Lawmakers returning to vote on absentee ballot, police bills
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday the state’s COVID-19 infection rate is currently low enough for the General Assembly to return for a special legislative session to consider a limited number of bills, including one allowing more people to vote by absentee in the November general election.
The Democrat, who spoke with Democratic and Republican legislative leaders earlier in the day, said the tentative plan is to consider four bills. Besides expanding the eligibility for using absentee ballots, just for the upcoming election because of the pandemic, Lamont said they agreed to take up legislation concerning police accountability, insurance coverage for tele-health services and a cap on the price of insulin.
“Assuming we can get agreement in principle on what those bills are going to be, I’m going to issue the call for the special session on Friday,” Lamont said. Lawmakers, who acknowledged the details of the bills are still being worked out, are expected to vote sometime before the end of January.
Lamont said it will be up to the House of Representatives and Senate to decide how they plan to hold hearings — tentatively virtually — and votes in a safe manner, given the continuing pandemic. The two bodies are not expected to return to the Capitol on the same day in order to reduce the number of people in attendance.
A spokesman for the House Democrats said the Judiciary Committee may hold an online informational hearing Friday on the police accountability bill while other hearings are planned tentatively for early next week. A vote by the House could potentially be held later in the week, with the Senate to follow. Legislative leaders have been considering whether to have House members vote remotely in their offices while senators might vote in small groups in the Senate chamber.
“Both the House and Senate will be taking a number of measures to protect legislators and staff during debates and votes in the special session,” legislative leaders said in a joint written statement.
Lamont already used his executive authority under the state’s public health emergency to lift restrictions on absentee ballots and allowed any eligible, registered Democrat or Republican to use them in the upcoming Aug. 11 primary. But Lamont’s authority expires in September, before the general election, so he asked lawmakers to pass legislation lifting the restrictions in November as well.
“We don’t know what the COVID epidemic is going to look like, but assuming COVID is still with us, this would be a COVID-related opportunity to have absentee balloting so you can vote safely,” Lamont said.
Some Republicans, however, have raised concerns about the ballots. Senate GOP Leader Len Fasano said he has “no problem with expanding absentee voting excuses to include the COVID-19 pandemic,” but he is worried that a small percentage of ballot applications for the primary sent in the mail by Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s office were undeliverable, creating the potential for fraud.
The state GOP announced this week it is launching a Ballot Integrity Alert System to let citizens report suspicious election activity, dead voters, old or inaccurate information. Merrill has said 8% of applications came back to her office, which her office contends is below the average 15% for election mailings in the U.S.
As of Tuesday, there have been more than 47,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut, an increase of 30 since Monday. That number, however, does not include results from several of the largest testing laboratories due to a network connectivity problem.
Meanwhile, the number of COVID-associated deaths in Connecticut is now 4,372, an increase of one person since Monday. Hospitalizations declined by eight, to a total of 66 patients. Lamont said the state’s infection rate continues to be less than 1%.
Visitors from four more states with high positive rates of COVID-19 — Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Wisconsin — will now be required to quarantine for 14 days after entering Connecticut, New York or New Jersey.
One state, Delaware, has been removed from the list. As of Tuesday, there were 22 states that met the criteria of having a new daily positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents or a positive rate of 10% over a seven-day rolling average. The list now includes Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, Lamont said he now believes it will be “about a week” before out-of-state air passengers from those states who arrive at Bradley International Airport will be required to fill out a form certifying they understand the quarantine, provide information about where they will be quarantining and how they can be reached. At this point, there are no plans for fines in Connecticut for violators.