State lawmakers and legislative employees should expect to meet the same standards that will be demanded next month of executive branch employees: get vaccinated against COVID-19 or get weekly tests.
House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, informed his caucus Thursday of a policy that will have limited impact until February, when the General Assembly convenes for its 2022 session.
“My belief is that the House Democratic caucus will have 100% compliance with the rule of either proof of vaccination or the weekly testing option,” Ritter said.
But the policy is not exactly a directive to the legislators, who are more akin to independent contractors than employees. To the extent they have a boss, it is the constituents who elected them.
“That’s something that I am discussing still with the speaker,” said House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford. “That is exactly right — public officials are not employees.”
What to do if a lawmaker refuses both vaccination and the testing opt out? he asked. They cannot be fired or barred from representing their districts.
Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, who is vaccinated and believes in the efficacy of vaccinations and masks, said, “You have elected officials who have a constitutional right to be in that building, representing their constituents.”
A week ago, Gov. Ned Lamont ordered that all executive branch employees get at least an initial COVID vaccination by Sept. 27 or submit to weekly testing for the virus. Unless extended, his emergency executive powers expire on Sept. 30.
Legislative leaders closed the Capitol to the public in March 2020, and it never fully reopened. Currently, only the first floor is open to the public, meaning that voters and lobbyists are barred from the floors where the Senate and House meet and public galleries are accessed.
Control of the Capitol rests with the legislature. The governor and secretary of state, whose offices are in the building, are mere tenants.
Legislative employees currently are limited in their access. They work in two groups, each at the Capitol for two days, separated by a day for cleaning.
Neither Ritter nor Candelora could say how many of their members are unvaccinated, but they believe it a tiny fraction of the 151 House members.
“It could be up to 10, maybe,” Candelora said.
Ritter said there is no formal signoff from the other three caucuses on the policy, but based on initial conversations he expects it will be policy for the entire legislature and its employees.
If not, it will be the rule in the House Democratic majority.
“This will be a policy for the House Democratic caucus and for both legislators and employees,” Ritter said. “If something falls apart and it’s not broader, I will mandate it for our caucus.”
Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said he hoped every lawmaker would be “responsible.”