Connecticut lawmakers Tuesday granted final legislative approval to extending Gov. Ned Lamont's emergency powers during the COVID-19 pandemic to May 20, despite concerns raised by Republicans who argued it's time for the General Assembly to take back its authority.
The Democratic-controlled Senate voted along partisan lines, 24-10, to authorize the Democratic governor to renew the state’s public health and civil preparedness emergency declarations through May 20. They were set to expire April 20. The measure already cleared the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.
“We do not have this pandemic in the rear-view mirror, as of yet. It is still staring us in the face,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, noting the administration reported more than 3,200 new confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 over the weekend.
Looney credited Lamont will handling his extraordinary executive authority in a “prudent and measured way," noting the state Supreme Court on Monday, in elaborating on an earlier decision involving a Milford tavern owner, affirmed the governor has the authority to order closures and partial shut downs during the pandemic.
Yet Republican argued it's time to evaluate the more than 90 executive orders Lamont has issued and begin deciding which should continue.
“It's time to get together on these executive orders. It's time to understand where we're going,” said Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme. “Let's accentuate and codify the good. Let's remove the outdated and let's modify what needs to be and do that together as a coequal branch in the legislature and move forward.”
The Senate did vote unanimously on a second bill that essentially codifies one of Lamont’s more popular executive orders for one more year. Under the legislation, restrictions on outside dining at restaurants will be relaxed through March 31, 2022.
Lamont thanked legislators for their action on Tuesday, calling it a “critical” step to ensuring the state's vaccine and testing programs “remain nimble and accessible to all of our residents” and that the state can get “back to normal as quickly as possible.”
In other coronavirus-related news:
A party attended by more than 100 people at a small house near the University of Connecticut has resulted in two arrests and an investigation by school officials into possible student conduct violations.
State police responded to a complaint about a loud party late Saturday near the main campus in Storrs and estimated that more than 100 people were inside the house, troopers said. Under the state's coronavirus restrictions, private indoor gatherings are limited to 50% capacity and capped at 100 people.
A renter of the house, Christian Vitti, 21, was charged with violating the state's coronavirus rules, interfering with police and permitting a minor to possess alcohol. He was released on a $1,000 bond and ordered to appear in court on April 21.
State police said Mikaela Puzzo, 19, threw an alcoholic beverage can that struck a trooper in the back. The trooper was not hurt. Puzzo was charged with disorderly conduct and possession of alcohol by a minor. She posted $1,000 bail and is to appear in court on April 14.
Vitti, a UConn student, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that what was supposed to be a small gathering “got out of hand” and he believes he should not have been arrested. He said he was upstairs in the home when he discovered there was a large gathering in the basement and he tried to get people to leave.
“I said, ‘Oh, God,’” Vitti said. “I wasn't sure exactly what I was supposed to do.”
Messages seeking comment were left for Puzzo, who also attends UConn, according to her Instagram account.
Another renter of the home, Thomas Bartolotta, was issued a written infraction for violating the state gathering limits.
A message seeking comment was left for Bartolotta, whose Facebook page says he is a UConn student.
State police referred information about the party to UConn officials, who are investigating whether students who attended should be disciplined, school spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said.
“UConn takes the Governor’s Executive Order’s provisions very seriously, and expects its students to do the same to help protect the health and safety of its campus communities,” Reitz wrote in a statement.
It was the second large party near UConn to be busted this month. Three people were issued infractions in connection with a gathering of 150 to 200 people about a mile from campus on March 6.
VACCINE COMPLAINT FILED
Advocates for people with disabilities filed a formal complaint on Tuesday with the U.S. Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, asking them to require Connecticut to change its new policy allowing hospitals to decide which patients at high risk for contracting COVID-19 should get “priority access” to shots.
The complaint filed by Disability Rights Connecticut also calls on the federal office to require Connecticut to amend its “limited and arbitrary list of which disabilities will allow for eligibility,” arguing there should be a uniform statewide plan for vaccine eligibility.
“Whether or not individuals with disabilities can receive a potentially life-saving vaccine should not depend on which high-risk disability or medical condition they have, where they live, which hospital’s jurisdiction they fall under, or the whim of an administrator. This is the State of Connecticut, not ‘The Hunger Games,’” DRCT Executive Director Deborah Dorfman said in a written statement.
A message was left seeking comment with Lamont's spokesman.
On Monday, Lamont's chief operating officer, Josh Geballe, said the list includes “conditions that the chief medical officers at the hospitals felt were most worthy of prioritization" for vaccinations over the next week or two. He noted that everyone age 16 and older will be eligible to make an appointment for a shot, beginning Thursday.