State news

Flag honoring police sparks dispute at Connecticut Capitol

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut Republicans are seeking to return a police-themed flag to the state Capitol.

The handmade Thin Blue Line flag had been displayed for two months until it was removed this week over concerns that it was disrespectful to the Black Lives Matter movement.

House Republican leader Themis Klarides says the flag should be promptly reinstated, and the suggestion that the flag is anything other than honorable is "categorically false."

Klarides says the flag was donated by State Capitol Police to honor law enforcement officers.

Democratic state Rep. Brandon McGee, who previously supported removing the flag, says he now wants it restored after speaking with the head of the state Fraternal Order of Police.

The flag has not been restored as of Thursday afternoon.


Lamont seeks resignations from appointed state employees

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut's new governor is seeking resignation letters from potentially hundreds of top non-union state employees.

It's part of an effort by Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont to take a "thorough look at the way state government is designed with an eye toward right-sizing offices and agencies," according to a letter sent to agency heads on Thursday and obtained by the Hartford Courant .

Paul Mounds, Lamont's chief operating officer, asks in the letter that all "unclassified appointment personnel" submit their resignations by the close of business on Feb. 28.

The letter says the administration wants to ensure staffing "best supports the needs and demands of our constituents." It says Lamont "began this process with his own office and moved on to a review of commissioners," who also provided him with resignation letters.


Lamont indicates preference for tolling cars and trucks

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Gov. Ned Lamont is making it clear he believes tolling cars and trucks is preferable to tolling just trucks.

The Democrat on Thursday called it the "best long-term solution" for financing Connecticut's transportation needs.

Lamont's budget proposal includes two options for lawmakers to consider: tolling only trucks or tolling both cars and trucks. His budget estimates truck-only tolling could eventually generate approximately $200 million, depending on the number of eventual gantries. The figure could be less, depending on a legal challenge by the trucking industry of Rhode Island's truck-only tolls.

Tolls on both cars and trucks are estimated to eventually generate about $800 million.

Lamont supported only truck tolls during the campaign.

Meanwhile, the Connecticut Construction Industries Association is raising concerns about how Lamont's budget reduces near term transportation funding.


Lamont urges approval of pot, sports betting

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) Gov. Ned Lamont says he's hoping to work with Connecticut lawmakers on two new potential sources of revenue: sports betting and recreational marijuana sales.

Lamont did not include details about either concept in his new two-year budget, which he unveiled on Wednesday.

But Lamont listed sports betting, internet wagering and marijuana legalization among the new sources of revenue that must be enacted. During his address, Lamont said legalizing recreational marijuana like Connecticut's neighbors ``will make for a safer market that will be carefully regulated and taxed.''

Lawmakers have begun debating some of these issues, but it remains unclear if legislation will pass this session, which adjourns June 5th.

Lamont's budget also does not refer to additional casino gambling in the state, another issue lawmakers will be debating.

Lamont is offering two possible paths to instituting highway tolls.

The Democrat released a two-year state budget proposal Wednesday that suggested either truck-only tolling or a “modified congestion tolling model,” which would reduce the number of electronic tolling gantries included in a November 2018 study released by the Department of Transportation.

Under Lamont’s proposal, gantries would be limited to only Interstates 84, 91, 95 and Route 15. The number of gantries statewide would be 53, not 82 as the DOT first suggested.

While the details still need to be finalized, Lamont’s budget says Connecticut drivers with a state EZPass would receive at least a 30 percent reduced rate. Initial toll operations could begin in fiscal year 2023 and the system could be fully up and running by 2025.

Republicans, the General Assembly's minority party, voiced concern Wednesday with the large number of taxes in the Democratic governor's two-year $43.1 billion budget proposal.

The list ends tax exemptions on newspapers, winter boat storage and bicycle helmets. Lamont also wants a 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, prompting Republicans to put Big Gulp cups from 7-Eleven on their desks for Lamont to see during his budget address on Wednesday.

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides says it's ``slightly disingenuous'' for Lamont to say he's not increasing the 6.35 percent sales tax rate when he's nixing so many exemptions.

Connecticut is currently “staring down the barrel of a $3.7 billion deficit” over the next two years, Lamont said.

