Shoreline Schools Plan Language Learning Partnership

Several school districts along the shoreline are discussing a potential partnership to offer world languages courses in a remote learning form to students across the region.  Ian Neviaser, superintendent of Lyme-Old Lyme Schools, said at a board of education meeting yesterday that the districts wanted to take advantage of the remote learning capabilities they had acquired through the pandemic and use it to offer remote classes to students throughout the region. “Obviously from everything you try to take a little bit away from it and learn from those experiences,” Neviaser said. “One of the things we think we can benefit

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Senate Votes to Change Count of Prisoners for Legislative Redistricting

The State Senate approved a bill on Wednesday 35 to 1 that will change the way that incarcerated individuals are counted when determining state legislative districts.  Using the current formula, Connecticut counts prisoners in the district where they are incarcerated. The bill will change this practice so that prisoners are instead counted in their last place of residence before being incarcerated.  This bill is particularly timely as the state prepares to redraw its legislative districts this year. The next time the districts will be redrawn is in 2031.  Individuals who are serving a life sentence in the prisons will be

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Democrats Announce Intention to Extend Executive Orders — For How Long, is the Question

House Democrats announced on Tuesday that they expected to vote to extend Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive orders beyond the current expiration date of May 20.  “The Governor, relating to COVID, whether it’s around testing, vaccination, things like that — even beyond May 20, will need some flexibility,” said State Rep. Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, in a press conference on Tuesday.  On Monday, Lamont said that Paul Mounds, his chief of staff, and Nora Dannehy, his general counsel, had reviewed executive orders still in effect to determine which would need to be extended after May 20 for public health reasons.  “There is

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Budget Outlook Brightens for UConn as Plans for $70 Million Hockey Arena Advance

The University of Connecticut is directing $5.5 million of its operating funds toward paying for the construction of a new hockey arena. The decision comes in the context of cuts to the university’s athletic programs and an operating budget that remains $12.6 million in the red, but with a significantly brighter funding outlook for the university in the legislature. The total cost of the ice hockey arena is expected to reach $70 million — with the university contributing $17 million of that amount. Last June, the university cut the annual budget for athletics by $10 million — a 15 percent

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Woodson Weighs in on Gun Violence, Supporting Solutions Within the Community

Robert Woodson, a civil rights activist, MacArthur “genius” grant recipient and founder of national nonprofit the Woodson Center, says that the problems a community faces — violence, need for housing, financial illiteracy — have to be solved by members of the same community.  “The solutions are in the same zip code as the problem, but we’re not investing there,” he said.  The Woodson Center provides funding to community leaders who have already spent time making themselves available to the community, but don’t have the resources to do their work on a larger scale.  Woodson’s idea of investing in grassroots organizations

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Mobile Clinics Organized to Vaccinate Farm Workers for COVID-19

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Connecticut farms will have the opportunity to host mobile clinics for farm workers who want to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a press release by the Department of Agriculture.   The program is being run through a partnership between the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Public Health and the Department of Labor. Joan Nichols, executive director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau Association, said she had received phone calls from farms asking if there was a way they could get their workers vaccinated on-site.  Nichols said that some of the associations’ member farms will host between 200 and 400 seasonal

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Staffing a Hurdle as Lamont Proposes Expanded Childcare and Early Education

Expanding access to early education and childcare is a linchpin of Gov. Ned Lamont’s plan to shore up the state economy using federal aid dollars, but advocates on the issue say that a longer-term approach will be needed to address statewide shortages of workers and affordable childcare — problems that predate the pandemic.  Merrill Gay, executive director of the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance, says he supports a legislative proposal that would provide student loan forgiveness for individuals who have spent four years working in childcare and a tax credit of between $500 and $1,500 for individuals who work in childcare

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Old Saybrook Police Commission Discusses Private Donations, Off-budget Accounts

OLD SAYBROOK — The town’s police commissioners raised concerns at a meeting on Monday about the Old Saybrook Police Department’s policies governing private donations and off-budget accounts.  Police Commissioner Alfred “Chubb” Wilcox asked that the commission form a subcommittee to speak with the finance director, First Selectman Carl Fortuna, Chief Michael Spera, the union and other communities, to better understand the donations to the department.  Wilcox questioned whether the police department should accept cash donations, and said that donations that came with requirements or “strings attached” should need commission approval.  Spera said that prohibiting cash donations to the department would

