- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 4, 2022

With rising COVID-19 cases in Vermont and the emergence of the highly contagious omicron variant, the Vermont Legislature started the 2022 session Tuesday with the House voting to work remotely for the first two weeks after the Senate had previously voted to do so.

Masked House members met in person briefly in the Statehouse in the morning to approve that and some other procedural resolutions while much of the Senate attended its opening session virtually.

A legislative panel had recommended that the Legislature start the session remotely for two weeks and then reassess to determine whether it will be safe to resume in-person meetings. But some Republican members of the Democrat-controlled House on Tuesday spoke out against the move and some said the remote time frame needs to be short in order to get important work done.

“I am grateful for all of the work that this body has done during this pandemic to maintain the safety of Vermont, but this resolution smacks of disrespect and misused privilege,” said Rep. Felisha Leffler, a Republican from Enosburgh. “This body is with this resolution implying that we are more important than every other Vermonter whose at work and at school right now.”

Rep. Jim Harrison, a Republican from Chittenden, said there are many reasons why meeting in person leads to better legislation and said working remotely is not ideal and can come with distractions. He said he wants to get back to an in-person session as soon as possible but would support the resolution to go remote for the first two weeks, a time when he said the Legislature typically doesn’t pass a lot of measures.

“It’s for two weeks. We’re going to revisit and my support in two weeks may change unless the sky has fallen,” he said.

On Wednesday, Republican Gov. Phil Scott will outline his priorities for the legislative session and talk about the previous year during his State of the State address, which will be streamed online. The full Senate is expected to reconvene Wednesday and the House on Friday.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

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