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Vermont Joint Rules Committee Hears Report On Safely Reopening Statehouse For In Person Proceedings

Vermont Statehouse (file)
WAMC/Pat Bradley
Vermont Statehouse (file)

The Joint Rules Committee of the Vermont Legislature met recently to hear a report on recommended safety precautions for the upcoming legislative session. The committee also required that masks will be required indoors.

The Vermont Legislative Advisory Committee on the State House has been meeting over the summer to formulate recommendations on how legislators, staff and the public can safely return to in person work in the building.

Clerk of the House BetsyAnn Wrask explained why the Joint Rules Committee is receiving the report and has jurisdiction to implement the report’s recommendations.

“Joint Rules address things like joint assemblies, bill procedures, committees of conference and other miscellaneous provisions including public conduct in the Statehouse, " noted Wrask. "Right now your joint rules generally requires people to refrain from conduct that would create a risk of harm to others or disrupt essential government operations. And so from this we can see that Joint Rules it really does have a focus on public conduct within the Statehouse.”

The Advisory Committee’s 28 recommendations include that legislative proceedings occur within the Statehouse with a reevaluation later in the year due to the fluidity of the pandemic. The committee also suggests allowing continued access to the Statehouse by media and the public, subject to health mitigation measures. The report suggests limiting tour groups, imposing room capacity limits and continuing video conferencing and livestreaming.

Springfield Democratic House Representative Alice Emmons and advisory committee chair said members met throughout the summer to debate and formulate the report.

“The recommendations in this report were made at a point in time. The COVID-19 situation is fluid and decisions pertaining to the General Assembly’s return to the Statehouse should be made as the year progresses," said Emmons. "We have not agreed on everything and our report reflects our debates and our decisions. But we are all in agreement that meeting in the Statehouse next January will require flexibility and a willingness to adapt. And that really sums up our recommendations and our work.”

The Joint Rules Committee also considered immediately implementing a mask policy that requires everyone over age 2 entering legislative spaces within the capitol complex, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a facial covering. House Speaker Jill Krowinski, a Democrat, says the temporary policy was crafted in the wake of the Delta surge and increased pandemic concerns.

“Not everyone is vaccinated yet and we have many members and staff members and members of the public who are who cannot get vaccinated yet because of their age. In the fall we’re going to have more people in the building because we are gearing up for legislative session and it is tour season. We’re going to be getting some tour busses in." Krowinski continues, "And I just think at this point in time given the data that we’ve been seeing and the concern I’ve heard from members we wanted to put this forward for discussion and a vote.”

The Joint Rules Committee passed the mask mandate unanimously.