Legislative Delegation Members React To Health Emergency Extension
Several members of Newtown’s legislative delegation reacted following a September 1 decision by Governor Ned Lamont to extend his health emergency declaration into next February.
Republican Rep Mitch Bolinsky (R-106) and Rep JP Sredzinski (R-112) both stood behind party leaders who issued a statement rejecting the extension and subsequently requested a special legislative oversight committee to meet and vote to support or reject that order. Democratic Rep Raghib Allie-Brennan commented to The Newtown Bee September 9 that he “expressed concerns” to legislative leaders about the extension of powers, and suggested a few alternatives to the sweeping edict.
Lamont signed orders extending to February 9, 2021, Connecticut’s states of civil preparedness and public health emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally declared in March and scheduled to expire on September 9, the governor said that the states of emergency must remain in place in order for the state to effectively respond to the unprecedented and ongoing global pandemic.
“We’ve come a long way from where we were when COVID-19 first hit Connecticut back in March, and working with our public health officials, other stakeholders, and residents, we’ve built an infrastructure that has taken our state to one of the lowest rates of transmission in the country,” Governor Lamont said.
“But Connecticut is not out of the woods yet, and the executive orders we’ve put in place remain critical in our daily fight to contain 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,” Lamont added. “Over the next several months, our administration will continue working with our partners in the legislature, in our municipalities, in our nonprofits, in our long-term care facilities, and in our hospitals to collaboratively combat this virus.”
Three days later, the Democratic majority on a special legislative oversight committee blocked a Republican effort to nullify the gubernatorial declaration, as expected, on a 6-4 party line vote. House Majority Leader Matt Ritter (D-1) noted at the start of the meeting that the committee of ten lawmakers could only nullify the governor’s declaration, not limit its scope or duration.
If it was nullified, all the COVID restrictions would disappear on September 9, the end of the initial six-month emergency Lamont declared on March 10, Democrats said. But Republicans said they never contemplated trying to lift all the restrictions.
“We never said it. We don’t believe it. That’s not where we are,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides (R-114). Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano (R-34) said he was heartened by the governor’s recent remarks to more directly engage lawmakers on future executive orders and the terms and timing for easing current restrictions.
Fasano also challenged the belief that the governor’s COVID restrictions would have ended with the expiration of the original six-month state of emergency, arguing that the state’s civil preparedness law gives the governor continuing authority to manage the pandemic.
Allie-Brennan said with that oversight committee vote completed, he was resigned to offer some ideas to legislative leaders on how to proceed until the next session convenes in January.
“Early last week, I expressed my concerns over the extension to the Speaker of the House and Majority Leader,” Allie-Brennan said. “As a legislature, we could consider modifications to the statutory framework in place including shortening the time frame for these declarations or requiring the legislature to approve certain actions.”
Worthy Of Reconsideration
Upon learning of the action, Bolinsky issued a press advisory that said in part, “As State Representative and the lawmaking and state policy voice of 25,000 Newtowners, I feel it’s critical that we in the legislature come together to deliberate, fine-tune, and vote on important issues, as we did during the July special session and may do again in September.
“We’ve learned so much and come so far. Governor Lamont has led a good effort to bring us through this emergency and I have been supportive all the way until now. This is the time for the governor to reengage with the elected state representatives who have that special direct link to the people of our state,” said Bolinsky. “We must continue to use the best available science and data to make decisions that don’t cause unnecessary and sustained harm to the social fabric of our communities, peoples’ livelihoods, the business community, and the overall economy.”
Bolinsky contended that Newtown residents’ desperation over job actions and business closures is turning to frustration and leaving many feeling they have no voice because the government is ‘closed.’ He said extending the emergency powers of one man into 2021 at a time when science and the CDC indicate that the threat has been reduced for all but the most vulnerable individuals amongst us is worthy of reconsideration.
“We’re in an unprecedented time, but it’s also an important time to make sure we do all we can to protect the people of our state without using broad, ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions everywhere and indefinitely. I prefer the approach the state took to reopening our schools. They issued ‘guidance’ and resources but left the hard decisions up to each district because no one knows what’s best for Newtown than Newtown,” concluded Bolinsky.
“I have heard from constituents who support a similar reopening model for our economy. We already have the guidelines, by phase. Shouldn’t we let localities decide based on their unique circumstances and be ready to pivot quickly if or when a resurgence begins? Isn’t that the essence of democracy?”
Sredzinski echoed those feelings with more brevity in a Facebook post, saying, “The State of Connecticut needs to have all three branches of government working for its citizens. If we can get called in to vote for a police accountability bill and a bill on telehealth, then we can do our job when it comes to the rest of the pandemic. The people need to be heard.”
He also attached a copy of a letter from Fasano and Klarides to Democratic leaders that additionally stated, “We believe that the power must be given back to the elected representatives who have been elected by the people to act legislatively. Whether Governor Lamont did a good job or not is not what is in question. This is about protecting the operation of equal branches of government in which the people’s voices are heard through their representatives.”
The letter went on to say, “We believe that if the Governor 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.”
Looking back beyond this latest political skirmish, Allie-Brennan observed, “These last six months have been challenging and certainly not what anyone could have anticipated.”
“Throughout that time, I have had the opportunity to have input into the Governor’s orders and access to the administration/state agencies,” he said. “Many of the Governor’s orders were influenced by the legislature, and I had an active role in advocating for some of these — including expanding telehealth and the list of essential businesses. With that said, the Governor has done a good job handling this public health emergency as a whole and has been there every step of the way with us in the Greater Danbury area.”
Content from CTMirror was used in this report.