By Rep. Jim Harrison
Call it a mother’s ingenuity, but our son is not always the best with reading and responding to emails. It may be a guy thing? So Pat has learned that when she needs to get Ben’s attention, she just titles the email “Golf,” even though it has nothing to do with what she may be asking. It works, although I wonder if he is on to her…
A belated Happy Mother’s Day to all moms!
And speaking of golf, this hacker snuck out last Friday afternoon for a quick nine holes before winter returned over the weekend. The opening of golf courses and certain outdoor recreation in Vermont, albeit with restrictions, was a further sign of the state’s reopening last week.
With state modeling continuing to show positive trends the “Stay Home Stay Safe” order has been modified to allow:
Gatherings of 10 or fewer. Vermonters may now leave home for outdoor recreation and fitness activities with low or no direct physical contact and to resume limited social interactions and gatherings of 10 or fewer, preferably in outdoor settings that allow for greater physical distancing protocols.
Inter-household socializing. Members of one household may gather – and allow children to play – with members of another trusted household, provided health and safety precautions are followed as much as possible.
Child care centers were given a limited green light to reopen June 1 at Friday, May 8, press conference. The change is permissive and does not mandate that centers reopen. Summer day camps will also be allowed to open this summer, and that guidance will be available sometime this week.
Members of the hospitality and tourism industry are getting anxious over when Vermont may be able to open this important sector, which is estimated at 10% or more of the state’s economy. While there are hints that restaurants, at least for outdoor dining, may be able to open soon, there have been no such indications for larger events. Vermont is a popular wedding destination and many inns and event suppliers are very concerned they may go out of business if not allowed to reopen this summer.
The governor and his administration are watching trends in neighboring states (which are not doing as well as Vermont at containing the Covid positives), before they are likely to give the signal to allow large numbers of visitors.
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson has indicated that next year’s state budget will be a “much bigger problem” than the task of balancing the current year. Initial forecasts indicate an estimated 17% revenue reduction.
An education funding solution for the upcoming Pre-K-12 school year remains elusive after key committees were told they could not use federal funds to make up revenue shortfalls.
Current projections suggest property tax rates could go up another 17 cents per hundred in addition to prior increases passed by voters in early March if no spending reductions are made.
The Legislature continues to advance bills to address issues that have come up during the Covid emergency:
H.947, which allows the governing body of a municipality to set its local tax rate if unable to hold a town meeting. This measure applies to Brattleboro, which had its annual meeting scheduled later than Town Meeting Day.
H.948, which allows municipal boards to conduct quasi-judicial proceedings remotely, such as property valuation reviews.
H.950, which would allow advance directives to be signed remotely during the current emergency.
S.343, which provides two months of hazard pay for certain categories of employees that earn less than $25/hour. The bill has passed the Senate and was referred to the House Commerce Committee. As passed by the Senate, employers will be required to submit a report as to which employees are eligible. The bonuses would be on top of any premiums that businesses may be paying. The estimated cost is currently $60 million. And yet more groups are lobbying to be included.
Ballots by mail
Secretary of State Jim Condos appears to be waging a political campaign with the Vermont Democratic Party running digital ads to pressure the governor to approve the secretary’s plan for all-mail balloting for the November elections.
Scott has indicated that it was too early to sign off on all-mail balloting when they cannot even be printed until after the August primary. He acknowledges we may have to resort to that option and should make plans, however, to determine that now sends the wrong message about the state reopening for business and visitors.
In closing, thank you for your continued efforts at social distancing, wearing a mask when out in the public and practicing good hygiene.
Governor Scott has indicated the state of emergency will continue for the time being, but more segments of the economy will reopen as virus trends allow.
Jim Harrison represents Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington and Mendon in the state house. He can be reached at JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us.