Mike France on the Race for Connecticut’s Second Congressional District Against Joe Courtney

State Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, announced on Feb. 23 that he is challenging Democratic Congressman Joe Courtney, who represents Connecticut’s second congressional district, covering most of the eastern half of the state. Courtney unseated former Congressman Rob Simmons, a Republican, fifteen years ago, winning that election by just 83 votes. Since then, Courtney has comfortably won reelection each cycle, including last November with nearly 60 percent of the vote. France is a retired U.S. Navy officer who has served in the statehouse since 2015. In a conversation with the Connecticut Examiner, France shared how he would represent eastern Connecticut differently

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Why Members of Lamont’s Cannabis Equity Group See His Bill as a Betrayal

Late last year, as Gov. Ned Lamont prepared his push for legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana in the upcoming legislative session, his office gathered dozens of predominantly nonwhite activists, legislators and community leaders to form a cannabis equity discussion group, which met weekly via Zoom for two months.  The group discussed everything from equitable revenue allocation, and processes for expunging criminal records, to licensing that would be inclusive of Black and Brown entrepreneurs. Dozens of hours of work culminated in a set of recommendations delivered to the governor, all centered around how best to legalize cannabis in an equitable fashion,

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6 Connecticut Mayors React to Gov. Lamont’s Plan for Legal Marijuana

On Feb. 10, Gov. Ned Lamont released a plan to legalize recreational marijuana in Connecticut, saying that he anticipates the state will start to see revenue from cannabis sales as early as next year. In the Governor’s proposal, much of that anticipated revenue, including an optional 3 percent local excise tax, would go directly to municipalities. In an effort to better understand local responses to the plan, Connecticut Examiner checked in with six mayors from across the state to ask their thoughts on the proposal and what legal marijuana could mean for their municipalities.  As a former police chief, I

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Legislators Join Women’s Business Development Council to Share Advice on Weathering Pandemic

State legislators joined the Connecticut Women’s Business Development Council to host an informational webinar on Tuesday about resources available to women and minority business owners to weather the pandemic.  State Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme, joined Bipartisan Women’s Legislative Caucus members State Representatives Donna Veach, R-Berlin,  and Christie Carpino, R-Cromwell, and Women’s Business Development Council CEO Fran Pastore to share advice for small business owners.   “Typically, WBDC sees about 800 women a year from all over the state of Connecticut, but from March to November 2020, we increased that by 600 percent,” Pastore said. “We helped put an estimated $11

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Five Southeast Connecticut Legislators Weigh in on Legalizing Marijuana

In Wednesday’s budget address, Gov. Ned Lamont not only called for the legalization of recreational marijuana, but allocated the expected revenue from cannabis sales in his budget, signaling his assumption that the state will legalize within the next year. Lamont also released his own proposed legislation, which was met with mixed feedback from leadership on both sides of the aisle.  Connecticut Examiner checked in with five state legislators from southeast Connecticut to get their thoughts on the Governor’s legislation.  I think it’s about time. I think we need to be pretty thoughtful with the revenue, because I’m not a big

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Lamont’s Budget Proposal Assumes Marijuana Revenues

In his budget address on Wednesday, Gov. Ned Lamont not only called for the legalization of recreational cannabis, but allocated expected tax revenue from marijuana sales as part of his budget, signaling his expectation that the proposal will become law.  “Our neighboring states are offering recreational marijuana on a legal and regulated basis,” Lamont said. “Massachusetts dispensaries are advertising extensively here in Connecticut. Rather than surrender this market to out-of-staters, or worse, to the unregulated underground market, our budget provides for the legalization of recreational marijuana.”  “Our proposal really centers equity at the forefront of licensing, the workforce, the training,

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State Lawmakers Push to Use New Gambling Revenues for Student Tuition Aid

In a press conference on Friday morning, a group of state legislators called for legislation that would help fund the Pledge to Advance Connecticut, or PACT, the state’s program to ensure students across the state can attend community college without incurring debt.  The Board of Regents for Higher Education voted in December to spend $3 million in reserves to fund PACT through the spring semester, but warned that without a permanent funding stream, the program was in jeopardy. The lawmakers said that the passage of the gaming bill, which is currently being drafted by the Public Safety and Security Committee,

