What lawmakers are working on now

MONTPELIER — Here’s some of the business state lawmakers have been tending to since mid-March:
•  Rules allowing for documents to be notarized through virtual means.
“During an emergency, there are people looking at things like legal powers of attorney, advanced directives for estates and trusts,” said Sen. Chris Bray, D-Bristol. “Law has required such documents be signed in the presence of a notary. Now, we need to have people stay physically distant.”
The emergency law allows for such documents to be signed remotely — provided audio and visual records to that act are kept for at least seven years.
“We’re trying to make sure we have a robust record in case this new way of doing things leads to any kind of questions, afterwards,” Bray said.
•  Rules that would allow farmers’ markets to open, and to ensure plants and seeds will be available for people’s home gardens.
“We’re wanting to make sure that local food, and the ability to grow local food, is operational, given the growing season is starting,” said Hardy.
•  Questions about trash collection, and whether recyclables should be allowed to be landfilled through the pandemic.
Bray and his colleagues have been working with state administrators to make sure “there’s good science behind any adjustments to the program. Basically, they’re holding the line.”
•  A new measure that ensures insurance reimbursement to healthcare providers for telemedicine appointments with patients.
“We want people to still be able to access medical services, but we don’t necessarily want them to go to the doctor in person,” Hardy said.
•  Adjustments to election laws to make it easier for candidates to register, and for people to vote, amid potential pandemic conditions later this summer and fall. For example, candidates won’t have to gather petition signatures for the state’s primary elections in August and the general election in November, though they’ll still have to file financial disclosure forms.
“The August primary is already breathing down our neck, in terms of getting ready for that,” Bray noted.
•  Legislation to leverage more funding for emergency response organizations that have seen revenues drop during the pandemic. Lost sources of income stem in part from fewer transfers of patients from one hospital to another. Hospitals have dramatically reduced the number of elective surgeries they host due to the current emphasis on COVID-19.
“There are many people who are sick but they aren’t being transported to hospitals,” Bray said. “Their call volume is up, but a smaller percentage of that volume leads to an actual trip to the hospital.”
Bray said the Legislature has been advising Vermont’s Congressional delegation on funding needs for emergency medical services. In Washington, Congress is considering a second, major COVID-related aid package.
•  For now, the Vermont Department of Health and Agency of Natural Resources haven’t recommended suspending or canceling the scheduled July 1 ban of single-use plastic bags.
“The most helpful thing people can do is to wash their reusable bags” before and after each supermarket visit, Bray said.
•  Suspended almost all evictions throughout the state until after the crisis, expect for emergency cases.
“Housing is a big issue for people, and with a stay-at-home order, we want people to have a home in which to stay,” Hardy said.
•  Suspended many court operations, while the Department of Corrections has released almost 230 people from jail since the governor’s emergency declaration.
•  Passed legislation giving hospitals more flexibility in budgeting and in expanding their facilities during the pandemic.
•  Legislators are also taking testimony on marriage licenses — specifically, how they can be recorded without the requisite trip to a town clerk.
Bray said there are front-line medical providers who are suddenly feeling vulnerable, have been thinking about getting married and now want to go ahead and take that step. Marriage law, he noted, has profound implications on such things as the power to help make medical decisions for a partner and Social Security.
“We don’t want people who are legitimately vulnerable to not get a marriage license.,” he said. “We’re on the verge of getting that sorted out.”

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