The power dynamic set to change as 2021 legislative session opens in state capitol

State of the State

(WTNH) — Throughout the last nine months of the pandemic, Governor Ned Lamont has been solely in charge through “emergency” powers. But how long should those powers last?

There are three co-equal branches of government: the executive, legislative and judicial. But when the pandemic hit, that power structure shifted.

Representative Vin Candelora, the Republican House minority leader, says, “The last time we functioned under a monarchy was the American Revolution.” The Republican leader admits he’s being cut, but essentially, the legislature has handed over the power to the governor for nearly a year.

Representative Matt Ritter, the incoming Democratic House speaker, says the governor is not comfortable with all this power: “I don’t think he necessarily likes to govern like this. Trust me, it’s a lot of tough decisions.”

In March, Governor Ned Lamont unilaterally declared a civil preparedness emergency and lawmakers signed off on a public health emergency.

For six months, Governor Lamont was the decision-maker, strongly encouraging masks, closing indoor dining, and limiting businesses.

“I call it ‘the minutia of COVID-19 response’. It’s best left to administrations and governors,” said Rep. Ritter.

In September, a committee of 10 leaders met to debate the power dynamic. In a six to four vote along party lines, Democrats signed off on extending those Public Health Emergency powers for another six months.

RELATED: State Republicans denounce Gov. Lamont’s decision to extend COVID-19 executive orders

“Giving the executive branch, the governor the authority to make law, to modify laws is really extraordinary,” added Rep. Candelora.

His Republican counterpart in the State Senate, Minority Leader Senator Kevin Kelly, agrees.”Government is not wired, not built to have a one-person, let alone one-party rule.”

Legislative leaders are clear that a lot has been learned. Several COVID-19 vaccines are approved for emergency use and are being given. Daily positivity rates and hospitalizations seem to be on the decline. They say it is time for the legislature to engage.

There will be debates about decreasing the time of future emergency authorizations. Democratic State Senator Martin Looney, the Senate president says, “I think we need to look at civil preparedness emergency and its definition and the emergency declaration. How they may be distinct and how they may operate together.”

Whether Lamont keeps his emergency power longer is in question. Sen. Kelly believes residents need to be heard. “It’s the people’s voice that needs to be heard. It’s not the governor’s voice that’s the only voice in the state of Connecticut.”

The governor recently told News 8, “If we get everyone back in the building by February or March, we will figure out how big an agenda we would like to do. From there if we are still distant, because of COVID, we may be a bit more cautious.”

Speaker Designate Ritter quotes Lamont, “He said it best … ‘at the end of the day these executive orders, really a lot of them are un-enforceable… in many contexts, it really is personal responsibility and we are counting on people to do the right thing.'”

The governor has signed more than 80-executive orders. Lawmakers have the ability to override any of Lamont’s decisions. So far they have not done that. The 2021 legislative session begins on Jan. 6. The governor’s emergency powers expire in February.

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