Extended postal changes, outdoor dining clear house | Health

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Easier absentee voting and an option for al fresco dining in restaurants — two public health ideas passed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — are on the way, following the House of Representatives clearance on Wednesday to be extended.

The House of Representatives voted 126 to 16 for a bill that would include the broad term “disease” as a valid excuse for requesting a ballot-by-mail, aligning state law with existing language in the Connecticut Constitution. The “sickness” excuse would refer to the health of the individual voter or the health of another person, such as a sick relative.

Advocates for the elderly and other at-risk groups have called for such a measure, saying many residents remain concerned about contracting COVID-19 themselves or family members and want to ensure they have the ability to vote by mail. Previous regulations that specifically allowed COVID-19 to be a valid excuse for requesting absentee ballots have expired.

“State laws are more restrictive than the Constitution, and these changes will allow an increase in voter choices — options that voters have shown in the last election that they want to use,” said John Erlingheuser. Associate State Director for Advocacy and Outreach at AARP of Connecticut, in recent testimony before the Government Administration and Elections Committee.

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Meanwhile, the House of Representatives voted 121-21 to pass another bill extending legislation that would largely allow alfresco dining and retail to continue through April 30, 2023. It expires on March 31st.

“As we began this process, we were responding to something unknown that has presented a challenge for businesses across the state, particularly our restaurant industry, which has been hit very hard,” said Rep. Joe Zullo, R-East Haven.

“We’re here and we’re in a slightly different place,” Zullo said. “We’re not quite to the 9th inning, but maybe we’re just past the 7th inning and can see the light at the end of the tunnel. shops open. Our economy is starting to recover, but we still have some restaurants that are struggling.”

Some Republicans expressed concern about both bills during Wednesday’s debate. Several said they fear that municipal control over a zoning matter will be overridden by state law. Others questioned the need to change state law regarding postal voting.

“In my opinion, this is a backdoor way to get into absentee voting with no excuses,” said Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco, R-Wolcott. “It opens the door for ballot collection because everyone is eligible to vote by mail because of illness.”

In a unanimous opinion issued in February 2021, the Connecticut Supreme Court noted that the term “disease” is not limited to the illness of a single voter. The court also found that certain diseases were involved, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

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