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Exclusive: Four Local Legislators Answer Questions About What They Are Doing to Help Constituents During the COVID-19 Quarantine

Report by Paula Antolini, April 30, 2020, 9:32PM EDT

From upper left clockwise:
CT State Representative Stephen Harding (R), CT State Senator Will Haskell (D), CT State Representative Raghib Allie-Brennan (D), CT State Senator Julie Kushner (D).

People are already out of work and struggling due to the COVID-19 virus and things don’t look like they’re going to slow down any time soon. People are going to sites like bayern online to figure out how they should budget during the pandemic, jobs are being lost, and businesses are losing money. Residents wanted to know what our local and state legislators are doing to help constituents during the COVID-19 Coronavirus quarantine so I asked the legislators the same exact questions (view below). No legislator saw other legislators comments until the publication of this article:

1) I would like you to give us a statement on what you as a Senator (or Representative) are doing for your constituents to help them in this trying time during the pandemic/quarantine, present job losses and business closings struggles.

2) Also, in Bethel is the loss of a citizen vote on the town budget because First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker is saying the Governor’s executive orders say there cannot be a referendum or “safe” vote no matter what citizens say. Even our registrars have come up with a way to have a safe vote, you can see registrar Tim Beeble’s suggestions in the video of the last Board of Selectmen meeting on the town website. VIEW 4/21/20 BOS MEETING HERE. But First Selectman Knickerbocker said Mr. Beeble is not a health official or doctor etc.

Any statement you could send me would be most appreciated, and I am asking the same of all Reps. and Senators in our district. This is for publication in Bethel Advocate News Media.

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The replies were as follows, in the order legislators replied:

CT STATE REPRESENTATIVE STEPHEN HARDING (R)

(107th General Assembly District, representing Brookfield, as well as parts of Bethel and Danbury)

Comments on Questions 1 & 2:

“At this time, my main focus is assisting residents in the district with the current programs being offered by both the State and Federal governments. Unfortunately, many residents have not been able to receive the assistance they desperately need and I have been attempting to work with the various departments overseeing these programs on behalf of residents.

“I have also been fielding questions and comments from constituents regarding various issues or clarifications with Executive Orders from State Government. Working with my legislative leadership, I have been able to address these issues with the Governor’s office and other various State Departments addressing matters across the State during this pandemic and shutdown.

“My understanding is the Governor’s office and the Secretary of State has confirmed with municipalities that the Governor’s first executive order on this issue controls.”

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CT STATE SENATOR WILL HASKELL (D)

(26th Senate District, representing Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport, Wilton)

Comments on Questions 1 & 2:

“My foremost concern right now is making sure that my constituents have access to the relief that they’re entitled to, including unemployment benefits, small business emergency loans, childcare aid, health insurance, and more. My team and I have been working around the clock to get people the help that they need, and I urge anyone who has questions or concerns about financial relief to call my office at 860-240-0068.

“I also have daily conversations with the Lamont administration, legislative colleagues, and municipal leaders about new state-wide relief programs, including the rent relief and mortgage forbearances programs that have come to fruition in the past few weeks. As soon as it’s safe to do so, I’ll be back in Hartford to craft even more significant recovery legislation.

“I have heard from constituents about their concern regarding the referendum, and I have conveyed their message to Governor Lamont’s team. Of course, the Governor and his advisers determine the content of an executive order.”

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CT STATE SENATOR JULIE KUSHNER (D)

(24th Senate District, Bethel, Danbury, New Fairfield & Sherman)

Comments on Question 1:

“While the legislature cannot convene in Hartford to debate public policy and vote on bills, we are working harder than ever to help constituents in this very difficult time. I am using the tools of communication that have been developed over my time as an elected official – 1) I am able to communicate with more than 3,000 people on my Facebook page, and I regularly issue an electronic email newsletter that reaches more than 4,400 people. Additionally, my legislative aide and I return dozens of constituent phone calls and emails every week. In addition, we have implemented new communication channels to increase our availability, like Zoom interviews live on Facebook and Tele-town Hall meetings. While none of this replaces the face-to-face interactions that I have enjoyed with constituents, in this manner I am in constant contact with people, keeping them up-to-date on local, state and federal developments as we fight the COVID-19 pandemic together.

