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Is this really an emergency?

A look at how states are governing themselves in conditions of active pandemic (Missouri or Tennessee, for example) versus a time of recovery and normalcy (Connecticut, New York) shows that either way, there is a consistent trend toward centralization of authority — and even, in the case of the action taken Wednesday by the Connecticut General Assembly, a signoff of constitutionally separated legislative powers to the executive branch.

In special session, the state Senate voted 19 to 15, with one member absent or not voting, and the House of Representatives voted 73 to 56, with 22 members absent or not voting, to again extend emergency powers first granted in March 2020 to Gov. Ned Lamont. The extension, made at the governor's request, lasts through September. At that point it will be a year and a half.

Governor Lamont has by and large exercised his pandemic-related emergency powers judiciously and effectively, and all but 11 of his emergency declarations have expired. The state of the state is far different, however, from the spring of 2020. Is this really an emergency as of now?

The less than lopsided voting margins — considering they are from a Democrat-controlled legislature that mostly votes along party lines — suggest that some elected representatives who voted for previous extensions may be feeling a bit doubtful about the answer to that question.

They are not the only ones. In March, the Connecticut Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of the use of emergency powers but reminded the General Assembly of its own constitutional role. The court's opinion stated that "the legislature may also deem it proper to impose greater oversight of the governor's actions during a proclaimed civil preparedness emergency or otherwise amend or repeal (the statute) to further limit the governor's authority." The court suggested that could be done at the time, during the regular session, or in the future.

Well, not yet.

Since the emergency powers were first granted Connecticut has become a far safer place. The state has one of the nation's highest covid vaccination rates and lowest infection rates, thanks in great measure to the Lamont administration's handling of the crisis and response to the opportunity for mass vaccination. Legislators, like almost everybody else, have learned how to meet and conduct business by teleconference. Yes, the infection rate has been creeping up with the arrival of the covid delta variant, and more people need to get the vaccine, but nothing covid-related is apt to develop disastrously overnight. There would be time, and there are tools, for the legislature to do its own work rather than leave it to Lamont.

Not yet.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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