With high vaccination rates and COVID cases low, Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday he expects the legislature will soon vote on a “narrow” proposal to extend his pandemic-related emergency authority beyond its July 20 expiration date.
“Hopefully, if everybody here is on board, they’ll continue the emergency powers in a very discrete set of [executive orders] specifically related to imminent things on public health,” Lamont said after a bill signing event Tuesday in Guilford. “So it’s a narrow continuation going forward.”
The governor, who has operated with increased powers since last March, outlined a few reasons to keep his emergency powers in place. He pointed to flexibility needed to manage a rollout of booster shots if they are eventually needed as well as vaccines for children younger than 12 years-old if a formula is approved for their use.
An ongoing emergency declaration is also required for the state to qualify for funding under the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he said. Lamont said he wanted to keep in place a requirement that people who have not received a vaccination against the COVID-19 virus wear masks indoors in public.
“I like the fact that stores have the option to say ‘Look, if you’re not vaccinated I want you to wear a mask.’ That might not be a practicality if we don’t have the executive powers,” Lamont said.
The duration and extent of the governor’s emergency authority has dwindled as the coronavirus pandemic has begun to recede. This year lawmakers also passed temporary language giving them broader authority to curtail the governor’s emergency actions. Legislative leaders can effectively veto any emergency order they do not approve of and an extension of his authority is limited to 180 days when the legislature is not in session.
On Tuesday, House Speaker Matt Ritter said he did not expect the governor to ask for a full six-month extension.
“I think that [180 days] would probably be a little excessive,” Ritter said. “So I would expect it to be shorter.”
Ritter said he was waiting to hear Lamont’s ask. Another month or two to manage vaccination efforts and continue qualifying for FEMA funding made sense, he said, but he would assess what the governor ultimately proposed. Connecticut’s COVID rates have been consistently low for weeks despite the presence of the more-infectious Delta variant of the virus.
“It’s really his argument to make and we’ll sort of review what he gives us. But, look, the Delta variant is not a problem in Connecticut right now, which is great,” Ritter said. “The question is, what happens in the fall and what happens with back to school stuff. I want to hear what his office thinks we should do and we’ll weigh it.”
House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said Tuesday he saw little reason to extend Lamont’s authority. He said Connecticut could continue to qualify for federal funding through a specific declaration. Most of the health care policies related to the pandemic have already been codified by the legislature, he said.
“My concern is this has become more of a safety net and a flippant thought and we need a clearly articulated reason on why any governor should be given this extraordinary power and I am waiting to hear those reasons,” Candelora said. “It’s an extraordinary measure and I don’t think that we can continue to extend just because.”
Other Republicans have signalled they will oppose an attempt to extend Lamont’s emergency powers. In a press release Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly called it a “blatant overreach of power.”
“There is no reason why the legislature cannot act in equal partnership with the executive branch to codify any policy needed to continue administering vaccines, to oversee public health issues, or to keep our communities safe,” Kelly said.