State news

Court overturns order in gun permit fingerprinting case

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A federal appeals court has overturned a lower court order issued last year that required Connecticut to resume fingerprinting for gun permit applicants despite the state's suspension of those services because of the coronavirus pandemic. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York on Wednesday vacated the preliminary injunction on technical grounds and noted fingerprinting resumed last year. The Connecticut Citizens Defense League and six people seeking gun permits sued state and local officials, saying the suspension of fingerprinting violated their Second Amendment gun rights. State Attorney General William Tong calls the decision a vindication of the governor's authority to issue public health orders.


Connecticut awards security grants to 97 groups, churches

BLOOMFIELD, Conn. (AP) - The state of Connecticut is awarding grants totaling $3.8 million to 97 nonprofit agencies across the state, including places of worship, to make security infrastructure upgrades. The grants, announced Wednesday, will mark the first round of funding under the state's Nonprofit Security Grant Program. They will be used to pay for things like surveillance cameras, reinforced doors and ballistic glass. Eligible nonprofit groups could apply for up to $50,000. Many of the participants at Wednesday's news conference with Gov. Ned Lamont said it was unfortunate that such a program is needed, noting recent threats to mosques and churches.


State lawmakers work to strip old 'whites only' covenants

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - The nation's reckoning on race has given new momentum to efforts to help U.S. homeowners somehow disassociate their properties with historic, racially restrictive property covenants. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 10 states this year passed or are currently considering a wide range of bills concerning restrictive covenants that are based upon race or religion. Three states passed such legislation in 2020. Even though the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948 ruled that racially restrictive housing covenants were unenforceable under the U.S. Constitution, many still remain today, often to the surprise of homeowners.


State provides school districts with interim recommendations for COVID-19 prevention

The state Departments of Public Health and Education this week provided school districts with “interim recommendations” for COVID-19 prevention in preK-12 schools, which noted the administration’s “overarching goal is 100% in-person learning for the entire 2021-2022 school year” and that all fall athletics should start on time.

The recommendations include at least 3-feet social distancing and voluntary testing of public K-6 students and unvaccinated staff, private K-6 students and unvaccinated staff in high-risk communities, and unvaccinated 7th-12th graders in high-risk communities. While daily cleaning of schools, buses and restrooms are recommended, “continuous spot disinfection of high touch surfaces” and the use of electrostatic sprayers and foggers is no longer necessary, according to the report.

The Connecticut Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, said Tuesday the consequences of not wearing masks means a return to a revolving door of hybrid and remote learning, causing more disruptions for our students and their education.


Connecticut looks to use Medicaid funds to address gun crime

Connecticut is planning to dedicate Medicaid funds to help address the problem of gun violence. Under new legislation, financially challenged community-based violence prevention services will eventually be able to receive state and federal Medicaid funds for their services. These programs typically involve intervention at the hospital after someone has been shot and intensive case management in the months following the injury to try and break the cycle of violence. Connecticut's new law requires the state Department of Social Services commissioner by July 1, 2022, to amend Connecticut's Medicaid plan so it will cover the cost of the services.


CDC mask guidance under review, could apply to 2 counties

Connecticut officials are reviewing new recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors. A spokesman for Gov. Ned Lamont on Tuesday noted that two counties, Hartford and New London, are close to the CDC's threshold for indoor masks. Updates are expected in the coming days on mask-wearing. Earlier in the day, Lamont said he'll "probably" follow the CDC's recommendations for indoor mask-wearing but acknowledged that local infection rates could be considered. Meanwhile, the state's largest teachers union wants Lamont to require mask-wearing in schools, noting large numbers of unvaccinated students.


Lamont urges vaccines for holdouts as virus infections rise

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Gov. Ned Lamont on Monday urged holdouts to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and said he is not considering new restrictions as infection rates rise. The governor, a Democrat, said during a news conference on the New Haven Green that vaccines are the best available protection against the virus, including the surging delta variant. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Connecticut has risen over the past two weeks from 70.43 new cases per day on July 10 to 194.57 new cases per day on July 24.


Senior Advisor to the Governor for Health and Human Services named

For the last 14 months, Dr. Deidre Gifford has been serving dual roles within the Lamont administration. Although her primary position is as commissioner of the Department of Social Services, in May 2020 she agreed to also serve as commissioner of the Department of Public Health in an acting capacity while a search was underway to permanently fill the position.

Now that a new DPH Commissioner has been nominated, Governor Lamont has asked her to take on the additional duty of serving as Senior Advisor to the Governor for Health and Human Services.

