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    Middletown Area Transit (MAT) backed off a controversial plan to cut bus routes that could have severely impacted riders who rely on the service.

    “The service cuts that were to be implemented on July 1st will not go into effect at this time. All buses will continue to run as scheduled, until further notice," the MAT's website reads. 

    MAT – which handles about 400,000 annual riders – had blamed the service scale back on state funding cuts.

    It had planned to nix night service as well as reduce routes including the M-Link between Middletown and Meriden.

    The news of a reprieve was relief to MAT regulars.

    "I’m real happy," Scott Roberts, of Middletown, said. "It’s about all of us. It’s about those of us who have to go home after work in Hartford."

    Middletown Mayor Dan Drew said a state Department of Transportation (DOT) appointee is overseeing the transit organization to figure out how bad the money situation is and what can be done to fix it.

    "I’m pleased that the bus service is going to continue. We met with DOT emergency staff this afternoon and my goal in all this is just make sure the people of Middletown who rely on public transportation have public transportation available to them," Drew said.

    The mayor had threatened to withhold the city’s funding share for MAT unless certain demands were met, including resuming routes and bringing in DOT help to straighten out the service.

    "To the degree that any adjustments are necessary in the long run they will make those decisions very carefully and deliberately and with consideration for people who need these services," Drew said.

    NBC Connecticut reached out to MAT and DOT for comment.

    Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

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    Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, thanks to its affiliation with Yale New Haven Health, is investing $50,000 to help improve the quality of health of two selected neighborhoods struggling with poverty and education.

    The hospital will choose two of twelve neighborhoods have been targeted based on census data. Ledge Light Health District and L+M completed a Community Health Needs Assessment in 2016 that identified a need to focus on income and educational struggles.

    "A doctor can write a prescription and send a patient home with a prescription. But if they live in substandard housing and they can’t afford their medication, their health is not going to be improved," Laurel Holmes, L+M’s director of community partnerships and population health, said. 

    Holmes said high poverty neighborhoods can be linked to issues like higher rates of diabetes and smoking. The hospital, the city and Ledge Light are turning to the community to help solve the problem by launching a project called "Photo Voice" for young adults between the ages of 14 and 25.

    “What do you like most about your neighborhood? What would you like to change about your neighborhood,” said New London’s Director of Human Services Jeanne Milstein, discussing some of the questions these young adults would answer. There’s also a photo component.

    Chelsy Theriault, 25, of New London, already has some ideas.

    “The bus system is terrible. It takes two hours just to get from here to Norwich,” Theriault said.

    Theriault is considering participating in the project, along with 21-year-old Joseph Thompson.

    “I think we need a skate park, honesty. I always go downtown and see a bunch of people just drifting through the roads,” Thompson said.

    There will be community listening sessions for adults to voice their ideas. Milstein said it’s a way to engage the community to help make their neighborhoods better. Plus, it’s a chance to involve young adults in civic life and train them to be community leaders.

    Details and a timeline for this initiative are still being hammered out.

    Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

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    Time is running out for the state to pass a budget by July 1, and it seems less and less likely it'll make it.

    If it doesn't happen, the impact to nonprofits and the people they serve could be devastating.

    "These are individuals who require the services we provide, they're not optional services," said Oak Hill President and CEO Barry Simon.

    Oak Hill is a private nonprofit and the state's largest provider of services for people with disabilities. They help tens of thousands of people in dozens of towns.

    "These are real people who are really being affected by services that aren't going to happen because of this," Simon said.

    The state depends on Oak Hill and other nonprofits. The organizations, in turn, depend on the state and no budget means no money for them.

    "We are making cuts now. July 1 is a real date. Our payments are being cut effective July 1. This is a real date for us and the people we serve," Simon said.

    Simon said Oak Hill has had 12 years of reduced or flat funding.

    "We're running probably a $100,000 deficit in some of these programs because of the inadequate funding that's been happening. We are closing group homes and moving people who have lived together for 20 years," Simon said.

    With gridlock at the capitol growing, Simon said the situation is the worst he's seen, and the longer a state budget is delayed, the worse it gets.

    "The people that we serve are dependent on these services, so it's not like we can run a group home for 20 hours out of a 24 hour day or we can reduce our staff and go below licensing requirements," Simon said.

    Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

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    A Norfolk man is accused of sexually assaulting a 5-year-old, police said. 

    Police investigated and found probable cause to arrest 26-year-old David Craighill. He has been charged with first-degree sexual assault and illegal sexual contact with a victim under the age of 13 years old.

    Craighill was arrested on Thursday and was also charged with risk of injury to a minor.

    His bond was set at $75,000.

    Police said the investigation is ongoing and more arrests are anticipated.

    Photo Credit: Connecticut State Police

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    Mika Brzezinski fired back at President Donald Trump on Friday, calling his recent Twitter attack on her "unbelievably alarming" and also claiming that Trump's White House said her "Morning Joe" co-host could get a salacious story about them in the National Enquirer spiked by begging the president's forgiveness.

    "It's been fascinating and frightening and really sad for our country," Brzezinski, seated next her fiance and co-host Joe Scarborough, said on their MSNBC show. "I'm very concerned as to what this once again reveals about the president of the United States. It's strange."

