Special session could ease dispute over mask mandates in Vermont

Coronavirus

MONTPELIER, Vt. – Governor Phil Scott and state lawmakers appear to be nearing an agreement on the contentious issue of mask mandates.

Scott has invited legislators back for a special session to pass a bill that would allow Vermont municipalities to mandate masks.

“I’ve asked for this authority to end April 30, and that municipalities have to re-vote on it every 30 days, just like we did with the state of emergency,” Governor Scott said. “I’ve been clear with them that this is as far as I’m willing to go.”

The compromise hasn’t exactly settled disagreements between the Governor and legislative leaders.

In a joint statement, Senate Pro Tem Becca Balint and House Speaker Jill Krowinski said they’re happy to move forward with the Governor’s proposal, but disappointed he didn’t go further.

“This is not what we had envisioned as a response to this moment in the pandemic, when Vermont has one of the highest case rates in the country,” they said.

For several months now, the Delta surge has prompted some to call for a different mitigation strategy. Until recently, Governor Scott hadn’t shown interest in changing course. Aside from the proposal on the table, that remains the case.

“I will veto anything else,” Governor Scott said.

At Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing, he was once again pressed on his reluctance to introduce new mandates or declare a State of Emergency.

“That goes against everything I have said, I think I’ve made my position very clear,” Governor Scott said. “I don’t believe that we need to impose any mandates at this point in time, we don’t have a State of Emergency. I’m not going to enact my emergency powers to do so.”

In recent weeks, Governor Scott had wondered whether Vermonters would still comply with a mask mandate at this stage of the pandemic. State Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Tuesday that he’s been reaching out to health officials in areas that currently have a mask mandate to learn more, but they’re few and far between.

“We’ve had so few states that have had mandates during this time, the word is not in on how successful that modality can be in this era,” Dr. Levine said.

State officials also offered some tips to stay safe during holiday gatherings – those tips are available on the Vermont Department of Health website.

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