MONTPELIER — The state’s Democratic legislative leadership sharply criticized Republican Gov. Phil Scott on Monday for not taking more action to mandate masks and slow the spread of COVID-19 in Vermont. However, they did indicate lawmakers will act if they have to.
Earlier Monday, the governor informed House Speaker Jill Krowinski and Senate President Pro Tem that he would be willing to call for a special session of lawmakers if they want to consider legislation granting a mask mandate.
The governor has been under pressure from lawmakers, as well as education and health care advocates, to reinstate measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, which have been surging statewide in recent weeks.
Balint and Krowinski issued a statement Monday evening stating they appreciated their meeting with Scott to discuss the issue, but they feel he and his administration are the ones who should be taking the next steps — not waiting for lawmakers to do so.
“While we appreciate this step toward giving Vermonters more tools to promote public health, we are deeply disappointed that there is not a broader approach to keeping Vermonters safe and our health care system afloat,” they wrote. “Under current law, the Governor has the authority to approve local public health measures without the need for the legislature to reconvene, 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.”
Krowinski, of Burlington, and Balint, of Windham County, said the governor told them he would support the passage of legislation, similar to a proposal made by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns last week, granting limited authority to municipalities to mandate masks in their communities.
“The Governor has the authority to act now and he has also made it very clear if the legislature attempted to pass any legislation other than what he has proposed during this special session, he would veto it. We are still discussing all policy options and will work with public health experts to help us evaluate alternative public health actions,” the legislative leadership wrote in their joint statement. “Again, 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.”
According to VTDigger, Scott Spokesman Jason Maulucci said: “At this phase of the pandemic, he believes that relying on executive branch emergency authority, whether by a state of emergency or the approval of unprecedented local health orders, is inappropriate, and the legislative process is the more democratic path forward. … If the legislature does not wish to move forward, that would be fine as well, but he wanted to make an effort to find common ground.”
Vermont currently has the fifth-highest infection rate in the nation, according to John Hopkins University, which monitors both infection and vaccination rates.