“I have engaged on many issues, on many levels, but here are highlights of the work that I have done:

-On Facebook and in my e-newsletters I have provided online links and phones numbers for state and federal unemployment benefits.

-I have promoted small business bridge loans and mortgage relief, telling residents and business owners where and how to apply.

-I took part in an hour-long online meeting with Hearst Media and Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce President Garrett Sheehan to help local businesses navigate various financial aid options during the coronavirus.

-I have promoted food drives and food distribution provided by groups like the United Way of Western Connecticut and other nonprofits.

-I have fought for better working conditions and more personal protective equipment for essential workers, like, nursing home and hospital workers and our interstate highway service plaza employees.

-I successfully advocated for new “Safe Store Rules” to keep our vital grocery stores open and to keep their employees healthy.

-I have hosted a variety of online meetings via Zoom or Facebook Live, including meetings state and federal officials to take residents’ questions and provide them with answers.

-I have promoted nonprofit groups distributing masks, gloves, and face shields.

-I provided a link to outage maps and the phone number for Eversource during the mid-April wind storms that knocked out power to so much of Western Connecticut.

-I have promoted the extended, special enrollment period for Access Health Connecticut to provide health insurance for those who have lost their job.

-I have promoted the Domestic Violence hotline phone number for residents who are trapped at home in a domestic violence situation.

“Some of this information has been provided in Spanish, and this week we were able to provide simultaneous translation of our interview with the Office of Early Childhood Commissioner, Beth Bye. We don’t want language to be a barrier; we know that we need to do more to make sure everyone has access to this information.

Comments on Question 2:

“On the issue of the Bethel town budget, Governor Lamont did issue an executive order that towns can adopt a budget without a town meeting or referendum. But the public can and must still provide input and direction to their elected officials in order for them to make the right decisions. Bethel posted its proposed budget presentation on the town website, and it sent out 8,000 budget letters to residents. People have access to the details of next year’s town budget. Bethel plans to hold a virtual public hearing where residents can call in to the meeting and voice their opinions on the proposed budget, and they can mail in their comments, too. This dissemination of budget information and outreach for public input serves the same purpose as a referendum: informing yourself, then telling your elected local officials how to Act.

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CT STATE REPRESENTATIVE RAGHIB ALLIE-BRENNAN (D)

(2nd General Assembly District, representing Bethel, Danbury, Newtown, Redding)

Comments on Question 1:

“I have been working around the clock with state agencies to help address critical issues facing my constituents. I’ve been advocating on behalf of unemployed workers with the Department of Labor, helping small businesses access capitol, and helping constituents understand the executive orders and changing rules during this pandemic.

“I’ve supported local businesses and served as a resource as they’ve navigated the various programs designed to assist them.

“Every Thursday at 1pm, I host a virtual story time where I read children’s books to offer some levity to the current situation we all find ourselves in.

“I organized a food drive this past week to donate to Danbury area food banks that have been recently depleted. We raised over $8,000 in donations and 1.5 tons of food and supplies were donated.

“I started a local hero recognition campaign on social media which recognizes first responders, healthcare workers, and others who have served and supported our community during the pandemic.

Comments on Question 2:

“Everyone deserves the right to have their voice heard through voting.

“Not every town in CT is the same and more attention should have been paid to towns like Bethel when it comes to voters being able to be heard.

“I’ve heard about registrar Tim Beeble’s suggestion for a possible drive-thru vote. I know this was done in Vernon on a small scale. Even if safety could be guaranteed for a large-scale drive-thru vote, something like this would limit who could vote. This why we need no excuse absentee voting.

“Last year, I voted to pass a constitutional amendment that would allow voters to vote by mail without needing an excuse (and to vote in-person prior to Election Day). The bill passed the House but the Senate failed to garner the three-fourth’s margin needed. At this point, voters likely wouldn’t have an opportunity to approve an amendment allowing voting by mail without an excuse until 2024.

“It’s infeasible to amend the Constitution before this fall’s elections, even with Executive Orders. We can, however, change our statutes to be a bit more flexible about the definition of “illness” while remaining within the confines of the Connecticut Constitution. That is what I have asked the Governor to do by Executive Order in the current emergency, and if that doesn’t happen, I hope to vote on this in the legislature.

“I will never stop fighting to make it more convenient for Connecticut voters to cast their ballots and make their voices heard.

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