Sen. Kissel: CT legislature has been seated at the ‘Baby Table’ “for far too long”

January 21, 2022

Connecticut Gov. Lamont seeks to extend public health, civil emergencies

By Christopher Keating

Hartford Courant

Fri, January 21, 2022

In a late letter issued Friday evening, Gov. Ned Lamont asked the legislature to extend Connecticut’s public health and civil preparedness emergencies as the coronavirus pandemic heads toward its third year.

In addition, Lamont is asking the legislature to codify into law 11 executive orders, such as a mask mandate for children in school and COVID-19 safety measures for nursing home visitors. But he is not asking for an extension of the current mandate that requires state employees in the executive branch to be vaccinated or to submit to weekly testing.

While Lamont had been talking for days about shifting some authority to the legislature, his formal request — distributed to all legislators — did not come until shortly after 6 p.m. Friday.

“I say to the legislature: what say you?’’ Lamont said in a press conference this week.

Lamont’s emergency powers as governor are scheduled to end on Feb. 15, which would be almost two full years since the pandemic began spreading in the state in March 2020.

While the Democratic-controlled legislature has extended Lamont’s powers six times, Republicans and some Democrats have pushed back by saying that the legislature should be restored to a co-equal branch of government after nearly two years.

House Republican leader Vincent Candelora of North Branford said Friday night that he was confused that Lamont wants to extend the emergencies and also codify most of the remaining executive orders into law.

“We shouldn’t be doing both, and his letter is asking for both, which doesn’t make any sense,’’ Candelora said in an interview. “The governor, on the one hand, is asking for the status quo to keep things the way things he’s had it with the emergency powers. Yet, at the same time, he wants us to vote on 11 executive orders. I don’t support pretending that we’re going to do our job by voting on orders that the governor ultimately has final say on, anyway. I don’t understand it.’’

The next regular session of the General Assembly begins on Feb. 9. No final decisions have been announced, but Senate President Pro Tem Martin B. Looney said previously that it was possible that the legislature could take action on opening day — less than a week before the governor’s powers expire.

In a six-page letter to General Assembly leaders, Lamont said the state has still not gotten full control over the deadly virus.

“There are compelling reasons to continue the emergency declarations because, as the past few weeks have shown, we are still in a state of emergency,’’ Lamont wrote. “The nature of this virus is such that conditions change rapidly, with the resulting need to have the tools in place to respond quickly to an ongoing public health threat.’’

The emergency declarations are important, he said, because the state would receive more than $50 million in federal funds.

If the state remains in a state of emergency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as FEMA, “will continue to cover 100 percent of the non-congregate housing costs, which is estimated by March 2022 to be $20 million,’’ Lamont said.

In addition, the state would receive $32.6 million for families for food stamps for January 2022 alone. For eligible households, the average additional supplement would be nearly $155 per month.

Candelora, however, said he believes the state could still receive the federal money without extending the emergencies. The Lamont administration, however, rejected that argument in the past.

Senate Republican leader Kevin Kelly of Stratford said the legislature should hold public hearings in the coming weeks before voting on the 11 executive orders.

“We need to get the people involved,’’ Kelly said in a telephone interview. “The policies would be better. When the legislature wants to move, they can move.’’

Kelly and all other Republicans have voted against the extensions in the past.

“Instead of declaring the emergency himself, he’s saying to the legislature: why don’t you declare it?’’ Kelly said. “This is the seventh request for an extension, and I think the people are tired. They want their government back. They want their voice back. The governor sees that and feels that. We’ve had 22 months to get this right. It’s not the emergency it initially was.’’

While the vaccination and testing mandate would not be extended for low-risk state employees like accountants in offices, Lamont’s executive order for state hospital employees would continue.

Another executive order that was announced this week requires that visitors to nursing homes must show either proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or a recent negative test.

“To wait until a Friday evening to let these impactful intentions be known speaks for itself,” said Republican Sen John Kissel, who has served in the legislature for nearly 30 years. “As the voice of the people of north-central Connecticut, I continue to note that the Connecticut legislature has been relegated to sit at the ‘Baby Table’ for far too long. While the governor’s Friday evening notes are welcome, my answer to his request is still a strong ‘no.’ ‘’

Despite seeking continuation of the emergencies, Lamont expressed optimism about the state’s health prospects.

“I am cautiously optimistic that we have seen the peak of omicron COVID-19 infections,’’ he wrote. “There has been a steady decline over the past week in the number of patients hospitalized due to COVID-19, and the decline follows trends that public health experts have seen with the omicron variant in South Africa and Great Britain. But, while hospitalizations are trending downward, they remain very high and rising nursing home cases continue to pose a challenge. There remains a need to maintain the limited number of executive orders that we have successfully used to respond to both the delta and omicron variants of COVID-19.’’

Christopher Keating can be reached at [email protected]