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Senators return to Capitol to vote on ballots, police reform

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – The Connecticut Senate returned to the state Capitol on Tuesday to give final legislative approval to four bills, including wide-ranging police accountability legislation and a plan to expand eligibility for absentee ballots in the November general election that would make COVID-19 an acceptable excuse for not voting in person at the polls.

The other two bills would cap the price of insulin and diabetic supplies, expand the types of health care providers that can provide telehealth services and require certain insurers to cover the cost.

All four bills already passed the House of Representatives last week, when more than 1,500 protesters at one point rallied outside the state Capitol, including hundreds of police officers who oppose sections of the police bill. On Tuesday, far fewer protesters greeted senators as they returned to the Capitol for the first time since the General Assembly’s regular session came to a halt in March because of the coronavirus.

As with the House debate, the public and lobbyists were not allowed inside the state Capitol on Tuesday. Only a limited number of people were allowed on the floor of the 36-member Senate, with senators listening to the debate in their offices. Senators then returned to the chamber, a few at a time, voted by pressing a button on their desk and were then ushered out of the room. The House, which has 151 members, had allowed its members to vote by computer in their legislative offices.

The absentee ballot proposal, the first bill under consideration on Tuesday, expands the list of reasons why people can vote by absentee, which currently includes excuses such as being out of town during voting hours or being an active member of the armed services. Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont previously signed an executive order allowing fears about contracting COVID-19 to be an excuse for voting by absentee in the Aug. 11 primary, but his authority ends before the general election.

State Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson, the co-chair of the Government Administration and Elections Committee, said she can relate personally to concerns many of her constituents have about going to the polls on Election Day. She said she felt anxious about leaving her newborn baby at home to attend Tuesday’s debate during a continuing pandemic, but understood it was her obligation, just like voting.

“It is something that is unique to this year, and this year’s circumstances and recognizes the overwhelming majority of Connecticut voters want to exercise their right to vote this year without fear for their health and safety,” she said.

Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, the ranking Senate Republican on the GAE Committee, echoed concerns raised by House Republicans about language in the bill that requires town clerks to allow special state-authorized drop boxes for absentee ballots outside town halls. He speculated the ballots could somehow be damaged or tampered with.

“This is something that has been brought to my attention by a great number of my constituents,” he said. Sampson proposed an amendment to strip the language regarding the ballot boxes, but it failed on a 22-14 vote.

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