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Connecticut Lags Behind Neighbors in Marijuana Efforts, Say Industry Experts

Vincente Sederberg, a Colorado-based law firm that played a key role in passing Colorado’s marijuana legalization ballot initiative, hosted a panel on Thursday afternoon to discuss the state of marijuana legalization in the tri-state area.  The panel also featured Michael Huttner, managing director of Young America Capital, and experts from Vincente Sederberg, including Michelle Bodian, a senior associate at the firm, Andrew Livingston, director of Economics & Research, Jennifer Cabrera, counsel, and Elliot Choi, counsel.  Vincente Sederberg has advised local, state and national governments around the world, including in Uruguay, the first country to legalize marijuana. In comments, Michelle Bodian,

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Connecticut Residents Can Now Renew Driver’s Licenses Online

The Department of Motor Vehicles will process renewals for driver’s licenses online starting February 15, Governor Lamont announced in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.  As long as residents do not need to change any of their license information, they will be able to renew their licenses through a new online portal that is the culmination of two years of efforts to modernize the department and minimize unnecessary in-person office visits, DMV Commissioner Sibongile Magubane said.  Connecticut joins 36 other states in allowing renewals to take place from home, and in those states, roughly 40 percent of renewals take place

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Osten Spearheads Push for Workers’ Compensation to Include Mental Health

Kara Dewaine lost her father, Jeramie Dewaine, to suicide two years ago. A corrections officer at Corrigan Radgowski Prison, he would sometimes work 72 hours straight, and witnessed horrific violence, including being one of the first to find an inmate who took their life by hanging, his daughter said.  “These weren’t things he could talk about at home,” she said. “It was like he had to become a different person when he was home to protect us from everything he was going through. He was expected to see these extreme things at work and deal with them as if they

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Lamont’s Extension of Emergency Powers Draws Questions from Republican Leadership

Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday that he will extend the public health state of emergency, which was set to end on February 9, through to April 20. The state of emergency gives the governor sweeping powers to manage the pandemic, including restricting business, limiting gatherings, and mandating masks.  The Governor first declared a state of emergency on March 10, 2020 and extended the order an additional five months on September 9.  In a press briefing on Monday, Lamont said this additional extension would give Connecticut time to assess the vaccine’s efficacy as well as prepare for the new, more contagious

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Union Criticizes State for Lack of Vaccine Preparedness for Corrections Officers

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In a press conference Wednesday morning, union leaders representing tens of thousands of corrections officers argued that the state and the Department of Corrections have done little to prepare for vaccine distribution, constantly moving the goalposts and delaying a process they say is vital to workplace safety.  “The agency has no plan, nor does it show any true interest in formulating a plan to get our members the vaccine they so desperately want,” said Sean Howard, president of AFSCME Local 387, representing the Cheshire Correctional Complex.   Corrections officers are part of Phase 1b, which includes staff in congregate settings and

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Gifford to Lead Department of Health Through the Pandemic, Says Lamont Spokesperson

The Connecticut Department of Public Health has been without a permanent commissioner since May, and will continue to be led by Acting Commissioner Deidre Gifford until after the pandemic, the Governor’s Office said in a statement on Thursday to Connecticut Examiner.  Gov. Ned Lamont removed former commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell eight months ago and replaced her with Gifford, who was then and still serves as commissioner of the Department of Social Services. At the time, Lamont said she would lead both departments simultaneously while his administration performed a nationwide search for a new permanent commissioner.  Today, House Republican Leader Vinent Candelora

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With Tolls Off the Table, Transportation Funding Remains in a Question

State Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, knows the bill he is proposing is not going to pass.  Co-sponsored by State Sen. Alex Kasser, D-Greenwich, the proposal would install electronic tolls on interstates I-84, I-91, I-95, and portions of Route 15, reviving a political debate from two years ago about how best to fund the state’s Special Transportation Fund.  The set-aside in the state budget is intended to support Department of Transportation operations, transit programs, and the debt on borrowing for infrastructure upgrades across the state. Gov. Ned Lamont, who campaigned on a promise of limited tolls on trucking, asked state lawmakers

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As Lamont Holds Line on Vaccinations, Advocates Question Omission of Type 1 Diabetes

