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Environmentalists Dispute Republican Claims Over "Job-Killing" Regulations


President Donald Trump is focused on fossil fuels to buoy the economy, but a report out this month found that solar energy companies employed more workers to generate electric power last year than coal, oil and natural gas combined.

Solar energy accounted for 43 percent of the workforce engaged in electric power generation, twice the number working in fossil fuel, or 374,000 people compared to 187,117, according to the report from the U.S. Department of Energy. Wind energy was third in the rankings.

The solar energy dominance is largely a result of construction related to its expansion, according to the report.

Though dwarfed by fossil fuels, solar energy grew tremendously in the last decade. Electric generation from solar energy increased by more than 5,000 percent between 2006 and 2016 compared to a 33 percent increase for natural gas and a 53 percent drop for coal.

But when Trump addressed Republican legislators at their retreat in Philadelphia on Jan. 26, he made no mention of green energy.

“We will unleash the full power of American energy, ending the job-killing restrictions on shale, oil, natural gas and clean, beautiful coal,” he said to applause. “And we’re going to put our coal miners back to work.”

Republicans are similarly emphasizing “job-killing regulations” as the U.S. Senate considers Trump’s choices to head the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Interior and the Energy Department — Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt for the EPA, Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana for the Department of Interior and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry for the Energy Department. The vote to move Pruitt’s nomination from committee to the full Senate is expected on Wednesday, and  Zinke’s and Perry’s were approved Tuesday.

At Pruitt's confirmation hearing, Republican Sen. John Barrasso blamed EPA overreach for crushing energy jobs in Wyoming, where last week some lawmakers took the unheard of position of demanding that utilities be fined if they provide energy produced from wind or solar energy. And West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said the EPA gave little attention, as required by law, to the economic effect of its policies in her state — where coal mining jobs dropped 23 percent from 2015 to 2017 and six of its counties are in a severe depression.

Environmental activists counter that not only do regulations affect only a small number of jobs but that the GOP calculus ignores the boom in green jobs and the costs of a degraded environment.

“Number one compared to many other things, the regulations cause very few loss of jobs,” said Jim Marston, vice president for clean energy at the Environmental Defense Fund. “Number two, for every job spent on regulations, you’re creating jobs. And three, there are a whole host of benefits, whether they’re cutting down on waste or reducing air pollution, that ought to be part of the calculus.”

Marston pointed to California as an example. In December, when California Gov. Jerry Brown defended the science of climate change at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union, he put California’s economic growth up against Texas'. Far from hindering California’s growth, climate rules contributed to the state’s economic rise, Brown said.

“California is growing a hell of a lot faster than Texas, and we have more sun than you have oil,” he said.

California added 483,000 jobs in 2015, a growth rate of 3 percent, which was twice as fast as Texas’ 1.5 percent rate, PolitiFact found. California’s employment gains slowed to 2 percent last year through November, but still outpaced Texas’ 1.6 percent.

And by the measure of GDP, California’s grew faster than Texas’ in the first two quarters of the year — 2 percent and 2.2 percent for California compared to 1.3 percent and a negative 0.8 percent for Texas, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Fossil fuels dominate American energy consumption, with petroleum accounting for 36 percent in 2015, natural gas for 29 percent, coal for 16 percent, renewable energy for 10 percent and nuclear electric power for 9 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. And petroleum and other liquid fuels are expected to continue to make up the largest share of U.S. energy consumption through 2040, though the share will decline slightly, the administration projects.

The trade association representing the oil and natural gas industry, the American Petroleum Institute, argues its industry can create more jobs and expand the economy and it wants to Trump to ease restrictions on drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. In December, former President Barack Obama banned new offshore oil and gas drilling in millions of federally owned acres along the Atlantic and Alaska coasts.

Restrictions have has left 94 percent of off-shore acres off limits to energy exploration, up from 87 percent a few months ago, the American Petroleum Institute says.

“The U.S. energy renaissance has demonstrated that it’s not only possible to balance economic growth and energy security with environmental stewardship, it should be the focus of federal regulatory policy,” said Marty Durbin, the organization’s executive vice president, in a statement.

Government mandates are threatening to undermine U.S. energy production and raise consumer costs, Durbin said. He complained of lower ozone emissions regulations issued by the EPA in 2015 that he argued were too stringent but that environmentalists said were too lax. He urged significant reform of the country’s renewable fuel standard, which requires that gasoline sold in the United States contain a minimum volume of renewable fuels and which is supported by Republicans such as Iowa’s Sen. Joni Ernst.

