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Gov. Ned Lamont’s emergency powers could be extended beyond April 20 as Connecticut legislators analyze his COVID-19 executive orders
Hartford Courant - 3/18/2021
With Gov. Ned Lamont’s extraordinary powers scheduled to end April 20, Lamont and legislature leaders Thursday discussed extending his ability to govern by executive order and unilaterally make key decisions in the ongoing battle against the coronavirus pandemic.
Lawmakers are reviewing the 91 executive orders Lamont has issued since the pandemic began that cover about 300 executive actions in a process House Speaker Matt Ritter of Hartford described as a “daunting” task involving many aspects of state government.
Ritter said the legislature is exploring a series of options, including that Lamont’s powers could be extended briefly beyond the deadline on a limited basis.
“We’re trying to figure out a bridge from mid-April to mid-May,” Ritter said Thursday. “We hope to make that process as expedited as possible, but I will be the first to admit that it may spill over a little past that April 20 deadline and so we may find some common ground in the meantime to extend his powers a little longer.”
Lamont said Thursday that his new general counsel, Nora Dannehy, suggested that it is possible that the full legislature, rather than a Democratic-controlled committee of 10 top lawmakers, could vote to extend his powers.
“It won’t be open-ended, as before,” Lamont said. “Look, probably the legislature doesn’t want to give carte blanche and a green light for a long period of time. Perhaps they’ll want to do something that they can renew or narrow every 30 days or 60 days.”
Some orders would expire, but “some of them that are really required to help us get through the pandemic” would be extended, Lamont said.
Ritter and other legislators, as well as Dannehy, have been studying the 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 Lamont Thursday in an attempt to start a collaborative process at a time when power is scheduled to be transferred back to the legislature in about 30 days.
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.
Republican legislators were not invited to Thursday’s meeting, but they will be involved in another meeting of leaders next week. They had wanted Lamont’s powers to end on March 1, rather than April 20, and had wanted to start the transition process earlier.
“We’re going through every single executive order,” Lamont said Wednesday. “Most of them are not as relevant today as they were when they were first impacted. We’re going to narrow it down. We’re going to have a discussion that these are the ones that are really important to continue after April 20. Hopefully, they vote on them individually or vote on them as a package to keep them going for another month or so.”
Lamont noted that mayors and first selectmen will likely have a larger role in the future on the orders.
“Most of them are deregulatory — everything from making it easier to have outdoor dining on Main Street and things like that,” he said. “On some of those, the locals will be able to pick up the lead. Some of them could become guidance. I think it’s really important for kids to wear masks in school a little bit longer, but there may be a different point of view in the legislature. We’ll see.”
House Republican leader Vincent Candelora of North Branford said Republicans have studied all of the executive orders and are prepared to make suggestions as part of a measured approach.
“I’m not suggesting that we just open everything up, but we need to talk about a transition,” he said Thursday. “This isn’t a light switch. It’s not on or off. We’re suggesting a dimmer switch.”
The executive orders 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.
“It’s not just about opening up versus closing,” Lamont said. “It’s about telehealth. It’s about what health care individuals are allowed to administer vaccines. It’s about nursing home liability and protections for their workers. It’s about how notary publics take signatures. ... There are rules that apply for 6-foot social distancing and mask-wearing. That all expires on April 20.’'
Depending on the issue, he said that various provisions could be written into law for one month, six months or a year.
Sen. Doug McCrory, a Hartford Democrat, said recently that Lamont’s powers should “absolutely not” be extended beyond April 20 and power should be restored to the legislature.
“We wouldn’t be doing our jobs,” McCrory said of granting another extension. “We have to do our jobs. We cannot extend it any further. He knows that.”
Courant staff writer Eliza Fawcett contributed to this report.
Christopher Keating can be reached at email@example.com
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