After all-night debates in both chambers of the state legislature, lawmakers passed sweeping police accountability legislation that Gov. Ned Lamont signed into law Friday. Sen. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford, said during debate in the state Senate that he wanted to “thank the protesters who risked their lives in the middle of a pandemic” because they helped inspire the legislature to act.
Want to get this in your inbox every Friday? Subscribe to Capitol Watch at courant.com/newsletters
The big story
Police accountability bill passes: A comprehensive police accountability bill passed the state Senate around 4 a.m. Wednesday after 10 hours of emotional debate and Lamont signed the measure Friday at the state Capitol. The bill was crafted in response to the racial justice protests spurred by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers and will significantly reform policing in Connecticut. It requires all officers to wear body cameras, bans the use of chokeholds and creates a new independent inspector general tasked with investigating police killings. The measure passed both chambers of the General Assembly largely along party lines, with Republicans who opposed the measure focusing chiefly on changes it makes to qualified immunity that shields police from lawsuits related to their actions while on duty. Police said the changes would open up individual officers to costly legal settlements but proponents of the bill said only officers involved in egregious acts would face a financial penalty. “I think it’s a good bill,” Lamont said. “It takes into account transparency and accountability — builds more trust between the police and the local community. I think it’s important.”
Five things you may have missed
Electric rate increases paused: State regulators announced Friday they would temporarily suspend higher electricity rates for Eversource Energy that were approved last month amid an outcry from customers upset about increase bills. While electricity usage has risen as residents work and learn from home during the pandemic, much of the increase stems from higher delivery costs. Eversource has said that’s because of a deal that state lawmakers reached with the operators of the Millstone nuclear power plant in 2017 that requires the utility to but electricity at a higher price. Dominion Energy, the company that runs Millstone, has rejected those claims. “I’ve seen a lot of rate increases. This one takes the cake,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Friday. He supported the decision by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to suspend the increases while an investigation is underway. “These bills are virtually incomprehensible to most people,” Blumenthal said.
Absentee ballots on the way: It’s taken a bit longer than expected but hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots are expected to be in the hands of Connecticut voters this weekend under new rules that have expanded the reasons voters are allowed to use them to include the coronavirus pandemic. Lamont used his emergency powers to allow any voter who wishes to vote in the Aug. 11 primary to vote by absentee ballot. Lawmakers passed a bill during the recent special session that extended that same policy to the November election. Using federal funds, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill sent 1.2 million absentee ballot applications to every registered Republican and Democrat in the state for the upcoming primary. The flood of absentee ballots has led to concern among some local election officials but Merrill has said she’s confident the process will run smoothly. “Connecticut’s registrars of voters … are among the best local election officials in the country,” she said.
Lawmakers agree to cap on insulin costs: The state Senate Tuesday gave final approval to a bill that will cap the price of insulin in Connecticut to $25 a month for people on state-regulated health plans. Additionally, the cost of insulin-related supplies including pumps and syringes will be limited to $100 a month. Lawmakers said the legislation was drafted in response to constituent concerns regarding the cost of insulin, which has shot up in recent years. A 2019 study by the nonprofit Health Care Cost Institute said patients with Type 1 diabetes saw annual insulin costs rise from $2,864 in 2012 to $5,705 in 2016. “If you have empathy for people … this is the right thing to do for our state and our community,” said Sen. Matt Lesser, a Middletown Democrat and key supporter of the bill. It passed the Senate 35-1 after sailing through the state House of Representatives by a 142-4 vote.
Lamont defers to school districts on reopening: After initially saying that all Connecticut schools would reopen for full-time, in-person instruction this fall, Lamont and state education Commissioner Miguel Cardona Monday said the ultimate decision about how students return will be left to local districts. With the news, many school superintendents said they are leaning toward hybrid models that mix online and in-person classes, particularly at the high school level, so school populations can be reduced to make it easier to practice social distancing and to make classrooms more manageable. While the decision offers districts flexibility, some superintendents say they’d be more comfortable with a uniform plan that would be implemented statewide. “To have individual superintendents make the decision, and 169 different plans operating in the state, does not seem particularly efficient or informed,” West Hartford Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore said. There are also concerns about educational equity if districts are operating in different fashions.
Legislators spend $900K on mailers recapping cancelled session: In a legislative session cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, state lawmakers passed just one bill – the annual bond package. But that didn’t stop them from recently sending out about $900,000 in taxpayer-funded, “legislative update” mailers that critics say amount to little more than self-promotion. “Oh, it’s a campaign brochure, all right,” Marcus Brown, a Bridgeport city councilman who is challenging state Sen. Marilyn Moore in the Aug. 11 primary, told Courant columnist Jon Lender. While the mailers must be sent at least 90 days in advance of Election Day, the same rule doesn’t apply for incumbent legislators facing primary challengers. Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, a West Hartford Democrat who defeated a longtime incumbent in a 2018 primary, vowed during that campaign not to take advantage of the mailers if elected. And she hasn’t. Gilchrest said “with new technologies and social media” there are no-cost ways to keep constituents updated.
Odds and ends
Oz Griebel, a two-time candidate for governor and longtime booster of Hartford, died Wednesday, more than a week after he was struck by a vehicle while jogging in Pennsylvania. He was 71. Griebel sought the Republican nomination for governor in 2010 but placed third in a GOP primary. In 2018, he ran as an independent, placing a distant third behind Gov. Ned Lamont and Republican Bob Stefanowski. Griebel led the MetroHartford Alliance, the region’s chamber of commerce, for 16 years. … New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart gave birth to a baby girl, Lina Elizabeth Mutone, on July 26, her office announced Wednesday. “We are beyond thrilled to bring this little bundle of joy into the world,” Stewart said. “I am pleased to report that both the baby and I are healthy, home, and happy.” Stewart said she would be “taking some family time” but would be in constant communication with her office and city department heads. … Former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who is advising presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on his search for a running mate, faced an online backlash this past week after Politico reported Dodd had complained to a prominent donor about California Sen. Kamala Harris, a frontrunner for the vice-presidential pick, saying she had shown “no remorse” for sharp criticism of Biden during a Democratic primary debate last year. “A chorus of voices asked whether Biden had wrongly empowered an old friend from his time in the overwhelmingly male Senate to steer his potentially historic pick,” Politco reported. … Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo and the other members of the town’s board of selectmen have scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday to discuss stricter enforcement of rules regarding social distancing and mask-wearing after a spike of cases in the town was linked to groups of teenagers partying. “There’s going to be consequences now for people who disobey the measures,” Camillo, a Republican and former state representative, told The New York Times. … The Glastonbury Town Council became the latest legislative body to adopt a local resolution to address racism within its borders in response to cities and towns nationwide that have done the same. Glastonbury plans to create a new racial justice commission that will survey town residents, hold public hearings, collect data on minority residents’ interactions with police and make recommendations to the council, according to the Journal Inqurier.
Russell Blair can be reached at [email protected]
©2020 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)
Visit The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) at www.courant.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.