Lamont eyes extension of emergency power

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

MIDDLETOWN — Gov. Ned Lamont put on the table Thursday another 90-day extension of the current COVID-19 emergencies that are due to expire Sept. 30.

Lamont raised the possibility during a forum at Middletown Senior Center on emergency rental assistance for households struggling to pay rent and utilities due to the pandemic.

He later said he and legislative leaders need to decide on a course of action by mid-September because he does not see the pandemic ending and he can foresee a need to quickly respond to changing developments in the state outbreak.

Democratic leaders said Thursday they are open to extending Lamont’s emergency powers, while Republican opposition to another extension showed no sign of lessening since every GOP lawmaker voted against the last continuance in July.

Meanwhile, state health officials Thursday reported there were 684 new cases of COVID-19 since Wednesday out of 22,868 tests for a daily test positivity rate of 2.99%. There was a bet decline of three hospitalized patients to 357, and 39 more coronavirus-related deaths were reported over the last week bringing the total to 8,394.

During the Middletown forum, Lamont was asked what happens following the scheduled Sept. 30 expiration of an executive order that requires landlords file for federal relief through the state’s UniteCT program before evicting people for nonpayment of rent.

“I think the plan is to work with the legislature and get it extended because the pandemic is not over, and the need is not going away, and I think right now the executive order is working pretty well,” Lamont said. “I think we’re working very closely with landlords. We’re working very closely with judicial. We’re working very closely with legal aid. But I think Sept. 30 is too short.”

Lamont later laid out what he sees as the three options for the legislature when he took questions from reporters following the forum on the rental assistance program. He said the first possibility is the legislature enact some or all of the 12 executive orders due to expire Sept. 30.

“Two, they can just extend the emergency powers another 90 days, or three, they do have their leadership committee, the ‘Gang of Six,’ if you will, and that allows us to move quickly,” Lamont said. “It allows the legislature to weigh in on any new ‘EOs’ we may need as booster shots, child vaccines and other things change the dynamics over the course of the next 60 days.”

The governor was referring to temporary changes in the state’s public health and civil preparedness emergency laws that the legislature approved in May. A select committee of the six House and Senate leaders was empowered to reject an emergency order within 36 hours of its signing.

Democratic and Republican leaders disagreed sharply on the necessity and wisdom of extending the public health and civil preparedness emergencies Lamont first declared in March 2020 for a sixth time.

“I think we will have to extend the governor’s emergency powers,” said Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven.

He said a 90-day extension is sensible to him because that would cover the first half of the 2021-22 school year, and then a decision can be made during the Christmas break about January. The General Assembly will convene its 2022 session Feb. 9.

House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said he agrees with Lamont that he will need the latitude to respond to changing public health conditions and other developments, such as booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines.

“I think there are some things the legislature could do by special act for a series of months. One example would be the tenant-landlord program, and there are just some things the governor needs to retain flexibility to address beyond Sept. 30,” he said.

Ritter said he first wants to hear specifics on the current orders Lamont would continue, any new orders being contemplated in the administration’s contingency planning and the rationale.

House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora said he opposes another extension because he believes the emergencies have passed. He said he is willing to hear out Lamont and Democrats on putting any of the existing emergency orders into legislation.

“To the extent that one of those 12 orders might need to be extended, I think we should be having that conversation, but maintaining those broad powers for another moment makes no sense to me,” he said.

After Sept. 30, Lamont can always issue a new declaration of a public health emergency or a civil preparedness emergency to respond to a COVID-19 surge, or some other concerning development, Candelora said.