Opposed to the idea of automatically extending Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont's pandemic emergency powers for another five months, the top Republican legislative leaders on Tuesday urged him to at least grant a special committee of lawmakers the ability to appeal or reject any executive order within 72 hours after it has been issued.
The powers are set to expire on Sept. 9.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano and House Minority Leader Themis Klarides said in a letter to Democratic legislative leaders, who control the General Assembly, that if Lamont is going to extend the public health emergency declaration, “we also need to give the power back to the people and create a better process that brings the voices of the public into a process that they have been completely shut out of.”
A message was left seeking comment with Lamont's spokesman.
Lamont on Tuesday signed orders extending the civil preparedness and public health emergency orders to Feb. 9 and filed a declaration with the Secretary of the State's Office that explained his decision. A bipartisan 10-member committee of top legislative leaders, controlled by Democrats, has 72 hours to take no action or reject the request.
In their letter, Fasano and Klarides urged the Democrats to hold a meeting so they can register their concerns on the record and ultimately reject Lamont's request.
“We must ensure proper checks and balances are in place so that no single branch of government holds unfettered power," the two Republicans wrote.
Democratic House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said in a written statement that lawmakers “are closely examining the full implications of continuing the governor's emergency powers and haven't fully decided whether the select committee should meet to consider nullifying his request as is. There are some more discussions to be had at this point.”
Lamont noted that while Connecticut currently has one of the lowest rates of transmission in the country, the state is “not out of the woods yet” and the executive orders currently in place remain critical to containing COVID-19.
“Bringing an abrupt end to this state of emergency at this time would cripple our ability to quickly respond to new challenges and risk the hard work and sacrifices everyone has made to protect our state from this disease,” he wrote.
Lamont predicted he'll be responding numerous potential risks that weren't contemplated when the first order was signed in March, such as the reopening schools, colleges and universities, as well as and the November general election. Also, he said the health effects of COVID-19 are not well understood, no vaccine or effective treatment has been approved yet for distribution, and the economic fallout from the pandemic remains unclear.
As of Tuesday, there have been more than 53,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 4,466 deaths, an increase of one fatality since Monday.
In other coronavirus news:
TRAVEL BAN EXTENDED
Visitors to Connecticut from two more states, Alaska and Montana, must now quarantine for 14 days, the governor announced on Tuesday.
Thirty states and three territories now appear on the travel advisory list. They have either a new daily positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents or a 10% or higher positivity rate over a 7-day rolling average. In Connecticut, travelers from those states must also fill out a health form to provide state officials with information on where they are staying in case contact tracing becomes necessary.
The travel advisory applies to Connecticut residents returning home from the affected states and territories as well. Visitors to New York and New Jersey from those same 30 locations must also quarantine for 14 days.
BACK TO SCHOOL TECH
More than 134,000 computer devices will be distributed primarily to high-needs Connecticut schools by this fall to help students without computer access as they take online classes during the continuing pandemic, state officials said Tuesday.
Desi Nesmith, the Department of Education's chief turnaround officer, told legislators that about 25% of students didn't participate in online learning during the early months of the pandemic, when schools were entirely shuttered. Officials believe the problem partly stems from students' lack of access to technology.
The 134,000 includes 54,488 Chromebook laptops and 19,549 Windows laptops that have been ordered and expected to be shipped out sometime in October. It also includes the 60,000 laptops purchased by the now-disbanded Partnership for Connecticut, co-founded by Dalio Philanthropies, which have been distributed.
Nesmith said there are also efforts to identify wifi hot spot locations where there's enough space for students to socially distance. State officials are also working with cable companies to provide students with vouchers for broadband service.
Peter Yazbak, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said more than 95% of Connecticut school districts will hold some or all of their classes in person, including those with hybrid models. A handful of school districts and individual schools are planning to offer only remote learning.