Connecticut legislature seeks to extend Gov. Ned Lamont’s COVID-19 emergency powers again

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Christopher Keating, Hartford Courant
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With Gov. Ned Lamont’s extraordinary powers to combat the coronavirus scheduled to end April 20, the state House of Representatives plans to vote Thursday to extend his authority for another month.

Lawmakers decided to make the extension after reviewing the 91 executive orders Lamont has issued since the pandemic began that cover about 300 executive actions. House Speaker Matt Ritter of Hartford described the review of the highly detailed orders as a “daunting” task for the legislature because Lamont’s actions over the past year have reached into many aspects of state government.

“What appears to be the most likely scenario is that we will extend the emergency until some time in mid-May, maybe a 30-day extension,’' Ritter said Monday. “I think the governor would be the first to tell you that he’s not sure how many executive orders he would continue on his end. There are obviously some that are critical. For example, the ability to vote by absentee ballot [with the coronavirus as the reason]. We have some elections in May and budget referendums.”

Some Republicans and conservative protesters have complained for months that Lamont has too much power and the legislature should be restored as a coequal branch of government. Republicans have been ignored at times, and they were excluded from a meeting last week with Lamont. As a result, Ritter said he expects “a lively debate” that will be long on Thursday afternoon.

“In September, we were summarily rejected,” said House Republican leader Vincent Candelora of North Branford. “In January, we were rejected, and we are the ones who are called the extremists. ... They call us science deniers. They claim that we want to rip everyone’s mask off.”

Without consulting Republicans, Candelora said the state is being run by one-party government.

“We have a government that is structured as a monarchy and a plutocracy as opposed to a democracy,” Candelora said. “The legislature in Connecticut is taking up more of a role of Parliament, and we’re resembling England more than we’re resembling the United States of America. ... We are reaching the point of absurdity with continuing with the same structure that we had a year ago.”

Part of the reason for the extension is to ensure that key federal funding keeps flowing to Connecticut.

“I’ve been told by Nora Dannehy, our new general counsel, that if we’re going to continue to receive that [federal] FEMA funding at 100%, we’ve got to get that emergency declaration renewed,” Lamont said Monday.

Ritter and other legislators, as well as the Lamont administration, have been studying Lamont’s orders closely to determine which ones should be codified into law and which can be allowed to expire. The House speaker and others held a virtual meeting with the governor last week in an attempt to start a collaborative process at a time when power was scheduled to be transferred back to the legislature in about 30 days.

Pharmacists, for example, are currently allowed to provide COVID vaccine shots, but that provision would expire on April 20 if no action is taken.

Previously, a special 10-member committee of top legislators gave Lamont the green light on the executive orders. But Lamont said that Dannehy suggested that the full legislature, rather than a small, Democratic-controlled committee, should vote to extend his powers.

For the past year, Lamont has largely ruled the state single-handedly. He has consulted the top legislative leaders, but they have not overturned any of his orders regarding closing nonessential businesses or deciding when restaurants can be open or closed.

The executive orders have covered issues large and small. For the first time, Lamont allowed the delivery of alcohol to people’s homes as part of the delivery of a meal, such as a bottle of wine with an Italian dinner. Some legislators have already started pushing to continue that practice by codifying it into law.

Christopher Keating can be reached at