Republicans also voiced concern about his call for imposing the sales tax on everything from legal services and haircuts to child car seats and vegetable seeds. While it retains the existing sales tax exemption on food, the plan eliminates it for newspapers, text books, campground rentals, non-prescription drugs and a host of other items and services.

It also eliminates the annual sales-tax-free week in August, imposes higher taxes on electronic cigarettes, and creates a 10-cent plastic bag surcharge. It also eliminates an increased exemption from the personal income tax for Social Security and pension income. Lamont also proposed two options for electronic highway tolls: only for big trucks or for both trucks and cars.

House Majority Leader Matt Ritter is urging lawmakers who oppose the sales tax changes to ``give us your ideas.''

Lamont says he wants to meet with state employees to find budget savings, but he's not threatening layoffs.  He said Wednesday some people believe Connecticut needs a ``Wisconsin Moment,'' where the state would ``walk away from collective bargaining and tear up the contracts.'' Instead, Lamont says he wants an ``anti-Wisconsin moment a Connecticut moment,'' where Connecticut shows collective bargaining works for everyone.

Lamont says he plans to build on a program that provides state employees cash incentives for choosing cost-effective health services.

He's also seeking cost of living adjustments for future retired state employees. And his plan would also restructure the state's underfunded teacher's retirement plan.

The former businessman is also seeking a $15 an hour minimum wage and a paid family medical leave program.

Lamont is proposing changes to Connecticut's tax system, including imposing the sales tax on a long list of goods and services.  Budget director, Melissa McCaw, said Wednesday that Lamont wants to impose a ``level playing field.''

Lamont's two-year $43.1 billion budget proposal eliminates sales tax exemptions for items from accounting services to vegetable seeds. Prior governors have tried to pare tax exemptions in the past but faced strong opposition.

The budget increases taxes on digital downloads and hotel rooms. There's also a 10-cent surcharge on plastic bags.

McCaw says no changes to the current sales or income tax rates are proposed.

The state is facing a $1.5 billion deficit in fiscal year 2020 and $2.2 billion in fiscal year 2021.


Judge again declines to toss fatal school stabbing lawsuit

MILFORD, Conn. (AP) - A judge is again refusing to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the mother of a girl who was stabbed to death at her high school in Connecticut.

The Connecticut Post reports a lawyer for the city of Milford asked the judge to reconsider his decision, citing a recent state Supreme Court case over employee liability.

The judge said Tuesday that the case is "entirely inapplicable" to the lawsuit over 16-year-old Maren Sanchez's death.

Sanchez was killed at Jonathan Law High School by Christopher Plaskon in April 2014.

Police say Plaskon was upset that Sanchez rejected his prom invitation - a claim disputed by his lawyer.

He pleaded no contest to murder and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.


Connecticut car chase ends in fatal police shooting

WINDHAM, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut State Police say the suspect shot by officers following a car chase through several towns has died.

The chase started at about 11 a.m. Wednesday in Norwich where the suspect was attempting to break into a house.

Trooper Josue Dorelus said in a news conference that the suspect stole several cars and was chased all the way to Windham, where police used tire deflation devices to stop the vehicle.

The driver ran after the crash and shot at police.

Police say the suspect, whose name has not been released, opened fire on police first and was struck at least once in the abdomen.

No officers or civilians were injured.

It's about 15 miles from Norwich to Windham.


Supreme Court declines to hear Connecticut speech case

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear the appeal of a Connecticut man who said his free speech rights were violated when he was arrested and convicted of threatening the judge in his divorce case.

The court released its decision Tuesday without comment.

Edward Taupier, of Cromwell, recently finished an 18-month prison sentence for threatening Judge Elizabeth Bozzuto, now the state's deputy chief court administrator.

Prosecutors say Taupier sent an email to six acquaintances in 2014 that described Bozzuto's home and how certain rifles could be fired at it from a nearby cemetery. Taupier argued the email was a "hyperbolic expression of vitriol" protected by free speech rights.

Taupier's prison sentence also included four months for Facebook posts urging people to kill judges and employees at the Middletown courthouse.


Hartford police investigate city's 3rd homicide of 2019

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Hartford police are investigating the city's third homicide of the year.

Officers responded to a report of an unresponsive male in the parking lot of an apartment complex at around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday.