    Trump mocked the two TV personalities on his personal Twitter account Thursday, calling them "Crazy Mika" and "Psycho Joe." He wrote that Brzezinski was "bleeding badly from a facelift" when he saw the pair at his Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida.

    Trump tweeted the insults soon after Brzezinski joked on the show about his fake Time magazine cover.

    On Friday, Brzezinski and Scarborough alleged that members of the Trump administration had told Scarborough to call Trump and apologize for their coverage in order to get the plug pulled on a story about them in the National Enquirer.

    "I had three people at the very top of the administration calling me," Scarborough said. "The calls kept coming. They said, 'you need to call. Please call. Just pick up the phone and call him.'"

    Trump responded to the claim on Twitter Friday, alleging that Scarborough had called the president in an attempt to get the story killed. 

    "Watched low rated @Morning_Joe for first time in long time. FAKE NEWS. He called me to stop a National Enquirer article. I said no! Bad show," Trump tweeted.

    Scarborough responded on Twitter by saying that tweet was "yet another lie." 

    "I have texts from your top aides and phone records. Also, those records show I haven't spoken with you in many months," he wrote. "Why do you keep lying about things that are so easily disproven? What is wrong with you?"

    Brzezinski said her children were being harassed by the tabloid, which pinned the story on her ex-husband. Brzezinski said she knew that was a lie.

    "My response was screw it. Let them run it,” she said.

    Dylan Howard, chief content officer and vice president of American Media Inc., which owns the National Enquirer, said in a statement: "At the beginning of June we accurately reported a story that recounted the relationship between Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the truth of which is not in dispute. At no time did we threaten either Joe or Mika or their children in connection with our reporting on the story. We have no knowledge of any discussions between the White House and Joe and Mika about our story, and absolutely no involvement in those discussions." 

    NBC has reached out to the White House for additional comment. 

    Scarborough and Brzezinski first responded in detail to Trump's attacks in a Friday morning op-ed in The Washington Post titled "Donald Trump Is Not Well."

    "We are both certain that the man is not mentally equipped to continue watching our show," the pair wrote in the Post. "It is disturbing that the president of the United States keeps up his unrelenting assault on women."

    In the piece, the two also denounced Trump's specific claims that they visited him for three nights at his Florida resort Mar-a-Lago and that he refused to see them. Trump had requested their presence, they wrote. 

    They also claimed Trump lied when he wrote Brzezinski was "bleeding badly from a facelift."

    On "Morning Joe," Brzezinski explained that however "frightening" the president's attack was, it is not keeping her up at night.

    "I'm fine. My family brought me up really tough," she added. "The president's tweets, that doesn't bother me one bit."

    Brzezinski continued: "It is unbelievably alarming that this president is so easily played… by a cable news host. What is that saying to our allies, to our enemies?"

    In an interview with InStyle, Brzezinski said that "The president’s behavior in the past 24 hours with his tweets about me are a sign that he’s not serious, he’s not stable, and that we need to urge anybody in office, in power, in the administration, in the Cabinet, on Capitol Hill to speak truth to power, and if your instinct tells you that he’s not fit, to act accordingly."

    Scarborough joined in the criticism, calling Trump "vicious."

    "Unfortunately, we learned what we always learned: He for some reason he takes it so much personally with women. He is so much more vicious with women. For some reason, he always goes after Mika. It's always personal with Mika."

    The hosts have said they've known Trump for over a decade, but Scarborough added that the former businessman has changed.

    "The guy that’s in the White House now is not the guy we knew two years ago," he said.

    Willie Geist hosted the MSNBC broadcast, as Brzezinski and Scarborough were scheduled to take time off beginning on Friday. He opened the show by addressing the controversy and offering support for his MSNBC colleague.

    "She does not need me or anyone else to defend her," Geist said of Brzezinski before her last-minute appearance. "She's smart. She's strong. She makes people in power feel uncomfortable, and she fears absolutely no one."

    Much of Friday's show was dedicated to the tweets, with Geist and various panelists describing the president as insecure, childish and impulsive. They addressed Washington directly numerous times, demanding politicians to stand up against Trump and calling for an apology and retraction from the president. They even debated how the tweets could affect foreign relations and the ongoing health care battle.

    Though Trump fired off Thursday's tweets while Brzezinski was on the air, she did not respond at the time beyond tweeting an image of a Cheerios box, in a tweak about the size of the president's hands.

    Trump's tweets drew heated responses from politicians on both sides of the aisle saying the president crossed a line. House Speaker Paul Ryan called the messages "not appropriate," while several congressmen added that they were sexist and beneath the dignity of his office.

    As critics brought up Trump's other past personal insults directed to prominent women, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the president's actions, saying he had the right to fight back.

    "I think that he's been very clear that when he gets attacked, he's going to hit back," Sanders said at the daily White House press briefing. "I don't think that it's a surprise to anybody that he fights fire with fire."

    Another Trump defender, Sean Hannity, tweeted Friday, "Joe and Mika call @POTUS a schmuck, thug, goon, liar, idiot, anti trump Music video, daily hysterical breakdowns, who's unhinged & not well?"