“This has been a really terrifying time for people with Type 1 diabetes,” said John Kleinhans, a Type 1 Diabetic and the advocacy chair of the Greater Connecticut Chapter of JDRF, a Type 1 Diabetes research and advocacy group.  The organization wrote an open letter to Gov. Ned Lamont on Wednesday arguing that Type 1 Diabetes patients should be included in the current phase of the vaccine rollout.  In a meeting on Tuesday, Connecticut’s Vaccine Advisory Group allocation subcommittee recommended that Phase 1b include adults 65 and older, and residents with at least one health condition placing them at increased

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A Conversation with Kate Wesch, the New Rector of St. John’s Episcopal in Essex

Reverend Kate Wesch is joining St. John’s Episcopal Church in Essex at the end of this month. Wesch is currently rector of St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Seattle, and will move to Connecticut with her husband, mother, daughter and son. In conversation with the Connecticut Examiner, Wesch shares what made her fall in love with Essex and how she hopes to build community amid a pandemic. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.  How did you come across the role at St. John’s in Essex?   We have not spent much time in Connecticut at all, but

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Cathy Osten Talks Mental Health, Workers Comp and Her Priorities this Session

State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, returns remotely to Hartford for her fourth term representing a district that stretches from Marlborough to Ledyard. In a conversation with the Connecticut Examiner, Osten shares her legislative priorities for the upcoming session. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.  What are your top legislative priorities for the upcoming session?  I’ve always been interested in mental health awareness and improvements in the system. I’ve been meeting with people about this throughout the pandemic and even before. The initiatives I’ll be focusing on during this session have been on the forefront of my agenda

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Epidemiologists See Little Evidence of Classroom Spread of COVID in Connecticut

The Connecticut Examiner analyzed data from the state Department of Education that found that students in Connecticut are nearly as likely to report testing positive for COVID-19 if they study remotely, in person or in a hybrid model.  According to epidemiologists and experts in the state, that data tracks with the lessons they’ve learned over the fall semester, as students have returned to the classroom in some regions and stayed home in others.  Dr. Pedro Mendes, director of the UConn Center for Quantitative Medicine, built a model at the beginning of the pandemic to forecast PPE needs at UConn Health.

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Data Suggest Little Difference in COVID Rates Between Remote, In-Person and Hybrid Instruction

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According to Department of Education data, public school students in Connecticut are nearly as likely to test positive for COVID-19 if they study remotely, as students learning in person or in a hybrid model. In-person students made up for 29 percent of total students across the state as well as 29 percent of reported student cases, meaning they did not make up for a disproportionate number of confirmed COVID-19 infections. The state has reported just over 7,000 positive cases among students since the start of the school year.  Students in hybrid learning models were slightly more likely to report COVID-19

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Immersive Pop-Up Dining at Hartford’s Goodwin Hotel

HARTFORD — Theater and indoor restaurant dining have, for many, been casualties of the pandemic. With a long winter ahead, Chef Tyler Anderson of Hartford’s historic Goodwin Hotel is hoping to provide a respite. “We have a hotel that’s slow because of COVID and a restaurant that’s slow for the same reason,” Anderson said. “I’ve seen other hotel restaurants turn guest rooms into private dining rooms as a way for people to have a COVID-safe meal indoors. We just wanted to take it to the next level.”  Starting on January 8, guests can visit the Goodwin for an immersive mystery

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Advocates Plan Strategy for Ranked Choice in Legislative Session

In the upcoming legislative session, lawmakers in Hartford will need to tackle COVID relief head-on, deal with a looming budget crisis, and they may work to legalize recreational marijuana. Still, some activists are pushing to put another issue on the agenda: ranked-choice voting.   The voting change has been long supported by third parties as a way to eliminate the “spoiler effect,” where votes for a third-party candidate draw votes from a similar major-party candidate, causing the other candidate to win. Maine and Alaska already use ranked-choice voting, and Massachusetts held a ballot referendum to consider the change, though the measure

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Courtney Sponsors Bill to Aid Districts with Tribal Lands and Military Bases

