May 15, 2020
The latest from the folks across the street from the Capitol

From Paddi's Desk
by Paddi LeShane

To reopen or not to reopen ... Maybe yes, maybe no?

In Connecticut, that's the question on everyone's minds. Some legislators aren't too happy with the Governor's initiative to begin the reopening of Connecticut. 

Yesterday, a letter was sent from 11 Democratic Senators to the Governor asking him if CT is really ready to open at this time, why the legislature hasn't been engaged in this decision and when legislators are going to be added to the advisory committees heading up the Governor's recovery initiative. Senate Republican leader Sen. Len Fasano and several House Republican members asked an opposite question, why can't restaurants who believe they can open indoor eating safely do it? What's with the 50% capacity for small companies? It doesn't seem to work well, especially if there's less than five people and they all have different jobs.

For many that think the Governor has had it easy with little pushback, that time is certainly coming to an end. As he's trying to get the economy up and running somewhat based on science and data, not only are legislators voicing their concerns but the public is openly demonstrating their angst outside of press conferences and organizing rallies at the Governor's residence and the Capitol. With the warm weather arriving in CT (finally!), there is an expectation that an increase of demonstrations (don't worry, they are generally keeping with social distancing rules by forming car parades) will bring out a variety of protesters who think that the process is moving too fast or too slow.

Recently the transit employees, aka public transportation workers, along with nursing home workers and nonprofit organizations are asking for their fair share of PPE, grants and relaxed regulations. The salons and restaurants are still somewhat split with what's been decided regarding "how to safely open," and everyone is looking for relief from liability for employees who return to work. At the end of last week, CT's two US Senators and the state Department of Labor (DOL) reminded furloughed and laid off workers that if your employer asks you to return to work and you are not diagnosed with the virus, you might be facing the loss of the extra $600 a week provided by the federal government. This week, DOL also reminded employees that refusing to return to work could also work against you if you have been offered your job back. Yikes!

So, it's not an easy deal to reopen CT. As non-essential employers are in the process of evaluating their ability to self-certify and thusly reopen their doors to their employees, they are concerned that many will decline to return based on fear or lack of child care and customers will continue to stay away. And if that happens, then what?

State government will have to decide what to do about the controversy of reopening and how can they effectively plan for the next fiscal year. This year's deficit, said to be about $2 billion, will be offset by the rainy day fund. However, starting on July 1 st, the second year of a balanced budget cycle will start off on a shaky footing. Folks are expecting the legislature to go back into special session sometime in mid-June before the July 1st new budget year to try to reconcile the plan passed last year with the new reality.

So as we enter week 10 of this new world, there's lots to talk about, debate and try get consensus in order to get CT back on the road to success. Stay tuned.

CT Agency Corner
DPH Commissioner Removed From Role 
by Michael Johnson

This week, the state saw a move that was expected to come in time but handled in a way that shocked even most Hartford political circles.

The state's Department of Public Health (DPH) Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell was removed from her role leading the state agency that's been taking the lead on availability of PPE, testing response rates and other COVID-19 related data during this crisis. While Coleman-Mitchell and the Governor's Office alluded that the new direction for the department was not based on performance, there certainly have been a few instances where it was evident that a leadership change could be coming.

Last year, when DPH shared town-by-town data of vaccinations rates in school districts, Commissioner Coleman-Mitchell was asked by media if she would support removing any non-medical exemptions to vaccines. The commissioner famously took the position that it's not the commissioner's role to weigh-in on legislation being considered but then weeks later reversed her position and said she supported its removal.

Last month, the deputy commissioner in charge of the Department of Public Health's response to the coronavirus resigned just days before the virus hit Connecticut, alleging that she was discriminated against and referred to within the department as the "great white hope."

It was certainly not unexpected that the Governor wanted to put new leadership into the role, but the quickness and merger of leadership with two major state agencies definitely surprised those who follow the Capitol closely.

Did You Know?
This Week in CT History
May 16th, 1791
The Largest Earthquake in Connecticut History
On this day in 1791, two powerful tremors, occurring within minutes of each other, terrified CT residents and damaged homes throughout the central part of the state. Reports from as far away as Boston and New York City confirmed the presence of seismic activity that very same evening.

