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Connecticut Senate Gives Final Approval To Constitutional Amendment On Early Voting

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By Daniela Altimari, Hartford Courant

In November of 2014, Connecticut voters will consider amending the state Constitution to eliminate restrictions on early voting and allow greater access to absentee ballots.

The referendum is the result of a joint resolution approved by the state Senate just after 11 p.m. on Wednesday. The 22-14 vote was the last legislative step in the two-year, bicameral process required when the state Constitution is amended. Continue reading

Bowl Win: UConn Sandy Hook Fund Receives $80,000 From Orange Bowl Committee

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The Orange Bowl Committee gave $80,120 to the UConn Sandy Hook Scholarship Fund Monday night, $1 for every fan that attended the BCS National Championship.

Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco and Orange Bowl President O. Ford Gibson presented the gift to UConn Athletic Director Warde Manuel, who accepted it on behalf of the University.

The scholarship fund, which was set up to provide financial aid for Sandy Hook students as well as siblings and dependents of the victims, has received donations from more than 4,000 people since it was established shortly after the tragedy. With this surprise donation, the fund has raised about $800,000.

Sources: Malloy To Nominate Appellate Court Judge Carmen Espinosa

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Sources say that Gov. Malloy\’s latest nomination to the Supreme Court, which he will announce Monday at 2 p.m., will be Appellate Court Judge Carmen Espinosa. While Malloy\’s most recent nomination, former state senator Andrew McDonald, has not served as a judge before, Espinosa was first appointed to the bench in 1992. She was sworn into the Appellate Court in 2011 after having served as a Superior Court Judge for nearly two decades.

Malloy makes history with this pair of nominations. If approved by the legislature, Espinosa will become the first Hispanic to serve on Connecticut\’s highest court. McDonald, who was nominated less than two weeks ago, would be the first openly gay justice.

The vacancies are left by retiring judges Ian McLachlan and Lubbie Harper Jr., both 70, who have reached the mandatory retirement age for Connecticut judges. Espinosa replaced Harper Jr. on the Appellate Court after Malloy nominated him in 2011.

Gov. Malloy To Announce Supreme Court Nomination Monday Afternoon

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Gov. Malloy will announce a nomination to the state Supreme Court Monday, less than two weeks after he nominated chief legal counsel and former state senator Andrew McDonald to fill a different vacancy.

The candidate announced today will fill the vacancy created by 70-year-old C. Ian McLachlan, who has reached the mandatory retirement age for justices in Connecticut.

McDonald was nominated at the end of December to replace another retiring justice, Lubbie Harper Jr. If confirmed, he would become the first openly gay justice to serve on Connecticut\’s Supreme Court. The former co-chair of the judiciary committee left the state senate in 2011 to serve on Malloy\’s staff.

Occhiogrosso Returning To Global Strategy Group

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Departing Malloy aide Roy Occhiogrosso will be returning to Global Strategy Group, the firm said Monday.

\"occhiogross\"Occhiogrosso, who says he made the decision in the last few weeks, was a partner at the political consulting company from 2003 to 2010, when he helped run Malloy\’s campaign.

\”I worked there for seven years, it\’s like a family to me,\” said Occhiogrosso, who announced in December that he\’d be departing at the end of the year but did not give a reason for doing so other than to say that he initially planned to stay only a year. \”I considered similar roles in a couple different places and also thought about doing something on my own, but this made a lot of sense for a lot of reasons,\” he said.

As a single father of two young boys, anywhere besides Connecticut was off the table for Occhiogrosso. Asked if he\’s planning on running Malloy\’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign, Occhiogrosso said nothing had been discussed yet. \”I don’t know the answer to that,\” he said. \”I assume that when the time is open we’ll have a conversation, but the governor\’s got a lot on his plate right now, dealing with the aftermath of Newtown and trying to put together a budget.\”

Read more on Occhiogrosso and his decision to leave here.

Gabrielle Giffords Expected To Visit Newtown Friday

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Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has scheduled a visit to Newtown on Friday, according to a statement from Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman\’s office. Giffords, who was injured during a mass shooting in Tucson in 2011, resigned from the House last January.