“Federal regulatory policy can either strengthen or weaken the U.S. energy resurgence, with impacts that extend far beyond our sector,” Durbin said.

But if Texas leads the country in the production of oil, it also is setting records in wind. Its thriving market in wind power was spurred in part by President George W. Bush and Perry, who together deregulated electricity in the state while they were governors and set targets for renewable energy. A federal production tax credit has been key to its success, its proponents say.

Greg Wortham, the former mayor of Sweetwater, Texas, whom the Sierra Club dubbed the "mayor of wind," points out that most of states with large wind potential are Republican. He favors a mix of energy sources, and compromises in the energy battles.

“The market is saying we want solar, we want wind, we want natural gas,” said Wortham, now the executive director of the Texas Wind Energy Clearinghouse.

A report from the Environmental Integrity Project released this month found that only two-tenths of one percent of layoffs are caused by government regulations of any kind, including environmental ones.

Other points made in the study, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget:


  • For every job lost due to regulations, 15 are eliminated because of corporate cost cutting and 30 are due to ownership or other organizational changes.
  • For each dollar spent, solar and wind energy projects create twice as many jobs as coal or natural gas, economists at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, calculated in 2009. That includes more jobs in manufacturing and construction, and more jobs at an average hourly wage of $24.50.
  • Over the last decade, the benefits of environmental regulations have exceeded the costs they impose by a rate of more than ten to one, according to the federal Office of Management and Budget.


This was the second year that the Department of Energy published a jobs report, called the U.S. Energy and Employment Report, that analyzed how changes in the country's energy profile are affecting national employment.

"Whether producing natural gas or solar power at increasingly lower prices or reducing our consumption of energy through smart grids and fuel efficient vehicles, energy innovation is proving itself as the important driver of economic growth in America, producing 14 percent of the new jobs in 2016," David Forster, the Department of Energy's senior advisor on industrial and economic policy, said in a statement.

Solar employment is continuing to grow, with an expected rise of 7 percent this year, the report noted.

Trump has so far shown little enthusiasm for solar energy, and has criticized its cost. Some investors though note his alliance with Elon Musk, the founder of Telsa, the all-electric car company, which late last year merged with the solar panel manufacturer SolarCity. Musk criticized Trump before the election, but since then has joined the president's forum of business advisors.

And the president has been persistently opposed to wind turbines, at least when they are built too close to two golf courses he owns in Scotland. After an an offshore 11-turbine wind farm was proposed near his course in Aberdeen, he tweeted that English taxpayers should “stop subsidizing the destruction of Scotland by paying massive subsidies for ugly wind turbines,” Politico wrote in November. 

As for climate change, Trump famously wrote that it was a hoax.

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” he tweeted in 2012.

Trump said later that he was joking, but this month China announced that it would spend more than $360 billion on renewal energy by 2020 as it moves away from coal-fired plants that leaves cities like Beijing under a heavy, unhealthy layer of soot. The money will create 13 million jobs in China, which has already helped to push green energy investments across the globe to record highs and the costs in wind and solar industries to new lows. Industry observers say the United States is in danger of losing its chance to lead the industry.

The International Renewal Energy Agency released its own annual job review last year and found the renewable workforce had risen 5 percent, accounting for 8.1 million jobs in 2015. Solar photovoltaic was the largest employer with 2.8 million jobs across the world, an 11 percent increase over the year before, and jobs continued to shift toward Asia, where the share of the continent in global employment rose to 60 percent. Growth was likely to slow but doubling the share of renewables in the global energy mix would mean more than 24 million jobs worldwide by 2030, the agency predicted.

Meanwhile, Trump's nominees acknowledge that the climate is changing but stop short of agreeing with the opinion of most climate change scientists actively publishing studies, 97 percent of whom agree that human activities are the primary driver of climate-warming trends, according to NASA.

Perry said during his confirmation hearing that efforts to address climate change should not cost American jobs or economic growth. 

Zinke said he did not believe climate change was a hoax, but argued that there was debate over how much human activity was contributing.

And Pruitt said he continued to doubt the effect human activity is having on climate change.

"Science tells us the climate is changing and human activity in some matter impacts that change," Pruitt said, but added, "The ability to measure and pursue the degree and the extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue."

