Stamford Advocate

Senate votes to extend Lamont’s powers to Feb. 15

18-15 vote shows partisan divide over pandemic

- By Julia Bergman

The Senate in a special session Tuesday approved a sixth extension of Gov. Ned Lamont’s pandemic-related powers, following a debate largely waged by Republican­s who argued the governor has enjoyed sweeping authority for nearly two years, leaving citizens without a voice.

“That’s a full legislativ­e term for an elected member of the state’s General Assembly,” Senate Republican leader Kevin Kelly said. “A full term where the people’s voice was silenced.”

The 18-15 vote showed continued partisan divide over how to handle this

phase of the pandemic in Connecticu­t. Two Democrats — Sens. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and Dennis Bradley, D-Bridgeport — joined all 13 Republican­s in voting against another extension.

Neither Osten nor Bradley spoke on the Senate floor ahead of their votes.

The approval, which follows a House vote of 80-60 Monday, with 10 Democrats joining the Republican­s, continues 13 executive orders issued by the governor. That list includes vaccine mandates for state workers and school mask rule, which could now remain in effect until at least Feb. 15, 2022.

Added protection­s for renters facing eviction and federal funding for non-congregant housing for those most at risk of contractin­g COVID-19, such as homeless people and victims of domestic violence, will also continue.

Lamont’s powers have been in place since March 2020 when he initially issued hundreds of orders, most of which are no longer in place. Many were designed to amend administra­tive procedures that have since returned to normal or have been codified in law.

Republican opposition took two basic forms. The main message of the GOP centered on restoring power to the legislatur­e as guaranteed under the state’s constituti­on.

Some Republican­s also argued that low infection and hospitaliz­ation numbers in the state show Connecticu­t is no longer in a state of emergency and has a handle on the virus.

“We have to now move into this new normal. The new normal in Connecticu­t from my perspectiv­e has got to be three co-equal branches of government deciding,” said Sen. John Kissel, REnfield, referring to the executive branch, headed by Lamont; the legislatur­e; and the courts.

Democrats cautioned that the GOP also made the case the pandemic was over in July when lawmakers last voted to continue Lamont’s authority. Connecticu­t then saw a surge in cases and hospitaliz­ations due to the more virulent Delta variant of the coronaviru­s.

“We have now a much stronger reason I think to extend those powers even than we did in July,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven.

When lawmakers voted on July 14 to continue Lamont’s authority, there were 30 patients hospitaliz­ed due to COVID-19 and the state’s daily positive test rate was 1.28 percent.

On Tuesday, the state reported 259 hospitaliz­ations and a daily positivity rate of 2.83 percent. Infections and hospitaliz­ations in Connecticu­t have decreased since the summer-time surge.

“We need to extend his powers because we don’t know what direction the pandemic is going to take,” Looney said. “We don’t know if there will be another variant as deadly or even worse than Delta.”

Additional­ly, the governor still needs flexibilit­y to administer booster shots to people over age 65 and vaccinatio­ns to younger children once they become eligible, Looney said.

Republican­s said Connecticu­t is one of only two states that still have declared emergencie­s in place. Other states including New York and Massachuse­tts have lifted their declaratio­ns but kept precaution­s in place. In Massachuse­tts, the public health commission­er has the power to institute measures on testing, vaccinatio­ns and protecting high-risk residents.

As the senators debated, a small crowd gathered around a television screen on the first floor of the Capitol to watch. Public access to the Capitol is limited to the first floor of the building due to COVID protocols.

Fifty-year-old Colleen Dabkowski, of Southingto­n, a holistic life coach and yoga teacher, said Lamont’s orders amount to government overreach into people’s private lives — a point made by many House Republican­s Monday and some GOP senators Tuesday, such as Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott.

“People should stand up for their rights and freedom of choice,” Dabkowski said.

 ?? Peter Yankowski / Hearst Conn. Media ?? Gov. Ned Lamont
Peter Yankowski / Hearst Conn. Media Gov. Ned Lamont

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