Lamont’s Extension of Emergency Powers Draws Questions from Republican Leadership

Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday that he will extend the public health state of emergency, which was set to end on February 9, through to April 20. The state of emergency gives the governor sweeping powers to manage the pandemic, including restricting business, limiting gatherings, and mandating masks. 

The Governor first declared a state of emergency on March 10, 2020 and extended the order an additional five months on September 9. 

In a press briefing on Monday, Lamont said this additional extension would give Connecticut time to assess the vaccine’s efficacy as well as prepare for the new, more contagious variants, one of which has already been detected in the state. The Governor emphasized that the executive powers have made it possible to cut through red tape and quickly respond to the crisis.    

“We just opened up Rentschler Field for drive-through vaccinations,” Lamont said. “That would have been a lot more complicated if we didn’t have the executive powers necessary to get the purchasing agreements in place.”  

Paul Mounds, the governor’s chief of staff, also characterized the emergency powers as predominantly about speeding up government processes rather than restricting the public. 

“Of the public individual orders that we have put forth, about 66 percent of them were to relax a restriction currently in state law or regulation or a local charter or ordinance,” Mounds said. 

Legally, the governor can declare a public health or civil preparedness emergency for at most six months, and the order can be denied by a majority vote of a special committee within 72 hours. 

The committee includes leaders from both parties in the House and Senate, Senate president pro tem and House speaker, and co-chairs and ranking members of the Public Health committee. Democrats hold the majority on that committee, and did not block the Governor’s declaration. 

House and Senate Republican leaders Vincent Candelora and Kevin Kelly objected to the Governor’s extension of emergency powers, saying that they wished the legislative Democrats had chosen to reassert the General Assembly’s authority. 

“At this point in the pandemic, it is not unreasonable to ask for certain modifications to the exercise of the Governor’s authority,” Candelora said. “Businesses should be provided more time to adjust to the government’s ever-changing restrictions, and the government should respect people’s right to exercise their religion again.” 

Candelora and Kelly proposed extending emergency powers through March 1, limiting future declarations to 30 days, lifting the capacity limit on places of worship, and restricting the Governor’s powers to modify sector rules for businesses.  

In a statement, Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney and Speaker of the House Matt Ritter said they felt extending the governor’s emergency powers was a necessary decision to continue to fight COVID-19. 

“There are many areas of our COVID-19 response that require immediate executive action related to the pandemic and vaccination distribution,” they wrote. “A vast majority of the Governor’s orders cut red tape quickly, in a matter of a day or even hours, to provide rapid pandemic response and economic relief to businesses, municipalities and residents.”

Latest from Anna Elizabeth