Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday he would recommend the legislature extend his emergency declarations related to the pandemic at least until the start of the next legislative session in February, but the length of the extension was still a topic of debate Tuesday afternoon.
The governor’s emergency authority, which serves as the basis for around a dozen ongoing executive orders, was last continued by lawmakers in July and is currently set to expire on Sept. 30. Administration officials were expected to meet with legislative leaders Tuesday afternoon to discuss an extension.
“We need an extension of the emergency orders cause that allows me to put in place executive orders which we need to keep you safe,” Lamont said during a morning press conference in Manchester.
In order to extend the emergency declarations, which have been in place since the outset of the pandemic last March, the full legislature will need to convene for a vote before the end of the month. Under a law adopted earlier this year, a group of six legislative leaders can vote to reject any individual orders the governor issues under his emergency powers. Lamont said he welcomed the legislative review.
“If we have to do something on booster shots, if we have to do something on child vaccines as they come along, make sure [legislative leaders] can opine thumbs up thumbs down,” the governor said.
Lamont said he expected to continue orders related to the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine and requirements that masks be worn by staff and students in Connecticut classrooms. He also planned to extend more recent orders like a requirement that state hospital workers, state employees, and staff of K-12 school systems be vaccinated against the virus or, in some cases, opt for weekly COVID testing.
The governor said he would recommend lawmakers extend the emergency declarations until after the legislature convenes for next year’s regular session.
Senate President Martin Looney agreed Tuesday that an extension of the COVID emergency declaration was appropriate given that the recent resurgence in cases have resulted in more strain on Connecticut hospitals than when lawmakers last extended the declarations in July. Looney also said it may be prudent to continue the emergency until next year.
“We can extend for up to six months,” Looney said. “A 60-day extension would only put us to the end of November and at that time I expect we’ll be heavily involved in redistricting. A month beyond that we might still be doing redistricting to the end of the year and plus the holiday season. At the very least it should go into the new year.”
Earlier this month, House Speaker Matt Ritter said he was also open to extending the declarations, provided Lamont articulated to legislative leaders what he intended to do with ongoing emergency authority.
However, Republican leaders have long opposed continuing the governor’s emergency powers and have argued the legislature has the ability to meet and address whatever ongoing challenges the pandemic posed. House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said this month that emergency declarations should be short in duration to deal with immediate problems.
“[T]o put us in a state of perpetual emergency declaration that gives the governor extraordinary powers in perpetuity is a slap in the face to our forefathers and the democratic process,” Candelora said.
Cap and Invest Is Off The Table
Although the legislature appears likely to reconvene before the end of September, they will not be debating the Transportation and Climate Initiative, Looney said Tuesday. Proponents of the regional emissions compact had recently tried to drum up support in hopes of putting the initiative to a vote during a September special session.
Last year, Lamont signed onto the multi-state agreement, which would require fuel suppliers to buy permits for the pollution resulting from the fuel they sell and is expected to lead to higher gas prices as fuel sellers pass extra costs to consumers. Opponents say the program, which would be used to pay for transportation and environmental projects, amounted to a new gas tax.
Despite renewed rallies organized by opponents of the policy, supporters in the House have maintained they have adequate votes there to pass the initiative. But in the Senate, Looney has also worried the proposal will increase the state’s tax burden, particularly on lower-income families without the means to invest in more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Despite recent meetings with the Lamont administration, Looney said his concerns have yet to be adequately addressed.
“The proposal, in terms of environmental policy, is entirely appropriate and is broadly supported,” Looney said. “However at the same time, as Democrats, we shouldn’t be doing anything that has any kind of regressive financial effect and that’s why I’m hoping that the proposal can be packaged with other things that are far more progressive than an increase in the gas tax that would be the most burdensome to lower income drivers.”
Those more progressive proposals could include some form of tax credit for low or moderate-income families. Looney said he has had conversations with representatives of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection regarding adopting graduated electricity rates for lower-income families.
Although the expected September session will focus only on the governor’s emergency authority, Looney did not rule out another session before the legislature reconvenes next year.
“There will be opportunities, perhaps before the start of the next session, if we reach consensus on any other items including TCI,” he said.