An EPA analysis of the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act concluded that the benefits significantly outweigh the cost -- reaching about $2 trillion by 2020 at cost of $65 billion. Most of the benefits were a result of reducing the risk of early deaths from being exposed to fine particle pollution.

Photo Credit: LightRocket via Getty Images
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Man Fired Bullet into Neighboring Apartment: Hamden Police


A Hamden woman found a bullet in her bedroom after her neighbor allegedly fired off a gun while uploading it, according to police.

Police said Brian Rango, 25, who lives in an apartment complex at 640 Mix Avenue, was unloading his gun Sunday when he shot it off. The bullet went through the ceiling into the bedroom of the apartment below. No one was injured, police said.

Rago was charged with second-degree reckless endangerment and unlawful discharge of a firearm. He is scheduled to appear in court on Feb. 9.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Mild Temperatures and Scattered Snow Showers


Mild temperatures and windy today followed by a big cool down for Friday and the weekend.

Temperatures today will rise to near 40 degrees inland and middle 40s at the shore. This will help melt some of the snow that fell yesterday. Generally 2 to 3 inches of snow fell statewide with a few isolated areas that saw 3.5 inches.

In addition to the mild temperatures winds will be gusty, westerly winds will be sustained at 10 to 15 mph with gusts to 25 mph. This will make temperatures feel much cooler than they actually are.

We're forecasting snow showers to move into the state during late afternoon and early evening hours. The snow showers will be very isolated and will mostly affect the western half of the state. 

The weather turns quiet and cold for the remainder of the week. The next chance for precipitation heads towards the state on Sunday with snow or rain showers possible.

Temperatures turns quite chilly for Friday and Saturday with high temperatures struggling to reach 30 degrees and overnight lows in the teens and single digits.

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Hartford Yard Goats to Host Job Fair


The Hartford Yard Goats will hold a job fair Saturday, Feb. 11, to hire for their first season in the city, team officials announced.

The Yard Goats and their food and beverage provider, Professional Sports Catering, are looking to hire for around 300 positions for each season including ushers, ticket takers, box office personnel, merchandising, housekeeping, grounds crew, concessions, kitchen personnel and catering.

LAZ Parking, Dunkin’ Donuts and the Hartford Police Department will also be at the fair to discuss potential jobs at their organizations.

The event will be at the Wilson-Gray YMCA Youth & Family Center at 444 Albany Avenue and run from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Some free parking will be available.

The Yard Goats home opener is scheduled for Thursday, April 13.

RHAM Teacher Hit by Car in West Hartford Has Died: Police


A 30-year-old RHAM High School teacher who was hit by a car in West Hartford last Wednesday night has died, according to police.

Police said Andrej Cavarkapa, 30, of West Hartford, was jogging west on Asylum Avenue at 6:35 p.m. on Jan. 25 when a 19-year-old South Windsor man going south on Trout Brook Drive hit him.

Cavarkapa was brought to Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford with critical injuries and died Tuesday, according to police. 

Supt. Robert Siminski, of Regional School District 8, said Cavarkapa was a physics teacher at RHAM.

"He is a good teacher, well respected by his colleagues and he has a really good relationship with his students," Siminski said last week. "He's an artist, a scientist, a real renaissance guy."  

Witnesses told police the driver had a green light on Trout Brook Drive and police said he proceeded through the intersection and hit Cavarkapa, who apparently jogged into the path of the car.

The traffic lights were functioning properly and the driver is cooperating with police, according to a news release from the West Hartford police department.

Police continue to investigate the crash.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Governor Nominates Gregory D’Auria to State Supreme Court


Gov. Dannel Malloy is nominating Gregory T. D’Auria, of Hebron, to serve as an associate justice on the Connecticut Supreme Court and fill the spot on the bench Associate Justice Peter T. Zarella held until retiring in December. 

“Being nominated to our state’s highest court is an immense responsibility – it has the final say on so many issues that impact all of our lives and must ensure that our valued constitutional principles are upheld with fairness, competence, ethics, and justice. I am pleased to nominate Greg to the Supreme Court and I am confident that his history of public service will continue with distinction on the bench,” Malloy said in a statement. 

D’Auria graduated UConn in 1985 with a B.A. in Political Science, and from the UConn School of Law in 1988, where he also served as editor-in-chief of the Connecticut Journal of International Law.  

