HARTFORD, CT – Legislative leaders and the co-chairs and ranking members of the Public Health Committee declined to take any action to overturn Gov. Ned Lamont’s civil emergency preparedness and public health declarations.
Under state law, the group – which is essentially an executive subcommittee of the Public Health Committee and rarely meets – can nullify civil preparedness and public health emergency declarations by a majority vote.
Committee members remarked how they were in uncharted territory. They have until Friday at 2:45 p.m. to make a decision about the six-month emergency declaration that expires on Sept. 9.
Sen. Mary Daugherty Abrams, D-Meriden, acknowledged the importance of the committee’s function but stressed there is bipartisan support for Lamont’s handling of the coronavirus.
“With considerable powers given to the governor there has to be a check and balance,” Abrams said. “But with that being said, I’m in full support of what the governor’s office is doing and appreciate the work done by all agencies involved.”
While declining to take any action Wednesday, House Majority Leader Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, stressed that members will still have a vital role to play in the coming weeks as new issues arise regarding topics like school closings and unpaid sick leave.
“Although this committee will disband, we’re still going to have to vote on some stuff,” Ritter said. “Our role doesn’t go away. This committee just goes away.”
Ritter said they will continue to advise the governor.
Should the governor seek to extend the emergency period with a new order, Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the committee would have the right to convene and discuss it again.
There were two confirmed cases of coronavirus in Connecticut as of 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Expedited emergency preparations have already commenced throughout the state. On Tuesday, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) announced it was canceling all remaining high school tournament games for the winter sports season, based on both the risk of the virus spreading and the logistics involved with multiple districts making their own decisions about whether to participate, and how or where they would be willing to do so.
Connecticut’s Region 14 school district, comprising four academic buildings between the towns of Woodbury and Bethlehem, were closed for the remainder of the week in order to disinfect facilities following the exposure of a student to a family member who had tested positive for COVID-19.
Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said she understands that some individuals may be upset at what they consider to be a rash action, or an overreaction, to the situation, but she insisted the process of containment is very complex.
“It’s not as black and white as it seems. We just need patience and understanding in an unprecedented time,” Klarides said.
House Speaker Joseph Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said that out of an abundance of caution it’s better for the state to err on the side of caution with preventative measures.
“If six months from now people are criticizing us for overreacting and we still only have two cases, I think we’ve all done our job,” Areismowicz said. “I will accept and welcome that criticism because we need to do what’s best for the state.”
Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said that Connecticut has a real opportunity to learn from containment failures in other states and other countries around the world.
“Some of them wish they had taken more decisive actions much earlier than they did,” Looney said.
Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, agreed that now is the time for action and referenced a recent report that said Germany expects 70% of its population to be impacted by coronavirus.
“We have this ability and opportunity to be as proactive as possible,” Duff said. “Any steps we take today will help so that we are not taking more drastic steps later this spring.”
Legislative leaders are meeting again this afternoon to further discuss potential changes to the legislative process.
They’ve already decided to close the building for cleaning Thursday and Friday and will have to reassess how legislative business, including public hearings and meetings, are conducted next week.
It’s possible the legislature will need to vote to approve rule changes, which would require a two-thirds vote of each chamber. It’s unclear what those changes will be.
The “joint favorable deadline” to pass a bill through a committee has been extended by two days. It could be extended further if the building remains closed past this weekend.