Audit Cites Long-standing Vacancy for Backlog in Discrimination Hearings

HARTFORD — A years-long vacancy in a key position at the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities appears to be delaying hearings on some of the most difficult to resolve cases alleging discrimination, a state audit released this week highlighted. State statute requires the commission to have three “human rights referees” who conduct hearings on contested cases alleging discrimination in the workplace, housing or public accommodations. Since June 2014, the commission has had only two referees, with one position sitting vacant.  The state audit released on Tuesday found that, as of April 21, there were 269 cases awaiting a hearing

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Lamont Releases Plan to Tap Rainy Day Fund, Trim Spending and Extend Tax Surcharge

Gov. Ned Lamont proposed using $1.82 billion from the state’s “Rainy Day” reserve fund to offset a project $2 Billion budget deficit in 2021. Lamont’s proposal, released on Thursday, included $200 million in “mitigations,” including projections that the state could save $30 million through a hiring restriction for state jobs, $25.3 million rescinded from the current budget, and using $100 million in federal COVID relief funds to pay for state public health and safety costs. Another $44.8 million in mitigations proposed by Lamont, most significantly maintaining the existing 10 percent corporate tax surcharge for 2021, would require legislative approval. Melissa

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Osten, Formica, Needleman Weigh in on Energy Legislation, as it Passes 35-0

HARTFORD — The State Senate passed a bill aimed at improving accountability for storm response of energy providers, like Eversource and United Illuminating, by a vote of 35-0, sending the bill to Gov. Ned Lamont for his signature. As key legislators representing southeast Connecticut on the Energy and Technology Committee praised the strides they say the bill made, they admitted there was far more work to be done, and promised to consider deeper reforms in the regular session. “This is an important first step,” said State Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, co-chair of the committee. “There will be more, many more.”

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East Lyme Voters Narrowly Approve Additional Public Safety Building Funds

East Lyme voters narrowly approved a plan to bond an additional $985,000 to fund renovations of the former Honeywell office building to use as the police station and emergency services center.  Voters approved the bonding by a vote of 1,184 to 1,112 in a referendum held Thursday. Voters also approved using $1.2 million in delayed FEMA reimbursements from hurricanes Irene and Sandy to fill the funding gap for the public safety building by a vote of 1,254 to 1,058.  East Lyme voters previously approved $5 million in bonding for the project in February 2019.

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House Lawmakers Overwhelmingly Approve Performance-Based Energy Bill

The Connecticut House of Representatives voted to approve a bill that would direct the state’s utility regulator to establish a rate-making system for energy providers, including Eversource and UI, that would consider the quality of their service to consumers. The House voted 136-4 to approve the bill, which will give the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, called PURA, more power to penalize utilities for poor performance in storm recovery and which will force the companies to reimburse customers who lost food or medicine after lengthy power outages. Lawmakers overwhelmingly supported the legislation, but also called for more action and in-depth reviews

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Deadly ‘Beech Leaf Disease’ Identified Across Connecticut and Rhode Island

A mysterious nematode first identified near Cleveland in 2012 has been spotted in seven Connecticut counties and Rhode Island this summer. The nematode has been tied to the deadly “Beech leaf disease” that has wreaked havoc on beech trees from Lake Erie to the Atlantic Ocean. “We’re really concerned because we’re not left with much else in the forest now – oaks and hickories and birches, and then beeches,” said Robert Marra, a scientist with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. Going back 150 years, there would have been abundant chestnuts, elms, ashes and walnuts, said Marra, but the northeastern forests

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Panel Discusses Barriers to Treating and Preventing ‘Opioid Use Disorders’

A panel of medical professionals met on Wednesday in a virtual roundtable hosted by the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce to discuss the added obstacles posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to treating and preventing opioid addiction. Opioid overdoses and deaths have increased during the pandemic, and Dr. Michael Kalinowski, a family physician at Middlesex Health, said it’s likely that long-term addictions have increased as well.  According to Kalinowski, COVID-related restrictions have hindered efforts to educate students and parents about opioid use, identify mental health concerns in young people, and eliminate unneeded prescription opioid medication. Kalinowski said that because improving mental

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Connecticut’s Sexual Assault Evidence Tracking System Nears Completion

