Archive | November, 2020

State Halts In-person Classes For Now

Anthony Zepperi, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — As more Connecticut school districts announced plans to halt in-person education until January, Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday acknowledged COVID-19 cases are rising in schools, but said the state aims to keep in-person education going “as long as we can.”

Lamont said local officials can “make their own mind up,” and the state does not plan on stepping in with mandated closures like it did in the spring.

“I think the schools have handled this very well. Every situation is a little bit different,” he said, noting he felt it was appropriate to have older students learning in a hybrid model of online and in-person learning, and younger students learning more in their classrooms.

“When I look at K-12, I think the high schools are more at risk than perhaps the youngest grades,” Lamont said.

Still, Lamont warned of the negative impacts online-only classes may have on children.

“There’s a real trade-off. A lot of these kids are greatly disadvantaged, not just in terms of education, but also social and emotional, being isolated for that long period of time,” Lamont said. “I think Connecticut did well having the majority of our schools open as long as we have.”

The state Thursday reported 675 new COVID-19 cases among students over the past week, 178 more than the week prior. There were 328 new staff cases, 91 more than the previous week.

Of the new cases reported among students, 231 children were attending class in person five days a week, 322 had a hybrid of online and in-person classes and 115 were learning entirely online. More than half of Connecticut school districts are operating fully in person, while about 38 percent are hybrid and about 9 percent are fully remote.

Ansonia Public Schools said they will suspend in-person classes through Jan. 18, becoming the second district in Connecticut to shift to online-only classes for the remainder of the year as coronavirus cases continue to rise across the state.

New Haven’s public schools began the year entirely online and postponed plans to return to some in-person classes as cases began to rise this fall.

But Ansonia Superintendent of Schools Joseph DiBacco wrote in a letter to families Thursday that the city, based on state data, had seen an average of 27.1 new cases per day per 100,000 residents from Oct. 18-31.

“While this number is concerning by itself, what is more concerning is that COVID numbers are increasing across the state,” DiBacco said.

DiBacco said the increase in cases across the state has led to more school staff members having to quarantine, making it harder to keep school buildings open for in-person classes.

While in-person classes are expected to resume in January, the superintendent said the district will reassess learning models “based on our 14-day rolling average and our ability to staff our buildings.”

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said he did not yet think it was necessary to end in-person education.

“We should absolutely be taking steps to make sure we have a spring school semester,” Gottlieb said. “But after Thanksgiving, could we see more schools going to a distanced model? I think we will.”

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House Democrats Call For Adapting Low Interest Rates

Anthony Zepperi, Staff Writer

HARTFORD – With the pandemic battering the economy and carving deep deficits in state finances, House Democrats recently called for Connecticut to increase borrowing to preserve key programs and to take advantage of low interest rates.

But the move could put them at odds with Gov. Ned Lamont, who tried unsuccessfully to force his fellow Democrats in the legislature on a “debt diet” during his first year in office.

And while House Democratic leaders insisted there is considerable room for more borrowing under one statutory bonding cap enacted three years ago, they failed to note a second legal limit that could make it difficult to put more on Connecticut’s credit card.

“It’s no secret that Connecticut faces big challenges when it comes to our economy and our budget,” said Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, who replaces East Hartford Democrat Jason Rojas as the new House chair of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee.

Rojas, who was elected last week as the new House majority leader, joined Speaker-elect Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, Tuesday in announcing House leaders of the legislature’s budget panels.

Ritter said the House Democrats, which hold 97 out of 151 seats, are not necessarily planning to dramatically increase borrowing, but he suggested Connecticut has plenty of room on its credit card.

State government borrows funds for most capital projects by selling bonds on Wall Street, and Ritter noted Connecticut has hardly strained the credit card limit it sent in 2017.

That provision limits general obligation borrowing, bonds paid off in the budget’s General Fund, at $1.9 billion per year. Connecticut issued $1.6 billion last fiscal year and $1.25 billion two years ago.

And Rep. Patricia Billie Miller, who co-chairs the finance panel’s Bonding Subcommittee, noted that borrowing has become crucial for Connecticut cities and towns. More than $150 million in non-education grants provided to municipalities annually comes from borrowed funds rather than from the state budget.