In this new role, Gifford will be tasked with coordinating a multi-agency approach among the state’s nine health and human services agencies to improving health and healthcare in Connecticut. Governor Lamont explained that these nine agencies serve many overlapping populations and provide similar programs and functions, however they often are not optimally coordinated. As Senior Advisor, Gifford will convene and lead coordination efforts between these agencies, working closely with the Office of Policy and Management, as well as provide the governor with policy input and recommendations that address issues of health, healthcare costs, quality, and disparities.

Although she is taking on this added responsibility, Gifford’s primary role in the administration will continue to be as commissioner of the Department of Social Services. The commissioners of the nine health and human service agencies will maintain all statutorily defined responsibilities and authorities.


Yale expert picked as next Connecticut public health chief

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Dr. Manisha Juthani, an infectious diseases specialist at Yale School of Medicine, was nominated by Connecticut's governor on Monday to serve as the next commissioner of the Department of Public Health. Juthani will succeed Dr. Deidre Gifford, the state social services commissioner who has also been leading the health agency since the departure of Renee Coleman-Mitchell in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. Juthani was among the doctors who signed a letter in November to Gov. Ned Lamont urging him to prohibit indoor dining, close gyms and ban nonessential social gatherings to slow the spread of the virus.


Trade group: Connecticut could lag in regaining hotel jobs

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut could lag behind most states in regaining hotel jobs lost during the coronavirus pandemic. That's the projection of the Washington, D.C.-based American Hotel and Lodging Association. The group says the state will have regained a little less than 72% of its roughly 26,000 direct hotel industry jobs by year's end. Only four states and the District of Columbia are projected to regain smaller percentages. Direct hotel jobs include positions such as housekeeper and front desk attendant but don't include jobs such as restaurant or retail workers or other small businesses supported by the hotel industry. Experts say vacation and leisure travel has rebounded but business travel has lagged considerably.
 


Erosion of sand spit could threaten Fairfield shore, homes

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (AP) - A sand spit that protects part of the coastline straddling Fairfield and Bridgeport is eroding and could leave the area vulnerable to flooding and other damage if measures aren't taken to replenish it. Local environmentalists cite a study by a New York-based consultant that estimates continued erosion and storms could make the spit disappear in 15 years. The spit acts like a sponge, and breaks the waves coming off Long Island Sound. Without it, the inland residential areas bordering Ash Creek as well as the tidal ecosystem within the creek could be threatened.


700 workers to lose jobs in sale of People's United Bank

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) - More than 700 employees of People's United Bank in Connecticut will lose their jobs when the lender is acquired by a New York bank. According to the Hartford Courant, a filing by M&T Bank with the Connecticut Labor Department says 747 positions in Connecticut will be eliminated. That includes 661 at People's Bridgeport headquarters. M&T is located in Buffalo, New York. Its planned purchase of People's in an all-stock deal valued around $7.6 billion was announced in February. Branches of the two regional banks are sprinkled throughout the Northeast and mid-Atlantic. The layoffs are expected to start in October.


Delta variant makes up most of Conn.'s new COVID-19 cases

New COVID-19 infections continue to be reported in Connecticut, with the delta variant now making up most of the state’s new cases.

Acting Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Deidre Gifford says the delta variant now makes up about 80% of the state’s cases — an estimate provided by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health. There have been at least 126 cases so far.

Data released by the state on Thursday indicate there have been four new COVID-associated deaths since last Thursday. Meanwhile, the number of confirmed or probable cases increased by 295 since Wednesday, and the number of hospitalizations increased by eight, for a total of 66 patients.

Two eastern Connecticut communities, Franklin and Salem, are now designated as being in the “red alert zone,” registering case rates at or above 15 per 100,000 population over the past two weeks. It’s the highest of the state’s alert levels for COVID-19 infections. Another eastern Connecticut town, Andover, is in the “orange alert zone,” the second-highest zone, with an infection rate between 10 to 14 cases per 100,000 population. Eight communities are now in the third-highest alert zone.

But the state’s vaccination rate continues to grow. Governor Ned Lamont said it was “encouraging” to see the rate increase by 7% since last week. Currently, slightly more than 50% of children age 12-15 have received at least one shot. Statewide, 2.3 million residents have received at least one dose while 2.1 million are fully vaccinated.