He has worked in the Office of the Attorney General for more than 23 years, in a variety of roles, including his current position as Associate Attorney General/Solicitor General, where he has primarily focused on supervising the appellate litigation for the agency and also served in the role of training and assisting other attorneys throughout the agency on state and federal appeals. 

“I am honored by and thankful to Governor Malloy for his trust in me. I have devoted much of my career to practicing before our state Supreme Court and understand fully the tremendous responsibility that accompanies this position,” D’Auria said in a statement. “If the General Assembly confirms me, the governor’s nomination will allow me the chance to continue to serve the state's citizens, which has been my privilege during 23 years working for the Attorney General’s Office.” 

The governor’s nomination of D’Auria will go to the General Assembly for confirmation.

Photo Credit: Governor Malloy

Missing Bobcat Found on Zoo Land


The bobcat missing from the National Zoo since Monday morning has been found on zoo grounds, the zoo said Wednesday.

Shortly before 5 p.m., the Zoo issued a press release about their find, including a photo of Ollie the bobcat in a cage. The Zoo has a press conference planned for Wednesday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, Zoo curators had said that they had stopped searching the northwest Washington neighborhoods of Woodley Park and Cleveland Park neighborhoods for Ollie, though they would continue to respond to tips about sightings of the animal.

"We're entering the next phase of our recovery efforts," zoo curator Craig Saffoe said at the time.

He said his nine-person staff needed to be realistic about how they can search for the animal, which is not known to be aggressive to humans.

"My staff works with lions and tigers, so I can't have them out at all hours of the night and then come back at 6:30 in the morning and work with dangerous carnivores," Saffoe said.

Zoo curators said they were hopeful that Ollie would be found.

They encouraged people who believe they see Ollie to call the zoo.

Zoo staff had received a tip late Tuesday that the bobcat was spotted on Massachusetts Avenue. But by the time someone was able to arrive, the animal was gone.

They had received mutiple tips about possible sightings of the bobcat in Woodley Park and Cleveland Park. As a result, more than a dozen schools moved activities indoors Tuesday, a D.C. Public Schools spokeswoman said. American University warned students about the bobcat in an emergency text message sent Monday. 

Neighbors said they weren't worried, exactly, just ... remaining observant.

"I wish that it was in its cage, rather than roaming the streets of D.C.," said Drew Montmarquet, who was visiting the zoo Tuesday.

Joey Jimenez, who lives near the zoo and in the area where Ollie was reported to have been spotted, said he was looking out while taking his small dog out on walks. "I was kind of alarmed, because I have to walk her out at nighttime," Jimenez said.

Ollie, who weighs 25 pounds, was discovered missing Monday when a zookeeper went to feed the bobcats at 10:40 a.m.

Dr. Brandie Smith, associate director of animal care sciences for the zoo, said Monday that it looked like one of the ropes that holds the bobcats' mesh enclosure had broken. Smith said it didn't look like a deliberate act, but the break left a gap through which they believe Ollie was able to escape. 

Saffoe said on Monday that Ollie is a capable hunter and will be able to care for herself while on the loose.

"Cats are... they're survivors. This is not like she's out in an area, in an environment that she can't survive," Saffoe said, noting that bobcats are indigenous to the D.C. area, although rare. 

Saffoe said Ollie was equipped to survive and that bobcats sometimes catch birds that land in their enclosure.

He was not completely confident they will be able to find her.

"We are doing everything we can to ensure that we can get her back. The likelihood that we get her back? I mean, I'd be lying to you if I said that we're definitely going to get her back," Saffoe said. 

He said it was more likely that Ollie would return to her enclosure on her own.

Smith said zookeepers train for "events like this," so they immediately began a search after discovering Ollie was missing. However, they quickly changed tactics out of fear that they could end up scaring her away.

"We actually created a bigger perimeter search so that any looking would drive her toward her exhibit," Smith said.

Ollie has a chip for identification purposes but not a tracker. She was born in the wild and is close to 7 years old. 

"There's food, there's shelter, there's warmth at her exhibit," Smith said.

Bobcats can run up to 30 mph and are excellent climbers, according to the zoo's webpage on the animal. At the zoo, they eat prepared meat, mice, rats and chicks. In the wild, they eat rabbits, hares, squirrels and mice. 

