Ned Lamont

Republicans Look to Restrict Executive Powers During Pandemic

From mask-wearing to retail and restaurant restrictions and school closures, Governor Ned Lamont’s 90 executive orders have set the course for Connecticut's response to Covid-19.Now, some lawmakers say it’s time they have a say.

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Ana Moreno, of New Britain, said she thinks Gov. Ned Lamont has been given too much power during the pandemic.

“I just feel everybody’s tired and they just want to go back to the way it used to be,” Moreno said.

Others believe his executive orders are the reason the state has fared better than others in battling COVID-19.

“I think precautions are necessary when you’re dealing with a prolonged problem like this,” said Matthew Murphy, of Newington.

“We elected the governor, so I mean he’s there for a reason and just got to trust the process,” said Justin Sutch, of West Hartford.

However, some Republican lawmakers question whether the law has allowed the governor to go too far.

“Technically, I don’t think we have a civil preparedness emergency.  I think we do have a public health one,” said House Minority Leader, Vincent Candelora. “There needs to be some legislative input."

While Connecticut’s civil preparedness emergency declaration does give the governor broad authority in times of serious disaster, only weather-related catastrophes are specified in the law. 

“So, we need to define what that means so we don’t see a massive power grab from the executive branch,” Candelora said.

Under a proposed bill from Republicans, serious disasters would exclude pandemics. 

Lamont has used both the public health emergency and civil preparedness declarations to support executive orders dealing with everything from school closures to nursing home restrictions; all without a vote by the state legislature.

The public health declarations last six months under current state statute, and have been extended twice, once in December and again this month.  Although, the most recent extension only lasts until April 20, and the governor had indicated some of the orders will be allowed to expire sooner.

Unlike public health emergencies, civil preparedness declarations do not have legislative oversight under the current law, as noted by State Supreme Court Justice Steven Ecker last December.

"You could imagine a really problematic situation where there's a disaster that's declared and the governor just doesn't end it, and during that time he pretty much has control to do anything he wants,” Ecker said during oral arguments on a lawsuit filed against Lamont by a Milford bar owner. The justices ultimately sided with the state.

Under the proposal, the civil preparedness declaration would only last 30 days and need legislative approval to be extended.  Wednesday, lawmakers on the Government Administration Committee voted to send the bill to a public hearing.

“The governor’s powers have been extended far longer the way it’s being treated, it’s a light switch either on or off.  As Republicans we want to install a dimmer switch so we can slowly turn the light back onto government,” Candelora explained.

However, Democrats who support the governor’s executive orders say giving the executive branch the authority to act quickly without legislative approval has been key to the COVID fight.

“The governor has used his authority very reasonably and rationally and judiciously,” said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff. “We really want to put people’s health and safety up front.”

Some agree.

“I believe the governor should take into account what lawmakers are saying, especially at each town level but ultimately it has to be a decision that should benefit the greater public of Connecticut,” said Carly Wanner-Hyde, of Newington.

 “I think Connecticut’s a leading state in terms of all the statistics.  So however it’s been playing out, I think it working out pretty good,” said Jeffrey Wittstein, of West Hartford.

“This is not a criticism on what he’s done to handle the pandemic, this is more of an argument going forward that no executive branch in government be able to exercise this kind of authority without the legislative branch being able to be a check on that authority,” Candelora said.

The CT Freedom Alliance, which has been vocal about the governor’s executive orders, said it's time for other elected leaders to have a say.

"I think it would have made a big difference if you would have legislative input at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Brian Festa, of the CT Freedom Alliance.  “We could have quite honestly avoided a lot of the economic fallout that we had.  These executive orders have devastated Connecticut's economy."

Sen. Duff said he’s open to negotiating with Republicans, but also cautioned that he’s not interested in taking away the governor’s vital executive powers.

“The governor has the ability to move on a dime and the legislature doesn’t and sometimes you need to have that flexibility,” he said.

Another Republican proposal on the table would require the governor to give businesses ten-days-notice if the state is going to make them close or modify their operations. 

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