Republicans oppose Lamont extending COVID emergency powers

Photo of Ken Dixon

As promised, Gov. Ned Lamont on Tuesday extended his emergency powers until February in the coronavirus pandemic that has killed 4,465 residents and disrupted the Connecticut economy.

Citing the need to further address the pandemic, including the crucial opening of schools and businesses still shut in the health crisis, Lamont ordered the civil preparedness and public health emergencies to now expire on Feb. 9. Without the extension, they would have ended on Sept. 9, possibly putting in danger the wide-ranging public health measures, including the closures of bars and partial openings of restaurants.

Minority Republicans in the General Assembly immediately protested the action and called for the 10-member group of legislative leaders who approved the emergency powers in March to meet again this week to reconsider the action before a 72-hour deadline passes.

“We’ve come a long way from where we were when COVID-19 first hit Connecticut back in March, and working with our public health officials, other stakeholders, and residents, we’ve built an infrastructure that has taken our state to one of the lowest rates of transmission in the country,” Lamont said in a statement. “But Connecticut is not out of the woods yet, and the executive orders we’ve put in place remain critical in our daily fight to contain COVID-19.”

Lamont warned that Connecticut cannot risk the progress the state has made during the pandemic.

“Over the next several months, our administration will continue working with our partners in the legislature, in our municipalities, in our nonprofits, in our long-term care facilities, and in our hospitals to collaboratively combat this virus,” Lamont said.

But House Minority Leader Themis Klarides and Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano said they have “grave concerns” about the extension of unilateral power, even though the General Assembly’s next regular session doesn’t start until January.

“We believe that the power must be given back to the elected representatives who have been elected by the people to act legislatively,” said Fasano, R-North Haven and Klarides, R-Derby. “Whether Gov. Lamont did a good job or not is not what is in question. This is about protecting the operation of equal branches of government in which the people’s voices are heard through their representatives. To achieve that end, we need to reject the full extension of the governor's emergency powers without any additional checks and balances.”

Lawyers are now studying the two state laws on emergency declarations. While the public health emergency allows the extension or renewal by the governor, subject to a veto by the group of 10 predominantly Democratic leaders, the civil preparedness emergency seems to require new legislative authority, according to a theory that could lead to a legal challenge.

A group of conservative House Republicans on Tuesday vehemently opposed the extension.

“It is time now for the Connecticut General Assembly to stand up and end the unilateral rule of Gov. Lamont, reestablishing its appropriate role of representing the people of Connecticut,” said the group, which includes Rep. Craig Fishbein, of Wallingford, Rep. David T. Wilson, of Litchfield, Rep. Joe Polletta, of Watertown, Rep. John Piscopo, of Thomaston, and Rep. Vincent Candelora, of North Branford. Twitter: @KenDixonCT