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As Vaccination Rates Sag, Connecticut Opens No-Appointment Walk-in Clinics

Vaccination clinics across the state are allowing people to receive vaccinations without having an appointment, according to an announcement from Gov. Ned Lamont on Monday.  In Middlesex and New London Counties, vaccine clinics offering walk-in appointments include  The Yale New Haven Health Clinic at Mitchell College in New London Greenville Drug Store in Norwich The Yale New Haven Health Clinic at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville The Middlesex Health Shoreline Medical Center in Westbrook The Community Health Center Clinic at Wesleyan University in Middletown Cross Street AME Zion Church in Middletown  Middletown Housing Authority locations at Maplewood Terrace and Traverse Square

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Lamont Lays Out Spending Priorities for $900 Million of Federal Aid

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Gov. Ned Lamont presented a plan today to direct federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars to increase spending on early childcare, provide premium pay for “frontline” public-sector workers and funding for economic recovery grants.  The state has received $2.6 billion in direct funds through the American Rescue Plan Act. In February, Lamont announced a state budget using $1.75 billion of those funds. Today, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Melissa McCaw outlined the governor’s priorities for the remaining $900 million, which she said would not be used to add to the budget, but would instead be spent on programs spanning

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Turning Attention to PFAS in Connecticut’s Drinking Water

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The State of Connecticut is making an increased effort to identify so-called “forever chemicals” that may be building up in certain water sources in the state.  PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are a group of more than 4,700 chemical compounds that have been used since the 1940s. Found in products like cookware, food packaging and firefighting foam, they are held together by a strong carbon-fluorine bond. As a result, they build up — in soil, in groundwater, and in animals that ingest them, eventually reaching human beings.  According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, PFAS exposure has

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Business Groups Write to Oppose Health Insurance Tax

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A number of business interests representing companies small and large expressed significant concern about a proposed $50 million assessment on insurance carriers, that they say will increase the cost of providing employees with health insurance.  The assessment is part of a legislative proposal that would create a “public option” for employers to buy health insurance for their employees through the Office of the State Comptroller.   According to an analysis from Oliver Wyman Actuarial Consulting, Inc. that was commissioned by UnitedHealth Group, a $50 million assessment would result in an increase of $29.73 yearly in premium rates per person.  In a

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Area Republicans Break Ranks to Support Eliminating Vaccine Exemption

Southeastern Connecticut House Republicans broke with party lines to vote in favor of a bill that would eliminate religious exemptions for vaccinations for school children.  The bill passed in the House yesterday 90-53 after a 16-hour debate that included votes on seven amendments, two of which were approved.  State Representatives Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme, Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, and Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, broke with the majority of Republican legislators in order to vote in favor of the bill.  The bill, if passed through the Senate, will require children entering a public or private school in Connecticut to be vaccinated for

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Doctors Warn On Expanded Medical Exemption for Childhood Vaccinations

A bill removing the religious exemption for vaccinations for Connecticut schoolchildren will also increase the number of permissible medical exemptions — a change that some physicians believe has the potential to do more harm than good.  The legislation, if passed, would require children entering a public or private school in Connecticut to be vaccinated for a number of diseases including diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, poliomyelitis, measles, mumps, rubella and haemophilus influenzae type B. Children who are already enrolled in school will be allowed to keep their religious exemptions.  State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, said during a debate on the floor of

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Madison Police and University of New Haven Plan to Pilot Counselor Ride-alongs

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The Madison Police Department is developing a pilot program with the University of New Haven to arrange for graduate students in the school’s licensed professional counseling program to accompany officers on calls when a social worker is needed.  “I think the next generation of police officers is going to be somebody, he or she, who involves themselves with a social services background, maybe in college,” Madison Police Chief Jack Drumm said during a meeting of the town’s Board of Police Commissioners on April 8.  The program comes in response to a mandate in the police accountability bill passed by the

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‘A Slow Banal Mass Killing’

