From wearing masks in stores to eating outdoors, emergency orders have ruled the way we live for the last five months.
In March, as Connecticut became a hot spot for Covid-19, Gov. Ned Lamont began closing schools and non-essential businesses, banning big gatherings and nursing home visits.
“I think the process has worked pretty well,” Lamont said.
Connecticut now has one of the lowest infection rates in the country. Tuesday, the Governor extended the orders, set to expire in a week, until February.
“Right now, we believe that there’s not the same need for the same broad executive orders that we have had for these months,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides.
Klarides said they urged the governor to give state lawmakers a say in the process during a meeting on Monday.
Wednesday, they expressed concern that it didn't happen.
“There has been zero collaboration since March. We’ve been told things 10 minutes before the press is alerted to issues. That’s a problem,” said Rep. Vincent Candelora - (R) North Branford.
State statute allows a group of ten legislative leaders to nullify the entire set of orders within 72 hours.
“You can’t pick and choose which orders you want to extend. That’s not how the state statute works,” said House Majority Leader Matt Ritter.
The Lamont administration explained that if they were to do that, mandatory protocols put into place to slow the spread of the virus would be over and the rules every sector had to follow to reopen would end.
Republican leaders said Wednesday health should still be at the forefront of all decisions.
“Saying that we feel the legislators should be involved doesn’t mean that we have declared victory and we’re going to stop doing all the things we’re doing and stop all the precautions and just march straight ahead,” said Rep. William Petit - (R) Plainville. Petit is also a doctor.
While Republicans said the governor's stripped them of their legislative power, Democrats don't feel either party has been asked to give up their seat at the table.
“We have input. We’ve actually helped craft different areas. The Republicans have been offered the same deal,” said Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz. “I think they’d rather just stand on the sidelines, 'boo,' and throw things onto the field without getting onto the field and actually do their job.'”
“We heard from the leaders obviously things are going really fast back in April -- May we did the best we could to keep them informed on our thinking regarding each and every one of those executive orders,” Lamont said when asked about the push-back from Republicans. “Now we’re at a more deliberate pace, let’s hope that keeps going. We’re going to keep the legislature well informed every step of the way in terms of the EOs as they roll off and anything else we have to add on.”
Ritter said he’s asked the Governor’s office to set meetings next week with top leaders to go over each of the 67 orders.
“For folks who want to go through the executive orders one by one, they’re going to get their wish. We’re going to go one by one and have a conversation about them,” Ritter said. “There’s very few executive orders that people would question. You’re probably talking about a handful of them.”
While many of the emergency orders are focused on health and safety, Republicans say they want to take a closer look at those that impact the state's economy.
“It has put a limit on people’s right to sue. It has a limit on contractual obligations between landlords and tenants,” said Klarides.
“This governor could extend the election into December if he so chooses. The power that he is taking right now is extraordinary and well beyond the scope of the pandemic,” Candelora said.
Because the meetings will take place after the 72-hour nullification window, it will be too late for the group to take formal action. Ritter said an upcoming special session in mid-September will give lawmakers the opportunity to address specific orders. Though he cautioned that allowing the legislature to vote on each order would be impractical.
“If we went into session tomorrow to vote on how many people could sit in a restaurant we’d be there for five days,” said Ritter.
Klarides agreed that it should be up to the leadership to tackle the orders first, but urged her Democratic counterparts to call a meeting to do that within the 72-hour window. She expressed doubt that any action would be taken by the Democratic majority.
“I think they’re just perfectly happy with their governor ruling for the next couple months so that they don’t have to take the blame for anything,” she said.
“What blame are we taking? That the state of Connecticut has now went from one of the worst states in March in the country to now one of the best states,” Ritter asked.
Klarides said beyond specific orders, her party’s greatest concern was getting the Lamont administration to recognize the legislature's role in the process.
“They have the authority to make the decision they make and quite frankly they don’t have to include the legislature at all. That is not a way to govern,” she said.