By Guy Page
Vermont House and Senate rules committees will decide Tuesday whether to require Covid-19 vaccine passports or testing for lawmakers and legislative staff seeking to enter the State House.
There will be a Senate Rules Committee Meeting at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday. It can be viewed on the committee’s YouTube channel.
As proposed, the policy also would require everyone in the State House — including lawmakers, staff, lobbyists, interested citizens, tourists, and employees of the other two branches of government — to wear masks. It strongly recommends vaccination and testing for all entrants, but requires it only of legislators and their staff.
If the recommendation adopted last week is approved with change this week, State House leaders must then determine how to deal with lawmakers and staff who refuse to show proof of vaccination or submit to testing. The likely solution for recalcitrant staff is straightforward – submit or face disciplinary action, including possible termination.
The Vermont Constitution offers a terse explanation of when and how the State House may be closed (Chpt. II, Article 8): “The doors of the House in which the General Assembly of this Commonwealth shall sit, shall be open for the admission of all persons who behave decently, except only when the welfare of the State may require them to be shut.”
During the pandemic-related State of Emergency, the State House was closed to all but a skeleton crew of legislators and staff.
Barring constitutionally-elected lawmakers from the State House is legally complex. Lawmakers are answerable to the voters every two years. They don’t “work for” their legislative leaders, who are elected by their consent. The Constitution, however, does provide for barring lawmakers from the General Assembly (Chpt. II, Article 14): “they [the House and Senate] may expel members, but not for causes known to their constituents antecedent to their election.”
Whether barring Constitutionally-elected lawmakers from entering the building for refusing to obey a newly-established legislative rule qualifies under this clause, or any other clause, of the Vermont Constitution is a question for that could ultimately be decided in court.
The Constitution does limit legislative powers (Chpt. II, Article 6): “they [the House and Senate] shall have no power to add to, alter, abolish, or infringe any part of this Constitution.”
The 2022 Legislature convenes 10 AM, January 4. The proposed rules, if enacted, would take effect Jan. 3.
As reported Dec. 16, the two committees will act on a recommendation made by the Joint Rules Committee.
Under a draft approved Wednesday by the Vermont Legislative Joint Rules Committee, lawmakers and legislative staff will not be allowed into the State House unless they demonstrate proof of vaccination or submit to a PCR test.
The draft reads that all legislators and legislative staff “shall either…: (i) demonstrate fully protected vaccination against COVID-19; or (ii) on a weekly basis provide proof of a negative NAAT1 COVID-19 test.”
All members of the public will be “strongly recommended” to:
“(A) provide proof of fully protected vaccination against COVID-19; or (B) perform a rapid COVID-19 test provided by the General Assembly and obtain a negative result on that test…..prior to entering any legislative space on any day of the week.”
Some lawmakers – including Rep. Vicki Strong (R-Albany) – have said they will not be vaccinated or submit to PCR testing. According to media reports, Senate Pro Tem Becca Balint (D-Windham) acknowledged the Legislature has yet to determine how to proceed with dissenters like Strong.
A Vermont advocacy group supporting vaccination freedom is asking Vermonters to request the Rules Committee decision be delayed until after Jan. 14, the date of an informational meeting on vaccine passports and mandates.
“Please would you reach out to members of the House and Senate Rules committee urging them to postpone decisions, slated for Dec. 21 and 22 respectively, on vaccine passports or test mandates until after the 10 doctors of the International Alliance of Physicians and Medical Studies address folks in Montpelier on Jan. 14?”
The email also references data from Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s book, “The Real Story of Dr. Fauci,” and the following intriguing data on U.S. Covid-19 mortality per-million of popularion, compared with other nations:
United States 2017 deaths/1M
Iran 1449 deaths/1M
Sweden 1444 deaths/1M
Germany 1126 deaths/1M
Cuba 650 deaths/1M
Jamaica 630 deaths/1M
Denmark 455 deaths/1M
India 327 deaths/1M
Vietname 197 deaths/1M
Finland 194 deaths/1M
Norway 161 deaths/1M
Japan 139 deaths/1M
Pakistan 128 deaths/1M
Kenya 97 deaths/1M
S Korea 47 deaths/1M
Congo 34 deaths/1M
HongKong 28 deaths/1M
China 3 deaths/1M
Tanzania 0.86 deaths/1M
HOUSE RULES COMMITTEE
- Rep. Jill Krowinski, Chair ex officio
- Rep. Emily Long, Vice Chair
- Rep. Michael McCarthy
- Rep. John L. Bartholomew
- Rep. Patricia McCoy
- Rep. Robert LaClair
- Rep. Anne B. Donahue
SENATE RULES COMMITTEE
- Sen. Becca Balint, Chair
- Sen. Dick Mazza, Vice Chair
- Sen. Alison Clarkson
- Sen. Cheryl Hooker
- Sen. Randy Brock
Guy Page is publisher of the Vermont Daily Chronicle. Reprinted with permission.