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The final piece of Connecticut’s tracking system for sexual assault forensic evidence kits – a sheet of instructions for survivors to track the progress of their evidence kit as it is sent to the state forensic laboratory for testing — is nearly complete. The tracking system began operating in March 2017 as the state worked to clear a backlog of 1,188 forensic evidence kits that local and state police departments had not submitted to the state laboratory for testing. “This is the last missing piece of the puzzle,”  Kristin Sasinouski, deputy director of forensic biology and DNA at the state

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Open Burning Prohibited as Fires Persist in Dry Windham County

Open burning was barred across the state Tuesday as fires continued to burn in Windham County. Windham County has been experiencing drought since July, and it’s been the site of several fires in recent weeks. The forest fire danger level for Connecticut was “very high” on Tuesday, the second-highest alert after “extreme.”  The alert meant no open burning was allowed Tuesday, and the restriction continues as long as the fire danger level remains high, very high or extreme. The alert is updated every morning at 7 a.m. “With all the recent tree damage and debris, to many it appears to

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Mystic Knotwork Recognized for Tradition and Innovation

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Matt Beaudoin started tying rope bracelets when he was 7 years old to earn his allowance.  Now, his Mystic Knotworks is a staple of the Mystic riverfront, and the small business administration named Beaudoin Connecticut Small Business Person of the Year, presenting the award to Matt and his wife Jill at their Cottrell Street workshop on Tuesday. Connecticut Small Business Development Center business advisor Matt Nemeth nominated Beaudoin for the award back in December because of the cultural importance of knotwork in southeastern Connecticut, and also for the workshop’s unique work practices. Beaudoin took over what was then “Beaudoin’s Rope

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Advocates, Opponents, Debate Plans to Open the First Methadone Clinic in Middlesex County

Between 2015 and 2019, 73 people from Middletown died of a drug overdose, more deaths per capita than in New Haven or Bridgeport. At least 17 Middletown residents have died so far in 2020. By comparison, New Haven has five clinics that dispense methadone – one of three drugs commonly used in medication-assisted treatment of opioid use disorders — Bridgeport has three. There are no dispensaries anywhere in Middlesex County and since 1989, zoning regulations have prohibited methadone clinics from operating in Middletown. The Root Center for Advanced Recovery, which offers methadone and other medication-assisted treatment for drug addiction at

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Citing Changing Times, Available Land, Essex Selectmen Vote to Combine Planning and Zoning Commissions

ESSEX — The Board of Selectmen took a step towards combining the town’s planning and zoning commissions on Wednesday. First Selectman Norm Needleman said that with little available and sub-dividable land left in Essex, there isn’t enough planning work left to justify a two separate commissions. According to Needleman, about half of towns in Connecticut have combined their planning and zoning commissions The Board of Selectmen voted 3-0 to approve sending the proposal to a town meeting, to be held in-person and by Zoom on Oct. 7. According to Needleman, the younger generations generally don’t have the same desire to

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70-Acre Fire Breaks out in Windham, Drought Deepens Across Connecticut and Rhode Island

Volunteer firefighters and state crews are working to contain a 70-acre brush fire that began Wednesday in the Natchaug State Forest in Windham County as drought conditions persist and begin to stretch into southern Connecticut. Northern Connecticut, including Windham County, has experienced drought since June. A typically swampy area of the forest is now dry brush, and there has been low humidity in the air and high winds for the past several days – a recipe for fire to spread — explained Will Healy, a spokesman for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The conditions also contributed to smaller

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East Lyme Board of Selectmen Approve $985,000 in Bonding for Public Safety Building

EAST LYME — The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to approve an additional $985,000 in bonding to fund renovations of the public safety building in their regular meeting Wednesday night. The additional funding would bring the total amount of money borrowed for the project to $5.98 million, with the remainder of the $7.2 million cost paid for by FEMA disaster relief funds for Tropical Storm Irene and Hurricane Sandy received in August. The Board of Finance will decide whether to approve the additional bonding in a special meeting on Thursday night. If approved, the spending would then go to a

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Formica, Marx, Debate Energy Prices, Millstone Deal, in Southeast Connecticut Race

After a steep rate hike on July 1 by Eversource Energy was met with outrage from customers across Connecticut, the company – New England’s largest energy provider – responded by blaming the Connecticut legislature for forcing it into a long-term contract subsidizing Millstone Nuclear Power Plant in Waterford. A bipartisan group of state and elected officials, including southeastern Connecticut lawmakers, passed legislation in 2017 that paved the way for Millstone owner Dominion Energy to bid for a long-term preferential contract usually reserved for new renewable sources like wind and solar power. Dominion said at the time that it would close

