by Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe Vermonters have always stepped up to do their part during hard times. We lend a helping hand, take care of neighbors, and look out for one another. The COVID-19 pandemic that’s testing our state and nation is an unprecedented challenge. As leaders of the legislative branch of government, we stand together with the Governor and our Congressional Delegation to protect Vermonters, aid those in need, and lead efforts to rebuild Vermont’s economy.
COVID-19 is unique from past emergencies - as a global pandemic the virus’s silent spread poses a lethal threat to Vermonters, and the nearly instant shock to the economy has created general fear and anxiety and put a huge number of Vermonters out of work overnight.
We all have to do our part and make sacrifices to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Vermont. For many Vermonters this has already meant major changes in daily life – changes that may be required for months to come. At the State House we also have had to adjust how we do our work.
On March 13, the General Assembly passed its last in-person legislation and began the transition from in-person work to public meetings held remotely using teleconferencing and video platforms. Since then, legislators have been working around the clock to ensure constituents have the information they need in these uncertain times.
Remote meetings look and feel different from the work we’ve done for more than two centuries and it is a temporary measure to protect public health. As we adjust, statehouse staff and lawmakers are committed to preserving the spirit of our democracy and public processes. Key Senate and House Committees have begun remote meetings, all of which are open and available to the public by visiting: https://legislature.vermont.gov
The General Assembly’s Joint Rules Committee began holding daily hearings on March 15 as a way to facilitate oversight of emergency relief efforts. Lawmakers established a partnership with the Administration to share community feedback with agencies and departments, while returning information to constituents. Vermont’s 180 citizen lawmakers have been actively engaged in this process and, back home, are responding to countless phone calls and emails, as well as pioneering new ways to communicate remotely with neighbors.
Recognizing the urgent needs of our communities, the Vermont House and Senate have worked closely with the Administration to take swift action on COVID-19 relief bills. Last week, both chambers passed a relief package to strengthen our healthcare and human services systems, expand unemployment benefits, and temporarily change our election and open meeting laws to reflect the realities of remote work. These bills were signed into law by the Governor on March 30, 2020. More legislation will be enacted in the coming weeks to get resources to those in need.
As we continue our work, we do so with an understanding that this is a painful time for our country and for Vermont. The coming weeks will be riddled with uncertainty as more of our neighbors, friends, and loved ones become ill, lose jobs, and suffer economic hardship.
As the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate, we will do everything in our power to safeguard the state against the health and economic impacts of the virus. We will be prioritizing our COVID-19 response in three areas. First, to respond to the immediate healthcare needs of Vermonters. Second, to ensure Vermonters’ basic needs are met. Third, to stabilize and rebuild Vermont’s economy for businesses and their employees.
The General Assembly stands ready to work with our local, state, and federal partners. Each of us will do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19 and support one another, just as our schools, businesses, and institutions have done.
We are all in this together, and we will get through this.