They found a 26-year-old Joseph Goiangos, of Middletown, suffering from a puncture wound to the chest.

Police say the victim's car was found in another area of the city and investigators don't know if he was killed where he was found or elsewhere.

Investigators were trying to determine how long he had been in the city before he was killed.

There were no arrests and no possible motive was disclosed.


Students can skip Pledge of Allegiance, school district says

WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) - A Connecticut school district has acknowledged students have the right not to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance, as a result of a lawsuit by a teenage girl who says her teacher shamed her and other students for opting out.

The Waterbury Board of Education and teacher agreed to settle the federal lawsuit, which was dismissed Feb. 9 as a result of the deal. The girl's lawyer says officials agreed students don't have to take part in the pledge and will pay her legal fees, which weren't disclosed.

The unidentified 14-year-old black student at Waterbury Arts Magnet School sued in October, citing First Amendment rights. She said she and her classmates remained seated during the pledge to protest racial discrimination.

 


US Rep. Larson seeks public input about Republican tax law

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - U.S. Rep. John Larson is hosting a public forum to talk with residents about the effects of the Republican-written tax law.

The Connecticut Democrat says as average tax refunds fall, he wants to hear from constituents. The forum is planned for 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, at the Lincoln Center in Manchester, Connecticut.

IRS data released Thursday showed the average tax refund and the total amount of refunds issued declined for the second straight week. The average refund in the second week of the filing season ending Feb. 8 was $1,949, down 8.7 percent from $2,135 a year earlier.

Total refunds to date are down 23 percent to $22.2 billion, from $28.9 billion last year.

Most taxpayers received a tax cut under the law but some may have had too little withheld.


Freshmen in Congress seek to address opioid addiction

LOWELL, Mass. (AP) - A Massachusetts lawmaker is among a group of more than three dozen first-term members of the U.S. House pledging to tackle the nation's deadly opioid addiction crisis.

U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan says she has joined the bipartisan Freshmen Working Group on Addiction. The Lowell Democrat says her state has seen overdose death rates above the national average and notes that Americans are more likely to die from opioids than from car crashes.

The working group was founded by Rep. David Trone, a freshman Democrat from Maryland. Rep. Jahana Hayes, a Connecticut Democrat, also is a member.

The group plans to meet regularly to hear from experts and those affected by addiction. They also plan to promote legislation and policies that address the crisis and visit to research and treatment facilities.


CCSU to celebrate opening of new academic complex on campus

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Central Connecticut State University is celebrating the opening of a $63 million complex designed to improve academic and support services for its students.

The public university in New Britain says two halls at the campus were gutted and renovated and a new atrium was built to connect them. A ceremony is planned for Wednesday.

The project broke ground in November 2016.

CCSU President Zulma Toro will speak at Wednesday's event.

The 130,000-square-foot complex houses several academic departments and instructional labs, as well as 24 classrooms and 57 academic offices. There are 50 offices in the atrium to centralize student support services, including financial aid, the registrar and veterans affairs.


Governor changes stance, says he will consider wider tolling

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, who campaigned saying he would support highway tolls only for tractor-trailers, now says he's considering a wider tolling option.

The Democrat, in an op-ed published Saturday in Hearst Connecticut Media newspapers, says attorneys tell him that truck-only tolling likely could only be done on certain bridges to generate revenue for their repair.

He says he would consider a bill that includes wider tolls on cars and trucks if includes a discount for Connecticut drivers or those who frequently travel the tolled highways. He says that would mean out-of-state drivers would provide about half of the state's tolling revenue.

A state Department of Transportation study released in November estimated the state could collect $1 billion a year in tolls.

Lamont is scheduled to present his two-year state budget proposal on Wednesday.


1 killed, 2 injured in shooting outside nightclub

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - One man has been killed and two others injured in a shooting outside a Hartford nightclub.

The shooting happened in the parking lot of Vibz Uptown at around 1:45 a.m. Sunday as the club was closing.

Police say 28-year-old Hartford resident Jakari Lewis died shortly after arriving at the hospital.

The Hartford Courant reports Lewis was recently released from prison. He'd been charged with manslaughter in the 2012 death of his best friend after the two fled from police after a shooting.

Sunday's two other victims, a 29-year-old man and a 29-year-old woman, were also taken to the hospital, but police have not disclosed their conditions or identities.

