Final Reading: The year of Zoom

skyline of Montpelier
The Vermont Statehouse is visible from across the Winooski River in Montpelier on May 20, 2021. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

The year of Zoom has officially ended — as has this season of Final Reading.

The Vermont Senate adjourned for the 2021 legislative session at 3:30 p.m. and the House followed suit at 4:53 p.m., gavelling out a strange and historic year.

After a predictable amount of grumbling and behind-closed-doors negotiating earlier this week, both chambers signed off on the remaining pieces of legislation and sent them to Gov. Phil Scott. 

In the waning moments of the session Friday, legislative leaders praised their work on a $7 billion state budget, a series of racial justice measures and economic stimulus programs. In his own closing address to each chamber, Scott also commended the Legislature on what it had accomplished.

It was a feel-good ending to a year marked by irritation from all involved in the process of remote legislating.

Lawmakers, lobbyists and members of the press have all bemoaned the limitations of conducting Statehouse business via Zoom. Back in January, some lawmakers went so far as to say that any proposals unrelated to the pandemic should wait until 2022, when they could be back in person.

Surprising nobody, many bills that had very little to do with coronavirus relief were approved in the ensuing months, and lawmakers in both chambers felt out of the loop on what was happening outside their own committees.

As the session dragged on and complaints mounted, many legislators seemed to yearn for a return to the Statehouse. But it might be more accurate to say that lawmakers simply couldn’t stand Zoom.

Internal pressure from rank-and-file members prompted legislative leaders to allow a return to Montpelier once the governor lifts his state of emergency. They plan to open the doors to the Statehouse in 2022.

But some senators couldn’t even stay away for the final day.

Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, D-Windham — who has worked out of her Statehouse office throughout the year — was joined in the Senate chamber Friday by Sens. Brian Campion, D-Bennington; Chris Bray, D-Addison; Andrew Perchlick, D-Washington; and Joe Benning, R-Caledonia.

All were unmasked, sitting throughout the room, just as people had on March 13, 2020 — the day the governor declared a state of emergency.  

“It is so wonderful to be in the chamber and have some senators here with me today,” Balint told her colleagues. “It means that there are such bright days ahead.”

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Kit Norton

About Kit

Kit Norton is the general assignment reporter at VTDigger. He is originally from eastern Vermont and graduated from Emerson College in 2017 with a degree in journalism. In 2016, he was a recipient of The Society of Environmental Journalists' Emerging Environmental Journalist award. Kit has worked at PRI's weekly radio environmental program, Living on Earth, and has written for the online news site Truthout.

Email: [email protected]

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