Lamont to ask legislature to extend mask order for schools

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

MIDDLETOWN — Gov. Ned Lamont is going to ask the legislature to continue his emergency order requiring staff and students in public school settings to wear masks beyond the order’s April 20 expiration date.

Lamont stated his belief Tuesday that most parents favor keeping the mask mandate while COVID-19 remains a public health threat, a day after winning a court challenge from families objecting to the coronavirus-related requirement.

“I think a lot more parents are nervous about the fact that there might be COVID in the classroom than there are parents who say, ‘I hate the masks. You can’t make me wear the mask,’” he said. “I would be inclined to probably ask the legislature sometime as we approach April 20, ‘Let’s keep the mask mandate in the classrooms going a little longer, what do you say?’”

In upholding the mask mandate, a Superior Court judge stated the legislature should be doing a lot more, according to a 36-page ruling that expounded on the legal limits of a governor’s powers and the need for greater legislative oversight in public health and civil preparedness emergencies.

Lamont said the next move is the legislature’s to make because the current emergency declarations and many related executive orders are due to expire in six weeks on April 20.

The mask mandate in schools was the focus of questions during a news conference at Middletown City Hall, but Lamont has issued more than 90 executive orders since he first signed declarations of public health and civil preparedness emergencies in March 2020.

LAMONT AND LT. GOV. SUSAN BYSIEWICZ continued to take the position that the legislature is free to adopt, modify or reject any of the governor’s executive orders.

Lamont said legislators can pass legislation to override mask mandates, his age-based vaccination program, or any other pandemic-related executive order or decision he has made and substitute a majority’s will.

“Right now, my ‘EOs’ are in place, but if anybody wants to counter, I’m willing to listen, and then on April 20 the legislature will step in and make some determinations, but I’ll give them some strong recommendations, starting with masks in the classroom and on the buses,” he continued.

Lamont and Bysiewicz observed that legislators have yet to take any action since the 2021 session opened Jan. 6. Lamont said he has not been presented with proposals to extend, revise or rescind specific emergency orders.

“When this debate got started, the governor said to the legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle, ‘OK, which executive order don’t you like,’ and they couldn’t point to a one,” Bysiewicz said. “And here we are, now half way through the session, and there are not a whole lot of bills that came forward to overturn those. So, we have to assume the legislature is generally on board and we’ll keep having those discussions for April 20.”

The Republican minorities in the House and Senate continue to encounter Democratic resistance to GOP calls for greater legislative involvement and oversight of the state’s pandemic response, said Senate Minority Leader Kevin C. Kelly, R-Stratford.

He said Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s ruling in the mask mandate challenge represented a call to action.

THE CURRENT STATUTES grant a governor wide authority to set rules and suspend or modify state laws, regulations and requirements in declared public health and civil preparedness emergencies.

Moukawsher concluded the state Constitution likely does not permit the General Assembly to grant legislative powers to the governor without limits on what he can do, how he can do it and how long he can do it.

In his opinion, he wrote that state law likely requires a way for the legislature to disapprove of emergency orders and a six-month limit on emergency declarations and legislative approval of any extensions. In addition, he said Lamont is likely obligated to submit all his emergency orders to lawmakers to be ratified or rejected.

Yet, Moukawsher stated no immediate action is required pending a written opinion from the state’s Supreme Court explaining its rationale for upholding Lamont’s emergency powers in December in a related challenge from a Milford bar owner. The high court’s long-awaited guidance could upend Moukawsher’s decision in the mask mandate case.

The initial ruling upheld a Superior Court judge’s decision in September that rejected claims the Democratic governor was exceeding his legal authority in ordering the closing of bars and restricting certain other business activities in efforts to curb the spread of the virus. The justices also sustained the lower court’s denial of a request to block the orders.