Sub base dials back reopening amid rising state infections

GROTON, Conn. (AP) - The Navy's submarine base in Connecticut has announced it is reinstituting stricter COVID-19 protocols amid rising infection rates in the state. Submarine Base New London raised what is known as its Force Health Protection Condition on Wednesday from Alpha back to the stricter Bravo for the first time since June 10. That means that gathering sizes in the gymnasium and for events on the base may be limited. The base's racquetball courts have been closed and its swimming pool will be open by appointment only. Mask requirements remain in effect at the base clinic, child development and youth centers and for people on base who aren't fully vaccinated.


Lamont signs workforce development bill into law

A bill has been signed into law enhancing workforce development opportunities.  Connecticut’s Workforce Strategic Plan 2020 envisions that every Connecticut resident has access to meaningful career pathways and the support needed to fulfill their career aspirations, and every business in Connecticut has access to a skilled workforce.  The law makes changes to improve access to and equity in high-quality coursework in high school.  School districts would be required to improve completion rates for FASFA, the need-based financial aid program for post-secondary education. The FAFSA will become significantly shorter and easier to fill out next year, which Governor Ned Lamont says should help improve completion rates. Lamont says by upskilling and reskilling residents, they can then capitalize on jobs to fuel growth in the Connecticut economy now and well into the future.  Regional sector partnerships are a best-practice in workforce development and were identified as a top priority in the Governor’s Workforce Council Strategic Plan 2020. In a regional sector partnership, businesses that have common workforce needs work together to articulate career pathways and collaborate with training providers to create training programs that are aligned to these pathways. Regional sector partnerships are employer-driven and use little to no state funding.  Lamont says this will support job growth, and help position Connecticut as a leader in the IT, AI, and Industry 4.0 economy.


Experts: Spend opioid settlement funds on fighting opioids

Public health experts are citing the 1998 settlement agreement with tobacco companies as a cautionary tale ahead of the expected $26 billion settlement with opioid producers. Only fractions of the $200 billion tobacco settlement have gone toward preventing smoking and helping people quit in many states. Much of the money has instead helped to balance state budgets and repair roads. A group of advocacy organizations is pushing for governments to follow a set of principles regarding how they'll use the opioid settlement money. Lawyers involved in the planned settlement say there are requirements to use most of the money to combat addiction and the toll of opioids.


White woman granted probation for spitting on Black woman

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A white woman who spat on a Black woman during a protest in Connecticut has been allowed to enter a special probation program that could leave her with no criminal record. Yuliya Gilshteyn had been charged with a hate crime. But on Wednesday she was granted accelerated rehabilitation, a special probation program for first-time offenders. She was also ordered to complete 100 hours of anti-hate curriculum. If she successfully fulfills the terms of the program, the charges against her will be dismissed. The Hartford Courant reports that Gilshteyn apologized to Black Lives Matter protester Keren Prescott during the hearing. But Prescott called the ruling "the epitome of white privilege."


Health care workers given until Friday to get fingerprinted

The schedule for state-mandated fingerprinting has been expanded to Friday to accommodate roughly 630 health care workers hired during the pandemic who still need to be fingerprinted for required criminal history checks. Workers had until July 20 to get fingerprinted at state police barracks around the state or else be terminated. Those who missed Tuesday's deadline are ineligible to work in direct-access positions until they get fingerprinted. They can then return to work until the results arrive. Meanwhile, Gov. Ned Lamont said the number of positive COVID cases is growing but there are no plans to change the state's face mask rules.


Community colleges forgive debt racked up during pandemic

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - The president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system says the state's 12 community colleges will forgive $17 million of student debt that was accumulated during the pandemic. CSCU President Terrence Cheng says the debt, which students took on during the pandemic or could not repay because of it, will be made up with money from the federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. The decision is expected to impact 18,161 current and former students. Cheng says there are no conditions attached, and students are not required to enroll in classes in any future semesters.


Russian hacker Levashov sentenced to time already served

A Russian hacker known internationally as the "bot master" has been sentenced to time already served in federal prison on charges he operated a network of devices used to steal computer credentials, distribute spam emails and install malicious software. Peter Levashov pleaded guilty in 2018 to conspiracy, wire fraud, identity theft and other charges he operated several networks of hijacked computers, known as botnets, that were capable of pumping out billions of spam emails. His lawyers, in arguing for the sentence, said Levashov is humbled, apologetic and has suffered enormously already from his crimes in the years since his arrest.  Russian authorities fought his extradition, but Levashov was eventually transferred to the U.S. He was prosecuted in Connecticut because the FBI’s New Haven office investigated the case through its Connecticut Cyber Task Force and some of the hijacked computers were located in this state.


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