    MSNBC spokesperson Lorie Acio responded Thursday by saying, "It's a sad day for America when the president spends his time bullying, lying and spewing petty personal attacks instead of doing his job." CNN also issued a statement in solidarity with the rival cable network's hosts.

    NBCUniversal is the parent company of MSNBC and this site.

    Photo Credit: Evan Vucci/AP, File
    This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.

    In this Nov. 29, 2016, file photo Mika Brzezinski waits for an elevator in the lobby at Trump Tower, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, in New York.In this Nov. 29, 2016, file photo Mika Brzezinski waits for an elevator in the lobby at Trump Tower, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, in New York.

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  • 06/30/17--06:50: Fireworks Return to Norwich

  • Fireworks are back in Norwich after a year without them. 

    Money problems kept fireworks out of the sky over Howard Brown Memorial Park last year, but organizers said they will be back this year. 

    "We did some private fundraising and they're back this year," Norwich events organizer Miria Toth said. 

    The fireworks display will begin at dark tonight. 

    In nearly six months, the organization raised more than $25,000 for the free event. 

    More 6,000 visitors are expected to crowd the park for 30-minute show put on by Atlas PyroVision Entertainment Group. 

    Funds were not just used for the sparkle but also for safety, organizers said. 

    "Bike patrol and foot patrol, we have them call on mutual aid to walk on the day of the fireworks, so there's a police presence to ensure safety downtown," Jake Manke said. 

    Those enjoying the fireworks are asked to park in the parking garages on Falls Avenue, Water Street and Main Street. 

    Road closures will be in effect on North Thames Street; Thames Street; West Thames Street; South Thames Street, where only residents of South Thames Street may park; Chelsea Harbor Drive, in the Brown Park area; and Thomas F. Sweeny Memorial Bridge. 

    At the beginning of the fireworks display, and until traffic is clear, no motor vehicle traffic will be allowed toward Brown Park. All traffic will be diverted away from the downtown area. 

    See our list of fireworks displays across Connecticut.

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    Groton police are issuing a warning to residents after thefts from several cars. 

    Between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. Wednesday, 11 motor vehicles were burglarized in the area of Allyn Street and High Street in Mystic, police said. 

    The burglars went into unlocked vehicles, opened center consoles and glove boxes and stole items, including cash, electronics and other valuables. 

    The Groton Town Police are urging residents in the area to keep their vehicles, garages and sheds locked.  

    If you see any suspicious activity, call the Groton Police Department at 860-441-6712.

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    A driver hit a car and pushed it into a house on Jones Hill Road in West Haven this morning. 

    Police said the driver was speeding down Morgan Lane and tried to stop but could not, lost control and hit a car that was parked in the driveway of the home, pushing it into the house. 

    There's no significant damage to the home and the driver was treated at the scene. 

    The driver refused a transport to the hospital. Police are investigating the crash.

    Photo Credit:

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    A Newtown, Connecticut man was detained at LaGuardia Airport in New York this morning after Transportation Security Administration officers found him with an unloaded handgun in his carry-on bag, according to TSA. 

    TSA said officers detected the gun as the man entered the checkpoint and placed his carry-on items on the X-ray conveyor belt, so they contacted Port Authority Police, who responded to the checkpoint, confiscated the pistol and arrested the man on weapons charges. 

    Officials said this is the second time this year that a traveler has been arrested for bringing a gun to a LaGuardia Airport checkpoint. 

    Two guns were detected at the airport’s checkpoints in all of 2016. 

    TSA has the authority to access civil penalties of up to $12,000 and a typical first offense for carrying a handgun into a checkpoint is $3,000. 

    See the TSA website for details on how to properly travel with a firearm.

    Airlines might have additional requirements for traveling with firearms and ammunition, so travelers should also contact their airline regarding firearm and ammunition carriage policies.

    Photo Credit: TSA

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    Enfield police have arrested a suspect in the hit-and-run crash that killed a skateboarder early on the morning of Friday, Dec. 2.

    Police said the victim, 20-year-old Jeremy Mercier, was hit while trying to help a friend on Route 5 around 1 a.m. that morning.

    Loved ones said Mercier had jumped on his skateboard to bring a can of a gas to a friend who had run out. As he headed out on the several-mile trip, he was hit just around the corner from his home.

    The driver who hit Mercier fled from the scene, police said.

    On Friday morning, police arrested 29-year-old Rocco Barile at his home. He has been charged with evading responsibility, death resulting; tampering with physical evidence; failure to renew a registration and failure to drive in a proper lane.

    He is being held on a $175,000 non-surety bond.

    Photo Credit: Enfield Police

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    Firefighters in Ledyard and Gales Ferry are getting new tools that will help protect the lives of those rushing in to save others. 

    On Wednesday, the town council approved use of more $250,000 in federal grant to replace nearly 60 self-contained breathing apparatuses. 

    Fire officials said the current units are expiring. 

    The new units are lighter than the current model, which firefighters said will increase firefighters’ mobility. 

    The new units also have the latest technology, including a GPS feature that allows for tracking firefighters inside buildings. 

    "With the new system, we can actually go find them. It will tell us where they are, and it will be much easier to get a downed firefighter out of a building," Ledyard Firefighter Chris Bruckner said. 

