Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano.
Masks were worn by all members of the oversight committee, except when members were speaking. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG

The Democratic majority on a special legislative oversight committee blocked a Republican effort Friday to nullify a gubernatorial declaration that extends Gov. Ned Lamont’s emergency powers to manage the COVID-19 pandemic in Connecticut.

The GOP motion failed, as expected, on a 6-4 party line vote.

Republican leaders declined a Democratic invitation to enumerate which of Lamont’s 73 executive orders concern them.

“Which ones are we so upset about?” asked House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin.

House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, noted at the start of the meeting that the committee of 10 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 Sept. 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-Derby.

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, 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.

“I also challenge the notion that only Gov. Lamont can keep us safe,” Fasano said.

“People elected us to do this job,” Klarides said.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said the debate Friday swirled around process, not the substance of the pandemic orders. He waved his mask and said the issue comes down to concrete questions: “Do people want to wear these?”

Barely a third of the orders imposed restrictions; most relaxed previous orders or extended deadlines for everything from filing tax returns to renewing motor vehicle licenses and registration, Aresimowicz said.

Members of her caucus are involved in a lawsuit challenging the requirement masks be worn, but .Klarides pushed back at the notion the GOP was anti-science or anti-masks.

“I will say for the record that’s not the case. We’ve been social distancing. and again, I’m very proud of where we are in the state,” Klarides said. “Are we still in a public health pandemic? Of course we are.”

But Klarides complained that the Lamont administration has been too vague on what metrics will guide the next steps in managing the pandemic.

Under state law, the 10-member oversight committee is composed of the six top leaders — the House speaker, Senate president pro tem, and House and Senate majority and minority leaders — and the two co-chairs and two ranking minority members of the Public Health Committee.

Rep. William Petit of Plainville, a physician and the ranking House Republican on the Public Health Committee, said the Republican concern was about maintaining the constitutional principles of checks and balances and legislative oversight.

“I agree that Gov. Lamont has done a good job, and Connecticut stands head and shoulders above many states across the country,” Petit said.

Petit said he was not suggesting everyone take off their masks and hold a victory parade.

Sen. Heather Somers of Groton, the ranking Senate Republican on the committee, made similar remarks, praising the governor and calling for a continuation of the reasonable rules set forth for social distancing and hygiene.

But the state has met the metrics originally established for a further easing of restrictions, Somers said.

Stores and restaurants are currently limited to 50% of capacity, bars remain closed and large gatherings such as sporting events and conventions are banned.

Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, the committee’s co-chair, rebutted the GOP’s complaint that the legislature has been sidelined. He noted that the committee recently held a hearing on visitation and other issues related to nursing homes, the single largest source of COVID deaths.

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Mark PazniokasCapitol Bureau Chief

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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