The Vermont Legislature is getting ready to kick off the 2021 session with almost all of the pomp and circumstance occurring remotely.
Even as late as Monday, some of the moving parts of the Wednesday opening of the 2021 session were still developing.
Once lawmakers are sworn in and settle into their jobs, the primary focus of this session is expected to be the state’s continued response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are trying to make it a normal first day of session, except that we are on Zoom,” said Democratic state Rep. Jill Krowinski, the presumptive incoming speaker of the House. “All of the same traditions will be happening.”
The House will be governing remotely for at least all of January and February, she said.
The Senate will also be meeting remotely, but Lt. Gov.-elect Molly Gray will be sworn into office Thursday in the Senate chamber.
Gray said she would then preside over her first session from the podium in the Senate chamber while senators will be attending remotely.
Republican Gov. Phil Scott will be sworn in for his third term on Thursday and he is then scheduled to give his inaugural address.
Last week, Scott said he would lay out his priorities for the session during his inaugural address.
Krowinski is expected to be elected speaker on Wednesday.
“I think it’s really critical that we come together and build a plan of action to beat the virus and we need to lead a recovery for Vermont that leaves no one behind,” she said.
Among some of the specific issues that will be addressed include ensuring everyone has access to broadband internet service. Broadband access is still a challenge for people in many parts of Vermont who are trying to work from home during the pandemic or whose children are trying to go to school from home.
Some families are struggling with affordable and accessible child care and some people are facing housing challenges.
State Sen. Randy Brock, a Republican who is the incoming minority leader in the 30-member body, said he sees broadband as a key issue for the 2021 legislature as well.
But he sees the most significant issue facing the lawmakers as uncertainty.
There is uncertainty about the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is uncertainty about the financial challenge facing the state of Vermont and the state’s cities and towns and there is uncertainty about what assistance, if any, will be provided to the states by Congress.
The details are still being worked out about the $900 billion stimulus package passed by Congress late last month. It did not include money for direct help to state and local governments.
“In a normal year we have a reasonable expectation that we will take in a certain amount of money and from that we’ll know what we’ll be able to do or not do,” Brock said. “We don’t that that this year. So this means that we are going to have to be particularly nimble and thoughtful.”
While Brock is from the minority party, he said he didn’t see that as an obstacle to doing what is best for Vermont.
Last year, when Vermont lawmakers began to deal with the pandemic, people from the different parties worked together.
“We are able to get things done. We don’t necessarily agree by any means with everything that the majority does, nor do they always agree with us,” Brock said. “But we do, as a Legislature, we do talk with each other.”