On March 18, 2020

Uncharted waters

By Rep. Jim Harrison

With the rapidly changing landscape, some of this may be outdated by the time it is published and read. For current information and guidance on the pandemic, please visit: healthvermont.gov/covid19. If you have questions, call 211.

If there was ever an unpredictable week at the State House, last week certainly fit the bill.  We are in an unprecedented time. The response to the COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly impacting everything we do, as public health officials struggle with how to best contain the virus.

On Tuesday, March 10, lawmakers returned from the town meeting week recess and jumped into action to get their priority bills advanced to meet deadlines for consideration this session. By Friday evening, the House was passing measures to give various agencies flexibility to deal with the outbreak. This was concurrent with Gov. Phi Scott declaring a state of emergency.

On Sunday, March 15, the governor ordered the statewide closing of preK-12 schools from March 18 to at least April 6.

The Legislature suspended operations at the State House for the coming week, which could be extended. The Joint Rules Committee, which is comprised of leaders from the House and Senate, is meeting via conference call daily to discuss next steps. Plans are also being developed to allow online public access to committee meetings to provide distancing.

The last two days of the week saw a flurry of activity, especially as it related to work on “must pass” budget bills and new measures to deal with the Coronavirus. And while a number of regular bills were being advanced, there is the possibility that in the end, only those crucial appropriation bills will be passed.

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