Vermont town votes to ‘terminate’ state virus restrictions

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Vermont senators sit spaced apart to meet the social distance requirements set by the governor, Tuesday March 24, 2020, at the Statehouse in Montpelier, Vt. The Senate met with 17 members, one over the required quorum, to pass legislation needed to confront the coronavirus pandemic. (Paul Heintz/Seven Days via AP, Pool)

STAMFORD, Vt. (AP) — The Vermont town of Stamford has voted to overturn in its community Gov. Phil Scott’s emergency orders issued with the intention of protecting the state during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The select board of the town of about 800 people along the Massachusetts border voted 3-2 Tuesday to “terminate” the governor’s restrictions.

The three board members in favor of the idea cite a section of Vermont law that they believe allows them to reject the governor’s order.

Select board member Daniel Potvin said during the meeting that quarantine requirements, restrictions on large family or public gatherings, and face mask requirements “violate the constitution” in part because they were imposed without normal due process of law.

He asserted it was important to stand up against such measures because it could lead to more loss of personal freedoms later on. Scott hasn’t enforced the orders heavy handedly, he said, “but that could change.”

Potvin said Friday the town is expecting some type of legal action from the state of Vermont, but “until it’s cleared up the governor’s orders are still in effect.”

“There will be a battle,” he said, noting he did not know exactly how that legal battle would play out.

Deborah Bucknam, a Walden attorney, the vice chairwoman of the Vermont Republican Party and a former candidate for attorney general, has agreed to represent the town for free.

In a letter dated Wednesday to the chair of the select board and the Stamford town clerk, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Phillips said Vermont law does not give the town authority to terminate the state of emergency.

“These truly are distressing times, and I understand that good people, differently situated, may have diverging views as to how to best respond to this crisis,” Phillips’ letter said. “But the law is clear on this matter, and (the emergency order) remains in full force and effect within the Town of Stamford.”

The letter did not say what the state would do should the town continue to maintain it can terminate the order.

Scott said Thursday during his regular virus briefing the state feels it’s on solid legal ground.

“We’ve been talking about this for quite some time so an entity doesn’t get to opt out, they’re all part of Vermont,” Scott said.

A number of townspeople — and a majority of select board members — have been debating the issue for about a month. While the board met in person, a number of people called in to voice their opinions.

Some residents have said they believe Scott’s actions are legal and have helped keep Vermont’s COVID-19 infection rate among the lowest in the nation.

“It doesn’t make sense at all,” Stamford resident Pat Sullivan said at the meeting. “In fact, it horrifies me.”

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