Police ask anyone with information about the shooting call their anonymous tip line. The incident is the city's second homicide of 2019.

 


Truck incidents snarl traffic on I-91

WALLINGFORD, Conn. (AP) - Two truck incidents are impacting travel on the highway connecting Hartford and New Haven

A tanker truck caught fire early Sunday morning on Interstate 91, closing the highway near Rocky Hill. A tractor-trailer has also veered off the highway near Wallingford, taking down power lines. No injuries have been reported in either incident.

The gas tanker incident happened around 6 a.m. near Exit 23. Both sides of the highway were closed for several hours. Nearby residents were also briefly evacuated because of heavy fire and smoke.

The tractor-trailer incident happened at about 10:45 a.m. near Exit 13. Police say the tractor-trailer slid down an embankment, crashed through the woods and hit a bridge foundation before resting across another roadway.

Local utility United Illuminating has cut power to the downed wires.


Hartford police LGBTQ liaison alleges sexual harassment

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - The LGBTQ liaison in the Hartford, Connecticut police department says she was subjected to inappropriate comments from another officer and the department then mishandled her complaint.

In an internal document obtained by WTIC-TV , Officer Kelly Baerga alleges she was subjected to "derogatory, overt, inappropriate comments and offensive behavior" and homophobic statements by her former supervisor, Sgt. Andrew Rodney.

She also alleges he intended to "out her" to a fellow officer.

She alleges the department did not take swift action on her complaint.

Rodney told the station he did make two specific comments that offended Baerga, but said he didn't intend to offend.

Mayor Luke Bronin says he is aware of the complaint and an investigation is underway. He says "my administration does not tolerate harassment of any kind by anyone."


Man sentenced to prison for making machine guns

TORRINGTON, Conn. (AP) - A Connecticut man has been sentenced to two years in federal prison for making machine guns and selling them to felons.

Sean Dey, of Torrington, was sentenced Wednesday after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage unlawfully in the business of selling firearms and unlawful possession and transfer of a machine gun.

Prosecutors say the 40-year-old man manufactured AK-47-style and AR-style guns, suppressors and other firearms.

They say Dey worked with a partner to sell the firearms to a third man, and not all of the guns have been accounted for.

Dey's attorney asked for a sentence of one year and one day, citing his client's service as a Marine.

The government sentencing memo says Dey's conduct in this case was "antithetical to the Marine Corps' values."

 


Tobacco wholesaler gets prison for cheating state of $6M

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - A tobacco wholesaler who cheated Connecticut out of nearly $6 million in tax revenue by underreporting the amount of tobacco he sold has been sentenced to three years in prison.

Federal prosecutors say 46-year-old Rishi Malik, of Fairfield, was also sentenced Wednesday to three years of probation and was ordered to pay $5.8 million in restitution.

Malik, a citizen of India, previously pleaded guilty to wire fraud and violating the Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act.

Court documents show Malik and a partner operated and assisted a tobacco wholesale business based in Bridgeport for several years, and failed to report more than $5 million in taxes owed to the state.

His partner previously pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

Malik faces immigration proceedings after he completes his prison term.


Woman pleads not guilty to starving dogs to death

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) - The former president of a Connecticut dog rescue organization charged with starving five dogs to death has pleaded not guilty to animal cruelty charges.

The Connecticut Post reports that 31-year-old Heidi Lueders remained free on $50,000 bond after a court appearance Wednesday.

Police who went to Lueders' Fairfield home last year said they were nearly overwhelmed by the smell. They say the windows were open and fans and air fresheners were placed about the house. Officers say the floor was covered in garbage and animal waste. The decomposed bodies of five dogs were found in locked cages. Police said they may have been there for nearly a year.

Her lawyer said "my client is far from being a horrible person."

Lueders was the president of Bully Breed Rescue.


Body found during search for missing hiker

EAST GRANBY, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut State Police have called off the search for a missing hiker after finding a body.

Trooper Tanya Compagnone says they cannot confirm the body Tuesday is that of 58-year-old Trevor French until an autopsy is performed.

French was reported missing around 5:30 p.m. Monday after he left for a hike at the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail in East Granby and didn't return.

Several search and rescue teams looked for the man in the area until the body was found.


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