On the opening day of the 2022 legislative session, state Sen. Phil Fortunato put new COVID-related rules to the test. The Senate majority approved requirements for in-person participation in the Senate Chamber, but Fortunato argues that the rules are arbitrary, illogical and don’t supersede his constitutional duties.
“The Senate majority rammed through these rules that don’t pass constitutional muster,” Fortunato argues. “We have now been in an “emergency” for nearly 700 days and it’s becoming clearer that this virus is something we are going to have to live with. It is time to return to normal proceedings and Zoom is not a substitute to being able to represent my constituents on the Senate Floor.”
Fortunato, R-Auburn points to flaws in the safety measures, like weekly testing that undermine the new rules altogether.
“They are saying we cannot be in person unless we receive a negative test result from a test that they agree can give false positives or negatives. One of our members just got back their test results – the only problem is that they never got a test.
“At some point in time we have to push back, and I intend to at every step of the way. I believe the Governor and the Democratic majority, under the guise of public health, have instituted policies that violate our rights and endanger our democracy.”
Testing of legislators and staff multiple times a week when tests for schools and front-line workers are running out sends the wrong message, added Fortunato. “Requiring testing of people with no symptoms when there is a shortage of tests is ridiculous. Why does the majority think we are so special that we should be taking these valuable resources? We are not more important than the people paying our salaries that have had to work this entire pandemic without any safety measures in place.”
When the Senate administration learned that Fortunato entered the Legislative Building without undergoing required testing, Senate Security was called to escort the Senator out, barring him from even participating remotely in his office.
“There are significant questions raised by limiting access to the Senate chamber through rules that add qualifications to the constitutional minimum required be able to exercise the elected office,” said constitutional legal expert Joel Ard. “Fortunato’s principled stand sends a message that constitutional rights, especially for elected leaders, don’t stop at the chamber door.”
Fortunato indicated that he will again attempt to participate in the legislative proceedings in person this Wednesday when the Senate is schedule to vote on bills.