On November 25, 2020

Hunker down, yes, even this holiday

By Jim Harrison

That is essentially the message from our governor and health commissioner following the alarming uptick in Covid cases here in Vermont and across the region. The state broke daily records at least three times last week. We have been through difficult times before and will get through it again, if we follow the rules.

And in spite of new social distancing guidelines for the Thanksgiving holiday, I want to wish you and your families the very best this holiday. Like many others on Thursday, our family get together will be via Zoom or Facetime. Certainly not the same as in person, but given all that is happening right now, a safe and appropriate alternative.

With the increasing cases and four deaths last week, officials have ramped up the restrictions, some of which were clarified on Friday at the Governor’s press conference. Under the order, you are not allowed to gather with people you don’t live with. This includes all inside and outside social, recreational and entertainment gatherings, and in public and private spaces.

There is an exception for people who live alone. They may gather with people who live in one other household. Gov. Scott announced additional allowances Friday:

People can take in and shelter those from another household who are living in a dangerous, unhealthy or otherwise unsafe situation.

You can do outdoor fitness activities with one other person from another household. However, both of you must stay at least 6 feet away from each other and wear a mask at all times. For example, you can bike, hike, walk or run with one of your neighbors.

Other measures included:

Restaurants can remain open to in-person service, but must cease in-person service at 10 p.m. nightly. Takeout can continue.

Restaurants, gyms and other establishments must keep logs for contact tracing.

Recreational sports are cancelled until further notice, except those sanctioned by the Vermont Principals Association.

Bars and social clubs are closed to in-person service.

All non-essential travel in and out of Vermont will require following quarantine guidelines.

Further clarification on Gov. Phil Scott’s recent executive order regarding social gatherings, sports, and restaurant operations has been posted at accd.vermont.gov.

The B’s will rule

With the recount on Friday confirming that Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) has lost her seat, current House Majority Leader, Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) is all but certain to become the new Speaker in the biennium come January. Krowinski’s likely ascension follows Sarah Copeland-Hanzas and Charlie Kimbell dropping out of the Speaker’s race.

On the Senate side, Senator Becca Balint (D-Brattleboro) is the only announced candidate for Senate president pro-tem. Balint will be replacing Tim Ashe, who lost his race in the lieut. governor primary. Of course, for every rule there is an exception, as the new Senate majority leader will be Alison Clarkson of Woodstock. Congratulations, Senator!

Continuing with the theme of leaders from municipalities beginning with B, we can’t forget Barre native (and now Berlin), Phil Scott, who scored a decisive victory over David Zuckerman in the gubernatorial contest. And to complete the leadership team, Lieutenant Governor-elect Molly Gray currently resides in Burlington.

It would also appear that Republican legislators didn’t get the “B” memo as Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning (Lyndonville) and House Minority Leader Pattie McCoy (Poultney), are not from “B” towns.

Overall, Republicans picked up three House seats and one Senate seat. In the House, the coalition of Democrats and Progressives will now be one vote short of a supermajority (100), which could create an obstacle to overriding any vetoes by the governor. Overall, there will be four new Senate and 29 House members, typical for a new biennium.

Although most leadership posts are lined up, it is less certain what the upcoming legislative session will look like. The Vermont Constitution sets the date for the Legislature to convene the new biennium (Jan. 6 in this case), but is otherwise silent on how they meet. To provide for social distancing, it is likely that meeting for members to get sworn in and elect leaders will take place in the Barre Auditorium, not the State House. That meeting could also occur in shifts as well.

Less clear is what happens after opening day. Given the latest surge in Covid, the Legislature could return to all remote meetings, some sort of hybrid approach or could take a break and reconvene in the spring when in-person may be feasible.

Also in question is what the key issues will be in 2021, given the ongoing response to the pandemic, uncertain budget constraints, unemployment and loss of businesses. The administration did get an OK from the Legislative Joint Fiscal committee recently to add $75 million of unused federal funds to further help hospitality businesses, although most realize that still will not keep everyone going through the winter. And then there is the Vermont State College system. What ongoing resources will be available to support the current campuses or will there still need to be consolidation?

Jim Harrison is the state representative for Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington and Mendon, he can be reached at JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us.

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