While it was impossible to precisely determine the epicenter of the quake at the time, many residents claimed the seismic activity emanated from the Moodus area, part of the town of East Haddam in south-central Connecticut.  The land surrounding Moodus had a long and infamous history of producing strange, unsettling seismic booms - a history that predated English settlement.  Indeed, the name "Moodus" came from the Native American name  Machimoodus, commonly translated as "place of noises."

Modern seismologists estimate that the 1791 earthquake would have registered between a 4.4 and 5.0 on the Richter scale. The "Moodus Noises" and strange seismological activities continue to this day; as recently as January 2015, scientists recorded a notable "swarm" of minor earthquakes in the area.

In This Issue:

by Ryan Bingham

The federal government's $2-trillion federal stimulus program, known as the CARES Act, has set aside more than $150 billion for state, municipal and tribal governments. However, the act didn't leave a clear blueprint on how to distribute the funds. Many community leaders are playing the waiting game when it comes to federal aid. Most cities and towns are waiting to see how the state will distribute the money.

Under the CARES Act, stimulus funds are distributed to states and directly to municipalities with 500,000 or more residents. That being said, Connecticut doesn't have a single municipality that meets that threshold, and state officials are in charge of distributing out funds. There are several other guidelines, grants and fund resources under the CARES act that the state has to manage in addition to the municipal funding, so it's been a challenge for these communities to get clear direction.

As the "Reopen CT" plan continues to unfold, there will be more and more pressure on municipalities to interpret and administer those reductions and inclusions in new Executive Orders from the Governor's office. In New Haven, Mayor Elicker was asked if he thinks Connecticut is ready to open on May 20 th. "When asking that question, I think, would I go to a restaurant? Would I get my hair cut? Would I go shopping? I'm not so sure I would," Elicker said. Given the guidelines set by Gov. Ned Lamont, "I am not so sure the May 20 date ... is completely realistic," Elicker said. Elicker said this even as New Haven's economic development, building and health departments gear up for the changes needed if businesses within the parameters outlined by the state opt to put the "open" sign on their doors. Elicker has continuously stressed the need for health and safety first as the best measure for long-term success of the economy.

There will be more to come from municipalities on how they are handling local zoning and ordinance changes to allow for some of the reopening activities. We're all in this together, and it'll continue to take creativity and with that includes failures and successes on a town by town, state by state basis.

Election HQ
by Chelsea Neelon

As we begin to get closer to summer, the 2020 election cycle will start to make it's way into the forefront.

Both new and incumbent candidates will need to come up with creative ways to reach voters. This week, we wanted to highlight one of those new candidates running for office in an open seat in the 108th District ( New Fairfield, Sherman, New Milford, Danbury),  as Representative Richard Smith (R) will not be seeking another term. 

Patrick Callahan (R) is seeking to fill the 108th district's seat,. Learn more about him below!

What motivated you to run for office?
Politics and government service have intrigued me for as long as I can remember. Certainly, well before I registered as a Republican at age 18.  Plus, over the course of my career with the CT Judicial Branch, and my years of volunteering in my community, I have become more aware of how legislation can impede or advance these activities and other disciplines. I want to be a positive influence for change, and help ease the costly burden of living in CT. I look forward to serving as an informed, engaged and constructive member of the General Assembly.
What are some of your legislative priorities?
My friends and neighbors have little confidence in our state's future. They see a perennially weak economy, an ever-increasing tax burden, and uncertainty over the duration this terrible health crisis. My priority is to get CT growing again - as soon as possible - so all can benefit from a strong economic recovery.  We need to rebound quickly and vigorously from this combined health care crisis and economic calamity. Government should help when and where we can, and put into place policies that promote, rather than hinder, business growth.
What are you looking forward to doing after this crisis?
Personally, I'm am looking forward to going out to a quiet dinner with Andrea, my beautiful wife of 26 years! I also want to greet my friends with a handshake or a hug. And I want to get back into the gym to shed a few pounds! On a professional level, I want to make sure our state is better prepared to respond to and battle the next pandemic.