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As Legislature Moves to Address Storm Outages, Energy Providers Warn of Added Cost

The Connecticut General Assembly will consider a wide-ranging bill in special session this month aimed at addressing apparent shortcomings in the response by Eversource and United Illuminating to Tropical Storm Isaias. That bill will include provisions that task the Public Utility Regulatory Authority with reviewing and establishing minimum staffing levels for the energy providers. In written testimony in response, Eversource and United Illuminating warned that more staff will mean significantly higher rates for customers. The bipartisan bill, “An Act Concerning Emergency Response by Electric Distribution Companies and Revising the Regulation of Other Public Utilities,” was introduced by State Sen. Paul

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East Lyme Board of Finance Approves $1.2 Million Compromise for Public Safety Complex

EAST LYME — Citing other priorities the money could be used for, the East Lyme Board of Finance did not approve using the full $1.5 million in FEMA reimbursement from Hurricanes Irene and Sandy to help renovate the former Honeywell Office building into a police and public safety complex. Instead, the board approved appropriating $1.2 million of FEMA funds for the public safety building by a 5-1 vote Wednesday night. The vote came as a compromise as board members pared down the referral from the Board of Selectmen to use about $1.5 million in disaster recovery funds to fill part

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A Spike in Car Thefts in Connecticut after Long Downward Trend

From January 1 through the end of August, the Hartford Police Department recovered 741 vehicles stolen in other towns and taken to Hartford, more than the yearly totals for 2018 or  2019.  In one weekend between Friday, Aug. 28 and Sunday, Aug. 30, 82 cars were reported stolen across Connecticut – 62 with the key fob left inside – according to a report released by the Hartford Police Department earlier this week.  In East Lyme, Police Chief Michael Finkelstein said it’s rare to see windows smashed out of vehicles. The town has had more instances where people are entering unlocked

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Connecticut’s Rainy Day Fund Tops $3 Billion

HARTFORD — A deposit into the state’s rainy day fund last week brought the balance to just over $3 billion, or 15.1 percent of net general fund appropriations, a record high according to Comptroller Kevin Lembo, that could be quickly depleted based on early revenue projections for fiscal year 2021. In his monthly financial update on Tuesday, Lembo said that his office agreed with the Office of Policy and Management forecast of a $2.07 billion general fund deficit for the 2021 fiscal year. The deficit projection is on the high end of possible ranges, according to Lembo, but it was

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Groton Town Council Debates Townwide Sewers and Water

GROTON — The Groton Town Council Committee of the Whole discussed the regulatory barriers and costs of extending sewer service throughout the town during its Tuesday night meeting. Councilor Joe Zeppieri, who raised the possibility of extending municipal sewer to the entire town of Groton, said that in the course of campaigning, residents in the northern neighborhoods of Groton complained to him that they paid a sewer tax, but didn’t have any sewer. Zeppieri also said that during a recent move he noticed that houses with municipal sewer and water connections were worth more than houses on septic and wells.

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Essex Zoning Officials Consider Professional Offices, Main Street Zoning and Wetlands Referrals

ESSEX — One proposed rule change the Essex Zoning Commission is considering would give more leeway to properties split between two Essex Village zones. The commission is considering five rule changes, and started public hearings on three of them at its Monday meeting on August 17, including a regulation to adjust the two main zones in Essex Village. The other two changes were referred to the Planning Commission for comment before opening a public hearing. Properties along Main Street in Essex Village are primarily zoned either as Essex Village or Village Residence. The Essex Village zone covers property immediately abutting

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State Attorney General Files Defense of Disclosure Provisions in New Police Accountability Law

On Tuesday, the Connecticut Attorney General’s office responded to a lawsuit filed last week by the Connecticut State Police Union seeking to have part of the wide-ranging police accountability bill recently passed by the Connecticut General Assembly declared unconstitutional. Assistant Attorney General Michael Skold filed the reply in the U.S. District Court of Connecticut on Tuesday on behalf of the defendant, Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner James Rovella. The police accountability bill, which includes more than 40 changes to policing procedure, would expand which police disciplinary records can be made public under the Connecticut Freedom of Information

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Eversource Compensation and the Competition