Lawmakers from Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven are calling on the state legislature to allocate money from taxes on gaming and marijuana to violence prevention programs in the state’s urban centers.  State Sen. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, said during a press conference on Wednesday that programs like these needed both a state and a federal funding stream. While one option for state funding could be through the appropriations budget, he said he was particularly interested in the revenues from online gaming.  “You want to bet? Well, I’m going to bet on my community. I think that makes a whole lot of

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Legislators Debate Solutions as Towns Report an Upturn in Car Thefts

A rise in car thefts in Connecticut suburbs has police chiefs and some legislators calling for greater punishments for the offending youths, even as others say that harsher penalties alone won’t fix the problem. Mike Finkelstein, the police chief in East Lyme, said he’s seen an increase in motor vehicle thefts in the town over the last few years.   Finkelstein said that the majority of the break-ins he’d seen in East Lyme involved cars that were left unlocked. Thieves would enter the cars and steal credit cards left inside the vehicles, or simply get in the driver’s seat and take

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Middletown Moves Forward with Plan to Redevelop Waterfront Parcels

The Middletown Common Council voted unanimously on Monday night to purchase four properties as part of its long-term plan to develop the waterfront.  The purchases, which are valued at $2.55 million, are part of a larger $55 million bonded project to develop properties and improve public infrastructure in Middletown’s downtown and riverfront areas. Voters approved the project in a referendum on November 4.  The four properties include the former Jackson Corrugated Container manufacturer at 225 River Road, and three residential properties at 27, 35, and 41 Eastern Drive. The entire land parcel is nine acres, according to Joseph Samolis, Middletown’s

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Lyme-Old Lyme Schools Seek Donations for Teachers and Staff

LYME-OLD LYME — The Lyme-Old Lyme School District is asking for donations for its teachers and staff as an expression of appreciation for keeping the school open the entire year. “This has been a truly extraordinary year for us, and the fact that this district has been able to have students in person is a monumental feat,” said Diane Linderman, Chair of the district’s Board of Education.  Ian Neviaser, Superintendent of Lyme-Old Lyme Schools, said that the district was able to offer in-person learning for the vast majority of the school year, which set it apart from many other districts.

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Lamont Signals Openness to Taxing Digital Advertisers, Hears Concerns

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Gov. Ned Lamont said in a press conference on Thursday that he’d be willing to consider a proposed tax on large digital advertisers like Google and Facebook. I think it deserves a look,” Lamont said, adding that the state at one time relied on corporate income tax for 20 to 25 percent of its revenue.  “Now, very few companies pay it, and certainly not those big, digital out of state companies.”  Lawmakers have introduced two bills — H.B. 6187 and S.B. 821 — that would “establish a ten per cent tax on the annual gross revenues derived from digital advertising

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Connecticut Offers Grants to Schools for Emergency Communications

The Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection has made $5 million available from a bonding bill passed in 2020 to fund communications systems that would  connect schools directly to local law enforcement agencies.  The eligible proposals could include a camera, radio, panic button or other device connected to the internet that is able to transmit notifications and messages to police departments or first responders, eliminating the need to call 911.  The goal of the grant, which provides $4.5 million for public schools and $500,000 for private schools, is to enhance communications networks between schools and police departments, which

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Debating the Impact of Eliminating Connecticut’s Religious Exemption to Vaccination

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On Wednesday, the legislature’s public health committee voted to send two identical bills, one to the House and one to the Senate, that would eliminate the ability of parents to claim a religious exemption to vaccinating their children. If the legislation becomes law, both public and private school students in Connecticut who are not vaccinated by the fall of 2022 will not be allowed to enroll or re-enroll in kindergarten through sixth grade classes. Jody Terranova, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and president-elect and immunization representative for the Connecticut chapter of the American

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Legislators and Healthcare Providers Debate COVID Liability

Nursing homes in Connecticut have been largely shielded from liability since April of last year, when Gov. Ned Lamont passed two executive orders protecting healthcare workers and facilities like hospitals and nursing homes from lawsuits for “actions or omissions” related to the COVID response made “in good faith.” Lamont ended that legal immunity on March 1.  Now legislators and healthcare providers are debating new legislation that would extend liability to nursing homes for a failure or negligence to comply with guidance from the Department of Public Health or National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The legislation, if signed into

