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June 12, 2020

State senators debate economy, health concerns, public unrest

Panelists (clockwise from top left ) State Sens. Gary A. Winfield (D-10), Martin M. Looney (D-11), Leonard A. Fasano (R-34), and Christine Cohen (D-12).

Five area state senators, including both parties’ upper-chamber leaders, discussed the velocity and trajectory of the state’s “reopening,” and its impact on a beleaguered business sector during a Thursday morning conversation presented by the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce.

The regular legislative session ended March 11 when the state’s binding bill was passed — and when Gov. Ned Lamont issued the first of his executive orders effectively shutting down Connecticut in response to the coronavirus threat. The lawmakers have not met since then. (The regular legislative session had been scheduled to last until May 6.) They are discussing plans to reconvene in a special session over the next few weeks.

At that time, “We will come back in to deal with issues ranging from public-health issues in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis to [proposed] absentee-ballot voting,” said senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney (D-11) of New Haven. The other issue certain to occupying lawmakers is “the grave concern nationally about criminal justice, police practices, about underlying racism and discrimination in our society” in the wake of the death of George Floyd in police custody on May 25.

With regard to Connecticut’s economy, Senate Minority Leader Leonard A. Fasano (R-34) said the state’s reopening for business is taking place too slowly, causing great damage to the Connecticut business community, especially small businesses. He also criticized Lamont’s office for issuing sweeping executive orders impacting the business community with little notice — and even less consultation.

“There was a lot of collaboration initially between the governor’s office and legislative leaders during the first three weeks of March, and I think the initial lockdown and how we were going to let state businesses operate worked out pretty well,” said Fasano, whose Senate district includes East Haven, North Haven and Wallingford. “But then after that there was a total lack of communication back and forth between legislative leaders and the governor’s office — and that still exists today.”

Many times legislative leaders “have found out the day of, or even just hours before, decisions are made” that significantly impact the business community, according to Fasano 

“I think we should definitely step up reopening Connecticut [businesses] and not wait until July 20” to begin so-called Phase 3 of the return to normal. “We just need to set the rules and let the businesses perform under those rules,” Fasano said.

State Sen. Christine Cohen (D-12), whose family operates a small business (Cohen’s Bagels) in Madison, expressed a more nuanced view.

“I’m a business owner, so I’ve been experiencing the [ commercial impact of the shutdown] right alongside everybody else,” said Cohen, who co-chairs the legislature’s commerce committee and whose district includes Branford, Guilford and Madison. “It has been really challenging” for businesses, she acknowledged.

On the consumer side, “Consumer behavior is definitely a concern right now, and as we ramp back up people are fearful of a resurgence,” she said. “They’re fearful to get out there and visit our store owners. I heard from some yesterday experiencing incredibly low volume despite being open] since May 20. Even some of those who never shut down, although their business went largely online, their revenue declines have been 50% or more,” Cohen added.

State Sen. George S. Logan (R-17), whose district includes parts of Hamden, Woodbridge, Ansonia and Naugatuck, said the Lamont administration has paid too much heed to dire warnings from public-health officials (“Many of the so-called ‘experts’ are not experts on the economy,” he said) and too little to the needs of businesses — and the people they employ.

“The scales still tipped too much on the health crisis,” Logan said. “We need to focus more on the economy. Many small businesses, including women- and minority-owned businesses, are on the brink of closing their doors.”

“We’ve got to get the economy going again,” he said. “We need to get people working again.”

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