Editor’s note: This commentary is by Deborah Bucknam, a St. Johnsbury-based attorney and the vice chair of the Vermont Republican Party.
As the COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions continue in Vermont into the ninth month, devastating small businesses and small towns all over the state, there is a way for our towns and municipalities to opt out of the governor’s state of emergency.
Vermont Statute Section 13(3) of Title 20 provides that the governor “shall” declare the state of emergency terminated in a municipality when the “majority of the legislative body of a municipality affected no longer desires that the state of emergency continue within its jurisdiction.” The statute goes on to say that “Upon the termination of the state of emergency, the functions as set forth in section 9 of this title [the Governor’s emergency powers] shall cease, and the local authorities shall resume control.”
The terms “shall” mean that the governor has no discretion in this matter. He must terminate the state of emergency in the municipality when the majority of the selectboard or other legislative body no longer “desires” to be under a state of emergency.
This provision could help towns and municipalities heavily dependent on the hospitality sector and other sectors extremely affected by the governor’s emergency management orders to make their own decisions about how to keep everyone safe in their own localities while helping their local businesses stay afloat.
Vermont’s towns and municipalities have lost much of their independence over the last several decades to state mandates and regulations. Section 13 of Title 20 is an exception to that trend, as it still provides that emergency management control is vested in local towns and municipalities if they choose to exercise their rights under the statute.