October 31, 2020

Lamont announces Phase 3 of business reopenings. ‘We’ve earned the right.’

With the weather turning crisp, restaurants and indoor arts venues got some good new Thursday as Gov. Ned Lamont announced a third round of business reopenings would commence next month, allowing eateries to welcome more diners inside and letting theaters and concert halls that have been closed since the spring to reopen. “We’ve earned the right to take a little more risk,” the governor said, referring to widespread compliance with coronavirus safety measures in the state and a continual low infection rate.

Want to get this in your inbox every Friday? Subscribe to Capitol Watch at courant.com/newsletters

The big story

Phase 3 of business reopenings coming in October: Lamont announced Thursday that the state’s third phase of businesses reopenings will begin on Oct. 8, allowing performing arts venues that have been shuttered since March to open up at half capacity and letting restaurants expand their indoor dining capacity to 75% of their regular occupancy, with health and safety measures in place. “Phase 3 is coming about because Connecticut has earned it,” Lamont said, citing the state’s low infection rate that is among the best in the nation. Other changes that will take place on that date include expanding indoor church services to a maximum of 200 people and allowing indoor event venues to host parties of up to 100. Outdoor event venues like racetracks, stadiums and amphitheaters can increase their capacity from 25% to 50%. Bars and nightclubs will remain closed. The loosening of restrictions is contingent upon coronavirus metrics remaining low in Connecticut, the governor said. Restaurants welcomed the news as the number of patrons seeking outdoor dining is likely to decrease with cold fall nights approaching. “It’s a huge help,” said Scott Smith, vice president and chief operating officer at Max Restaurant Group. “It’s not quite as much as we need, but we’ll take anything we can get at this point.”

Five things you may have missed

Blumenthal won’t meet with Trump’s SCOTUS pick: Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Thursday he had no intention of meeting with President Donald Trump’s pick to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court as Democrats continue to argue Republicans should not seek to confirm a new justice before the presidential election. “I refuse to legitimize this broken, weaponized process by meeting w/ any nominee but forward before the inauguration,” Blumenthal tweeted. He declined to take a customary meeting with Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 but did meet privately with Justice Neil Gorsuch in 2017. Blumenthal made news that year when he said Gorsuch told him in the private meeting that Trump’s attacks on the judiciary were “disheartening and demoralizing.” Senate Republicans appear to have enough votes to confirm a new justice before Election Day, but Democrats have vowed to fight them each step of the way.

Hayes goes public with her battle with coronavirus: In diary entries that she shared on social media, U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes laid bare the toll COVID-19 has taken on her since she tested positive for the virus last weekend. “Hard to explain but it’s uncomfortable to take a deep breath,” Hayes wrote on Tuesday as she recovered at home. “I have to watch C-SPAN all day so I can send voting instructions to [U.S. Rep.3/8 Joe [Courtney]” who has been casting votes in Washington on Hayes’ behalf. She said her symptoms consisted mostly of difficulty breathing and “feeling winded.” Hayes, who sought a coronavirus test after one of her staff members contracted COVID-19, said despite what the public may think members of Congress are not regularly tested for the coronavirus. She said her own difficulties getting a test — it took her three tries at three different urgent care locations — serve as an example of the need to make testing more easily accessible.

Absentee ballot requests breaking records: The number of absentee ballots requested by Connecticut voters for the upcoming November election has already broken records after state officials loosened the rules to make voting easier amid the pandemic. Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, using federal funds, mailed absentee ballot applications to more than 2 million voters in the state earlier this month. As of Wednesday, more than 206,000 thousand of those applications had been mailed back to and processed by local election officials. Leading the way was West Hartford, where 11,724 applications had been processed by midweek. Merrill expects two-thirds of the votes in the November election to come via absentee ballot, a massive increase from the typical 7% who cast their ballot that way. Lawmakers in a special session this summer adjusted Connecticut’s restrictive absentee ballot rules to allow any voter to cite the pandemic as their reasoning for choosing to vote absentee rather than in person.

