capitol covid mask sign
Sign to enter the state Capitol Credit: Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie

The signs outside the state Capitol complex say, “Masks Required for Entry to LOB & Capitol Building,” but most Republican lawmakers and some members of the public were unmasked Wednesday during an informational hearing. 

The decision to not wear a mask in a hearing room, where there were around 36 people at any given time, drew a rebuke from House Speaker Matt Ritter. 

Halfway through the informational hearing hosted by the Conservative Caucus, Ritter issued a statement saying, “Republicans today ignored the Capitol complex’s health guidelines and unmasked en masse – putting Capitol Police, members of the public, staff and elected officials at risk.”

“I hope House Republican leaders take action against these elected officials who blatantly and purposefully broke our building’s public health policy,” Ritter added. 

House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, who was not in the building Wednesday, responded by calling the outrage from Ritter “manufactured.” 

“This is what Democrats do — provoke, attack, and silence people who have different views than they do. Speaker Ritter’s hyperbolic statement about today’s hearing conducted in a nearly-empty building is not only predictable, it’s inaccurate given the guidance legislators received from Capitol Police today,” Candelora said. 

The Capitol Police were counting the number of people and dividing them among hearing rooms to maintain social distancing, but most speakers took off their masks to address the legislators hosting the event. Members of the caucus were largely unmasked while hearing testimony and holding a press conference in advance of the hearing. 

“Make no mistake, Democrats want to keep the Capitol closed and continue the charade that virtual government is serving residents well. It’s a shame the Speaker’s caucus, which has largely abdicated its responsibilities to the Governor, is spending its time on the pettiest of political attacks rather than tackling critical issues such as the crime wave that’s engulfed our cities and towns,” Candelora said. 

Ritter used his statement as a reminder that during Monday’s special session he wants everyone wearing a mask. 

“I want to remind every member that risked people’s health today that they will be wearing masks on on Monday during special session when they are in any public space,” Ritter said. 

Members of the Conservative Caucus holding a press conference in advance of the hearing. Credit: CT-N

Masks are required on the floor of the House and Senate, but outside the chamber there were few masks on faces toward the end of the legislative session in June. 

On Monday, lawmakers will return for a one-day special session to extend Gov. Ned Lamont’s emergency powers until Feb. 15. 

Among the orders the governor would continue are:

– Vaccination or weekly testing requirements for the staff of nursing homes, schools, state hospital facilities as well as state employees. 

– A mandate that students and education workers wear masks while in schools.

– A requirement that landlords apply for federal benefits under the UniteCT rental assistance program before beginning an eviction process.

– An order providing non-congregate housing for residents of homeless or domestic violence shelters which enables the state to collect federal reimbursement for these costs.

The governor also suggested the state may need the flexibility of the emergency declarations in order to manage the possible rollout of the vaccine for children younger than 12 if they become eligible, as well as booster shots for more residents if they are approved. 

Republican lawmakers have objected to the continued extension of Lamont’s emergency powers because they feel it takes away the power of the legislative branch. 

If legislators extend his powers next week this will be the sixth time since March 2020 that his powers have been extended. 

Most of Wednesday’s testimony came from workers who didn’t want to be vaccinated and said they risked losing their jobs and their retirement as a result. Lamont’s executive order requires all state employees, health care workers, teachers and bus drivers to get at least one dose of the vaccine by Sept. 27. 

“I’m here to tell you that a tsunami is forming, a wave so big that it will wash clean the corruption and filth that you have created,” said Ashley Madore, a bus driver in Bristol. “We, the people, are tired of your overreach, your hunger for control, your disregard for basic God-given rights afforded to us, not by you but by God almighty and you have no right to stand between us and God’s word. People are realizing you are the problem and they’re realizing they have the power to fix it.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is also developing a rule that will require all employers — public and private — with 100 or more workers to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated. 

It’s unclear if those who lose their jobs for refusing to get the vaccine will be allowed to collect unemployment.