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Gov. Phil Scott agrees to special session for "narrowly crafted" and "time-limited" masking protocols

Front of Vermont Statehouse
Angela Evancie
/
VPR File
Gov. Phil Scott has said he's willing to call lawmakers back to the Statehouse on Nov. 22 to pass a “narrowly crafted and time-limited” bill that would give municipalities the authority to institute mask mandates locally.

Gov. Phil Scott has agreed to call Vermont lawmakers back to Montpelier for a special session next week so they can enact masking protocols that he’s been unwilling to institute on his own.

After Vermont shattered records last week for new daily COVID cases, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate renewed calls on Scott to use his executive authority to institute a statewide indoor mask mandate.

Scott maintains that current case counts don’t warrant a mask mandate; he’s also questioned whether issuing a masking requirement would increase use of facial coverings in indoor public spaces.

And Scott said in a letter to lawmakers on Monday that he worries a mask mandate would have the effect of intensifying opposition among some Vermonters to getting a COVID vaccine.

“And I believe confrontations over mandates, and the partisan politicization of these issues, ultimately delay the decisions we need these individuals to reach,” Scott said in the letter. “As such, I do not believe a mask mandate will have the impact you hope at this time.”

“And I believe confrontations over mandates, and the partisan politicization of these issues, ultimately delay the decisions we need these individuals to reach. As such, I do not believe a mask mandate will have the impact you hope at this time.”
Gov. Phil Scott

Nevertheless, Scott said he’s willing to call lawmakers back to Montpelier on Nov. 22 in order to pass a “narrowly crafted, and time-limited” bill that would give municipalities the authority to institute mask mandates locally.

“I offer this as a compromise – not because I believe mandates are the right approach under current circumstances,” Scott said.

Scott said he’ll support the legislation only if municipal authority to impose mask mandates expires on April 30 of 2022, and he said that municipalities cannot have the authority to mandate use of masks in schools.

In a joint statement release Monday evening, Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint and House Speaker Jill Krowinski said the governor’s offer falls short of the stricter COVID mitigation protocols they’re calling for.

“We are deeply disappointed that there is not a broader approach to keeping Vermonters safe and our health care system afloat,” Balint and Krowinski said.

They also questioned the wisdom of calling 180 lawmakers back to Montpelier to enact legislation that Scott can authorize through executive action alone.

“Under current law, the Governor has the authority to approve local public health measures without the need for the legislature to reconvene,” they said. “But at this point, we believe that taking any action is better than continuing down the path that we are currently on when it comes to preventing the spread of disease.”

“While this it is not what we had envisioned as a response to this moment in the pandemic, when Vermont has one of the highest case rates in the country, if it takes the legislature reconvening to step in on behalf of Vermonters, we are more than happy to provide a tool to help mitigate the spread of the virus in our communities."
House Speaker Jill Krowinski and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint

And Krowinski and Balint said lawmakers will take Scott up on his offer to return to Montpelier.

“While this it is not what we had envisioned as a response to this moment in the pandemic, when Vermont has one of the highest case rates in the country, if it takes the legislature reconvening to step in on behalf of Vermonters, we are more than happy to provide a tool to help mitigate the spread of the virus in our communities,” they said.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Peter Hirschfeld @PeteHirschfeld.

Updated: November 16, 2021 at 12:03 PM EST
This story has been updated to clarify that Gov. Phil Scott agreed to a special session in the Vermont Legislature.
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