When legislators adopted a two-year state budget in May 2019, they assumed there would be $17.4 billion in tax receipts flowing into the General Fund this fiscal year. Legislators normally would have adjusted the forecast this past May, just two months before the 2020-21 fiscal year began, but they ended the session early because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Though legislators returned to the Capitol for special sessions in July and October, the revenue schedule was not revised. Republicans charged Democrats were delaying suspending capital projects, many of which were planned in their home districts until after the Nov. 3 state elections.

“I asked the finance committee to fulfill its statutory obligation to revise the revenue schedule and that was completely ignored,” Rep. Vincent J. Candelora of North Branford said.

Connecticut ranks among the most indebted states, per capita, in the nation, and debt service costs consume more than 10 percent of the annual budget, a problem that prompted Lamont to press for his debt diet immediately upon taking office in January 2019.

Connecticut has regained about 60 percent of the jobs lost since the pandemic struck in March, and the state Department of Labor still is issuing more than 200,000 unemployment benefits per week.

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Eversource to Raise Utility Rate By January 2021

By Anthony Zepperi, Staff Writer

HARTFORD – Connecticut’s utility regulators said recently that Eversource Energy, which drew protests during the summer for a rate increase, will raise prices Jan. 1 to account for higher generating costs.

Unlike the increases quickly rescinded by the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, Eversource and United Illuminating make no money from the rate increase intended to absorb generating costs that pass through Eversource. The rates extend to June 30.

“We recognize the effect higher electricity prices can have on our customers, especially during these unprecedented times with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and we want to help them better manage their energy use,” Penni Conner, an Eversource senior vice president, said.

Eversource has no control over fluctuating energy prices, but the utility says it offers energy efficiency programs to help customers cut electricity use.

“This is a direct pass-through cost to customers for the price of power generation, with no profit to the company,” Eversource said.

The proposed winter electricity prices are about 8.4 cents a kilowatt-hour, up from about 7.4 cents, a 13 percent increase. The average residential customer using 700 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month would pay about $7.11 more on the supply portion of their bill, Eversource said.

It would apply to customers in Connecticut who are signed up for the company’s standard service generation rate, or those not using an alternative energy company.

PURA said the new rates are less than what was issued in the first half of 2018, 2019 and 2020.

The U.S. Energy Information Agency said it expects U.S. residential electricity prices this year to average 13.1 cents per kilowatt-hour, up 0.4 percent  from the average electricity price in 2019. Its short term energy outlook in October expects wholesale electricity prices in New England to be about 33 percent higher next year, due primarily to expected costs of natural gas for power generation.

Under state law that deregulated electricity, energy companies such as Eversource bid twice a year for power supplies, award contracts to low bidders and pass along the costs to customers without markups.

In June, PURA approved higher rates based on transmission and other charges complicated by heat waves, power purchased from the Millstone nuclear plant and a pandemic that’s changing consumer behavior.

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Republican Lawmakers Aim to Suspend Police Accountability Law

By Anthony Zepperi, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — The calls to curb crime in the capital city are only getting louder. Now, there’s a push from some Republican lawmakers to suspend the police accountability law.

Recently, Hartford police have seen an increase in gun violence during a time of the year when gun violence typically goes down. A recent rise in gun violence has the Hartford community coming together to figure out why this is happening and how to stop it.

Former Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra helped discovers the Biblical aspects of the recent spike in gun violence in the city and shares it with The Hartford Guardian before the COVID-19 pandemic and calls for a public discussion about the Hartford family being persecuted. Mayor Luke Bronin was made aware of the religous persecuted of Blacks in the city.

In a virtual town hall, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said they believe a number of factors are contributing to this spike, including the pandemic, loss of jobs and delays in court proceedings.

In response to this increase in crime, not only in Hartford, but across the state, two Republican legislative leaders are calling on Gov. Ned Lamont to suspend the state’s new police accountability law. These Republican lawmakers are hoping this will help.

“A lot of those portions of the bill negatively affect police officers. So, they’re not being as proactive and police officers who are younger are leaving the force because they think it’s a liability to themselves, to their families,” Sen. Len Fasano, of North Haven said.

Sen. Len Fasano says this law, which was designed to hold police more accountable, is tying the hands of officers as well as worsening recruitment and retention. Sen. Fasano hopes the governor will take action, putting it “on hold” until February when the legislature will be in session.

