By Paul Hughes, Republican-American
HARTFORD — State legislators are again letting Gov. Ned Lamont wield powers to combat COVID-19 after the Senate voted Tuesday to extend his expansive emergency authority until Feb. 15.
The declarations of public health and civil preparedness emergencies grant Lamont extraordinary powers over state and local government, private businesses and institutions, and people’s personal lives.
While governors have run state government and managed emergencies through executive order before, none of Lamont’s predecessors have exercised as much executive power as the first-term Democrat, and no previously declared emergencies or budget stalemates have come close to lasting almost two years.
The question before the Democrat-controlled Senate on Tuesday was to continue this unparalleled grant of executive authority another four months and 17 days, or let his powers expire Thursday. As in the Democrat-led House a day earlier, the answer was in the affirmative.
In the 18-15 Senate vote, Democrats Catherine Osten of Sprague and Dennis Bradley of Bridgeport joined the 13 Republicans in opposing the extension of the COVID-19 emergencies for a sixth time since March 10, 2020.
What Democratic legislators and the governor’s office remained unable to answer after the partisan House and Senate votes is when the states of emergency might be expected to finally end, or what metrics will be used to determine the coronavirus threat has sufficiently subsided that emergency powers are no longer needed.
“I think we are saying we’re trying to be prudent here and trying to deal with an unprecedented crisis in our state,” said Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven.
There is a check on the governor’s power: a select committee of the six top House and Senate leaders has the authority to vote down any executive order within 36 hours after the governor issues it.
DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS DEBATED if it is necessary to continue Lamont’s extraordinary powers any longer based on the state’s infection, hospitalization, death and vaccination rates.
“We are a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We have three separate but equal branches for a reason, and it is past time that the power goes back to the people,” said Senate Minority Leader Kevin C. Kelly, R-Stratford. “Our government is not wired for one-person rule, and the sixth extension of executive powers flies in the face of not only our nation’s core principles of government, but to the core principles of government that were born in this city and in this state. We are the Constitution State for a reason.”
Sen. Robert C. Sampson, R-16th District, not only opposed extending the COVID-19 emergencies, but renewed his demand that Lamont terminate them.
“Instead of extending this emergency, the governor should declare an end to it. He should rescind his emergency powers, which I believe is his option at any time, and I believe it is his obligation at this very moment,” the Wolcott lawmaker said.
DURING AN HOURLONG FLOOR SPEECH, an impassioned Sampson denounced Lamont’s vaccine-or-testing mandate for executive branch employees, preK-12 school staff, and child care workers and medical mandates in general.
“This is probably the most important message I want people to hear today. If you don’t have bodily autonomy, if you don’t own your own body, and you are not free to make your own decisions on how to treat it, then you are a slave,” he said. “It is that simple, and that is not how things work in America.”
Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester, said lives could be lost if the General Assembly co-managed the state’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak because of deliberative nature of the legislature and its committees.
“We can say ‘no,’ but the fact is if we couldn’t make decisions, if we had followed this process and made this decision to make the choices ourselves a lot of people, a lot more would not be here today,” he said. “It seems we don’t understand that people are dying. Heck, we all know, you all have to know somebody who died from COVID, and we probably know more than one person that died from it, but the reality is maybe there would have been more if we didn’t do what we have done, and were able to do it efficiently.”
There have been nearly 8,600 coronavirus-related deaths in the state outbreak, according to the latest weekly report.
“With all due respect Connecticut does not need Gov. Lamont to save us. We don’t need a lord protector. It is time for that crown to come off,” said Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, the ranking Republican senator of the Public Health Committee. “The people of Connecticut deserve better.”
LOONEY DISMISSED GOP ASSERTIONS that the COVID-19 threat has passed in Connecticut as irresponsible fantasy.
“It is wishful thinking that so many Republicans have talked about. It is the kind of wishful thinking to cause us to once again spiral into a very dangerous situation,” he said. “Wishful thinking will not end the pandemic.”
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, recalled how the highly transmissible delta variant drove a fourth pandemic wave after Republicans asserted the COVID-19 emergency was over in July when the legislature voted last to extend the public health and civil preparedness emergencies.
“I don’t think there is anyone here that wouldn’t be happy to wake up tomorrow and find this is no longer an issue for our state, for our country, or for our world, but just wishing it does not make it so,” said Sen. Mary Daugherty Abrams, D-Meriden, the Senate chairwoman of the Public Health Committee.
Lamont issued a new executive order following the final Senate vote that reauthorized and revised a set of previously issued emergency orders. The orders include maintaining state authority to require masks in schools, child care settings, and certain other higher-risk environments; continuing municipal authority to mandate universal masking in certain settings; and requiring that before landlords begin the court process to evict tenants, they must file an application with UniteCT, a program that is designed to provide fiscal assistance to landlords and renters.
STATE OFFICIALS REPORTED Tuesday there were 533 new cases of COVID-19 out of 19,555 test results received since Monday for a 2.83% daily positive test rate.
There have been 389,730 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 five patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 to 259 statewide.
There have been 3,976 cases in Naugatuck, 1,080 in Prospect and 647 in Beacon Falls since last March, according to 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.