State expands work share program to stave off layoffs: Lamont announced Wednesday at a Middletown aerospace manufacturer that the state Department of Labor plans to expand a work sharing program that it hopes will help employers disrupted by COVID-19 cut back expenses without imposing layoffs. The program offers partial unemployment benefits to employees who are kept on payroll but have their hours reduced by between 10% and 60%. It can be used for up to six months for each employee. From March 2019 through March of this year the program served 288 companies and nearly 2,900 workers. But over the past six months it’s grown to include 1,340 companies and more than 24,300 workers. The expansion beginning Oct. 5 could potentially benefit thousands of companies, Lamont said, including businesses such as restaurants and movie theaters that have seen a substantial downturn in business due to the coronavirus. “This is a type of way we can be partners,” he said.

Commission deadlocks on nominating police killings prosecutor: The state Criminal Justice Commission deadlocked Thursday on nominating a prosecutor to be Connecticut’s first inspector general, a new office that will be tasked with investigating police killings in the state. Unable to reach a consensus after two 3-3 votes, the commission members agreed to send the names of two finalists — New Britain State’s Attorney Brian Preleski and Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney C. Robert Satti. Jr. — to the legislature’s judiciary committee for consideration. The new position was created as part of the police accountability bill lawmakers passed this summer and the commission was tasked with making its recommendation by Oct. 1. “We’re going to have to take a look at this situation. That’s not exactly how we thought this would go,” Sen. Gary Winfield, co-chair of the judiciary committee, told The CT Mirror. “A deadlock wasn’t really part of the conversation. I’m at a loss.”

Odds and ends

State Sen. Eric Berthel, R-Watertown, has apologized for placing a sticker associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory on his car following weeks of criticism after a photographer of the sticker was published on social media. After initially defending the sticker and what he believed were the “values” the group stood for, Berthel apologized this week for his “failure to look into the movement more deeply.” The debunked conspiracy that’s gained traction in far-right circles is that a worldwide group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles, including in Hollywood and the media, are conspiring against Trump, who is seeking their arrest. … Linda McMahon, the ex-WWE executive who ran twice for U.S. Senate in Connecticut and served as the head of the federal Small Business Administration under Trump, contributed $500,000 in August to America First Action, a super PAC supporting Trump’s reelection efforts. McMahon, who left the SBA in April 2019 to chair the group, has been a reliable donor to GOP candidates and causes. … Deputy House Republican leader Vin Candelora this past week condemned Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the Nov. 3 election. “Generally speaking, a position like that could put us into a crisis,” the state representative from North Branford said. Candelora, who is expected to succeed Rep. Themis Klarides of Derby as House Republican leader next year, said he was confident Connecticut election officials would do their all to ensure the integrity of the vote here. … Michael Cronin, a former lawyer for Senate Republicans at the state Capitol who was arrested in 2019 and accused of embezzling nearly $268,000 in GOP campaign funds, was arrested Thursday on a slew of new forgery and identity theft charges related to his divorces from his two previous wives. Investigators concluded, and Cronin admitted, that he had forged his wife’s signature on numerous financial documents. Cronin has pled not guilty to a larceny charge related to the stolen campaign funds and that case is continuing. … Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey, the ex-president/CEO of the state’s now-disbanded education partnership with hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio has filed a $2.5 million lawsuit against Dalio’s philanthropic organization, as well as a nonprofit group called Say Yes to Education that she headed for 12 years, and two individuals who she claims spread “malicious lies” about alleged misconduct by her at Say Yes. Public revelations in The Courant about efforts to oust Carey after board members learned of the allegations helped lead to the dissolution of the partnership, in which the state was to invest $100 million in taxpayer funds.

Russell Blair can be reached at rblair@courant.com.

———

©2020 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

Visit The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) at www.courant.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Source Article