As Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced plans Thursday to move up when any resident age 16 and older can make a COVID-19 vaccination appointment, the House of Representatives voted to allow the Democrat to extend his emergency powers for at least one more month.
Legislative Democrats, who control the House, noted the state is in a “much better place” as more vaccines roll into the state, allowing additional people to get vaccinated for COVID-19 sooner. However, they also warned that now is not time to allow his authority to expire on April 20, to the dismay of Republican lawmakers.
“We cannot let up just yet. The spread of variants is happening. It’s still unclear what our supply of vaccine will be. We still face considerable financial liabilities related to the pandemic,” said House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford. “We must continue to be ready to respond to ever-changing conditions in the pandemic that nobody was familiar with a year ago. The continuation of Governor Lamont’s emergency authority allows the state to continue to respond quickly and safely to an ongoing pandemic.”
Under the bill, which now awaits action in the Senate, Lamont is authorized to renew the state's public health and civil preparedness emergency declarations through May 20. They were set to expire on April 20. The bill passed on a 90-50, party-line vote.
The GOP unsuccessfully attempted to amend the bill to place limits on Lamont's executive authority, arguing the current language is too broad. They proposed extending Lamont's authority until May 1 to give state lawmakers time to decide which executive orders should be extended.
House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said Republicans are not necessarily concerned about how Lamont handled the pandemic. Rather, he said it's now time for the General Assembly to go through the more than 90 executive orders issued by Lamont, which modify roughly 300 state statutes, and determine what needs to be extended and subsequently enable the legislative branch of state government to take back its authority.
“This legislature should be operating as a co-equal branch," he said. “And what we're doing here today is more of the same.”
House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said it makes no sense to roll back Lamont's executive orders when so many residents have not yet been vaccinated.
Lamont said Thursday he plans to present lawmakers with a plan to narrow his executive orders in about two weeks. However, he said Connecticut needs to remain in a state of emergency in order to receive federal aid, noting how there continue to be more COVID-19 infections in the state.
“Our infections are no longer going down. They've plateaued. In fact, creeping up a little bit. We're not out of this yet,” Lamont said. “We're doing everything we can to get more people vaccinated. We have to be able to move quickly in order to get that done. So, I don't think this is any time for us to take our eye off the ball. We're doing everything we can to save lives.”
The House on Thursday did approve a separate bill, 141-0, that codifies one of Lamont's more popular executive orders for one more year. Under the legislation, which also needs Senate approval, restrictions on outside dining at restaurants will be relaxed through March 31, 2022. It also allows cities and towns to expedite permanent changes to their zoning rules if they decide to expand outdoor dining on sidewalks, grassy areas, parking lots and elsewhere.
Associations representing both municipal leaders and restaurants applauded passage of the bill, which they predicted will be helpful to the financially struggling businesses.
"A year after restaurants were asked to close their doors, and we watched more than 600 restaurants close, moving this bill forward is a positive step in the right direction,” said Scott Dolch, Executive Director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association.
Meanwhile, the governor announced that anyone 16 years and older will be able to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine on April 1 instead of April 5. He credited the speed at which people are getting vaccinated in Connecticut.
As of Thursday, more than 1.6 million first doses have been administered in Connecticut, a figure that includes 40,304 people who've received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. To date, more than 619,000 people have been fully vaccinated, a figure that includes those who received the J&J vaccine.
Lamont said more vaccine is arriving in the state. This week, about 150,000 doses are expected to be administered. That's anticipated to climb to 200,000 next week.