By Guy Page
Gov. Phil Scott and the leadership of the Vermont House and Senate have agreed to hold a special session of the Legislature to consider legislation allowing municipalities to require masks indoors in public places.
Speaker of the House Jill Krowinski and Senate Pro Tem Becca Balint say that because Gov. Scott won’t reimpose a State of Emergency and require masking, it’s up to the Legislature to act. Gov. Scott disagrees a masked mandate is either necessary or effective but agreed to make preparations for a Special Session beginning Monday, Nov. 22.
In a letter to the two legislative body leaders, Scott outlined the parameters for a bill he would promise not to veto:
First, the legislation must be limited to facial covering requirements indoors within a municipality’s jurisdiction (except schools, which shall remain governed by the policies set forth by the local school board) for the specific, and exclusive, purpose of addressing COVID-19.
Second, the legislation must allow each municipality to enact, by action of the municipality’s governing body, a mask mandate beginning Monday, November 29, 2021, or upon passage, whichever is earlier.
Third, the legislation and authority to impose a local mask mandate shall sunset on April 30, 2022.
Vermont Daily Chronicle asked more than a dozen lawmakers, selected from Republicans, Democrats, and Progressives, to give their opinions on a municipal mask mandate. The most lengthy, in-depth reply came from Underhill-Jericho Rep. Dr. George Till, a strong supporter of a broader mask mandate. Rep. Vicki Strong (Albany) and Sen. Russ Ingalls also responded. Their thoughts are printed verbatim below.
Also, Rep. Till and Rep. Strong will be my guests on WDEV Common Sense Radio, AM 550 and FM 96.1, today at 11 a.m. to discuss their thoughts and take questions and comments from the listening audience. The public is welcome to call in at 802-244-1777.
Sen. Russ Ingalls: I’m against any mandate including mask mandate. I believe that Vermonters have done what’s asked of them, from flattening the curve, to nearly full lockdown for months to getting 90% of the population vaccinated. We are on the downhill side of this and Vermonters aren’t interested in mandates being pushed by the Democrats and Progressives.
Rep. Till: It is an outrage that the Governor is requiring the cost and inconvenience of a Special Session for something he could do himself. Let alone that this will apparently require an in person session at the Statehouse endangering a lot of at risk people.
However, mitigation of the Delta Variant COVID surge is long overdue, so if the Governor is unwilling to take steps, then yes, the legislature should meet.
What we should pass is not what the Governor is recommending. Leaving it to municipal governments is certain to cause conflict and put local authorities in difficult situations.
A far better approach is what has been done in some other states, using a data driven approach. Use the data driven approach some other states are using. Some states are basing mask mandates on the county level rate of transmission of COVID which is reported daily by the CDC. If there are substantial or high levels of transmission for multiple consecutive days, the county mandate kicks in. If there are lower levels of transmission for a sustained time, the mandate automatically stops. It accomplishes the regional approach without putting local authorities in a contentious situation.
Rep. Strong: I am not in favor of the legislature getting involved in mask mandates of any kind. I believe in personal responsibility and bodily autonomy for every individual as we each decide what is best for us. I would rather that the Governor hold firm to not allowing mandates and to leave the decisions up to the people.