Vermont governor allows vote-by-mail bill to become law

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott said Thursday he's allowing a bill to allow mail in voting during the November presidential to become law without his signature.

In a letter to members of the Vermont Legislature, Scott said there appeared to be a technical problem with the law that creates an ambiguity in how the Secretary of State deals with ballot returns.

“This is particularly concerning in light of the concerns expressed by many regarding the return process for ballots mailed to all Vermonters," the Republican governor wrote.

Scott said he hoped the Legislature would fix the problem when lawmakers return in August to deal with economic issues.

Under the new law all voters will receive ballots in the mail and they can return them by mail, take them to their local town or city clerk or bring the ballot to their polling place on Election Day.

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LEGISLATURE

Separately, Scott signed three bills into law Thursday that provide $575.7 million to help Vermont cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, Vermont House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, a Democrat, urged Scott to sign the bills, which were given final approval by the Legislature last Friday.

“Vermonters need this money now,” said Johnson’s statement, sent before the governor signed the bills.

On June 16, the Legislature passed a bill that contained $93 million in relief. That bill was signed by the governor June 19. The governor announced Wednesday the state would begin accepting applications July 6 for grants to businesses of up to $50,000 each.

Speaking of the money from the bill passed June 16, Scott said he’d instructed state officials to make it as easy as possible for businesses to apply for and receive the funds.

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BARS WARNED

Four Burlington bars have been issued warnings for not following rules intended to limit the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, the city's mayor said.

In a Wednesday statement, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger did not identify the bars or say which of the COVID-19 rules were not followed.

But the guidance for safe operation of bars during the pandemic includes limiting indoor operations to 50% capacity, limiting outdoor operations to a maximum of 150 people, having all patrons seated and prohibiting seating at the actual bar.

Weinberger says the presence of the coronavirus in Vermont is low, but the spike in cases elsewhere in the country shows “how fragile our success is.”

“Going forward, we will be watching bar activity very closely,” the statement said. “Bars need to comply proactively themselves, or we will be forced to take further action.”

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VIRUS NUMBERS

On Thursday, the Vermont Health Department reported 17 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total since the pandemic began to just under 1,230. The number of people who have died remained steady at 56.

The number of positive cases reported Thursday is high relative to recent trends in Vermont, but Health Department spokesman Bennett Truman said swings in the numbers, spread among six of Vermont's 14 counties, are not unexpected.

“Some of these are among people who have a history of traveling,” Truman said in an email.

One case was connected to the ongoing outbreak in Winooski.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.