This commentary is by Nancy Gassett, of Vernon.
One can only guess what is going on in Montpelier to explain why the Vermont Legislature recently passed bill H.42, suspending the Vermont Open Meeting Law until July 1, 2024.
H.42 was passed and signed into Vermont Law by Gov. Phil Scott on Jan. 25, 2023. There is no explanation in the language of H.42 for the purpose or need for the sudden suspension of Vermont Open Meeting Law or the changes made to Annual Vermont Town Meeting procedures.
This unexpected new law was passed just in time to greatly affect Vermont’s tradition and practice of annual open town meetings throughout the state. The directives in this newly passed bill will oppress the freedoms of Vermont citizen involvement in their local governments. The voting decisions made annually at Vermont town meetings on the spending of citizen tax dollars and the decisions on other local matters, directly affect the everyday lives of Vermonters. Many Vermont citizens look forward to participating in their local town meetings.
Not only did this bill suspend Vermont Open Meeting Law, but it went further to mandate certain requirements and it omits others. Here are some specifics in the language of the bill:
- Bill H.42 allows public meetings including pre-town informational meetings, to be entirely electronic.
- Bill H.42 dismisses the previous requirement to have a “designated physical location” when holding a public electronic meeting. The previous physical location requirement served those without access to electronic meetings and/or those choosing to attend in-person.
- Bill H.42 says that meetings of legislative bodies in municipalities and also school boards shall record their meetings, “unless unusual circumstances make it impossible to do so.” This language seems to say that recordings of public meetings recorded in the past are now optional.
- Bill H.42 changes the requirements regarding the postings of public meeting notices and agendas that inform the public.
- Bill H.42 allows for the use of Australian Ballot Voting (paper ballots) for what would otherwise be an open floor gathering of the citizenry, taxpayers and/or representatives to allow for in-person questioning, debating, making changes where allowed and open floor voting.
- Bill H.42 suspends the use of the specified language previously used for the school budget ballot.
- Bill H.42 extends the suspension of Vermont Open Meeting Law until July 1, 2024.
Over the past two plus years we have experienced the repeated usurpation of our Vermont State and United States constitutions in many ways. Our Vermont state politicians have repeatedly joined together in agreement to violate their oaths allowing for laws and actions that betray us as the people they are supposed to serve and protect.
It is disconcerting to see how the Vermont Legislature and the Vermont governor are now betraying us once again, as they casually dismiss Vermont law and citizen involvement in their own local governments.
Is this the action of elected public servants who took an oath with serious intent and are supposed to act in the best interest of the citizenry, upholding our constitution and laws and protecting our freedoms, rights and privileges? Or is this one more action of out of control, power-hungry politicians who see themselves as rulers above the citizenry and the law?
In our constitutional republic, it is our duty as both United States and Vermont citizens to hold our elected officials accountable (Vermont Constitution, Article 6). Please call your representatives, senators and governor and hold them accountable for this unreasonable and unnecessary oppression of Vermont’s citizenry.