    Firefighters said the breathing equipment is also used for non-fire emergencies. 

    "We use them for more than just fires, we use them for chemical incidents, for anytime." said Bruckner. 

    New units should arrive in coming months. 

    Photo Credit:

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    The Norwich Public School District cancelled its summer school program after state legislators failed to pass a budget. 

    The fiscal year ends today and school district officials have yet to get a guarantee that they will receive a $110,000 priority school grant, which is used to provide summer school for kindergarten, first and second graders to help improve their reading and math skills. It was scheduled to be held at Kelly Middle School from July 17 through Aug. 4. 

    Tom Baird, the director of curriculum, said he feels it would be irresponsible to hope and plan on continuances that might not come through this year. 

    “This year our local budget has been cut $1.5 million, we don’t know about our alliance grant from the state, our Title One funding could be reduced from the federal government. So all of the grants that we would use to cover if this grant didn’t come in, there’s just too much uncertainly with those funds,” said Baird. 

    Baird said making the decision to cancel summer school was especially frustrating because the district recently made improvements to the program. 

    “We saw that by providing intervention in a smaller group that kids were making up some of their learning gaps much faster than they were at our old summer school model. So we’re very frustrated and disappointed we’re not going to be able to continue,” Baird said. 

    Cancelling the program will affect 120 students and 18 staff members. 

    Students do have the option to attend an extended learning summer program from July 10 through Aug. 11 at a cost of $125 per week. 

    “I could afford it, I could do it. But I don’t think a lot of families around here could afford it, no way. It’s a really big hardship,” said a parent of an incoming first grader who did not want to be identified. 

    Baird said he is still holding out hope that the state will come through with the grant and they will be able to reinstate the summer school program. 

    These changes will not affect any special education summer programs. 

    Photo Credit:

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    Of all the cities bothered by bugs in the United States, Hartford is number one, according to TruGreen.

    TruGreen compiled its first list of the American cities the most bothered by bugs, According to the customer data collected, Hartford is number one.

    Multiple other Northeastern cities made the list, suggesting that people living in the Northeast are more concerned about bugs than other regions in the United States.

    The Harris Poll conducted by TruGreen this month says 60 percent of Americans living in the northeast are worried about ticks messing up their summer versus 48 percent in the Midwest, 35 percent in the South and 32 percent in the West.

    “Nobody likes to be bothered by bugs,” TruGreen regional technical manager John Bell said in a statement, “But they can be more than just annoying. Insects like ticks and mosquitoes can transmit diseases and cause allergic reactions in both people and pets.”

    Given the tick situation this year and cases of West Nile Virus and Lyme disease in Connecticut in the past, it is no surprise that residents are more concerned than others about bugs this summer.

    TruGreen also released a series of tips to keep the bugs away this holiday weekend and for the rest of the summer:

    • Mosquitoes lay their eggs near water so remove sources of standing water, such as in birth baths or buckets.
    • Keep grass cut short to deter ticks
    • Encourage insect-eating bugs into the yard by setting up bat and birdhouses
    • Don’t overwater the lawn to keep fleas away
    • Follow the precautions outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    Photo Credit: Getty Images

    West Nile Virus is a constant threat threat for Connecticut during the summer months.West Nile Virus is a constant threat threat for Connecticut during the summer months.

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    Famed Washington, D.C., restaurateur Jeffrey Gildenhorn died after he choked while having dinner at The Palm Wednesday night.

    Gildenhorn, the owner of American City Diner in Northwest Washington, was taken to George Washington University Hospital where he was pronounced dead. He was 74.

    The diner was closed Thursday. A handwritten note hung on the eatery's door Thursday that read, "R.I.P. Jeffrey Gildenhorn!!!"

    "He was a character, but he loved this city incredibly. He loved this city and he loved everything about it," customer Brian Mulholland said.

    Other longtime regulars to his diner were shocked by the news of his death.

    "He was a good person, a down-to-earth guy," one woman said.

    "His employees really seemed to care for him and spoke very highly of him and we've been coming here forever," another woman said.

    Gildenhorn's business career began in 1965 when he took over his family's business, Circle Liquor Store, a biography published on the restaurant's website said. The business evolved into Jeffrey Gildenhorn Enterprises, which eventually included 11 retail businesses.

    Gildenhorn opened the diner in 1989, the same year he made a bid to purchase the Atlanta Braves and move the team to the District. The restaurant is meant to capture the nostalgia of the 1950s, according to a newspaper article published on the diner's website.

    Beyond his business ventures, Gildenhorn also pursued a career in politics. In 1998, the Ward 3 resident ran for mayor of Washington, D.C., but lost in the primary.

    Photo Credit: NBC Washington

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    New Britain police are searching for the driver who hit a man and left him for dead in the street.

    A police officer driving in the area of Myrtle Street and Washington Street found the victim laying in the road at 1:49 a.m.

    The 58-year-old man sustained life-threatening injuries and is in critical condition, according to police.

    Anyone who may have witnessed the incident or has additional information is asked to call Sergeant Steven King at the New Britain Police Department at 860-826-3071.

    Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

    A New Britain police officer found a hit-and-run victim laying in the road near Myrtle Street and Washington Street early Friday morning.A New Britain police officer found a hit-and-run victim laying in the road near Myrtle Street and Washington Street early Friday morning.

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    There is no swimming today at Burr Pond State Park in Torrington after tests for water quality.

    The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is retesting the water and results will be available Saturday.

    All other swimming areas at state parks and beaches that DEEP tests are open.

    Photo Credit:

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    Gov. Dannel Malloy said he has signed an executive order to keep the state government funded until a new, two-year state budget has been signed into law. 

    A statement from his office said he signed the order “due to legislative inaction on a budget to take effect at the start of the fiscal year on July 1.”

    The Connecticut House of Representatives and Senate disagree on how to run the state after today and both the Senate and the governor are placing the blame on the House.

    Malloy had presented a short-term spending plan that was designed to get the state through the first three months of the fiscal year.

    Senate Republicans and Democrats both endorsed the proposal.

    Republican Leader Len Fasano said he didn’t think the “mini-budget” would have unanimous support among his caucus, but said considering the options on the table, it was the most palatable.

    “In the end we are going to have to be together in a way that we are not right now,” President Pro Tem Martin Looney said about the division between Senate and House Democrats.

    House Democrats unveiled their two-year spending proposal Thursday. They were unsuccessful in April when they tried to have the Appropriations Committee approve a spending plan.

    Their proposal includes raising the sales tax from 6.35 percent to 6.99 percent and the extra earnings would be devoted to supporting local government.

    “The number, 6.99, allows us to keep municipalities whole for the most part,” Rep. Joe Aresimowicz, the Speaker of the House said.

    Aresimowicz said the mini-budget proposal is “dead,” and has circled July 18 as a date to vote on the House Democrats’ budget.

    “It’ll go up on the board on July 18 and we’re comfortable we’ll pass it,” he proclaimed.

    Without seeing the details of the plan, but armed with the knowledge of the sales tax increase, Rep. Themis Klarides, the Republican Minority Leader in the House, revealed there is sharp division between the parties.

    “There are tax increases in there which is something we’ve been talking about for how long, that we certainly cannot support.”

    Malloy placed all of the blame squarely on the shoulders of the House.

    He accused them bucking their responsibility to approve a spending plan before the end of the fiscal year, and felt they were doing taxpayers a disservice by not having a serious proposal until there was one day left in the fiscal year.

    “What I’m saying is that Republicans and Democrats should be here and they should be here tomorrow, just like I’ll be here tomorrow.”

    When asked about the House Democrats budget, the governor said it falls far short being a serious a budget document.

    “There’s probably more holes in this than swiss cheese,” he said.

    Following are the govenor's prepared remarks.

    “Given that the legislature did not act on either a two-year budget or a short-term solution, I today exercised the limited authorities granted to me as Governor and signed an executive order that will allow state government to operate in the absence of an adopted budget.

    “This is a regrettable path, and one that I worked very hard to avoid. The executive order offers me less ability to avoid very deep cuts that will have a very real impact on our state and its citizens.

    “Nevertheless, I want to assure the public that my administration will manage our finances during this period in a thoughtful and responsible way. Specifically, my focus will be on protecting services for our most vulnerable: the mentally ill, the developmentally disabled, and others who simply cannot care for themselves. And to be clear, even these services will need to be scaled back in one form or another.

    “In order to do this – in order to protect those who most need our help – other very important functions of state government will need to be cut even more, or eliminated entirely. Areas like economic development, transportation, and aid for municipalities are all things I support, but which will see deep cuts if we do not pass a new budget in the very near future. 

    “Now, I want to focus on where we go from here.

    “First, I do not doubt that we can and will get through this. Connecticut’s elected leaders will come together, and we will adopt a full, biennial budget. My administration will continue working every day towards that end – towards a budget that makes the necessary structural changes to achieve balance, now and into the future.

    “I know that there are legislators who share this hope and vision. For the past six years as Governor, I have worked with the legislature, and together, we have negotiated budgets and passed them into law. In every instance, it involved compromise on all sides, including my own. I have consistently demonstrated that I am ready to work and ready to find common ground. That has not changed.

    “I do need the legislature to act as a partner in this effort. In those same six years, this was the first time the General Assembly failed to pass a full budget out of committee, or failed to send a budget to my desk before the end of the fiscal year. I am not laying the blame for our current circumstances solely at their feet – but our constitutional process necessitates action on their part. I need them to send me a budget.

    “To get there, we all need to check our egos, partisanship, and gamesmanship at the door when we enter the room to negotiate this budget. In order to deliver on our promise for more predictability and stability for the people of our state, all parties must be ready to roll-up our sleeves and be prepared to meet one another halfway.

    “This will not be an easy process, but important things rarely are. State leaders have a lot of very tough work ahead. And the cuts in state services that will take effect at midnight tonight will not be painless on the people of Connecticut.

    “I regret that our state is in this position. But I promise you this – I will not stop working to deliver a balanced, fiscally responsible budget for the people of Connecticut. And until that happens, I will not stop working to support and protect our citizens with every tool at my disposal.”

