MONTPELIER — The House and Senate’s rules committees on Tuesday took different paths to reach the same conclusion: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an in-person return to the Golden Dome this session is very unlikely.
The House Rules Committee voted unanimously that it would extend its emergency declaration through May 31. Members emphasized they do not mean that as a guarantee that the 2021 session will end by May 31.
That resolution will be brought to the floor of the House for a vote when it convenes virtually Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s critical we keep the health and safety of the public, staff and members a top priority,” Speaker Jill Krowinski said in a news release. “I recognize it has been difficult to legislate virtually, but l appreciate the commitment by members to take on the hard work and build a recovery plan that leaves no Vermonter behind.”
In the Senate, Clerk John Bloomer Jr. explained to the Rules Committee that under its current rules, the body does not need to pass a resolution to continue meeting remotely. Rather, the Senate may meet remotely so long as a state of emergency remains in effect.
At present, Gov Phil Scott has extended the emergency order on a monthly basis, and he is not expected to lift the order in the near term.
“Based on everything we know right now, we anticipate we will operate remotely for the remainder of the session and that the session will end as usual at some point in May,” Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint said in a news release.
“All of that may be subject to change, based on a variety of factors including the state of the Governor’s Emergency Order, the realities of the pandemic, and also the actions of our federal partners. We will work to communicate as clearly as possible with members of the General Assembly and the public about our plans as the session continues,” Balint said.
Studies completed last year showed that the Vermont Statehouse could not comply with COVID-19 health and safety guidelines given its small size. The House gallery can hold 70 people under those guidelines — fewer than its quorum of 76 members.