"She is a carnivore, so for small birds, small animals in the area, which could even include small cats and dogs, she could be a threat," Smith said Monday. "I would treat her the same way that I would treat a stray dog. You wouldn't approach a stray dog. And she's the same thing. She's not a threat unless you become a threat to her."

The most recent animal to escape the zoo was an agouti, which is a small mammal, in July 2015, a zoo spokeswoman said. The agouti escaped from an exterior habitat but was found on the walkway and was easily recaptured, she said.

In 2013, a red panda named Rusty famously escaped from the National Zoo. He was recaptured in D.C.'s Adams Morgan neighborhood the following afternoon. A resident, Ashley Foughty, spotted Rusty and tweeted pictures that helped keepers find him in a tree. 

Zoo officials said Rusty likely escaped the zoo by "climbing across a 'bridge' created by rain-laden trees and bamboo" -- and he probably did it for a snack of some nearby bamboo, they said. 

Stay with News4 for more details on this developing story.

Photo Credit: Steve Sarro, Smithsonian's National Zoo

Iraqi Anti-ISIS Activist Likely Won’t Come to US for Ceremony


An Iraqi lawmaker who’s been called ISIS's "most wanted woman" may not travel to the United States to receive a human rights award due to President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, NBC News reported.

Vian Dakhil is set to receive the Lantos Human Rights Prize for 2016 for her work on behalf of the Yazidi people, a religious minority group targeted by the Islamic State.

But Dakhil told NBC News that she’s unsure whether she'll be able to attend the ceremony. She has a visa, but said she’s afraid someone in the airport will tell her she can't enter.

The State Department and the foundation recognizing her are working to ensure her a safe trip to the U.S., but Dakhil said she hasn’t received any solid answers yet. Dakhil is being recognized for her defense of the Yazidi people, and her "ongoing mission on behalf of enslaved Yazidi women."

Photo Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Seal at Maritime Aquarium Makes Super Bowl Pick


If Orange has anything to say about it, the New England Patriots will win the Super Bowl Sunday. 

On Wednesday, the Aquarium seal exhibit at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk was lined with images of the Patriots’ and Atlanta Falcons’ helmets. 

When instructed to go to the exhibit window, Orange decisively swam to – and held her nose against – a Patriots’ helmet, indicating her pick. 

It might sound like good news for Patriots fan, but the aquarium’s seals so far are zero for five in predicting the winner of the NFL championship game. 

Orange is one of six harbor seals at The Maritime Aquarium. Their public feedings are offered at 11:45 a.m. and 1:45 and 3:45 p.m. daily. 

For more details about animals, exhibits, programs and IMAX movies at the popular Connecticut family attraction, go to www.maritimeaquarium.org.

Photo Credit: The Maritime Aquarium
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How Many People Are Affected by Trump's Travel Ban?


President Donald Trump has defended his controversial travel ban as being narrowly focused.

He has tweeted that "only 109 out of 325,000" people were detained and held for questioning, referring to the first, chaotic day after he signed his executive order. It halts the United States refugee program for four months and stops travellers from entering the country seven majority-Muslim countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — for 90 days.

But the order seems to affect the tens of thousands of people who were issued visas by the United States from those seven countries. They can't return to the U.S. or fear they won't be able to return if they left, a dramatic change for America's borders that has sparked protests and legal action across the country. 

In 2015, the U.S. issued nearly 90,000 visas to people from the affected countries, the most recent year for which State Department data was available. Over 100,000 visas were issued last year, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

One of those stuck abroad is Khaled Almilaji, a Syrian doctor who has been attending Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, on a scholarship. He's studying ways to rebuild his country's health system after risking his life to provide medical care during Syria's civil war, coordinating a campaign that vaccinated 1.4 million Syrian children.

He told The Associated Press that his pregnant wife remains in the United States while he's stuck in Turkey. 

"It is really sad where the world is going to," Almilaji said.

He's not alone. U.S. companies and universities have warned staff members and students not to travel abroad if they are affected by the executive order.

Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities, said that it was in the nation's best interest to attract scholars and innovators instead of barring their entry.

"The order is stranding students who have been approved to study here and are trying to get back to campus, and threatens to disrupt the education and research of many others," Coleman said in a statement.

And the number of visa holders affected by the ban don't take into account the many refugees who also would have come into the country if not for Trump's order. Syrian refugees are barred indefinitely under the order.

