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Scott Issues 'Stay Home, Stay Safe' Order. What Does This Mean For Vermonters?

Gov. Phil Scott at a podium.
Peter Hirschfeld
VPR File

On March 24, Gov. Phil Scott announced a new “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order. It goes into effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday, closes all in-person business and nonprofit work unless it's deemed critical to public health or national security. 

The order directs people to stay home for all but essential matters. It does allow Vermonters to leave home for the following reasons: 

For more about what Gov. Phil Scott said his new order means for Vermonters at his March 25 press conference, head here.

Here are a few questions raised by VPR listeners about the new order, along with answers from our guests:

Jared Carter, Assistant Professor of Law at Vermont Law School

Michael Schirling, Vermont Commissioner of Public Safety

Congressman Peter Welch

Broadcast live at noon on Wednesday, Mar. 25, 2020; rebroadcast at 7:00 p.m.

Impacts To State And Federal Government

How unprecedented is this "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order? Is it unconstitutional?

Gov. Scott’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe”order is unprecedented, but, according to Jared Carter, an associate professor of law at Vermont Law School, it is not unconstitutional.

If ordered under normal circumstances, Carter said this type of measure would be unconstitutional. However, the emergent threat to public health brought by the COVID-19 pandemic has created an unusual set of circumstances. 

“There is limited case law to draw on,” Carter said, but during a public health crisis, unless a regulation is arbitrary or excessive, courts have historically tended to rule in favor of authority.

Does there have to be a declared state of emergency or something like it for the governor to issue this type of order?

Gov. Phil Scott declared a statewide state of emergency on March 13. According to Carter, once an emergency is declared, the governor has broad and expansive power. However, that power isn’t without limits: An executive action of the kind used to issue the new “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order must be reasonable. It’s important to note that Scott’s new order has an end date of April 15.

What can’t the governor do in a declared state of emergency?

According to Carter, the governor’s powers in a declared state of emergency are carefully denoted in Vermont’s Constitution, and include some quirky provisions under Vermont law.

Powers detailed and accounted for range from the right to seize or condemn property, to requiring public agencies to carry out executive orders. One interesting example comes to mind: The governor cannot require a statewide inventory of private possession of firearms, but he could seize the means of production of, for example, bread, in Vermont for the purpose of providing food for the people.

Could the governor shut down Vermont’s borders?

Under the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, it is Congress that has the power to regulate interstate commerce according to Carter, the Vermont Law School professor. Such a measure might be possible, Carter said, but it would likely require that Vermont work with the federal government to enact it. 

At the federal level, are the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate working on plans for how to proceed if either branch is impacted strongly by the new coronavirus? 

Rep. Peter Welch said that yes, Congress is concerned about this scenario. 

 “We are worried about voting,” he said. Currently, there are rules in place which require that congressional members vote in person. 

For more about how Vermont’s Legislature has adapted to working during the COVID-19 pandemic, head here.

Those with further questions about federal measures to respond to coronavirus and how they might affect Vermonters may call Rep. Peter Welch’s office, toll free, at 1-888-605-7270.

Legal Questions

Will people be stopped by law enforcement just for being out and about? What might they encounter if they meet law enforcement?

People will not be stopped by law enforcement just for being out and about in public spaces.

“We are calling on Vermonters to self-regulate,” said Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Gov. Phil Scott said he was confident Vermonters could enact this new order voluntarily.

“Vermonters will self-regulate, much like they have with other orders. Folks want to be safe, want loved ones and friends to be safe as well,” Scott said. “This is about public health and ensuring that our health care system remains viable and has plenty of space for people.”

Are there legal ramifications for deliberately infecting another person? 

There are public health statutes that exist to keep this from happening, and this would be considered an assault, according to Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling.

I’ve seen a lot of law enforcement presence across Vermont and in my community recently. What is the strategy there?

According to Schirling, local law enforcement have been more visible in an effort to make Vermonters feel more comfortable and safe at a time when many are experiencing additional stress due to restrictions on daily life and the spread of COVID-19.

Exercise And Activities

Is it OK to leave my home to exercise outdoors? If so, what is the best way to do so safely for myself and others?

Yes! Getting regular exercise is encouraged during this time. Those who do venture out for a walk or jog should adhere to the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines for social distancing

Do not exercise in groups, and whether you are walking, jogging, hiking or cross country skiing, be sure to do so in a place where you can maintain a distance of at least six feet from any other person you may encounter. 

Will I be able to go to the laundromat?

Most likely, this will be considered an essential activity, Commissioner Schirling said.

If I have symptoms of COVID-19, can I leave my home to exercise or carry out essential errands? 

Those experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should contact their primary care provider and stay home, self-isolating until instructed not to do so by a medical professional. 

Business Operations

What penalties has Vermont put in place to ensure that businesses adhere to Gov. Phil Scott’s new Stay Home, Stay Safe measure?

At this point, the state is relying on Vermonters to adhere to the measure voluntarily. However, Scott said Wednesday that for businesses that defy the order, there may be other means of enforcement pertaining to state-issued permits and inspections.

Can businesses refuse cash as payment amid COVID-19?

According to VLS professor Jared Carter, this is unclear legally, but private businesses can make decisions about what works best for them.

Will independent contractors who lose work due to the new Stay Home, Stay Safe order or other restrictions on business enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic be able to collect unemployment insurance? 

NPR reports the nearly $2 trillion stimulus packagecurrently being weighed by Congress includes an extended unemployment insurance program for laid-off workers that will allow for four months of full pay, rather than the usual three months.

It also allows for all those unemployed, including independent contractors, to get compensation in the form of up to $600 per week for up to four months in federal unemployment insurance. 

The state could provide additional support on top of that, with a weekly maximum of $500 per week in unemployment insurance.

According to Rep. Peter Welch, individual compensation will be based on an applicant’s income for 2019.

Currently, the existing bill does not include unemployment insurance benefits for volunteers who are compensated through measures like mileage reimbursement rather than traditional paychecks, Welch said.

What is better for my business and for my employees: To apply for a small business grant and keep them on the payroll, or to furlough or fire them and get federal aid?

This will depend on the individual circumstances of each business.

Housing And Social Support

How can Vermonters who are considered vulnerable to COVID-19 but who don’t have access to television or internet at home get regular updates about changes to state policy while adhering to this new order?

Vermonters can tune in to Vermont Public Radio for newscasts every hour, on the hour between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. as part of our expanded local coverage of coronavirus in Vermont

You can also call 2-1-1 for the latest information issued by the state of Vermont about COVID-19.

Now that the Stay Home, Stay Safe order has been issued, will the governor or other government entities be enacting moratoriums on evictions?

Gov. Phil Scott told the public on March 25 that his office is currently working on this issue, and that Vermonters can expect further guidance on this topic in the coming days.

What if your lease is up at the end of the month and you have unchangeable plans to move? How should you proceed?

You will be able to do what you need to do to move, but the state advises that people do so while practicing social distancing and with ample care for sanitation. Feel free to utilize moving services and vehicle rentals if companies are open. Wash your hands frequently and keep your distance from others as much as possible in the process of moving. 

Will there be additional funding available from the federal government for those experiencing food scarcity, whether that scarcity is a result of COVID-19 or due to circumstances that arose prior to the pandemic?

Rep. Peter Welch says yes. Additional funds for nutrition programs for children and families are currently part of this latest federal stimulus bill, in addition to further funding for programming that supports elderly Americans.

Questions, comments, concerns or experiences you want to share about the new coronavirus? Fill out VPR's brief survey here.

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