    Photo Credit:

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    Almost 10 percent of newborn babies in the United States are born premature according to a new report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NBC News reported. 

    The report also included the rising births of more low birth weight babies than in previous years and births overall fell across the U.S., while high-risk births became more common, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. 

    “The increase in the preterm birth rate is an alarming indication that the health of pregnant women and babies in our country is heading in the wrong direction,” Stacey Stewart, president of the March of Dimes, a charity organization, told NBC News.

    Photo Credit: AP

    In this March 15, 2016 file photo, a nurse measures preemie Olivia Niedermeyer after the baby underwent an eye exam at Advocate Children's Hospital in Chicago.In this March 15, 2016 file photo, a nurse measures preemie Olivia Niedermeyer after the baby underwent an eye exam at Advocate Children's Hospital in Chicago.

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    When Jose Mendez was held at Stewart Detention Center in Georgia, he met another young undocumented immigrant who over time became his boyfriend. They would hold hands and occasionally steal a kiss, he said. Mostly, they shared love letters.

    Early last year, as Mendez’s boyfriend was telling him how afraid he was of deportation, Mendez reached over to rest a hand on his. Just then a female guard passed. Fifteen minutes later, Mendez was isolated and accused of having oral sex in the recreation room, said his attorney, Bryan Johnson.

    An official told Mendez that there was visual evidence, which he demanded to see it, confident of his innocence. But his request was denied and he was sentenced to 30 days in disciplinary segregation — the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement equivalent of solitary confinement.

    “Segregation is the worst thing that could exist,” he said.

    Mendez, who does not have a criminal record and sought asylum in the United States after fleeing El Salvador when he was 19, averaged two hours outside of his cell each day as punishment for something he said he did not do. Even if he had, lawyers said, as a civil detainee he should not have faced the same punishment as a felon.

    “These are civil detainees,” said R. Andrew Free, an immigration attorney based in Nashville, “Solitary confinement is a tool of a criminal detention system that is geared toward punishment, and in some cases rehabilitation.”

    But undocumented immigrants across the country are being held in private prisons and government centers that lawyers say follow rules intended for criminals. They have “grafted all of the rules and all of the infrastructure” from the prison industry onto immigrant detention, according to Free.

    The facilities operate with little oversight even as the detainees have no right to lawyers or other protections. Undocumented immigrants who can't find pro bono representation are particularly at a disadvantage, lawyers say. And as President Donald Trump promises to ramp up enforcement of immigration laws, advocates fear even more detainees will get caught up in unreasonable and dangerous situations.

    Solitary confinement can be abused easily, lawyers said. Their clients are punished for indefinite periods and arbitrary reasons, they say.

    Mendez’s confinement record, for example, doesn’t mention oral sex. The reporting officer wrote that Mendez admitted to “kissing and holding hands in the rec. yard,” enough to find him guilty of committing a “sexual act.”

    After about a month in segregation, he was released from Stewart, a private prison run by Corrections Corporation of America, and he boarded a plane to New York thanks to Johnson’s efforts.

    His boyfriend was deported.

    Both Republican and Democratic presidents have used solitary confinement for undocumented immigrants. It was practiced during Barack Obama’s administration, and George W. Bush’s before that. ICE has arrested more than 41,000 undocumented people since Trump took office, so more people could be at risk of solitary confinement at detention centers around the country.

    According to the Los Angeles Times, a White House memo that circulated among top Department of Homeland Security officials in late January said that DHS would bump up the number of immigrants in detention to 80,000 people a day, nearly double the figure under Obama. Over 5,000 immigrants without criminal records were arrested between January and March, more than double Obama’s figure from the same period in 2016.

    On top of disciplinary actions, ICE facilities also use segregation as a means to isolate vulnerable people, those who are LGBTQ or mentally unstable, for their own safety, according to the agency.

    “ICE’s policy governing the use of special management units protects detainees, staff, contractors, volunteers, and the community from harm by segregating certain detainees from the general population for both administrative and disciplinary reasons,” an ICE official wrote in a statement. “ICE provides several levels of oversight in order to ensure that detainees in ICE custody reside in safe, secure and humane environments and under appropriate conditions of confinement."

    The duration of segregation for some immigrants exceeds international regulations, even for humane criminal practices. In 2015, the United Nations ruled that “prolonged solitary confinement” should be prohibited, and equated the practice to torture. The UN defined “prolonged solitary confinement” as more than 15 days in unwanted isolation.

    When a guard recommends an immigrant for segregation, there’s almost no oversight, lawyers say. A judge has to rule that the detainee deserves punitive solitary, but in the meantime, he or she can be placed in administrative segregation, as Mendez was for two days before he was found guilty.

    ICE had an average daily population of 1.1 percent of detainees in segregation during 2012 and 2013, and more recent estimates show similar numbers. In a system that holds tens of thousands of immigrants and is expanding, that means hundreds are being kept in solitary cells. In 2015, 13 percent of those in segregation were part of ICE's non-criminal population.

    ICE sent out a directive about protocols for solitary confinement in September 2013. The memo said that “placement of detainees in segregated housing is a serious step that requires careful consideration of alternatives.” It also mandated regular review of long-term segregation cases to ensure that a detainee is not held in solitary confinement for longer than necessary.

