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House OKs extension of Lamont's executive powers to February 2022

Hartford — The state House of Representatives convened a special session in Hartford on Monday and voted in favor of extending Gov. Ned Lamont's emergency authority through Feb. 15, 2022.

Legislators voted along partisan lines following a debate on whether the COVID-19 pandemic is still enough of a threat to extend the emergency authority and allow the governor to issue executive orders in response. The House voted in favor 80-60 with 11 absent or not voting. The state Senate is set to vote on Tuesday. The resolution extends some of Lamont's executive orders such as a mask mandate for schools.

Before Monday's vote, Republican House Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said he was expecting some Democrats to cross party lines and oppose extending Lamont's emergency authority. Ten eventually did. None were from southeastern Connecticut.

"Today Republicans stand universally opposed to this extension, and I think we're going to have bipartisan support on a 'no' vote today," he said. "Process is everything, and one of the things we're seeing in the public is people are getting angry and frustrated because these decisions are impacting their lives, and they don't have a say."

Lamont's powers were set to expire Sept. 30.  In July, the state legislature also held a special session to extend Lamont's emergency powers. He has had emergency declarations extended since March 2020 and has issued hundreds of executive orders in the past 18 months, the vast majority of which have since expired.

"The plan is to work with the legislature and get it extended because the pandemic's not over and the need is not going away," he told reporters earlier this month in Middletown.

It's essentially the same argument he used when he sent a letter to legislators in July in an attempt to persuade them to extend his powers.

"These orders are still needed to protect the public and continue critical measures to provide (health care) access and economic relief and respond to evolving changes," Lamont wrote. "They are also narrowly targeted to achieve specific goals that would otherwise be unachievable because of statutory or regulatory barriers that were not contemplated in the context of a highly transmissible and long-lasting disease outbreak when the statutes were passed."

State Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, was at first uncertain which way he would vote, though he ultimately joined his party colleagues in extending Lamont's powers. He said he eventually supported the resolution to "keep our public safety strengthened and to help keep us high on that national level in regards to the numbers that we do have. My reason for leaning more toward the yes is because I think we are benefiting from what the governor has been doing with the executive orders he's been pushing out."

State Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton, said she isn't necessarily concerned about overreach because the General Assembly has the power to override specific executive orders from Lamont.

"So if the governor does give an executive order that we feel is an overreach or not appropriate, we have every right to come in with a quick request by leadership and can instantly vote that done," she said. "I think that masks in schools is very important, and in some communities, quite controversial. Having the same rules for all schools — public schools, private schools, state-run schools — is incredibly important so that if you have students from one school interacting with students from another school, we can keep the unvaccinated students as safe as possible."

State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, criticized Lamont during her comments on the floor.

"This legislature has a proven track record of accomplishing great things for the State of Connecticut, and I think if the governor just remembered that, he would be less concerned with extending his executive authority and more interested in working with us to achieve even greater things going forward," she said.

Cheeseman later added that she would vote 'no' on the resolution and mockingly suggested that Lamont take a vacation and the legislature take the reins on micromanagement of the pandemic.

One key measure supported by Democrats, the Transportation Climate Initiative, and one supported by Republicans, juvenile criminal justice reform, were not brought to the floor during Monday's special session. Both parties have pushed to address these issues since the regular legislative session ended. During a news conference in front of the Legislative Office Building before the special session on Monday, state Rep. Greg Howard, R-Stonington, a police officer, urged the legislature to take up criminal justice reform. He was joined by Republicans as well as several Democrats.

"There's a clear public safety risk in our state with juvenile crime, and we need juvenile reforms," Howard said. "Police officers are afraid to do anything. They used to put their lives on the line, now they're being asked to put their livelihoods on the line for every little thing they do."

Howard went on to say, "You want crime to stop? Put your police back to work."

About 70 people were gathered in front of the state Capitol building ahead of the special session on Monday in opposition to a mask mandate in schools. They exhorted passerby to express support for their cause, and multiple drivers did honk their horns in solidarity. They also urged legislators who entered the Capitol building Monday to vote against extending Lamont's powers.

s.spinella@theday.com

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