Back to drinking from the fire hose today in the wake of the Governor's new Executive Order last evening directing VTers to close businesses and stay home. Again, if you haven't read it, take a look. Important directives in there on what businesses/non-profits can continue to report to work and which must stay home and/or work remotely.
First, today I spoke with several business owners and leaders about how the Executive Order does or does not apply to them. Here is an announcement, with several links to additional information, that came out of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) today:
Governor Scott’s March 24, 2020 Addendum 6 to Executive Order 01-20 requires businesses and non-profits that are not critical to the public health and safety, as well as economic and national security, to suspend in-person business operations effective today, Wednesday, March 25th at 5:00 p.m.
Any business able to continue operations without in-person business operations may be able to continue operating in accordance with CDC and Vermont Department of Health (VDH) guidelines.
Businesses and non-profit organizations that are not able to cease in-person businesses are asked to determine whether they meet the definition of “critical to the public health and safety, as well as economic and national security” using the guidance developed by the Agency of Commerce and Community Development.
The resources available include a NAICS Code Guidance List to help businesses determine which sectors and activities are critical. If the list says “Yes” in the “Critical” column, then your business may remain operational, subject to the restriction that you use remote work wherever possible, and follow all CDC and VDH guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Vermont businesses may seek further guidance by completing the Continuation of Operations Form describing why they believe the existing guidance incorrectly requires them to close their in-person business functions.
Regarding enforcement of the Governor's Executive Order, see this release from the VT Department of Public Safety.
Second, speaking of fire hoses, here is a link to information just released by the Department of Public Safety giving guidance to fire departments during the COVID-19 pandemic. This link is to a fire department capability report from a 14-county survey just released by DPS. These might be of interest to your fire departments if they haven't already seen them.
Third, the legislature was back to legislating today. After some extraordinarily frustrating (and dangerous) parliamentary procedures today, the House passed and sent along to Governor H.742 and H.681. H.742 amends current unemployment insurance law in VT to give workers recovering from, or caring for a family member affected by, COVID-19 access to unemployment insurance without affecting their employer's unemployment insurance rating. H.681 affects VT's Open Meeting Law and election law through the earlier of the end of the emergency declaration or the end of 2020, whichever come first. Here is a summary of some of the things in H.742 that might have and effect on municipal governments this year. Some of you have specifically asked questions addressed in the Elections, Open Meetings, and Deadlines For Municipal Corporations sections below:
Sections 1 through 4 contain the election provisions. These provisions are only for the 2020 election cycle only and are not tied to the emergency declaration, although it is clear that is why these changes are being made.
Section 1 is legislative intent to explain that the temporary elections provisions that follow are so that Vermont citizens can protect their health, safety, and welfare while also continuing to participate in elections to maintain our democratic institutions.
Section 2 eliminates the requirement to obtain voter signatures to run for office in the primary, general election, or a local election. The rationale is that the current law requirement to obtain voter signatures would require candidates to come into contact with many people, which is the opposite of what is currently recommended in the face of COVID-19. Candidate consents and financial disclosure forms are still required.
This section also shortens to two weeks the time period to file candidate consents for the primary or general election, since candidates do not need the current amount of time to collect voter signatures, and to try to limit the number of candidate consents from people who may not have otherwise run for office under the current law’s voter signature requirement.
Section 3 allows the Secretary of State (SOS) in consultation and agreement with the Governor the ability to require elections to be held in a different manner, including, but not limited to mailing ballots to all registered voters, extending the time to count ballots, etc. This section also requires the SOS to adopt corresponding procedures that are necessary to ensure the public can monitor polling places and the counting of votes.
Section 4 suspends the requirement that municipalities must warn and vote on a change to Australian ballot the following year. The legislative body of the town will be able to make that change for any or all of its municipal elections held in the year 2020. The SOS may waive statutory deadlines or provisions included in a school district’s articles of agreement or municipal charter, related to a municipal election as necessary in order for a municipality to apply the Australian ballot system to its meeting in the year 2020.
Section 5-6 contain the temporary provisions related to open meeting law.
Section 5 expresses the intent that, during the continued spread of COVID-19 in Vermont, public bodies should meet electronically to protect the health and welfare of the public while providing access to the operations of government.
Section 6 authorizes public bodies to meet electronically during the declared state of emergency due to COVID-19 without designating a physical location for the meeting or requiring the presence of members or staff at a designated physical location. This section requires a public body to use technology that allows public access to an electronic meeting. If feasible, the public body must allow access by telephone. The public body must include information on how the public may access the electronic meeting as part of the posted agenda. The legislative body of each municipality and each school board also are required to record meetings, unless unusual circumstances would make it impossible for them to do so. Finally, this section authorizes public bodies, in the event of a staffing shortage, to extend the deadline for the posting of minutes for up to ten days from the date of the meeting.
Fish & Wildlife Meetings
Section 7 states that the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Fish and Wildlife Board shall not be required to hold regional meetings as required by 10 V.S.A. §§ 4081(f) (deer) and 4082(b) and (c) (migratory bird and moose), but shall be required to hold not less than five meetings by electronic means to ensure adequate public involvement.
Deadlines for Municipal Corporations
Section 8 authorizes the Governor and municipal corporations to extend deadlines applicable to municipal licenses, permits, programs and plans during the state of emergency due to COVID-19. Subsection (a) authorizes the Governor to extend deadlines applicable to municipalities for licenses, permits, programs, and plans that are due to an executive agency. A statutory deadline may be extended for not more than 90 days after the declared state of emergency ends. Licenses, permits, programs, and plans shall remain valid during this period. Subsection (b) authorizes a municipal corporation to extend deadlines applicable to municipalities for other licenses, permits, programs and plans. Further, municipal corporations are authorized to extend deadlines applicable to licenses, permits, programs, and plans that the municipal corporation issues up to 90 days after the declared state of emergency ends. These licenses shall remain valid during the period of the extension.
Moratorium on Disconnections from Public Drinking Water and Wastewater Systems
Section 9 prohibits municipal corporations, other persons and companies regulated by the Public Utility Commission from disconnecting water or wastewater systems during the declared state of emergency due to COVID-19. The Agency of Natural Resources and Public Utilities Commission will be responsible for enforcing this section.
If you really want to dig into the granularity of the municipal provisions, you can find the bill language here. It's pretty readable as legislative legalize goes.
Fourth, here is a link to today's executive summary from the State Emergency Operations Center.
Have a good evening,