Facial Masking

Vermont Lawmakers Approve Bill That Allows Towns to Require Masks

On Monday, Vermont lawmakers approved a bill that would allow individual towns and cities to pass temporary legislation maskMandates, but only after blasting Gov. Phil Scott was the one who gave them the freedom to choose.

The bill passed the special legislative session by wide margins — 17-10 in the Senate and 90-41 in the House — but many lawmakers who voted for it said they did so only because Scott continued to oppose the broader maskThey preferred to be mandated.

“What we need is a statewide response,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint (D-Windham). “We need our executive branch, our governor and our Department of Health to step up and protect the people of Vermont when we are facing the most challenging and difficult time of the pandemic in Vermont.”

That wasn’t part of the deal, however, a fact that deeply frustrated lawmakers who worried that deep inequities could emerge from a town-by-town, patchwork response to the global pandemic.

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Kevin McCallum ©️ Seven Days

The Vermont House of Representatives on Monday

Vermont has seen its infection rate rise from the lowest to the highest in the nation. According to state officials, rates rose by 16 percent over the week before and by 64 percent over the course of two weeks.

Rep. Tanya Vyhovsky (P/D-Essex) said Scott has “abdicated his responsibility”To protect Vermonters, just like when the state gave back-to-school decisions to individual school boards. Vyhovsky indicated that she would support any limited exceptions to the law. maskIt might still be beneficial for some cities or towns to have a mandate bill.

“I am forced to vote for a policy I do not support on its merits because it is better than nothing at all,”Vyhovsky stated.

Scott stopped Brattleboro’s August election. mask mandate, arguing that without a state of emergency, the city didn’t have the authority to enact such rules for anything except its municipal buildings.

As COVID-19 infections spiked, pressure increased throughout the fall. More municipalities expressed interest and lawmakers sharpened their criticisms of the governor.

Scott was willing to give limited authority to local mandates if the legislature endorsed the Vermont League of Cities and Towns’ recent support for giving local governments this power.

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The Vermont Senate on Monday - KEVIN MCCALLUM ©️ SEVEN DAYS

Kevin McCallum ©️ Seven Days

The Vermont Senate on Monday

Monday’s law provides that city councils or selectboards may now require facial coverings to be worn in public or private buildings that are open. The local ordinances are effective from November 29 to April 30, 2022.

Libraries and town offices are not the only buildings included in this exemption. Supermarkets and most retail stores are also included. Exempt are schools and buildings that are not open to the public, such as private homes or office building. Temporary mandates are only allowed for up to 45 days with 30-day extensions.

Burlington could be one of the municipalities that creates a local code, but it’s not clear when city officials will act.

“We are reviewing the legislation and considering it carefully, and will have more details to release before the holiday,”Samantha Sheehan, spokesperson for Mayor Miro Weinberger, stated in a statement.

Scott’s general counsel, Jay Pershing Johnson, said the governor’s willingness to sign the law reflected a spirit of compromise with lawmakers and his desire not to dilute his executive authority.

“We are using a constitutional process to get to this resolution rather than unilateral executive action,”She spoke before the House Committee on Government Operations.

Opponents, mostly Republicans, were not pleased with the bill and condemned it. Sen. Randy Brock (R.Franklin), called the push for maskMandates “heavy handed”This is risky “hardening the attitudes”Among the few Vermonters who opposed to maskWhen necessary, wear it

“I don’t not believe this bill is helpful, and I do not believe this bill will accomplish what was intended,”Brock said.

Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) said that high transmission rates were a concern, but a number of other metrics such as the state’s high vaccination and low hospitalization rates made mandates unnecessary.

Rep. Mark Higley (R, Lowell) stated that residents in his district had ample reason to question whether government overreach was a risk. He cited a report where police officers threatened to arrest students for trespassing because they did not follow school rules. mask policies.

“This is just ludicrous in my mind,”Higley said.

Critics of the bill gathered outside the Statehouse to protest the proposal being discussed inside. Ann Wakeen, 58 of Woodbury was arrested for criminal Trespassing after refusing to leave the Statehouse according to a report by the Capitol Police Department.

Andy Loughney, Guilford, stood in the rain outside of the Statehouse holding a large sign that said: “It’s a quick and slippery slope to Tyranny.”

Encourage people to wear masksHe said that it was fine but that requiring it violated personal liberties. How is a person supposed to eat, he asked, if they don’t want to wear a maskIt is not required for public consumption, but it is required by all food markets in the area.

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Protestors outside the Statehouse on Monday - KEVIN MCCALLUM ©️ SEVEN DAYS

Kevin McCallum ©️ Seven Days

Protestors outside the Statehouse on Monday

While he acknowledged that giving local government the power to do something on a limited basis wasn’t quite tyranny, he said the protest was a prelude to the inevitable battle in Brattleboro.

“This is just the start,”Loughney said this as his child fell onto a slippery sheet made of plastic on the Statehouse lawn.

Balint reminded her fellow senators that they often talk about the importance of local control. Scott refused to grant Brattleboro, a community that has a high percentage of tourists, control over its citizens’ health.

“We are here because they passed that [ordinance] and then were told by the governor that he wouldn’t not sign off,”She said. “That’s why we’re here.”

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