Politics

Final Reading: Lawmakers continue with committee work, begin to prepare coronavirus legislation

Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee
Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, at the Statehouse. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

IN MARCH 17’S FINAL READING:

— Department for Children and Families Commissioner Ken Schatz told lawmakers in a Joint Rules meeting call that Gov. Phill Scott would be directing all child-care centers to close that don’t serve “essential” personnel, like health care workers and first responders. 

Schatz told lawmakers that the Scott administration will be providing financial assistance to child care business owners to offset profits lost from these closures. – Xander Landen

— In an all-members Senate call this morning, Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, said leadership will make a call by Thursday evening about whether the Statehouse adjournment should continue into next week.  

By that time, he said, lawmakers should know whether or not they’ll be needed to pass any emergency pieces of legislation related to the coronavirus. If that’s the case, they’ll likely reconvene for a few days next week. – Grace Elletson

— During a conference call of all House members, Rep. George Till, D-Jericho, a doctor who works for the University of Vermont Medical Center, said the hospital will not be performing non-urgent elective surgeries starting Wednesday. 

The move comes as the Burlington hospital seeks to increase capacity for coronavirus patients as the virus continues to spread, according to Till. The hospital will also begin restricting hospital visitors, and screening visitors’ health before they can enter the facility, Till said. 

Till also noted that UVMMC has set up a drive-through coronavirus testing site at the Champlain Valley Exposition fairgrounds in Essex. – Xander Landen

— During the House conference call, Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, said that when committees do resume work again, the “first priority” will be any bills that were being worked on ahead of the cross-over deadline that was pushed back last week. 

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“You have my full commitment that there is nothing that I would try to move to pass in the House that wouldn’t have votes to pass,” Johnson said. House committees will not be convening remotely this week, but could begin to do so as early as next week. – Xander Landen

— Legislative council attorney Michael O’Grady told Senate Natural Resources committee members that COVID-19 is not expected to impact drinking water supplies, wastewater or wildlife in Vermont. Hospitals are already taking special precautions handling COVID-19 waste, so legislative action isn’t necessary. 

Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, referenced a Monday letter from Vermont Legal Aid to the state Public Utility Commission that requested that the state put a moratorium on gas, electric and telecommunications shut-offs as long as Vermont is in a state of emergency. 

Committee Chair Chris Bray, D-Addison, said the committee would hear from utility representatives on Thursday. (Some utilities have already taken this step.) – Elizabeth Gribkoff

— Senate Education members discussed various constituent concerns and questions on a conference call this morning. Questions were posed about whether schools could be used for emergency child care centers and if grab-and-go food sites can be established in communities. 

Sen. Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden, said committee members should think about developing statutory solutions that could support schools while they adjust their operations while an “omnibus” coronavirus legislative package is being developed. – Grace Elletson

— Senate Appropriations continued its previous discussions with the Agency of Natural Resources about its budget proposals over a conference call today. 

The agency’s Fish and Wildlife Department budget’s proposal incorporates a 7%, or $1.7 million, increase for fiscal year 2021 largely to fund land acquisitions and restoration projects. 

The Department of Environmental Conservation also projects a $2 million spending increase on staffing and administrative needs. 

Appropriations Chair Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, warned that the agency’s proposal was “developed in a very different time in a very different world,” and that adjustments may be needed to prioritize the state’s coronavirus response. – Grace Elletson

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Grace Elletson

About Grace

Grace Elletson is VTDigger's government accountability reporter, covering politics, state agencies and the Legislature. She is part of the BOLD Women's Leadership Network and a recent graduate of Ithaca College, where she was editor in chief of the Ithacan. She previously interned for the Chronicle of Higher Education, The Christian Science Monitor and The Cape Cod Times, her hometown newspaper.

Email: [email protected]

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