Connecticut is facing monumental issues relating both to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and anti-racism protests that have sprung up around the nation in recent weeks. But its government has been operating mostly by necessity as a one-person show, with the Legislature sidelined and the governor issuing a series of executive orders related to the shutdown and current reopening of state businesses.
That is due to change. Lawmakers, whose regular session ended last month, are calling to reconvene in a special session this summer to take on some of the day’s biggest issues, including preparations for the fall elections in the midst of a possible second wave of the coronavirus, as well as police accountability. Both are deserving of elected officials’ full attention.
Gov. Ned Lamont has been initially supportive of measures on both issues, particularly allowing for no-excuses absentee ballots in November as well as in primaries slated for the end of the summer. He has also seized on the issue of police reform, saying the state must “work together now to enact measures that will ensure our communities of color feel safe and have confidence that law enforcement and our criminal justice system as a whole treat all of our citizens fairly and equally.”
But it’s not so simple. Lamont says he will not call for a special session unless he and a majority of lawmakers can first come to an agreement on both issues that could then be officially approved at the session. “Once we have agreed upon a package that has sufficient support in both chambers, I will issue a call for a special session that is tailored to specifically address that legislation,” Lamont wrote. “I will not issue a call for a special session until or unless that happens, however.”
There’s no question of the importance of both issues. A disastrous primary day in Georgia this week, and one earlier in the year in Wisconsin, shows what can happen to traditional Election Days in the time of a pandemic. It can’t be allowed to happen here. Lamont says he does not have authority to issue another executive order pertaining to the November election, so it must come from the Legislature. That much of a basic agreement should be enough reason to call the special session.
Then there is police accountability. While Lamont is saying the right words, this is an issue that cries out for public debate of the kind that should take place in a public session of the state Legislature. It does not call for a prearranged agreement between top officials that would then be approved in a pro-forma session. For one thing, such a move would shut out the minority party completely, when the moment calls for open dialogue and healthy give and take.
Lamont has done well in leading the state through an emergency, but the time has come for the next step. That necessarily involves a more active role for state legislators to do the jobs they were elected to do. And when the Legislature meets, it should debate in public the major issues of the day. Anything else is subverting the people’s right to know what their government is doing.