Leaders of the Democratic majority of the General Assembly support the extension of Gov. Ned Lamont’s emergency powers past Feb. 9 to further curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Those powers — set to expire in three weeks — have had wide implications during the pandemic. Lamont has used his authority to restrict who can be evicted from their homes, mandate people to wear masks in public, and limit the conditions under which businesses can open.
“There will have to be some extension, the issue is for how long,” Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney said Monday.
House Speaker Matt Ritter shared a similar sentiment with municipal leaders last week.
“We’re going to need the governor’s emergency powers to continue past February 9. Do I think we need to do a six month extension as has been done in the previous two times? I do not. I think the length of time should be a lot shorter,” Ritter said during the Connecticut Council of Small Towns annual meeting on Jan. 13. “I would imagine, knock on wood, as we get to May, June and July, the state and the country will look a lot better as vaccinations roll out. But in the short term, say, February, March, I don’t know how you don’t do that and have mask requirements and so forth.”
Lamont, also a Democrat, has not made clear whether he plans to seek an extension. Instead, he said recently he is working with legislative leaders to figure out the best path forward. If he plans to request an extension, he will need to make that request of legislators within 72 hours of his current order expiring.
Not everyone is on board with an extension, including House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora.
“We’re getting behind the eight ball yet again and almost making a fait accompli that these orders will be extended until the legislature, until the Democrats, are forced to do the right thing. Inaction ends up having a worse result. I don’t think the governor should continue with this broad authority dictating when businesses can open,” Candelora said Monday.
Neither Lamont nor Democratic leaders have reached out to Republican leaders about the issue, Candelora said.
But a blanket extension is the only practical path forward, said Looney, who is unconvinced there is enough time for lawmakers to negotiate with the governor’s office about which orders to continue and to scale back through legislative action. As an example, he points to the potential impact of removing the eviction moratorium while the state struggles to disperse federal funds to those struggling to pay rent during the pandemic and resulting economic downturn.
“There may not be a statutory response in place by then,” Looney said. “Even if we had a bill going through the legislative process it wouldn’t have advanced that far by February 9, so I think that’s something where the continuation is probably appropriate.”
The state’s rental assistance program has not yet given out the $40 million the governor set aside last fall to help about 10,000 tenants who have lost their jobs or had their hours scaled back and can’t afford to pay rent. That program stopped taking new applications in early December, and on Jan. 6 the state Department of Housing announced it was closing the program permanently after having spent just $27 million.
The housing department is working to launch a new rental assistance program with $237 million expected to arrive soon from the federal government.