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Old Saybrook Commission Votes 5-2 Against Pursuing Allegations of Misconduct

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OLD SAYBROOK — The town’s Police Commission voted 5-2 on Monday night not to pursue an investigation into the conduct of Chief of Police Michael Spera in response to allegations made by former officers in the Old Saybrook Police Department.  Alfred “Chub” Wilcox made a motion to request that the Board of Selectmen fund the commission to hire a lawyer with “expertise in constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The lawyer would interview former and current members of the department, assess the legality of Spera’s orders and practices and report the findings confidentially to the commission.  Wilcox and Renee

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Legislature Debates Civil Liability for Cases of COVID-19

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Connecticut is weighing joining 36 other states that have passed laws protecting businesses, nursing homes and universities from lawsuits for alleged violations of state-ordered COVID-19 protocols.  State Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, ranking member of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, is sponsoring a bill that would shield businesses, nonprofits and other entities from lawsuits if they have “substantially complied” with the COVID-19 safety guidelines issued by the Department of Public Health and the Office of the Governor.  “What this bill would do is say, right at the outset of filing the suit, you can’t prevail because we followed the governor’s guidance,” Fishbein

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As State Schools Move Toward Merger, Faculty and Legislators Raise Tough Questions on Finances

Contentious contract negotiations, declining revenue and calls for legislative oversight continue to plague the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system even as federal funding provides some temporary budget relief.  Last month, the Board of Regents reported a deficit of $58 million shared between the system’s four state universities, 12 community colleges and Charter Oak State College — $22 million for the colleges and $36 million for the universities. The deficit was largely driven by a pandemic-related drop in enrollment. Meanwhile, the board is in ongoing and contentious negotiations with the faculty union to draw up a new contract. A number

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Colchester Board of Ed plans to Eliminate School Resource Officer Position

COLCHESTER — The Board of Education approved a budget Tuesday evening that would eliminate the school resource officer position from local schools. If approved by the town, the position would be shifted to the police department.  Jeffrey Burt, superintendent of Colchester Public Schools, said the district had discontinued programs that the officer previously provided, including the DARE program, opting instead to teach the same information during health classes.  “We’re not seeing the full benefits of the position,” said Burt.   He said that the schools had received grants to increase building security and that district’s four schools were located within a

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As Advocates Press for an End to High-Priced Prison Calls, State Officials Warn of Budget Costs

After Diane Lewis’ son went to prison at the age of 17, she said, the cost of prison phone calls started to overshadow everything else. “It wasn’t long before the utilities were being cut off, the gas was being cut off, I was late on the rent,” said Lewis, who is also the communications’ director at the Voices of Women of Color, a for-profit political advocacy firm in Hartford. In a public hearing on Monday, Lewis said that she even skipped meals so that she could talk to her son.  Lewis was one of several individuals who submitted testimony on

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Former Prisoners, Staff, Activists Testify on Connecticut’s Use of Solitary

As a number of former prisoners, activists, Department of Correction staff and ministers urged the Connecticut legislature to eliminate solitary confinement, Department of Correction Commissioner Angel Quiros asked instead for the time to lead the agency through a shift in culture. In a public hearing on Monday, a number of former prisoners testified on Senate Bill 1059, which would limit the use of isolated confinement and restraints, and would forbid the use of solitary on individuals with a diagnosed mental health condition. Daryl McGraw, who spent 10 years in Connecticut prisons, testified about his experiences in solitary confinement. “I’m very

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Two Bills Raise Concerns about Funding for Connecticut’s Magnet Schools

New state legislation could result in a significant loss of funding for regional magnet schools by preventing them from charging tuition to the local school districts.  Two bills currently under consideration in the legislature – “An Act Addressing Education Funding and Racial Equity” and “An Act Concerning the Establishment of a Money-Follows-the-Child Approach to Funding Public Education,” would make charter, magnet, and vocational agriculture and tech program funding dependent on a state formula that is largely based on the number of high-need students in a district rather than the school’s operational costs.   Magnet school directors say that this has the

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