House Democrats announced on Tuesday that they expected to vote to extend Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive orders beyond the current expiration date of May 20.
“The Governor, relating to COVID, whether it’s around testing, vaccination, things like that — even beyond May 20, will need some flexibility,” said State Rep. Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, in a press conference on Tuesday.
On Monday, Lamont said that Paul Mounds, his chief of staff, and Nora Dannehy, his general counsel, had reviewed executive orders still in effect to determine which would need to be extended after May 20 for public health reasons.
“There is a real need to continue many of them for even the foreseeable future,” Lamont said during the press conference.
Ritter said the legislature would likely extend Lamont’s emergency powers for a period of time, but with a “finite endpoint” while they determined which of the statutes needed to be changed for the longer term. Given that the legislature will end its session on June 9, and will no longer be able to extend orders on a monthly basis, the duration of the extension is of significant concern.
State Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, said he believed that the legislature should have been focused on codifying the executive orders from the beginning of its session in January.
“What the Democrats are choosing to do in managing the pandemic is a patchwork, hodgepodge, month-to-month strategy, which isn’t fair,” he said.
Since March 12 of last year, the Governor has issued 102 executive orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of April 19, portions from 49 of those orders are still in effect, along with an additional six orders passed in late April.
Some of the orders are directly connected to the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine – letting pharmacists administer COVID-19 tests and vaccines, permitting commuter parking lots to be used as vaccine clinics and testing sites and allowing hospitals and healthcare facilities to vaccinate people with out-of-network insurance.
Others orders are tied to COVID-19-related restrictions on public places. One order allows state agencies to continue enforcing and modifying the “sector rules” for businesses, schools and daycare centers — include capacity limits, distancing requirements and mask mandates, and gives health department and municipal officials the right to collect fines for businesses that don’t comply.
Max Reiss, spokesperson for the Governor’s Office, said in an email that the Governor felt that keeping the indoor mask mandate, in particular, was “critical for public health.”
Perhaps one part of government most affected by the executive orders is the court system. Lamont’s orders currently eliminate the legal deadlines for hearings, court filings, and judgment renderings in both civil and criminal matters.
They also extend a moratorium on evictions that has been in effect since April of 2020.
Additional executive orders enable town meetings to continue to be conducted remotely, waive certain requirements for permits, suspend copayments for some Medicare recipients and the 21-month-limit for people receiving Temporary Family Assistance and allow businesses to deliver alcohol or have it available for pick-up.
“You don’t just turn out the light”
Reiss said the legislature could use its powers to convert some of these orders, such as the moratorium, into law. In a special session in June of 2020, the legislature voted to extend provisions reimbursing medical providers for telehealth visits, and in March of this year it passed a bill codifying an executive order relaxing rules on outdoor dining.
But it is not clear how much of the responsibility for continuing the current executive orders will be left in the hands of the legislature and how much will remain with the Governor.
“We continue to be in discussion with the legislature regarding executive orders and the future of the emergency,” Reiss said in an email.
Ritter said in the press conference on Tuesday that he expects the legislature to know as early as Thursday how long they will extend the emergency powers.
Lamont said on Monday that he couldn’t put a time limit on how long the executive orders would be necessary.
“I’m not going to go there,” he said. “My sense is that there are going to booster shots, there are going to be youth vaccinations, there are going to be flare ups … you don’t just turn out the light and that’s the end of COVID. So I think we’ve got to be very careful, and also very agile.”