Republicans decry process extending Gov. Lamont’s original executive orders, question need for pandemic protections [Hartford Courant]

April 12, 2022

From the Hartford Courant (4/12/2022):


The Democratic-controlled Senate voted along strict party lines Tuesday to extend four of Gov. Ned Lamont’s original executive orders to continue combatting the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.


The Senate moved this week because the original orders, which have since been codified by the legislature into law, are scheduled to expire this Friday, April 15. As such, the Senate voted for short-term extensions to push those laws until June 30.


Democrats supported the extensions, saying they were important provisions that will help the homeless, nurse’s aides, and renters, among others.


But Republicans complained that the emergency-certified bill never had a public hearing, saying that the general public should have had a better chance to weigh in on the pandemic issues.


Sen. Rob Sampson, a Wolcott Republican, questioned why any original order should be extended — an issue that has been debated multiple times as Lamont’s orders were extended. For months, some Republicans have declared that the pandemic is essentially over because hospitalizations and infections have fallen sharply.


“The state of emergency passed on a party line with many Republicans standing up in opposition,’’ Sampson said on the Senate floor that was largely empty. “We’ve got to make up our minds on whether there is a pandemic. … Each time this body gets together, we are in effect, separating the people from their government.’’


He added, “We need to return to our American system. … We need to return to doing our job the right way. This is not it.’’


Sen. Dan Champagne of Vernon agreed with Sampson, saying the bill should have had a public hearing instead of being fast-tracked through the process.


“We’ve declared that the emergency is over, except for this batch,’’ Champagne said on the Senate floor. “It should have been done properly. This is not properly.’’


Sen. Tony Hwang, a Fairfield Republican who serves as the ranking member on the public health committee, said he, too, was frustrated by the process.


“Let the people have their voice represented,’’ said Hwang, adding that he agrees with some of the concepts in principle. “We should have had a public hearing.’’


But Sen. Matt Lesser, a Middletown Democrat who led the debate, said that many of the provisions had been examined by various legislative committees, including on the vaccine database that “has had a full vetting.’’


The issues included:


Vaccination database
One of the four extensions would allow the state’s public health department to disclose a person’s vaccination status to school nurses, local health directors and others as some residents have lost their vaccination cards.


“This order permits health care providers to properly administer booster shots by making a person’s vaccine information readily available even if the person has misplaced their original vaccination card,’’ according to a summary sent to legislators. “It also permits school nurses and local health directors to access a person’s vaccination status to properly respond to any COVID outbreaks within their jurisdiction.’’


Lamont said he is sympathetic to concerns about keeping the records vaccination records confidential.


“Keep it private,’’ Lamont told reporters in a Zoom call. “I understand. … I haven’t heard about people leaking this information.’’


Temporary nurses’ aides
A second extension allows officials to suspend various requirements for temporary nurses’ aides and allow them to keep practicing their profession because their skills are in high demand at nursing homes and other facilities.


The order allows the state public health commissioner “to adopt, amend, implement, suspend, and revoke training, competency, scope of practice and temporary hiring policies concerning temporary nurse aides and grant a registration to an individual as a temporary nurse aide who complies with the policies adopted,’’ a summary states.


Helping the homeless
Another extension would authorize the state to continue providing non-congregate housing to the homeless and other at-risk residents so that they are not placed into close quarters in bunk beds in shelters that can easily lead to the spread of COVID-19. The state has already received millions from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as FEMA, to carry out the program. The funding provides for adequate housing to allow people in need to be spaced apart and thus at lower risk of contracting and spreading the virus.


“It allows us to access federal funds that are really critical,’’ Lesser said. “We are moving toward normalcy.’’


Requirements regarding evictions
A fourth extension forces landlords to contact the state’s emergency rental assistance program, known as UniteCT, before evicting any tenant for not paying rent. Landlords also must give tenants notice of at least 30 days before starting the eviction process.


The law also ensures that any eviction notice must include information about the federal eviction moratorium in both Spanish and English, along with details about the UniteCT program. If either the tenant or the landlord applies for the rental assistance program, the eviction proceedings can be temporarily postponed.