House cancels meetings, Senate goes ahead after Zoom glitch

Vermont Senate Zoom
The Vermont Senate has been holding hearings over Zoom, which experienced technical problems. Screenshot

The Vermont House canceled its committee hearings while the Senate went ahead after a technical problem Thursday prevented the public from viewing the proceedings live online.

The House halted its committee work around 10:30 a.m. while the Senate continued with its meetings as scheduled. The hearings were taped. 

The Office of Legislative Council told House and Senate leaders that holding the meetings without livestream access was not in violation of Vermont’s open meeting laws.

However, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson canceled morning meetings after realizing that the technical glitch on Zoom — which was resolved by Thursday afternoon — couldn’t be fixed quickly. 

Katherine Levasseur, the speaker’s chief of staff, said Johnson had “discomfort with the idea that the public wouldn’t have access to the meetings as they were going on.” 

“Since taking the legislative process online we’ve tried really really hard to keep things as transparent and open as possible,” Levasseur said. 

Legislative council declined to comment. In an email, Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, said that he only learned of the Zoom glitch in the afternoon “just as it was being resolved.” Earlier that morning, Ashe launched his campaign for lieutenant governor online.

Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden, and Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison, the chairs of the Health and Welfare and Natural Resources committees, respectively, both said they made the decision to move ahead with their meetings on Thursday morning, despite the livestream issue. 

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that he figured IT staff would be able to quickly fix the problem when he started his morning meeting. 

“I didn’t get any direction and I just assumed that we were good to go and that they would fix it,” Sears said. 

He said he didn’t hear from the pro tem’s office on the matter, and that he knew people would be able to view the hearing after it wrapped up. 

“I figured well, it’s recorded, people can watch it if they want. It’s not trying to keep people away, and frankly I don’t know how many people watch these things,” he said.  

Bray and Lyons said they too felt comfortable knowing the meetings would soon be posted on the internet. 

“I guess my thinking is that our meeting was being recorded to be put out onto YouTube in its entirety and so there’s still full transparency in the meeting process,” Lyons said. 

The technical fluke the Legislature faced on Thursday was not specific to the Vermont Statehouse.  

According to Kevin Moore, the Legislature’s IT director, Zoom, the popular teleconference platform, has been having a platform-wide issue with connecting to YouTube, where committee meetings are livestreamed. 

The Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources, Judiciary and Health and Welfare committees met this morning, though they did not vote on legislation. 

The House Appropriations Committee initially met early Thursday morning, and said it would post its recorded meeting online later. 

Theresa Utton-Jerman, a committee assistant for House Appropriations, said the committee wouldn’t be taking final votes on any legislation, and that she was inviting members of the public who requested to view the proceedings a private Zoom link to join the meeting. 

The House Commerce and Transportation committees also met briefly Thursday. 

Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Bradford, the chair of House Government Operations, was supposed to start her committee meeting at 10:30 a.m. 

But she said that she didn’t want to shut the public out of the process regardless. Going ahead, she said, “would be akin to, you know, locking a committee room door.” 

 “And, of course, we want all of our proceedings to be open and accessible to the public.” 

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Xander Landen

About Xander

Xander Landen is VTDigger's political reporter. He previously worked at the Keene Sentinel covering crime, courts and local government. Xander got his start in public radio, writing and producing stories for NPR affiliates including WBUR in Boston and WNYC in New York. While at WNYC, he contributed to an award-winning investigation of how police departments shield misconduct records from the public. He is a graduate of Tufts University and his work has also appeared in PBS NewsHour and The Christian Science Monitor.

Email: [email protected]

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