MONTPELIER – In two weeks, the Vermont Legislature will reconvene for the 2022 session, and while initial plans called for a relative return to business as usual, COVID has forced lawmakers to reconsider how they’ll go about their work.
The rules the Vermont Legislature operated under last year that allowed them to meet remotely are set to expire on January 7. On Tuesday, the Senate Rules Committee met to discuss possible protocols for the 2022 session — a conversation that didn’t seem necessary just a few months ago.
“This is really challenging for all of us, what we really want to do is be together and do our work together, and just did not think we’d be here at this point, looking at another surge,” said Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint.
Now, Balint and the rules committee are working on a measure that would allow lawmakers to meet remotely until at least Town Meeting day.
“If we come back and then have to scramble to do something, then we’re really putting ourselves in a hard place,” said Sen. Cheryl Hooker. “Why not give us that flexibility to that point?”
Lawmakers who would rather go back to working in person will notice plastic barriers separating them from members of the public, who won’t need to present proof of vaccination. There have been discussions on mandating vaccination for legislators.
“Among many of the questions that are being raised about all of this — masking, testing, vaccines, etcetera — has been the constitutionality of us doing any of those things particularly when it reflects on members of the body,” said Sen. Randy Brock.
Unvaccinated lawmakers would be able to participate remotely, or possibly comply with regular COVID-19 testing. A public meeting on all of this is scheduled for early January, but Sen. Brock questioned whether that’s too little too late.
“I think many people feel that they have opinions and concerns on these issues and that they haven’t been heard,” Brock said.
Members of the public are encouraged to provide proof of vaccination, and the legislature will also be providing rapid COVID tests for those entering any legislative space.