As I write this column, the Vermont Legislature has been on hiatus since March 13. A decision by the House of Representative Rules Committee ordered that the Statehouse would close at 5 p.m. on March 13, to return as to be determined. My committee, Appropriations, which writes the fiscal year budget, worked at a frantic pace that Friday to get as much done on the budget as was possible. We completed the work that we could do at 7:15 p.m. in an already darkened building and headed home, not knowing when we would return.
I am writing this column on Sunday, March 22, and legislators still do not know when we will physically return to the Statehouse. House members have met three times as a Caucus of the Whole via phone conferencing, as well as getting messages via email, and getting phone calls from the chairs of our committees. We will continue doing so during the coming weeks. A plan was developed to start video conferencing on March 21 by the committees on Appropriations, Ways and Means, Institutions and Corrections, Commerce and Economic Development, and Government Operations. Unable to meet in person, these committees, three of which are considered “money” committees will meet several times a day to try to hammer out Fiscal Year 2021 budgets during this unprecedented time. My committee will be meeting via video with members of the Administration and the various agencies of State government to try to hammer out a budget that we now consider will be vastly different from the one on which we were working on March 13.
How we will actually be able to vote on bills that may be crafted during this unusual time remains to be seen. The Vermont Constitution decrees that votes must be taken by Legislators “in attendance” and with a quorum present. In the Vermont House, with 150 members, there is no way to fulfill that constitutional requirement as, like all of you, we are now limited to meeting in groups no larger than 10. An email from Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson to the members of the House this morning noted that legislative leadership was working on a way to vote on COVID-19 bills that are currently in the Senate while maintaining “social distancing and public health requirements,” including “the Constitutionality and potential logistics of remote voting.” And while COVID-19 bills are of utmost importance now, there are still the various State budgets that must be approved to move forward with the financial needs of the State. If a resolution is needed to temporarily change the Legislature’s voting practice, the Speaker has told us that “temporarily changing our practice to vote remotely for committee and floor votes is a difficult proposition that only extreme circumstances such as now could inspire.”
Beyond the actions of the Legislature, there is one issue of concern to all of us which is the filing of income tax returns and the payment deadlines. July 15 is now the official deadline for filing federal and state returns. The date applies to individual taxpayers as well as for small businesses that report income on Schedule C of their personal income tax returns and to corporations. In addition, as to the April 14 vote on the Essex Westford School District budget, the school board has asked for help from the State about changing the dates of the April 13 annual meeting and April 14 budget vote. Look for that information to come from the EWSD board.
As most of you, I will be at home in Essex this week. If you have questions or concerns (and don’t we all) you can contact me at email@example.com. It is my utmost hope we will weather these unprecedented times and will return to a better stronger United States and Vermont.