By Paul Hughes, Republican-American
HARTFORD — The House voted Monday to extend Gov. Ned Lamont’s sweeping powers to manage the ongoing state response to the COVID-19 pandemic amid protests against another extension.
Dozens of demonstrators including parents upset over school mask mandates and vaccine skeptics demanded the legislature end rather than extend the public health and civil preparedness emergencies to mid-February.
Protesters following the House debate on a television monitor set up on the north steps of the state Capitol cheered Rep. Gale L. Mastrofrancesco, R-Wolcott, when she declared there is no longer a COVID-19 emergency in Connecticut.
There was little doubt, though, that Mastrofrancesco would be in the minority when the Democrat-controlled House finally voted on extending the joint emergency declarations for a sixth time since March 2020.
After four hours of debate, the House voted 80-60 to continue the public health and civil preparedness emergencies to Feb. 15, with every Republican and 10 Democrats opposing the latest renewals.
The Democrat-controlled Senate is scheduled to convene Tuesday at 10 a.m. to vote on granting final legislative approval of the renewed emergency declarations.
THE TWO EMERGENCY STATUTES give a governor wide authority to make rules and suspend or modify state laws, regulations and requirements through executive order.
“It may not be the majority of Connecticut residents who take issue with some of these executive orders, but it is certainly a very vocal minority,” said House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford.
He said he believes current circumstances in the state’s COVID-19 outbreak no longer require that policy decisions be made immediately, so the legislature can be involved in shaping the state response.
“The reality is if a decision needs to be made immediately the governor can still do that. So, our ‘no’ vote today is not saying don’t let the governor make that decision, but what it is saying is bring back deliberation,” Candelora said.
House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, said COVID-19 fatigue cuts across the political spectrum, but the ongoing public health threat requires continued vigilance.
“We’ve grown weary of the disruption. We’ve grown weary of the uncertainty. We’ve grown weary of not living our lives in the way that we did before March 2020. I get that,” he said. “We all want to return to a day with no daily positivity rate updates, no headlines of a COVID surge somewhere around the country, a day when schoolchildren and their teachers don’t have to wear a mask. But what has become painfully apparent to all of us is that COVID virus is unpredictable.”
He also defended Lamont’s use of his emergency powers.
“He has not acted like a king. He has not acted like a tyrant, nor have we abdicated our responsibility as a coequal branch of government to work with the governor to meet the challenges that we have faced since March 2020,” Rojas said.
THE HOUSE SESSION OPENED with a stern warning from House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, that he would cut off debate and immediately call a vote if any members defied a rule requiring masks be worn in the chamber unless someone is speaking.
During the four-hour debate that followed, House Republicans argued Lamont could always issue new emergency declarations to respond to evolving developments in the state outbreak, or take other actions short of invoking a state of emergency.
“News flash: There’s not an emergency,” said Rep. Rosa C. Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, a deputy GOP leader.
House Republicans tried to amend the House resolution to require committee hearings on executive orders issued under the governor’s emergency authority, but were ruled out of order.
Rep. Jay M. Case, R-Winsted, said the full legislature and its committees should now be involved in the decision-making on the response to COVID-19.
“We need to do our job. Not one person in this building should be doing our job for everybody here. Ladies and gentlemen, it is getting scary out there because we are starting to pick winners and losers,” he said.
At this time, if the legislature votes to extend the COVID-19 emergency declarations, then a select committee of the six top House and Senate leaders can vote down any executive order within 72 hours.
“So, our democracy is intact. We are not threatened by that,” said Rep. Stephen R. Meskers, D-Greenwich, adding he is doing his job in supporting the latest extension requests.
Case said no one who has contacted him supports continuing the COVID-19 emergencies.
“I have not had one call, one email, one text for me to vote ‘yes.’ Every one I get is, ‘Please help us, vote no, start doing your job,’ and I agree with that,” he said.
Mastrofrancesco accused Lamont and his administration of fear-mongering on COVID-19, and she challenged the accuracy and reliability of routinely reported COVID-19 statistics.
“They’re creating a lot of fear for people,” Mastrofrancesco said.
STATE HEALTH OFFICIALS REPORTED Monday there were 1,444 new cases of COVID-19 out of 64,771 test results received since Friday for a 2.23% positive test rate.
There have been 389,177 cases reported since March 2020, and more than 11 million molecular and antigen tests have been performed.
There have been 8,483 coronavirus-associated deaths, according to the most recent reported totals.
There was a net decline of 18 patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 over the weekend to 264 statewide.
There have been 3,967 cases in Naugatuck, 1,079 in Prospect and 643 in Beacon Falls since last March, according to health officials.
There have been 100 coronavirus-associated deaths in Naugatuck, six in Beacon Falls and five in Prospect, according to the most recent reported totals.
Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.