    When asked how long segregation could last for an undocumented immigrant, an ICE spokesperson did not respond directly. She instead referenced the 2013 directive that "requires agency reporting, review, and oversight of every facility decision to place detainees in segregated housing for over 14 days, and requires immediate reporting and review of segregation placements when heightened concerns exist based on the detainee’s health or other factors."

    But from Free’s vantage point, the standards aren’t followed.

    “Oversight is really weak and lax, and there are no real consequences to these facilities if they engage in serial violations,” Free said. “In my experience [with clients], the solitary confinement went on for months -- literally months -- without any indication of an official sign-off.”

    He said that ICE never actually used the phrase, “solitary confinement,” substituting euphemisms such as “medical isolation,” “administrative segregation,” and “disciplinary segregation.”

    “They use everything but ‘solitary confinement,’ and one has to ask why,” he said.

    Mulugeta, an Ethiopian immigrant who came to the United States as a child, asked to only use his first name because he intends to re-apply for U.S. residency after being deported. He was in immigrant detention between 2010 and 2014 while he fought his case and says he spent more than a year in segregation.

    “It was a very long time, and a very tough experience,” he said. “Through those four years, I went through a lot of ups and downs.”

    Mulugeta had a green card as a child. When he was 18, he and his friends were playing with a BB gun at one of their homes and someone called the police. Officers searched Mulugeta and found a Ziploc bag of marijuana, more than half an ounce but no more than five pounds, according to his 2009 court indictment. Though he said he had bought the drugs for personal use, he was convicted of intent to distribute. When he was released from prison, ICE was waiting to deport him. But first he was detained for another four years.

    While in immigrant detention, Mulugeta was placed in a special housing unit after a fight broke out at the Oakdale Federal Detention Center in Louisiana, which then held immigrant detainees alongside convicts. He said he was defending himself from attackers when he accidentally fell onto a guard, whose leg broke in several places. As a result, Mulugeta was put in solitary confinement.

    “There was no charge,” he said. “They just kept me there for no reason.”

    While in segregation, Mulugeta received maybe one phone call a week, but he spent most of his time reading, he said. Sometimes, he went outside for sunlight; even then, they put him in an enclosed "cage" so he did not feel free, he said.

    ICE does not comment on specific cases and did not confirm his account. Nor would an ICE spokesperson comment on whether detainees in special housing units are confined during recreation time.

    Guards let Mulugeta shower sporadically, but they didn’t follow a regular schedule. When the cafeteria served pork, Mulugeta, an Ethiopian orthodox Christian, didn’t get to eat.

    “What they did to that kid, I’ll never get over it,” said Paul Scott, his attorney.

    Because ICE detainees are often mixed in with prisoners at county jails and private prisons, Mulugeta said that he and other immigrants were treated like serious offenders.

    “Immigration detainees and a criminal are not the same,” he said. But, to the guards at the detention centers where he was held, he continued, “Everybody is the same.”

    Many undocumented immigrants in the United States are seeking refuge from violence against them in their homes countries because of their gender or sexuality. Members of the LGBTQ community are especially at risk of being put into solitary cells because they are targets for sexual assault and bullying by other prisoners.

    “I know that they’re also scared to remain in some cases in the housing unit with their biological sex, so it’s kind of a no-win situation when the only answer is to put people in a box,” Free said.

    But solitary confinement does not always make people safe. Guards also have been accused of taunting transgender or gay prisoners about their lifestyles and other harassment.

    In 2005, ICE detained trans woman Bamby Salcedo after she filed a request to change her legal name. According to her online bio, during her early life, “she fell into a deep cycle of drugs, crime, juvenile institutions and later, after immigrating to the US, prisons.” She told NBC that in California she survived by dealing illegal substances. After Salcedo got to San Pedro Detention Center, which lost its accreditation in 2007 and has since been shuttered, the guards placed her in a dorm with her biological sex, where men put their genitals in her face, grabbed her breasts and buttocks, and made sexually suggestive comments to her, she said.

    “It was constant, and it was too much,” Salcedo added.

    After she told officials that she had been assaulted, she said she was placed in segregation for a week.

    “They said they were trying to protect me, but I was actually being punished further for just being me,” she said.

    In 2015, ICE outlined a Transgender Care Memo, and an agency official wrote that its “ultimate goal with regard to this population is to find facility partners willing to adopt the best practices.”

    But immigrant detainees are often put in solitary after accusing staff members or other residents of sexual assault, according to NBC News. Victims often believe they are being punished by ICE for reporting abuse.

    Salcedo, who founded TransLatin@ Coalition, said that when she visits detention centers as an advocate, she hears similar stories to her own. She said that “really, things have not changed.”

    ICE detainees can also be placed in solitary for protesting or for expressing mental health problems, advocates say.

    Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director at the Atlanta-based non-profit Project South, said that other immigrants at the Stewart Detention Center have been segregated “in retaliation” because they’ve gone on hunger strikes to spark administrative interest.

    “They have filed complaints,” Shahshahani said. “Nobody has paid attention to them. And so basically their last option is to put their bodies on the line.”

