By Paul Hughes, Republican-American
HARTFORD — State lawmakers will return in special session early next week to vote on extending the state’s COVID-19 emergency until mid-February.
The governor’s office on Monday confirmed Gov. Ned Lamont will submit a required notice to General Assembly leaders on Wednesday that he plans to renew the declarations of public health and civil preparedness emergencies for a sixth time since March 2020.
The House will vote first on the extensions in a special session Monday, and then the Senate will vote in a special session the following day. The current declarations and all related executive orders expire Sept. 30.
At the request of Democratic majority leaders, Lamont will propose to extend the dual states of emergency until Feb. 15, said Max Reiss, the governor’s director of communications.
This 138-day extension will carry through the opening of the legislature’s 2022 regular session on Feb. 9, said House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford.
At that time, he said legislators and legislative committees will be able to follow the regular processes of lawmaking, including the introduction of legislation, committee hearings and votes on proposed bills and resolutions, and House and Senate votes on items that committees advance.
No Republicans voted for the last continuances in July, and no GOP votes are expected in next week’s House and Senate sessions.
“If they would like bipartisan support, we should be having a conversation about how to get there, and talk about limiting the authority that is delegated,” said House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora. “But there doesn’t seem to be a lot of interest in having that conversation. The Democrats just want to give him another blank check.”
The public health and civil preparedness emergency statutes grant Lamont sweeping authority to set rules and modify or suspend state laws, regulations and requirements through executive order.
Earlier this year, the legislature temporarily revised the two emergency statutes to require the full legislature approve emergency declarations through March 2022. If a declaration is approved, then a select committee of the six top House and Senate leaders are authorized to vote down any new executive orders.
Any of the six legislative leaders can request a vote on any executive order. The law gives the select committee a 72-hour window once an order is issued to reject the directive. If a timely request is made, Ritter said a meeting will be scheduled within 24 hours.
With Democrats and Lamont in lockstep, Candelora said he is not anticipating any such Republican requests because any vote would be a only symbolic political gesture after the fact.
“Under this construct, it is the governor making decisions in private, and out comes the law. It is backwards for legislative leaders to come in and veto it,” he said “We’re supposed to be the lawmakers. We’re supposed to deliberate at the front-end, not being offered the ability to come in and veto it at the back-end.”
Ritter cited three examples where he said House Democrats believe the governor needs to retain authority or flexibility to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak — the school mask mandate, the administration of COVID-19 booster shots, and vaccination-or-testing mandates for certain state employees and other workers.
“I think people feel like those are good steps to get us through this delta variant, and, hopefully, on other side of the winter, and get to a point where next spring, or even late next winter we can really stop talking about COVID as the emergency that it is today,” he said.
Candelora said another extension is unnecessary because Lamont can always declare a public health or civil preparedness emergency to respond to changing developments in the pandemic, or the governor’s office and legislative leaders could have a conversation first about what powers are needed in specific circumstances.
STATE HEALTH OFFICIALS REPORTED Monday there were 1,446 new cases of COVID-19 out of 67,484 test results received since Friday for a 2.14% positive test rate.
There have been 385,788 cases reported since March 2020, and more than 10.9 million molecular and antigen tests have been performed.
There have been 8,447 coronavirus-associated deaths, according to the most recent reported totals.
There was a net decline of 23 patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 over the weekend to 309 statewide, including 102 patients in Hartford County, 71 patients in Fairfield County and 65 in New Haven Country.
There have been 3,953 cases in Naugatuck, 1,072 in Prospect and 644 in Beacon Falls since last March, according to health officials.
There have been 99 coronavirus-associated deaths in Naugatuck, six in Beacon Falls and five in Prospect.
Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.