HARTFORD, CT—Gov. Ned Lamont signalled Thursday he would ask the legislature to extend the emergency declarations that have backed his COVID-19-related executive orders since last March.
The public health and civil emergency declarations have given Lamont the authority to do things like restrict the operation of businesses and require masks and social distancing in response to the ongoing pandemic. The declarations are set to expire on Feb. 9. During a televised news briefing Thursday, Lamont and his chief of staff, Paul Mounds, said they planned to approach legislative leaders and seek an extension.
“I think we are going to ask,” Lamont said. “I think the legislative leadership would like to give us a little more time.”
Mounds said the administration was arranging to meet with lawmakers next week to discuss the extension. The legislature already extended the declarations once in September, when they had previously been set to expire. However, the question before leaders is somewhat different now that the legislature is back in session. The two chambers are free to change or reverse Lamont’s orders if they do not agree with them. So far, that has not happened.
The governor said allowing the orders to expire without legislative action would be a mistake.
“Either they can vote on each and every one of the 80 executive orders or they all end on Feb. 9—we’re going to work this out. We’ve got good leadership on both sides of the aisle. We’re going to find a good compromise going forward,” Lamont said.
Last month, Democratic leaders who control both chambers of the legislature seemed willing to work with Lamont if necessary on extending his authority before the February deadline, but expressed interest in shortening the duration of the declarations. They also wanted a say in how federal COVID relief funds are spent this year. Republicans, on the other hand, had concerns about leaving so much power in the hands of the Executive Branch.
Lamont’s public health orders have also prompted a handful of lawsuits. The Connecticut Supreme Court heard arguments in one case in which a lawyer for a Milford business owner accused the governor of “playing God” with his emergency powers. The court ultimately sided with the governor and upheld his executive orders.
When asked about his critics on Thursday, Lamont defended the orders.
“The legislature granted me this authority because the nature of the real time decision-making we’ve got to make. We had to set up Rentschler Field,” he said, referring to the mass vaccination site in East Hartford. “It required making some changes on short order. Again, if there’s any extension, it’s only with the permission of the legislature. If there are any executive orders the legislature don’t like—cast a vote on it.”
When a special bipartisan committee of legislative leaders extended his authority in September, Lamont said he hoped the virus situation would be more under control by this stage. On Thursday, the state infection rate sat at 4.3% with a 5.2% average for the week. It was an ongoing sign that the post-holiday infection spike the state has endured for the last few weeks is beginning to stabilize.
The relative lull in infection rates has at least one of Connecticut’s neighbors easing some restrictions on Thursday. Effective Monday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker rescinded an order that forced some businesses to close by 9:30 p.m.
Lamont declined to rescind a similar order on Connecticut businesses Thursday, citing the reopening of schools, colleges, and some winter sports in the coming weeks. The governor said he was also watching to see what impact the more infectious strain of the virus would have on the state’s COVID situation.
“Let’s take a look in a couple of weeks but I appreciate the trend,” he said.