In its second week, the Vermont Legislature is looking ahead to Town Meeting Day and working on legislation that would continue the election flexibility given to cities and towns during the pandemic.
“It has really expedited things that are important to businesses and members of the community…and it has just been able to keep people safe,” said Michael McCarthy, the chair of the House’s Committee on Government Operations.
Lawmakers passed several bills last biennium allowing communities to make short-term, covid-conscious changes to Town Meeting Days, and to bring many municipal board meetings online.
Three-fourths of Vermont communities have opted for changes — using mail-in ballots or moving their town meeting days back to the warmer months — which has led to more community participation and engagement.
The rules are set to expire this week, but McCarthy says they are looking to potentially extend them temporarily.
“We hear testimony and carefully consider this, but move with some urgency so that folks that have gotten used to and depend on having these authorizations that they can continue to use these policies especially while the pandemic is still with us,” he said.
He adds it’s a possibility that permanent legislation could be revisited, and some lawmakers say allowing meetings to keep happening online is crucial for some communities.
“On some of these small select boards and city council, even getting a quorum is quite difficult so if you had a couple of folks go down with an illness, we were still able to function,” said Rep. Conor Casey, a former Montpelier city councilor.
With Town Meeting Day less than two months away, immediate action is essential.
The 219 communities taking part in Town Meeting on March 7 need to inform citizens of any changes 30 days ahead.
McCarthy also said that he personally has been receiving several requests from municipalities to extend these provisions, and says the continual expansion of broadband systems in Vermont will be a vital part aspect in potential further legislation.