Final Reading: Scott’s unease for Covid-19 voting plan spurs legislative action

John Odum opens absentee ballots
Montpelier City Clerk John Odum prepares early and absentee ballots to scan in the primary election. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

— Members of the Senate Gov Ops committee have decided to draft standby legislation that removes the need for the governor to sign off on Covid-19 emergency election protocols.

The legislation is not expected to move forward unless the Secretary of State’s Office and the governor’s team cannot come to an agreement by the end of the week over expanding the state’s mail-in voting capacity for the general election.

Gov. Phil Scott has been reluctant to approve Secretary of State Jim Condos’ plan to send ballots to all active voters in the state. On Monday Scott signaled he would not block legislative efforts to move forward without his approval.

Chris Winters, deputy secretary of the Vermont SOS’s office, told Gov Ops lawmakers they are hopeful they can come to an agreement with the governor soon. “He’s still got a few remaining concerns that we’re just trying to understand better and hope that we can address,” he said. “If not I think it’ll be time to start thinking about plan B.” – Kit Norton

— House Appropriations lawmakers passed the 2020 budget adjustment bill out of their committee this afternoon. The bill makes Covid-19-related adjustments in an effort to balance the state’s budget for the remainder of the fiscal year. 

The budget includes a $60 million appropriation for the proposed hazard pay plan, which has yet to pass the House but is currently being taken up in House Commerce. The adjustment also splits $10 million in funding for the Vermont State Colleges System and the University of Vermont to refund their students for room and board costs when the spring semester got cut short due to the pandemic. 

During committee discussion, Appropriations Chair Kitty Toll, D-Danville, said the bill will be taken up during this Friday’s House floor session. – Grace Elletson

— Legislators probed Department of Public Service officials this afternoon in the House Energy and Technology and Senate Finance committees about the details of their draft emergency broadband plan, including rollout timelines, internet speeds and funding sources.

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Attendees debated whether it would be best to use so-called future-proof technologies for providing internet to underserved people, such as fiber, or to turn to more readily available services like wireless connections.

Significant discussion centered on how new broadband efforts would be funded — and if, as Public Service Commissioner June Tierney said, the state could make “stretch arguments” for using existing Covid-19 relief money from the federal government. – Justin Trombly

— The first campaign ad promoting Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman’s run for governor reminds voters that he doesn’t just preside over the Senate in a suit and tie. He also presides over his organic farm in Hinesburg in jeans and muck boots. 

The folksy ad shows Zuckerman tending to pigs, hauling carrots and completing farm chores. In a press release promoting the ad, Zuckerman’s campaign said the promotion aims to set “a far calmer and more reassuring tone.” 

“The ad ends with a uniting message,” the release states, “that our life’s work has and will continue to be: ‘to do better … one day at a time.’” – 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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