Her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, is also slated to be there. Kelly has called on Congress to take action on gun violence in the wake of the Newtown tragedy and others like it.

After Criticism, Boehner Schedules Sandy Aid Votes

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After receiving criticism for his decision to pull a Hurricane Sandy relief package from the floor Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner has announced two Sandy aid measures he will bring to a vote when the new Congress convenes. Combined, these measures total the $60.4 billion in the original bill, which passed the Senate with bipartisan support but dies there because the House did not vote on it.

\”Getting critical aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy should be the first priority in the new Congress,\” Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said in a joint statement released Wednesday.

The first vote, on $9 billion in increased funding for the National Flood Insurance Program, is scheduled for Friday. On January 15th House members will vote on the remaining $51 billion included in the initial measure.

Larson, DeLauro Announce Grants For School-Based Health Centers

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In the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, access to mental health services is one of many policy issues discussed as lawmakers try to find ways to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future. On Thursday, Reps. John Larson and Rosa DeLauro both announced over $700,000 in grants for School-Based Health Centers to help expand students\’ access to both physical as well as mental health care.

School-Based Health Centers provide on-campus care to students through a partnership between the school and a health care provider, like a hospital or community health center. The Affordable Care Act provided funding for these grants in order to improve existing and create additional School-Based Health Centers nationwide.

\”Unfortunately Connecticut needs no reminder of how critical it is to make sure young people can access mental, as well as physical health care services,\” said DeLauro, who announced grants for Community Health Center in Middletown, Fair Haven Community Health Clinic in New Haven, and Griffin Hospital in Derby. Larson\’s funding will go to East Hartford Community HealthCare and Integrated Health Services, which are both in the East Hartford Area.

Biden Meets With Law Enforcement Leaders

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Just a day after President Obama tapped him to head an inter-agency panel to reduce gun violence, Vice President Joe Biden convened the first meeting of his working group to address solutions in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. He spoke with various law enforcement leaders Thursday afternoon to ask for their help in the White House effort to seek reform.

Biden, who specifically chose to meet with these stakeholders first, told the members of various police organizations and law enforcement agencies that he believes they have a significant role to play not only in punishing crime but also in preventing it. “You have a much more holistic view of how to deal with violence on our streets and in our country than you’re ever given credit for,” he told them.

“You know better than anyone what is needed out there,” he said, and acknowledged their help on the 1994 crime bill he authored. “I want to hear your views because for anything to get done, we’re going to need your advocacy.” Biden then asked the press to leave so people attending the meeting could have a “frank discussion.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder also attended the meeting, which was his last engagement in Washington before heading to Newtown to meet with law enforcement officials there.

\”Protect Our Benefits\” Labor Tells Lieberman

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The Connecticut AFL-CIO organized a candlelight vigil in Hartford Monday to pressure Sen. Lieberman to oppose cuts to entitlement benefits, extend unemployment benefits, and put an end to upper income tax breaks. About 50 Connecticut residents rallied outside Lieberman’s office the same day the senator was in the state announcing the creation of an eponymous scholarship fund and to expressing hopes that Congress will be able to reach a budget deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.

As lawmakers in Washington try to reach a budget deal to avoid automatic sequester cuts, some have proposed restructuring entitlement benefits to reduce the deficit. “We don’t want that done on the backs of the people who can least afford it,” said Rev. Laurel Scott, pastor at North United Methodist Church in Manchester and a leader of the rally.

Some legislators suggest raising the Medicare eligibility age to scale back program spending. But 85-year-old Lois O’Connor, a member of the Connecticut Alliance for Retired Americans, thinks this could be harmful to the nearly 600,000 Connecticut residents relying on Medicare, especially those who retire at 65. “Raising the Medicare age from 65 to 67 puts seniors in a powerless position…for two years they’d have to buy very expensive insurance before Medicare kicks in,” said O’Connor, a speaker at the event, which was part of a national campaign.

After the rally, leaders delivered a letter to Lieberman’s desk asking him to protect their benefits and extend federal unemployment benefits, which are set to expire at the end of the year. Connecticut labor activists a held a similar event in Stamford to appeal to Rep. Jim Himes.