“This is up to Gov. Lam ont to step forward as a leader and say, I get it. I see it. I need to put a postponement on this bill.”

He says by doing so, it will give the legislature time to revisit the law and make changes early next year.

“We can get there, but perhaps in a more thoughtful way to keep people protected while we achieve the end goal, which is accountability,” Sen. Len Fasano said.

Meanwhile, Mayor Bronin says they’re using every partnership and tool they can to combat this.

One way they’re doing that is by bringing in members of Connecticut state police to work alongside Hartford police.

Lt. Paul Cicero of Hartford says whether or not this police bill is suspended, Hartford police remain committed to protecting and serving the community.

Also a factor to consider in this compounded malaise in the city is that police officers are secretly inflicting racial violence on the family that inspired “The Cosby Show,” according to a Hollywood insider based in California. The family members are God-fearing people.  And the off-duty police officers were supposedly moonlighting for a Hollywood studio, sources said.

Because of the depth of the evil brought to the family, God is taking revenge, one lay pastor said. And after six years of watching this atrocious crime kept in secret by Bronin, Lt. Jason Thody, former Police Chief James Rovella and other locals, the celebrity source decided to approach The Hartford Guardian.

The Biblical aspect of the sudden and dramatic spike in the number of shootings in the capital city–and the nation–has been watched and confirmed to be linked to the mistreatment of that family since or before 2014, sources said. So was the COVID-19 pandemic to some degree after the father was allegedly killed in a local hospital.

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Gov. Ned Lamont Annouces Coronavirus Relief Fund

By Anthony Zepperi, Staff Writer

HARTFORD – Gov. Ned Lamont announced that he is allocating $15 million from the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund, which utilizes federal CARES Act money, to fund innovative workforce programs that will provide job training to more than 1,000 displaced workers in the state and connect them to high-growth, in-demand jobs.

“This pandemic has drastically impacted the lives and livelihood of so many people in our state, and these workforce development programs are being expanded so that we can provide displaced workers with the skills needed to match them with in-demand jobs,” Lamont said. “Our administration is committed to offering meaningful and lasting support to the workers of Connecticut so that our state and our economy emerge from this crisis stronger than ever.”

The Governor’s Workforce Council, with the support of the recently formed Workforce Development Unit in the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), will utilize the funding on 19 programs that offer participants access to supportive services, including childcare and transportation, as well as a general training subsidy and job placement services that connect participants with full-time employment.

 In selecting programs for investment, the Governor’s Workforce Council prioritized programs aligned to current in-demand jobs with strong career pathways across several industries, most notably healthcare, information technology, and manufacturing. In total, approximately 1,100 participants will receive training and employment opportunities from this initiative.

“COVID-19 has accelerated many of the changes that have been reshaping our economy,” Garrett Moran, Chairman of the Governor’s Workforce Council, said. “The money from the Coronavirus Relief Fund was an instrumental first step in not only getting residents back to work, but getting them back to work in careers that are pandemic-proof for the future.”

Kelli Vallieres, executive director of DECD’s Workforce Development Unit said the program hopes to get people back to work.

“This statewide program is a great example of how Connecticut can leverage its strong workforce partners, such as our Regional Workforce Development Boards, community colleges, and local training providers, among others, to create industry-aligned programs aimed at getting Connecticut residents back to work,” Vallieres said.

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Hartford Locals Return McCrory to Legislature, Gave Victory to New Registrar

HARTFORD — Still waiting for polls to tallying the final count in Hartford but a few wins are clear.

Sen. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford on Tuesday ran unopposed for the senatorial seat in Greater Hartford. He got up to 871 votes in District 3 alone. Overall, the final victory count was 29, 064.

McCrory, who represents Bloomfield, Hartford and Windsor, managed to eliminate all the opposition in Greater Hartford, according to sources. y.

At closing, the Blue Hillls Avenue resident garnered enough votes in District 3 to be declared the winner. There was not even a write-in candidate.

One individual was posed as a challenger in 2014. A storm cloud rolled into her life after someone approached her to run. She wasn’t pumped to run. But McCory and his wife Foy Smith orchestrated a coup on her life using public office, sources said. Others joined in the fray for political reasons linked to nativism.