    And a mother at Karnes County Residential Center in Texas alleged that she and her 11-year-old son were put in medical isolation there as punishment after going on a fast. The account came from a congressional employee who had visited the center, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) told NBC.

    “I believe they were putting women and children -- young babies, infants even -- into solitary confinement for punishment measures,” he said.

    During a hearing of the House Committee on the Judiciary in April 2015, Johnson asked former ICE Director Sarah R. Saldaña about the charge.

    “I am not aware of that incident,” Saldaña said. “... If that is a fact, that disturbs me greatly.”

    In its directive, ICE says that detainees on hunger strikes can be placed in segregation for their medical safety.

    An ICE spokesperson wrote that, “The ICE family residential centers do not have segregation areas. Special monitoring or cohorting may be done in cases where it is deemed medically necessary.”

    Advocates respond that while family detention facilities do not have cells explicitly used for solitary confinement, rooms in the medical wing can be used as segregation chambers.

    If detainees admit to considering harming themselves, they are often subjected to segregation, which can exacerbate their issues. In its 2013 memo, ICE says that immigrants can be placed in solitary for “mental illness” or “suicide risk.”

    “It has been my experience that detainees are reluctant to express anxiety or depression out of fear that that would lead to them being put into segregation,” Free said.

    Attorneys sometimes try to use their clients’ segregation as a reason for release or transfer. Scott, for example, cited Mulugeta’s long-term stay in the special housing unit in a letter to the New Orleans field office director advocating for his discharge. He wrote that Mulugeta had been maced in his cell, and that he had been denied the opportunity to meet with his attorney on multiple occasions, which he called a “serious constitutional violation.”

    But when asked, immigrant attorneys could not think of any lawsuits that specifically targeted the use of solitary confinement at ICE facilities. They also couldn’t cite any larger movement fighting against the systemic employment of segregation by ICE officials.

    “As immigration lawyers, we do have unified efforts on a lot of things, but it’s usually not that,” Scott said.

    Free echoed him, saying, “I don’t think that that exists.”

    A little over a year after his release, Mendez recalled how many of those in segregation hadn’t done anything wrong, and how unreasoned discipline was. While he and other detainees were shut in for months, actual bullies and troublemakers faced no consequences for their actions, he said.

    “There were some people they punished for no reason, and others who were guilty but were allowed to live freely,” Mendez said.

    Even after leaving detention, he insists that he never had sexual relations with his then-boyfriend while they were at Stewart.

    “We only sent each other letters,” he said. “What they accused us of never happened.”

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    Jose Mendez shows letters he exchanged with another detainee.Jose Mendez shows letters he exchanged with another detainee.

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    Two people escaped the fiery wreckage of a small plane that crashed Friday morning on the 405 Freeway in Orange County, clipped a pickup and skidded to a stop against a median as it burst into flames. 

    The crash occurred at the MacArthur Boulevard exit ramp near John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana as the Cessna 310 arrived for a landing. Two people -- a man and a woman in their 50s and 60s -- were on the plane, which caught fire and produced a tower of smoke that could be seen for miles around by drivers and workers in nearby office buildings.

    Details regarding the victims' conditions were not immediately available.

    "It was a very surreal moment," said witness Korosh Torkzadeh, who works in the area. "I didn't really hear an impact. I thought the plane had actually made it to the airport, but then we saw it on the 405 Freeway."

    Torkzadeh said authorities' response time was "almost instant."

    The plane went down around 9:30 a.m. just short of the runway, which is adjacent to the freeway, at John Wayne Airport, said Deanne Thompson, public information officer for the airport. The pilot declared an emergency shortly after taking off from John Wayne Airport and trying to return to the airport, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

    Ray Spitzer was going surfing for his birthday when he saw the explosion.

    "We're going about 65, 70 mph and then we started slowing down quick, so I pulled the car over," Spitzer said.

    Witnesses said the plane appeared to crash on the northbound side of the freeway and ended up on the southbound side. Blackstone Hamilton said the plane clipped the rear of his pickup.

    "The rear-end of my struck was spun around," Hamilton said. "Thought at first it was a big rig that hit us.

    "I checked my passenger, made sure he was ok. We gave each other a hug that we were still alive. That's life, I guess."

    It appears that no other vehicles were struck by the plane, but drivers swerved around debris and avoided the flaming wreckage.

    "There was debris all over the freeway," said witness Christian Romo. "It was insane. It was really scary. We were just praying instantly that they're ok and that their families are ok."

    Romo said the plane tilted to its side and almost turned upside-down as it crashed into the freeway median. Several drivers stopped on the side of the road to help the plane's two occupants before firefighters arrived to douse the flames and treat the injured.

    "The fact that a plane was able to land and only strike a single vehicle is extraordinary," Orange County Fire Capt. Larry Kurtz said.

    Airport departures were not affected, but the airport was closed to arrivals until about 10:30 a.m., according to airport officials.

    The freeway was closed after the crash.

    Photo Credit: Terry Luh
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    Fire burst from the belly of a plane that crashed Friday June 30, 2017 on the 405 Freeway in Santa Ana.Fire burst from the belly of a plane that crashed Friday June 30, 2017 on the 405 Freeway in Santa Ana.

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