Vermont senators may soon follow the lead of their House colleagues and give themselves the ability to pass bills without crowding into the tight quarters of the Statehouse.
Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) said Monday his chamber is looking into remote voting methods as a way to ensure that the state’s 30 senators continue to work effectively during the coronavirus crisis.
“The next time we are in session, we will be taking up the remote voting question, and I am confident we will pass a rule that allows us to vote remotely,” Ashe said.
He said it’s not clear when that will take place, but he expected to see a draft of such a rule change this week. A quorum of the Senate — 16 members — would likely still have to return to the Statehouse to approve the change, Ashe said.
That will be easier — and safer — to pull off than it was for the 150-member House to vote on remote voting last week. Rep. Cynthia Browning (D-Arlington) insisted that a quorum be present, forcing more than 76 members to return to the Statehouse.
Browning has said she wanted the House to follow its own rules, but the parliamentary maneuver earned her opprobrium from her colleagues, who called it irresponsible. House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) responded by stripping Browning of her post on the influential Ways and Means Committee.
The House still needs to hold a remote vote to approve the rule change, and Johnson said a date for that has not yet been set.
Johnson has said it is crucial for lawmakers to have the ability to vote remotely during the public health crisis in order to reduce the spread of the disease — but still pass important legislation.
The Senate has conducted much of its recent business over the video-conferencing service Zoom. Senators are getting used to the format, Ashe said, and "I think almost everyone is supportive of it as a tool."
"Debating is going to be the more tricky piece," Ashe said. "Whether it's 30 or 150, you want to make sure the debate is fair if you're voting remotely."
Disclosure: Tim Ashe is the domestic partner of Seven Days publisher and coeditor Paula Routly. Find our conflict-of-interest policy here: sevendaysvt.com/disclosure.