About 85,000 refugees were admitted to the U.S. in 2016, according to the Department of State's Refugee Processing Center.

Edward Alden, an immigration expert with the Council on Foreign Relations, said it will be unlikely to get a final count of the number of people affected by the order. 

"There are a lot of effects that are hard to quantify, and it's going to go way beyond the people from those seven countries," Alden said, suggesting it may change the perception immigrants have of America as a welcoming place.

"We also don't know that this is going to be temporary. This could easily turn into something more permanent," he added.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration has consistently defended its actions as limited in scope.

Defending the action on Monday amid a rocky rollout, presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway called the ban a “temporary and mild inconvenience” and press secretary Sean Spicer said it was a “small price to pay” to keep Americans safe.

A Customs and Border Patrol official gave updated figures for the number of people affected by the ban on Tuesday: 721 travelers with visas from affected countries weren't allowed onto flights to the United States with three days of the order, while waivers were given to 1,060 lawful permanent residents of the U.S., known as green card holders, and 75 waivers to visa holders.

Spicer said Wednesday that waivers would no longer be required for green card holders, the latest change to the implementation of the order.

Refugees who had planned travel prior to the executive order from areas where there would otherwise suffer "undue hardship" are still being considered for waivers, officials said. Customs and Border Patrol expects 872 refugees to arrive this week, and waivers will continued to be processed for them.

Trump has said that visas will once again be issued to all countries "once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies." 

But to Alden, the effects of the temporary travel ban will be felt long after it's lifted.

"I think we can say for sure that admission numbers are going to be much lower this year," Alden said. "But the impact will be a lot broader than the numbers will indicate." 

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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Defections Put DeVos Nomination in Peril


Two Republican senators announced Wednesday they will vote against confirming Betsy DeVos, imperiling her chances of becoming the next Secretary of Education, NBC News reported. 

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska both said they cannot support DeVos, a charter school and voucher program advocate. Her nomination already has received opposition from Democrats, and Collins and Murkowski’s announcements put pressure on other moderate Republican senators to follow their lead as opponents of DeVos continue to inundate phone lines of congressional offices.

Republicans hold a 52-seat majority in the senate. In the event of a tie, Vice President Mike Pence would cast the tie-breaking vote.

Photo Credit: AP

Man Finds Fire After Hearing 'Clicking' from Meditation Room


Fire broke out at a home in Hamden early Wednesday morning and one man who lives there was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation. 

The fire broke out at 5:40 a.m. on Hartford Turnpike. The report was that smoke was coming from the front door and fire was breaking through a window in the front of the home. 

The residents were out of the house by the time firefighters arrived and the fire was under control at 6:06 a.m. 

Officials said the 37-year-old man who lives in the house woke early and heard “clicking” noises in the family’s meditation room and saw flames when he looked inside. 

The homeowner evacuated his 41-year-old wife and 10- and 15-year-old daughters and his elderly father. He also tried to extinguish the fire with a fire extinguisher but heat and smoke made it impossible. 

He was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation but declined transport to a hospital. No one else was injured. 

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Photo Credit: Submitted

25 Percent of Sick Students Prompts Meriden School Closure


A school in Meriden will be voluntarily closed after the health department found nearly a quarter of students had become sick. 

The St. Joseph's School on West Main Street will be closed Wednesday to Monday following the Health of Human Services for Meriden Health Department's recommendation. 

"We recommend to all Meriden residents to follow good hygiene practices in order to reduce either contracting illnesses or spreading illnesses," Lea Crown, the director of Health and Human Services for Meriden Health Department, said. 

Crown said the department has been in contact with the school about a steady number of absences due to illnesses among students and teachers-- the highest report from the school being 25 percent students and 25 percent staff. 

The average number of absences during this time of year for illness can vary between 5 and 11 percent.

"We are mostly seeing gastrointestinal illnesses, stomach aches, headaches, sore throats, and illnesses with flu-like symptoms," Crown said. "These are the same symptoms seen at St. Josephs."

The health department is not recommending any other school be closed at this time. 

St. Joseph's School will reopen on Monday, Feb. 5. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Blend Images RM

Marathon Bombing Survivor to Marry Fireman Who Rescued Her


Boston Marathon bombing survivor Roseann Sdoia is set to marry the firefighter who rescued her.

According to the New York Post, Sdoia and Mike Materia got engaged last month and are planning a fall wedding.

