HARTFORD — Members of the Connecticut House of Representatives voted 80 to 60 on Monday to extend Gov. Ned Lamont’s emergency executive powers until February 15, 2022. 10 Democrats joined the Republican caucus in opposing the extension.
In a special session, legislators elected to renew the declaration of public health and civil preparedness emergencies first issued on March 10, 2020. The public emergency declarations would have expired on September 30 without this sixth extension. The State Senate is expected to vote tomorrow to approve the measure.
In a letter to legislators, Lamont argued that given the rise of the delta variant, extending executive orders to mandate masks, require vaccinations, and suspend summary evictions is vital to public safety.
Lamont said he intended to maintain 11 executive orders in place, and add two new orders mandating vaccines for healthcare workers and reducing the cost of extended unemployment insurance benefits for employers.
Extending states of emergency also qualifies Connecticut to continue receiving aid from FEMA. Connecticut residents have so far received more than $3.5 million in emergency food assistance in the last year and a half, along with more than $7 million in aid to cover the cost of housing homeless people in hotels.
According to David Dearborn of the Department of Social Services, without the emergency declarations, Connecticut would lose tens of millions in emergency SNAP benefits each month. Dearborn said that in September, more than 216,200 Connecticut households received $32.3 million of aid.
About half of all states have emergency declarations in place, with last month’s state of emergency declaration from Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey bringing the total to 26. Connecticut and Rhode Island are the only states in the northeast with emergency declarations still in place.
In testimony on Monday afternoon, Republican legislators criticized the request as unnecessary, and an example of Democratic legislators shirking their responsibility as a separate branch of government.
“If masks are so important, why did the Governor leave it up to each individual municipality to decide on a mask mandate?” asked State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme. “Surely in those municipalities we represent, our Boards of Education can be trusted to make the decisions to keep their children safe.”
State Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco, R-Wolcott, said Lamont should pass executive orders like mask mandates through the legislature instead.
“He can ask the legislature right now to vote on it, which I think they should,” said State Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco, R-Wolcott. “The problem is that the legislature doesn’t want to take that vote. It’s much easier to let the governor just issue an executive order and let him do it.”
While State Rep. Josh Elliott, D-Hamden, said that he understands the argument for acting as a check on the executive branch, he said that he did not see the legislature as capable of executing all of the fast-paced changes necessary to manage the pandemic.
“I think the legislature is great as a deliberative body, but it is not great in times when you need quick action,” Elliott said. “The delta variant could come back harder very quickly, or a new variant could come around, so while things are still up in the air, it makes more sense to go for more expediency, especially since we know that the powers will expire in a finite period of time.”
State Rep. Joe De La Cruz, D-Groton, said that he found Republican arguments against the extension frustrating.
“I didn’t grow up with a lot of money, and I know a lot of kids that suffered a lot of consequences for not having access to things,” de La Cruz said. “Around the world, kids walk 20 miles each way to get water every day, and today, I’m being told that kids in Connecticut are being abused because they have a mask on their face? It’s laughable, and a little embarrassing.”
Amid debate over the extension, State Rep. Tom O’Dea, a Republican, raised an amendment that would have required public hearings before any future extensions of emergency declarations or executive orders. However, after a point of order from Democratic State Rep. Jason Rojas, the chair determined that the amendment was outside of the bounds of the special session, and a vote to overrule the chair failed, 49 votes to 84.