From the Vermont State House | 4.24.2020

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From the Governor and Administration

Governor Scott continued with his phased approach to slowly reopen certain sectors of business as Vermont health data shows continued improvement in containing COVID-19. In today’s Addendum 11 to his original Executive Order, the Governor expanded some sectors and announced new ones, including:

  • Expanding existing authority granted to outdoor workers (such as civil engineering, site work, exterior construction, skilled trades, public works, energy and utility work, mining, forestry, environmental monitoring, landscaping, painting, tree work, etc.) to now also include recreation maintenance and increasing the allowed number of employees from 2 to 5 total workers per location/job.
  • Allowing manufacturing and distribution operations to resume operations with a maximum of 5 employees in any location if they are low-density
  • Expanding interior construction in uninhabited structures to also allow no more than 5 workers maintaining social distancing
  • Allowing outdoor retail operations, such as garden centers and greenhouses to have in-person shopping, but no more than one customer per 200 square feet and no more than 10 total people including customers and staff.
  • Effective May 1, farmers markets may open using limited in-person operations. Markets are directed to use a “pre-order, local food pick-up” model.

In addition, and in a likely precursor in application to all business in subsequent phases of reopening, the Governor directed that all operations shall designate a health officer on-site at every shift responsible for ensuring compliance with the reopening Orders. This person shall have the authority to stop or modify activities to ensure work conforms with the mandatory health and safety requirements.

All employees, including those already working (except healthcare workers, first responders, and others already trained in infection control and personal protection), must complete, and employers must document, a mandatory training on health and safety requirements as provided by the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Agency (VOSHA), or another training program that meets or exceeds the VOSHA-provided standard.

All employers shall provide training and a written copy of standard operating procedures to be developed by VOSHA and in consultation with the Vermont Department of Health (VDH). All businesses and non-profit and government entities in operation must complete and document mandatory health and safety training by May 4, 2020.

The revisions to the phased opening of existing and new businesses becomes effective this Monday, April 27, while the remaining provisions in Addendum 11 became effective with his signature on April 24. If history is any guide, and the data continues to support, we can expect additional phased openings to be announced next Friday.

The Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) continues to be the point agency for implementation, guidance and questions from Vermonters and businesses. ACCD has updated its Guidance on New Work to reflect the changes announced today.

From the Legislature

This past week the House of Representatives finally worked through technological and training challenges to allow remote floor proceedings, including voting. It will no doubt continue to pose challenges and be time-consuming at times, but with this development the House now joins the Senate in being able to move COVID-19 and related legislation through the process and to the Governor.

The House took advantage of its new authority and passed measures previously acted on by the Senate. This includes a bill (S.340) authorizing the State Treasurer to borrow among state funds in FY20, another (S.316) related to execution of wills during the emergency, another (S.341) that permits the Tax Department to disclose taxpayer information to the Department of Labor for purposes of eligibility for federal unemployment insurance benefits, and another (S.114) related to judicial procedures during the emergency. The bills will now head straight to the Governor for signature, or in a couple pf cases back to the Senate because of minor amendments made by the House.

In the meantime, the Senate has continued its focus on the next wave of COVID-19 related measures. The Senate Economic Development Committee has given its approval to a bill creating a presumption for workers’ compensation coverage for certain, defined essential workers, such as emergency response personnel, health care workers, and others that are employed in sectors that are on the front-lines in this pandemic. Several states have acted in similar fashion, though the scope of employees covered varies. The bill under consideration in Vermont is tied to the emergency and is repealed next January, allows the employer or insurer to rebut the presumption if the preponderance of the evidence shows the worker did not contract the virus in the course of employment, and contains other requirements or conditions. The bill will likely be considered by the full Senate next week, and then head to the House for its consideration.

Finally, the Senate Appropriations Committee is considering legislation that creates the Essential Employees Grant Program for the payment of monthly grants to certain, eligible employees performing essential work that exposes them to an increased risk of contracting COVID-19.  Among the criteria is eligibility for workers earning $25/hour or less and grants to such eligible employees range from an estimated $600 to $1,000. The bill is funded through monies coming to Vermont from the federal CARES Act. Those funds come with their own restrictions on use. It is not clear at this point if providing extra pay to essential workers is a permitted use. The Senate will continue to develop the bill and may act on it as early as late next week.