The Connecticut Senate voted Tuesday to extend Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont's emergency powers for the sixth time during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite pushback from Republican lawmakers who argue the state is no longer in crisis.
“It all needs to end,” said Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott. “No one can deny that there’s no public health emergency and that individual, local and legislative powers must be restored.”
Yet Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said state legislators have a “much stronger reason” to extend the public health and civil preparedness emergencies than back in July, the last time Lamont’s powers were extended until Sept. 30. He noted how the state’s COVID positivity rate and number of hospitalizations have increased since then due to the delta variant.
“It’s self-evident the pandemic is still with us, no matter how much wishful thinking the Republicans may engage in by saying that it is not,” he said. “Clearly we need to have the governor have these emergency powers when necessary to go forward.”
The resolution to extend the governor's powers until Feb. 15 passed 18-15 on Tuesday with two Democrats joining the Republicans in opposition. Three senators were absent.
The vote came a day after the House of Representatives voted 80-60 in favor of extending Lamont’s renewed declaration of public health and civil preparedness emergencies until early February, when the General Assembly's regular legislative session is scheduled to open. Democrats control both chambers.
While there were loud protests outside the state Capitol during Monday's House debate, including parents upset about Lamont's executive order requiring face masks in schools, it was much quieter on Tuesday.
Only a handful of people turned out for the Senate debate. A few watched the proceedings on TV on the first floor of the Capitol, the only floor where members of the public are currently allowed due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Lamont and Democratic legislative leaders have said the public health emergency should be extended in order to quickly handle pandemic-related issues that might arise, such as new variants, the distribution of booster shots, masking and vaccination requirements, and vaccinations for children. They contend the steps taken so far have been working in Connecticut, in contrast to other parts of the country with high infection rates.
Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has declined by 251 in Connecticut, a decrease of 34.1%, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins. Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, credited Connecticut's mask mandate, for example, for fewer pediatric hospitalizations and school closures.
Lamont is expected to issue roughly a dozen executive orders, mostly extensions of existing orders such as the school mask mandate that were set to expire on Thursday.
Looney said lawmakers will have a say on those orders, noting how the top six legislative leaders can meet to consider vetoing any of the orders 72 hours after they've been issued by the governor — a provision that was included in recent bipartisan legislation that placed limits on the governor's abilities.
But Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, said he didn't think it was worth trying to challenge any of the orders, given the Democratic majority on the six-member panel.
“What makes you think in a day or two, within 72 hours, they’re going to miraculously change their mind — when for six times they’ve wanted to stay in this — to all of a sudden come out of it,” Kelly asked.