Lamont extends emergency powers

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont signed declarations Tuesday to extend his emergency powers to manage the state response to the COVID-19 pandemic through April 20.

Lamont said he believes a third extension of the current public health and civil preparedness emergencies is necessary because of the ongoing public health threat despite the availability of COVID-19 vaccines.

The governor’s executive actions came as reports of 1,267 more cases of COVID-19 and 23 more deaths brought the case count to 244,899 and the death toll to 6,934 since Lamont signed his first emergency declarations last March.

Locally, the state reported Tuesday there have been 2,454 cases in Naugatuck, 600 cases in Prospect and 387 in Beacon Falls since last March. The number of cases in Naugatuck and Beacon Falls increased by nine and three, respectively since Monday. The cases in Prospect dropped by one, according to the data, which officials say is preliminary and subject to change.

There have been 80 coronavirus-associated deaths in Naugatuck, four in Beacon Falls and two in Prospect since last March, according to state data. These figures remained the same from Monday’s report.

HOUSE SPEAKER MATT RITTER, D-Hartford, and Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, favor extending the joint states of emergency to April 20. Looney said Lamont initially sought an extension to May 9.

House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford, and Senate Minority Leader Kevin C. Kelly, R-Stratford, only support an extension to March 1, subject to certain conditions, including setting a 30-day limit and requiring legislative approval for future extensions.

“Basically, Republicans want people’s voices to be heard,” Kelly said. “It’s not that hard of a concept. All we’re asking is the representatives that were elected by our community and sent to Hartford to be their voice actually get the opportunity to be their voice.”

STATE LAW SETS a maximum time limit of six months on declarations of public health and civil preparedness emergencies that allow a governor to set rules, and suspend and modify state laws, regulations and requirements through executive order.

The initial declarations Lamont signed last March were for six months, but he subsequently renewed the joint states of emergency for five more months in September.

Lamont has used emergency powers to close some businesses, place restrictions on others, limit the size of gatherings, require masks be worn in public, close school buildings to students, mobilize the Connecticut National Guard and suspend fingerprinting for firearms permits, among other actions.

State law authorizes a select committee of the four top majority leaders and two minority leaders to nullify a civil emergency declaration within 72 hours. But the law only requires this panel meet if there is a man-made disaster.

Because a naturally occurring virus causes COVID-19, this provision of the civil preparedness law has not been triggered. The governor only had to consult the six caucus leaders on the advisability of convening a special legislative session. That happened in a meeting Monday.

Another statute authorizes a select committee of the same six caucus leaders, plus the four House and Senate leaders of the Public Health Committee, to nullify a declaration of a public health emergency within 72 hours.

Candelora and Kelly said they want the select committee to meet. Looney questioned the need for a meeting because he said all the panel can do is nullify the latest declaration, and that is not going to happen.

THE MINORITY LEADERS proposed that between now and March 1, the governor’s office and legislative leaders negotiate which of Lamont’s dozens of executive orders to submit to the legislature to be codified into state law.

Kelly and Candelora said all the proposed bills must go through the regular process, including committee hearings and votes on each one. Looney said the April 20 date was selected because that is just after the last bill reporting deadlines other than for the two budget committees.

Lamont said the legislature has always had this authority, and legislators have had the ability to take action since the session opened Jan. 6.

“If you want me to shut down all the schools or open the schools or leave it up to local superintendents, whatever your issue might be, we are ready to take a look at it, and they definitely have the right to weigh in any time they want to,” he said.

Lamont also agreed with Republican leaders the metrics of the pandemic should determine what precautions are taken to limit spread of the viral disease. Candelora and Kelly proposed the governor make a case to continue specific executive orders based on public health conditions before their proposed March 1 deadline.

“Look, I think what they said was right,” Lamont said. “They said ‘let’s do it going forward based upon the metrics’. Metrics mean how high is the positivity rate, how many people are in the hospitals and how we are doing.”

Looney said he has yet to hear from Republicans whether they propose to manage responses to the pandemic through legislative action and how hands-on the legislature should get.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this report.