HARTFORD, CT — Democrats in the House voted to extend Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive powers until May 20 over the objections of Republicans, who feel the other party has dragged their feet over continued executive authority.
The bill passed 90 to 50. It still needs to be approved by the Senate, which could happen as early as next week.
House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said there are roughly 93 executive orders that make about 300 modifications to state law and regulations. He said Democrats have refused to sit down and review those orders with them to decide which should be kept in place, codified or permitted to expire.
Republicans were also seeking to change the underlying statutes that permit the governor’s emergency declarations.
“We are asking that the executive order statutes be amended to delineate between civil preparedness and public health,” Candelora said. “To limit the duration by which any sitting governor could have an executive order that would require that time limit be such that the legislature could vote on it every 30 days or when we are not in session it’s every 60 days.”
Republicans offered an amendment that would end the civil preparedness declaration and continue the public health emergency. The amendment, which was defeated, also said any future declaration would need to be extended by a two-thirds vote of the legislature.
During a press conference, Lamont said the extension was necessary. Connecticut continued to be in a state of emergency, he said. He pointed to the state’s COVID infection rate, which had been creeping up. The seven day average stood Thursday at 3.7%. “We’re not out of this yet,” he said.
“We’re putting our foot to the metal right now– pedal to the metal, doing everything we can to get more people vaccinated. We have to be able to move quickly in order to get that done. So I don’t think this is any time for us to take our eye off the ball,” Lamont said.
Republicans aren’t opposed to the executive branch governing on a limited basis.
“I do think the executive branch and all of their agencies need to be an active participant in this process,” Candelora said. “What we’re asking for is that that process occur.”
The entire House of Representatives weighed the issue Thursday. The legislature took a more hands-off approach through previous extensions. A committee of 10 leaders allowed the governor to extend the declarations in September. Lamont extended the authority again in January without legislative interference.
“This is the first time since March since they were enacted that we’ve had a chance to discuss them on the floor,” Rep. Thomas O’Dea, R-New Canaan, said during the debate.
“The governor has overstepped his authority because we’ve allowed him to,” O’Dea added
House Speaker Matt Ritter said uncertainty around the ongoing COVID situation made continuing the declarations necessary.
“It’s so unpredictable and we’ve seen the cycles go up and down it’s not as simple as saying we have an end date we should be able to get there,” Ritter said.
Ritter said they will reassess the situation in May.
“We are operating under the notion that when we get to May 20th because of vaccination rates we will be in a much different place than we’ve been since basically February of 2020,” Ritter said.
Ritter said nearly all the executive orders hinged on COVID rates and hospitalizations.
Rep. Michael D’Agostino, D-Hamden, said all they are doing today is the policy decision to protect the public health, safety and welfare.
“He is not a prince, Mr. Speaker, he’s a partner– a partner in a co-equal branch of government, exercising the power that we have given him through our legislative acts. And all we are doing today is reaffirm that policy,” D’Agostino said.
“This is not a debate today about a particular order here or a particular order there,” D’Agostino says.
The debate was simply about whether they will extend the governor’s executive powers.
In stark contrast to the bickering over the extension of the executive powers, lawmakers in the House voted 141-0 to extend outdoor dining regulations and help municipalities continue to relax the rules.
“One positive outcome of this unfortunate pandemic has been that we’ve been thinking about new, creative ways to offer activities outdoors, including at restaurants,” Lamont said. “Expanded outdoor dining has created a vibrancy in many of our neighborhoods in ways that we haven’t seen before, all while supporting locally owned, small businesses.”
Rep. David Rutigliano, R-Trumbull, who owns several restaurants, said the executive orders to relax outdoor dining rules helped save jobs and businesses. There have been more than 600 restaurants closed and 130,000 workers were unemployed shortly after the pandemic hit.
“I believe it was the single thing we’ve done to save these small family-owned businesses. Something actually worked out, even in this awful year,” Rutigliano said.