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A federal bill introduced by Congressman Joe Courtney to protect education funding for districts like Groton and Ledyard with children living on tribal lands and military bases was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Dec. 4. “This is a big deal for us,” said Michael Graner, superintendent of Groton school district. “Groton has about 1000 military-dependent children who live in military housing, and because their parents don’t pay property taxes on their military housing, the town misses out on that revenue.” The bipartisan “Impact Aid Coronavirus Relief Act” will allow school districts to receive the same federal Impact

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Union Leaders Question Safety and Equity of Schooling as COVID Surges in Connecticut

HARTFORD — As COVID-19 infections surge across Connecticut, union leaders went to Hartford to present a petition calling on the governor to shift all schools to remote learning absent stronger safety precautions.  The petition, signed by nearly 14,000 educators, school employees, and community members, is an “unfortunate last resort,” said Mary Yordon, president of the Norwalk Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1727 and Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut.  In a press conference at the State Capitol on Thursday morning, leaders of the Board of Education Union Coalition urged the state to establish statewide safety protocols and

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Food Assistance to Expand Next Week, Aiding More than 100,000 Connecticut Families

More than 100,000 households in Connecticut will receive additional Emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) benefits next Wednesday, according to an announcement from the Connecticut Department of Social Services.  The department will provide $16.9 million in SNAP benefits as authorized by the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020, legislation signed in March that allowed states more flexibility in providing SNAP benefits. For Connecticut, this means that all households enrolled in SNAP will receive the maximum benefit allowable for their household size, even if they are not normally eligible.   The $16.9 million comes on top of $157.2 million in additional emergency

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In Interview, DeLauro Sketches Priorities as Appropriations Chair

House Democrats elected Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who represents the greater New Haven area, to chair the House Appropriations Committee for the 117th Congress. The veteran congresswoman will take over the committee in January following the retirement of Rep. Nita Lowey of New York. The vote from the full caucus ratified the Steering and Policy Committee’s vote on Tuesday to recommend DeLauro for the position.  On Friday, DeLauro told Connecticut Examiner that she is thrilled and humbled by the new role.  “To be chosen by my peers as chair of the Appropriations Committee is an honor,” DeLauro said. “The committee holds

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$13.3 Million for Twelve Small Cities Across Connecticut

Twelve municipalities across the state received federal grant funding totaling $13.3 million through the Community Development Block Grant Small Cities program, Gov. Ned Lamont and Connecticut Housing Commissioner Seila Mosquera-Bruno announced on Friday.  Administered by the Connecticut Department of Housing with funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the program funds projects that develop housing and infrastructure in smaller communities to primarily benefit lower-income residents.    “These grants go a long way toward improving neighborhoods so that we can make our communities more attractive and encourage continued growth for the benefit of all of our residents,” Gov. Ned

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Lamont Announces Retroactive Expansion of Benefits for 38,000 Unemployed

Gov. Ned Lamont announced the signing of an executive order Friday morning expanding unemployment benefits for workers impacted by COVID-19.  The order directs the state Department of Labor to expand eligibility for the Federal Lost Wages Assistance Program to Connecticut residents who previously did not qualify.  The federal program, which added a supplemental $300 weekly to benefits for Americans who lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only applied to workers who had a minimum benefit of $100 per week.  While 160,000 state residents received supplemental benefits, 38,000 others who had lost their jobs due to the pandemic received

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Rob Derry, Clinton’s Green Party Police Commissioner

CLINTON — Rob Derry was never interested in politics. From a young age, he knew he wanted to become a state trooper, just like his grandfather. For the last three decades, Derry has worked in law enforcement, as a local police officer and then a state police sergeant.  Derry said his work has led him to develop relationships with many local politicians, including Dick Smith, longtime first selectman of Deep River, who Derry became close to during his time in Westbrook as a state trooper. One day, Smith gave Derry a laminated copy of an article about him in a

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Lamont Outlines Expected Timeline for COVID Vaccinations

In a Thursday afternoon press conference, Gov. Ned Lamont, alongside the co-chairs of his vaccine advisory group, laid out his plan for statewide vaccine distribution. The first doses of Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines are set to arrive in Connecticut on December 14 and December 21, respectively, and pending FDA approval, the state plans to administer those vaccines in two phases.  The first part of phase one, starting as soon as vaccines arrive, will include the state’s 200,000 healthcare workers, 22,000 nursing home residents, and 6,000 medical first responders. The state anticipates all residents in those categories who choose to be

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