Opinion: 'Thank you, Gov. Lamont, for your service.' But enough with the emergency powers

Gov. Ned Lamont

Gov. Ned Lamont

Brian A. Pounds / Associated Press

Next Monday, the Connecticut legislature will go into special session to vote on whether to approve Gov. Ned Lamont’s request to extend his extraordinary powers by continuing to declare two states of emergencies — one for public health and the other for civic preparedness. The governor declared these emergencies on March 10, 2020. He is asking for another 150 days until Feb. 15, 2022. That’ll be nearly two years of being in dual emergencies.

The governor is a constituent of mine in District 149. I reached out to ask him why he is seeking this extension and he was gracious enough to return my call.

The governor said he needs these powers to be able to respond to any surge in COVID cases. It is reasonable for the executive to have the ability to declare emergencies and act with expediency, as Gov. Lamont did at the start of the pandemic.

However, as of Sept 21, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker, 75.44 percent of Connecticut’s population has received at least one dose and 68 percent are fully vaccinated. These percentages consistently put Connecticut among the top three states in the nation for highest vaccination rates. Being creative with ideas for vaccination incentives, such as free admission to the zoo or Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards, does not require emergency powers. But being able to order mandates does. There’s the rub.

The governor’s leadership during this crisis, although well-intentioned, was not flawless as he like Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York adopted a policy of creating COVID-only nursing homes combining COVID positive elderly residents with other COVID patients. By early summer of 2020, nearly 90 percent of COVID deaths recorded in Connecticut were of nursing home patients. This shows that the exercise of emergency powers is not a saving grace and can bring about unintended harmful results.

When I pointed out the example of other New England governors who had given up their emergency powers, Gov. Lamont said the Massachusetts governor had delegated those powers to the state health commissioner. He said that if I found him to be heavy-handed I would definitely not like to be ruled by Connecticut’s new health commissioner, Dr. Manisha Juthani.

Indeed, I want a government that understands its proper role — to protect individual rights. The state Legislature is able to provide a system of checks and balances. Emergency powers have the effect of removing those checks.

At the start of the pandemic, nearly everyone tolerated violations of their rights, such as forced shutdowns of private businesses that hurt folks’ ability to make a living, because the situation was so unexpected, felt imminently dangerous, and required immediate action. Today, it is a different story. COVID is evolving but there is no emergency when, as of Sept 22, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services reports that Connecticut has 325 people hospitalized with COVID in a state of 3.6 million souls and is using only 4.18 percent of its inpatient beds for COVID.

Gov. Lamont remarked to me that he thought he was doing a better job than the Florida governor in keeping people safe. By American principles, a good job by a leader is done by protecting people’s freedoms and leading us through tough and scary times as free people, not by being our benevolent king, even if the majority of people ask for a benevolent king.

Thank you, Gov. Lamont, for your service, but I respectfully remind you Connecticut is the Constitution State. It is your role to address real emergencies and to share information as transparently and timely as possible with the people, so that we are equipped with the best and latest information to make our own decisions, which I believe does not require an extension of your emergency powers.

I am doing my job as a state representative to guard the role of the legislature in protecting individual rights. This has nothing to do with partisan politics; it has everything to do with abiding by the structures of government set forth in the Constitution. Any state representative who votes Yes on Monday to extend the governor’s powers for another 150 days is abrogating their constitutional duty to serve as a check on and a balance to executive powers.

State Rep. Kimberly Fiorello’s 149th district includes parts of Greenwich and Stamford.