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Judge upholds mask requirement in Connecticut schools

May 25, 2021 GMT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A judge has upheld Connecticut’s requirement that children wear masks in schools, rejecting a challenge by some parents who said mask wearing can be harmful and education officials exceeded their authority.

The ruling released Monday affirms the legitimacy of mask requirements in schools this academic year but does not address any guidance on masks that may be issued for the next school year.

The state Department of Education has not yet decided whether to require mask in schools for the 2021-2022 year. Officials said they will be monitoring updated guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in making that determination.

The decision by Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher in Hartford upheld Gov. Ned Lamont’s coronavirus-related emergency orders that granted the state Department of Education authority to require masks. Moukawsher cited decisions made earlier this year by the legislature and by the state Supreme Court upholding the governor’s right under the state constitution to issue emergency orders in response to COVID-19.

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The ruling came in a lawsuit filed in August by the CT Freedom Alliance and several parents and their children that challenged the mask requirement.

Brian Festa, co-founder of the CT Freedom Alliance, said his group is planning to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

“The plaintiffs remain steadfast in their position that the school mask mandate was not only an unconstitutional overreach of executive authority, but that it was — and continues to be — far more of a threat to children’s health than the coronavirus,” Festa said in a statement.

The alliance argued masks can cause distress for students and claimed they are not useful despite assurances from the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention and other health experts that masks help prevent spread of the coronavirus.

Moukawsher, however, said in previous decision that he believed Lamont, a Democrat, likely exceeded his authority when he extended his executive orders related to the coronavirus multiple times without legislative approval. Lamont issued the first orders in March 2020, and Moukawsher said state law required legislative approval to extend them after six months.

In other coronavirus-related news in Connecticut:

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LAID-OFF WORKERS

The Connecticut Senate on Tuesday passed legislation requiring employers to recall certain workers who were laid off during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and afterward in order of seniority.

The bill, which passed on a 19-15 vote, now awaits action in the House of Representatives.

Under the proposed legislation, private-sector employers with at least 15 employers must notify laid-off employees in the janitorial and maintenance, food service and hospitality industries in writing about positions they’re qualified to fill that become available. Workers with the most seniority would get preference for the open job and would have no less than five days to accept or decline the offer.

Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, co-chair of the General Assembly’s Labor and Public Employees Committee, said the legislation will help ensure that businesses don’t try to “save the bottom line a bit” as they emerge from the pandemic and hire less senior employees to fill open jobs.

Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, a restaurant owner, said while he understands the thought behind the bill, he said it’s too intrusive on small businesses. He also noted the legislation applies to people laid off after March 10, 2020, and before Dec. 31, 2024, which is more than three years away.

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DRINKS ON THE GO

It’s now up to the Senate to decide whether to let one of the governor’s more popular COVID-19 executive orders — allowing the delivery of alcoholic beverages with meals — to continue for at least three more years.

The House of Representatives on Monday forwarded a wide-ranging bill that includes a provision allowing consumers to continue ordering limited amounts of beer, wine and cocktails, with certain restrictions, with their meal deliveries. The Senate has until June 9 to vote on the bill.

“The governor’s executive order allowed this. The industry seemed to like it, the consumers liked it,” said Rep. Mike D’Agostino, D-Hamden. “We’re going to see how this works out.”

D’Agostino said if the legislation passes the Senate and is signed into law by the governor, lawmakers will revisit the issue in three years and decide whether to make it permanent.