on the local level, although local leaders in Brattleboro (hometown of Sen. Pro Tem Becca Balint) and Burlington (hometown of House Speaker Jill Krowinski) have already signaled their eagerness to adopt a local mass mandate. Montpelier also is considered a likely candidate. As for the Legislature, Krowinski said they will be watching case loads and responses to the municipal mandate over the next two months. Other measures, including enhanced testing, contact tracing, and a statewide mask mandate, will be advanced if deemed necessary, she said.

DISSIDENT DEMOCRAT – Explaining his no vote after the bill passed, longtime selectboard member Democrat David Yacovone of Morristown said: “United we stand, divided we fall. This bill will divide us. The juice is simply not worth the squeeze.”

HOUSE ROLL CALL: How members of Vermont House of Representatives voted on S1, approving municipal mask mandate (screenshot credit Nov. 22 House Journal).

Terri Williams (R-Essex/Caledonia) also voted against the bill. Her name was unintentionally cut off from the screen shot below.

Categories: Legislation

12 replies »

  1. The fact that Donahue’s amendment to remove criminal penalties failed with almost the same vote as the final bill just shows you how power-hungry and vindictive these legislative clowns in Vermont really are. They not only want to force you to wear a mask against your better judgment. They insist on throwing you in jail and giving you a permanent criminal record if you refuse! It’s not up for argument folks – you’re going to jail.

    This is a cold hard reminder to us all that no matter how impotent or cursory a piece of legislation may appear on the surface, it is always enforced with cold, hard, ugly brute force.

    Pure evil.

  2. The bill specifically states that those with disabilities and even those who just can’t breathe while wearing one don’t have to, and no one can ask them about their disabilities or for proof. So all you have to say is that, and then you don’t have to worry about any penalties they try to impose…

    • The bill that was introduced and passed was stripped of any exemptions. Selectboards can decree whatever they want. It’s sickening.

  3. Interesting that Scott made no mention of enforcement or penalties in his very specific letter to the legislature. A felony conviction for failure to mask seems absurd, but no doubt some legislators are gleeful at the idea. Fortunately, I doubt that a felony charge would pass muster even in Vermont’s liberal judiciary. Certainly I would not be surprised if Chittenden County States Attorney Sarah George would prosecute, as maskless activities cannot be tolerated.
    The legislature- driven by the liberal left certainly has no desire for compromise nor freedom and unity. These misguided politicians will deepen the societal and political rifts in Vermont
    As mask mandates become enacted in your town, remember your smart phone. I’d bet VDC might just publish verifiable photos of these errant legislators -sans mask, pelosi style.

  4. 2 Chronicles 7:14 NKJV

    14 “if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

    Ephesians 6:12 NKJV

    12″For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”

  5. Altert to local towns/city authorties: Incoming hot potato! Some will gleefully catch it with both hands and have the drafted ordinance ready to roll. If you feel like you’re being ridden like a rented mule, you are and they are preparing you for the glue factory.

  6. Human Nature:
    “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Sir Winston Churchill

    The Milgram Experiment redux:
    How Far Will You Go to Obey an Order?
    Understand the infamous study and its conclusions about human nature

    Milgram’s Famous Experiment:
    “In the most well-known version of Stanley Milgram’s experiment, the 40 male participants were told that the experiment focused on the relationship between punishment, learning, and memory. The experimenter then introduced each participant to a second individual, explaining that this second individual was participating in the study as well. Participants were told that they would be randomly assigned to roles of ‘teacher’ and ‘learner’. However, the “second individual” was an actor hired by the research team, and the study was set up so that the true participant would always be assigned to the ‘teacher’ role.”

    Our select boards and school boards have now been designated by the VT Legislature (‘the experimenters’) as the ‘teachers’ of we, the public. We, the public, are ‘the learners’.

    The question, today however, is not in determining how much pain ‘the experimenters’ and ‘the teachers’ will inflict on ‘the learners’ to make their point, but how long we, ‘the learners’, who are NOT ‘hired actors’ (as in the experiment) will submit to them.

    I suggest readers keep the answer to this question to themselves, for obvious reasons., but act according to our inalienable right to life and liberty. After all, what goes around, comes around.

  7. If you are charged demand a jury trial. Fill up the judicial system. And remember one thing a jury can do is declare the defendant not guilty because they don’t agree with the law. Judges hate that ability and so won’t inform you.

  8. if your municipality enacts a mandate? shop, eat, travel elsewhere! when businesses get squeezed they’ll ask for a repeal of this insanity! a state with 90% vax rate for adults asking for a mask mandate,? it’s all about authority, power, control folks

  9. Difficulty arises because often, if not most of the time, persons have no idea what municipality or area he or she is actually traveling!