It’s bad enough that Gov. Phil Scott offered an “olive branch” that put every local elected official in the crosshairs of the masking debate. It’s bad enough that he can shirk all responsibility because hey, he offered a proposal! It’s bad enough that legislative leaders fell for his little trap, which means a special session on Monday for the sole purpose of passing a bill strictly adhering to his demands. It’s bad enough that the House will have to meet in person, subjecting its many elders — and parents with young children — to coronavirus exposure. It’s bad enough that we’ll spend $50,000 or more for the special session.
But you know the topper on this shit sandwich? It’s completely unnecessary.
This was brought to my attention through Robert Oeser’s Twitter feed, so full credit to him. Oeser pointed out that there is already a law on the books that allows communities to enact their own, purely local mask mandates. Specifically, this passage from 18 V.S.A. § 613:
(a) A local board of health may make and enforce rules in such town or city relating to the prevention, removal, or destruction of public health hazards and the mitigation of public health risks, provided that such rules have been approved by the Commissioner. Such rules shall be posted and published in the same manner that ordinances of the municipality are required to be posted and published.
See, it’s already there. Scott’s version is essentially the same. So why all the folderol? Why all the travel and the expense of a special session?
Because Scott is, once again, ducking responsibility.
Scott’s plan allows communities to enact mask mandates and requires them to renew mandates every 30 days. 18 V.S.A. § 613 allows communities to enact mask mandates with the approval of the state Health Commissioner, one Dr. Mark Levine. Presumably if Levine thought it best, he could approve mandates with 30-day limits. The law grants him broad authority.
The only real difference between Scott’s idea and the existing law is that it lets Levine off the hook. Which, by extension, keeps the administration completely out of the mask debate.
And that’s what Phil Scott really wants. He wants to have nothing to do with mask mandates. He wants it so badly that he’s willing to go through all this rigmarole of a special rubber-stamp session to enact a new law that removes Levine from the equation.
Scott would have to take one simple action to clear the way for 18 V.S.A. § 613. In a June 21 executive order, Scott bypassed the law. He required mask mandates to get his permission, not Levine’s. And then he rejected a mask mandate enacted by Brattleboro.
One might well wonder if someone could have taken Scott to court over this abrogation of the law, but that’s water under the bridge. Right now, one might well wonder why Scott is so desperate to avoid responsibility for mask mandates like the, um, plague. And one might wonder why the Democratic leadership in the Legislature hasn’t called him out for this nonsense.