Eversource has been pushed into the spotlight after a sharp rate hike on July 1 drew outrage from customers, and Tropical Storm Isaias left hundreds of thousands without power soon after, some for over a week. Eversource’s well-paid executives have drawn scrutiny from customers and politicians in recent weeks, with Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim noting that the $39.37 million compensation for the utility’s top five executives amounted to more than the town’s combined budget for police, fire, public works and emergency management. Even in the world of high-paid electric executives, Eversource executives make a lot of money.  Serving 3.2 million

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Police Union Suit Pits Collective Bargaining Rights Against Accountability Bill

The union representing Connecticut State Police officers filed a lawsuit in federal court on Tuesday asking that two provisions in a wide-ranging police accountability bill passed last month to be declared unconstitutional because they violate agreements in the union contract approved by the legislature last year. “When the contract expressly states, and the employer agrees to it, and the legislature approves it, no one should be claiming they didn’t know about it,” said Connecticut State Union Executive Director Andrew Matthews said. “They approved it, and they should never strip it away from you. They can come to the table and

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Jesse MacLachlan Explains Decision to Opt Out of Race for State House Seat

State Rep. Jesse MacLachlan, R-Westbrook, announced Tuesday that he would not seek re-election this year for the 35th District seat he’s held for three terms. MacLachlan started his own business, Avalon Infrastructure, late last year, and it became clear that he needed to choose between public service and his business, “as someone who goes all in with what I do,” he said. “Unfortunately, the nature of a part time legislature forces many of us to choose between our service or our careers,” MacLachlan said. “At 30 years old, I feel that it’s the right time for me to focus on

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East Lyme Inland Wetland Agency Delays Decision on Buffer Expansion to 500 Feet

EAST LYME — The East Lyme Inland Wetland Agency held off a decision on a proposed expansion to its review area after accepting several scientific articles and other exhibits into the record at a hearing on Monday night. The agency continued a public hearing on its proposal to extend its upland review area from 100 feet around inland wetlands and watercourses, to 500 feet. Two members of the public spoke in opposition to the change, but most of the new information Monday was brought by members of the agency. During a lengthy first hearing in July, where some critics questioned

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As Eversource and United Illuminating Struggle, Smaller Utilities Across Connecticut Shine in Storm Response

Municipal electric utilities with small and compact customer bases — like Norwich Public Utilities and Town of Wallingford Electric Division — have made quick progress restoring power to customers after Tropical Storm Isaias even as hundreds of thousands of customers of Eversource and United Illuminating remain without power on Thursday night. By the end of Wednesday night, Norwich Public Utilities had restored power to 5,500 of the 6,500 affected customers. The utility expects that 99 percent of its customers will have power by the end of Thursday, just two days after about a third of Norwich’s 20,000 customers lost power.

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DEEP Moves to Streamline Permitting Process for Businesses under the Clean Air Act

In a 12 to 0 vote on Tuesday, the Legislative Regulation Review Committee approved a set of permanent regulations that will replace temporary permits used by Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to limit emissions from facilities regulated under the federal Clean Air Act. The state has required facilities with emissions regulated under the Clean Air Act to renew permits every five years. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had told DEEP it would not renew the state general permit. Chief of the DEEP Bureau of Air Management Tracy Babbidge explained that EPA preferred that Connecticut implement a “permit by

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UPDATED: Senate Votes to Approve Expanded Absentee Voting, 35 – 1

The Connecticut Senate voted 35-1 to give its approval to the bill that would expand absentee voting during the 2020 November election after a lengthy debate Tuesday. Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, raised two amendments that the Senate voted down. One would have removed the special ballot boxes the Secretary of the State’s office bought for absentee ballot collections.  The other would have prevented the Secretary of the State from mailing out “unsolicited” absentee ballot applications, which some Republicans have criticized Secretary of the State Denise Merrill for doing ahead of the August primary election. Sampson voted in favor of the

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UPDATED: Connecticut Legislature Approves Compromise Measure on Distance Medicine

UPDATE: The Connecticut Senate unanimously gave its approval to the telehealth bill by a vote of 35-0 on Tuesday afternoon. No senators raised any amendments on the bill before voting to approve it.  Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, did not vote on the bill. There was no debate in the Connecticut House of Representatives about the need to set temporary telehealth rules as members voted unanimously Thursday to send the bill to the Senate for its approval. Before passing the bill, legislators also approved by voice vote an amendment that would give the Commissioner of Public Health emergency powers until March 15 to

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