Although, the kerfuffle was tied to the national political scene,  locals dove into the woman’s life to make sure she did not challenge McCrory or Democratic State Rep. Brandon McGee, sources close to the woman said. Also, Sasha Allen, Shawnda Barlow, Tiffany Cousar, Janice Flemming, Annett Shack, and other local natives ensured McCrory’s victory by suppressing voters of West Indian descent.

In District 1, John Fonfara, D-Hartford at press time garnered 63 percent of the vote or 19,730.

Congressman John Larson was declared a winner in the 1st District in Greater Hartford

In other local races, Giselle “Gigi” Felciana ran as a Democrat for registrar of voters and garnered 24, 425 votes. Vaness Garay-Jackson ran as a Republican and cobbled 3, 040. Her challenger got 17 in District 3 alone.

The count on the presidential race in the capital city is Joe Biden and Kamala Harris was 26, 597.

Donald Trump and Mike Pence got 3, 813 votes.

Check back for final vote counts.

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Mayor Luke Bronin: Hartford in “Red Alert” Level with COVID-19

Anthony Zepperi, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin held a news conference on Friday afternoon to give an update on the COVID-19 pandemic a day after state officials said Hartford is one of 11 cities and towns in a “red alert” level due to cases of coronavirus.

On Thursday, the state launched the color-coded COVID-19 alert system for every city and town in the state, showing the average daily case rate per 100,000 population for the last two weeks.

Bronin said the alert should serve as a reminder to residents that the threat from the coronavirus remains real.

“To the extent that this alert highlights the need for continued vigilance, we welcome it,” Bronin said. “This is not a time to let down your guard.”

These Red Alert cities and towns also have the option to revert from Phase 3 of reopening back to Phase 2.

Bronin said he will continue to look at the option to scale back to Phase 2 of reopening from Phase 3 but at this time does not have any plans to take advantage of that option. The mayor said the city does not have a specific metric it will look at when considering a rollback.

The red level alert is for municipalities that have a two week average daily COVID-19 case rate higher than 15 per 100,000 population, orange level alert is for municipalities with case rates between 10 and 14 per 100,000 population, yellow alert level is for case rates between 5 and 9 per 100,000 population and municipalities with case rates lower than five per 100,000 population will be colored in gray.

The mayor said the city has not seen a significant increase in hospitalizations from COVID-19. He said the cases per 100,000 population partly has to do with the amount of testing being done.

“We are currently testing more residents than any other city in the state as far as we can tell,” Bronin said.

Residents of cities deemed to be at “red alert” level are asked to limit trips outside the home and avoid gathering with non-family members.

Communities are encouraged to cancel public events and limit community gathering points and to postpone all indoor activities and outdoor activities where wearing a mask or social distancing cannot be maintained, according to the state Department of Public Health.

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Secretary of State: Too Many Absentee Ballots Returned

By Anthony Zepperi, Staff Writer

As the Nov. 3 election gets closer, 455,861 absentee ballots have been returned, accounting for roughly 20 percent of Connecticut’s registered voters.

A total of 659,894 absentee ballots have been processed in the state for the November election, meaning they have been sent out to voters, but have not yet been returned to municipal registrars. There are about 2.28 million registered voters in Connecticut.

“There’s no frame of reference for this, because it’s the first general election in Connecticut history that anyone, who wanted an absentee ballot could get one,” Gabe Rosenberg, spokesperson for Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said. “In 2016, there were about 125,000 absentee ballots counted, and we’re still 10 days away from the election, and we’re at 455,000 returned with 10 days to go and at least another 200 ,000 outstanding  and there’s time still for more to get requested. Clearly, this is unprecedented.”

By the numbers, most of returned ballots are from registered Democrats (233,214). Registered Republicans have accounted for 67,707 ballots, and another 148,563 of the returned ballots are from unaffiliated voters.

“I just think it’s the enthusiasm of people to participate in the electoral process,” said Rosenberg. “And a little bit of fear of COVID that’s caused people to want to vote from absentee. Anecdotally, some voters have found that voting by absentee and dropping it in the drop box to be very convenient, and that they like voting that way.”

Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order early in the pandemic to mail absentee ballot applications to all 1.2 million registered Democrats and Republicans. Because there is nothing historically to compare this wave of absentee ballots, Rosenberg said there is no expectation for how many total absentee ballots will be cast by the end of the election.

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