The Vermont Senate met at the Statehouse in Montpelier Tuesday and passed a series of measures to assure state operations can continue during the coronavirus pandemic. The chamber also passed measures to increase aid to Vermonters who need additional help.
State Senators practiced CDC recommended social distancing by limiting those physically present in the chamber to the minimum for a quorum. The remaining Senators participated by phone.
The first order of business was a series of resolutions assuring that government operations will continue despite the closure of the Statehouse. The Senate Secretary read the first, which allows government committees to meet and vote electronically. “The Rules Committee is vested with the authority to permit Senate committees, including itself, to meet and vote electronically as the Rules Committee determines appropriate.”
Senate President David Zuckerman: “Now you’ve heard the reading of the resolution. The question is: Shall the Senate adopt the resolution? Are you ready for the question? If so all those in favor please indicate by saying aye.”
Zuckerman: “Those opposed indicate by saying nay. The ayes have it and you have adopted SR10.”
Senators also approved a resolution to postpone a joint assembly to vote on the retention of five superior judges and one environmental judge.
After the resolutions were passed rules were suspended to allow immediate consideration of bills to deal with the coronavirus update and its potential long-term impacts.
Addison District Democrat Chris Bray outlined a measure to protect elections later this year, including provisions requiring mail balloting, extending voting hours, school budget voting and public monitoring of polling places. “On something as vital as elections we wanted to make sure that it was absolutely clear and transparent that we’re working together to prepare new processes in order to implement voting.”
A bill related to the health care dealt with insurers, regulations and reporting requirements. Lamoille Republican Richard Westman said the bill includes provisions that would grant temporary licenses to retired medical providers and individuals who have completed medical courses but are not yet licensed and allow out of state medical personnel to use telehealth in Vermont. “The idea is to expand the number of people that can perform the work.”
Vermont’s unemployment insurance fund currently has $500 million in its reserves. Windsor Democrat Alison Clarkson outlined a bill that provides temporary unemployment benefits during the pandemic. “This bill allows Vermonters who voluntarily leave their jobs to qualify for unemployment insurance benefits if they leave to self-isolate or quarantine at the recommendation or directive of a health care provider because the individual has been diagnosed with, symptomatic for, exposed to, or in a high-risk category with respect to COVID-19. In addition anyone laid off because of COVID-19 would also qualify for unemployment insurance benefits.”
Caledonia Republican Joe Benning offered parting thoughts as the session closed. “I am very proud to be a member of this Senate but it is necessary to talk about others like the person who stocks the shelves in our grocery stores. Those faces of workers who we have normally taken for granted who are actually on the front lines of where this common enemy is today and we cannot forget them. I am thinking Mr. President of those teachers delivering food to children in the Northeast Kingdom. I’m thinking Mr. President of those individuals who are in the gas stations that we need to get our gasoline from. We are all rising up to the occasion.”
Audio from the Vermont Statehouse is courtesy of the live webstream provided by Vermont Public Radio.