Sdoia was watching the marathon in April 2013 when a bomb went off just feet away from her, and she wound up losing part of her right leg. Materia, a Boston firefighter, came to her aid and visited Sdoia in the days that followed. They became friends and began dating several months later.

"He's seen me on my worst day," Sdoia told the New York Post.

The couple is scheduled to be in New York on Wednesday night to participate in the 40th annual Empire State Building Run-Up on Wednesday night to raise money for charity.

Photo Credit: FILE - AP

'Here I Am': Texas Mayor Comes Out as Transgender


A small town in North Texas just got a big headline. 

Jess Herbst, the mayor of New Hope, wrote a letter to residents this week saying she is transgender.

"Society finally has a chance to see and learn about who we are," Herbst wrote, linking her announcement to prominent transgender figures like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox. "It is gender identity not sexual preference that applies to me. I love my wife, and she loves me, we have no intention of change."

New Hope is located three miles east of McKinney in Collin County. Its population is just over 600 residents. 

Herbst was appointed mayor in May, after serving as mayor pro tem. She has served the city since 2003, also as alderperson and road commissioner.

Herbst's announcement comes with a bill before the Texas legislature that would ban transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice, following the lead of North Carolina's controversial HB2 law that resulted in boycotts.

In her letter, Herbst acknowledged that she did not foresee becoming mayor — she took over the role in May when longtime Mayor Johnny Hamm was re-elected despite having died days earlier.

"Two years ago, with the support of my wife, daughters and son-in-law, I began Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). At the time, I did not imagine I would hold the Mayors (sic) position, but here I am."

Herbst said she will continue to serve as mayor and encourages anyone with questions or comments to contact her, or visit her website to learn more about her transition. 

She said in her letter that the customers of her business have been understanding.

"I have received emails congratulating me, calling me brave and even one expressing pride in living in a town with a mayor like me," Herbst told the Huffington Post. "I never hoped for more than simple tolerance, the outpouring of support is unprecedented."

Read her full letter here.

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News

How Does a Supreme Court Nominee Get Confirmed?


With President Donald Trump selecting Judge Neil Gorsuch as his nominee on the long-vacant Supreme Court seat, it's time for a refresher on the confirmation process.

Televised Senate Judiciary Committee hearings with the nominee get the process started, and then the committee votes, NBC News reported. If the nominee passes, he or she then is considered by the full Senate, where a simple majority is required for confirmation. Since 1975, the average wait for the confirmation vote has been about 67 days from the nomination.

But Supreme Court nominees can be filibustered, and at least one Democrat, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, has said he will try to block Trump's pick. Filibusters can be blocked, though, with something dramatically referred to as the "nuclear option."

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

New Britain Schools Respond to Donald Trump's Immigration Ban


Top Connecticut School Officials released statements regarding President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration and how their districts will respond. 

"I feel good. I'm from Puerto Rico, so when they say everyone is welcomed, I appreciate that," said Victor Santiago, who has a child who attends New Britain High School.

The proud parent said he supports New Britain Consolodated School District Superintendent Nancy Sarra for a statement released Wednesday regarding President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration restrictions.

The statement reads in part:

"The consolidated school district of New Britain will remain strong in support of our immigrant and refugee families. Our teachers, principals, social workers and other support staff are ready to support our children and families who may be experiencing distress."

Connecticut's Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell also released a statement regarding how districts across the state should react to the new order. 

"As you know, all children in the united states have a right to public education regardless of race, color, national origin, citizenship, immigration status, or the status of their parents/guardians," Wentzell said. 

Thhe Commissioner also said, in person:

"We had heard some reports from our superintendents and from our teachers that some of our kids were feeling unsafe at school. That they were crying, distressed, whether it was on behalf of their own situation or their family members or their classmates."

In the New Britain statement, Superintendent Sarra went on to say they have more than 150 students from seven countries impacted by the executive order and more than 2,000 from 67 other countries around the world.

For Santiago, hearing the school is not remaining silent is reassuring.

"For me everybody is the same. No matter where they come from," said Santiago.

The commissioner all said in her statement, she's urging schools to make counselors available for any students who are experiencing stress from the new executive order.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Board of Education to Create New Task Force for Disabled Students


There are concerns from some parents about disabled students in schools across the state after allegations that not all districts are meeting federal education guidelines for these students. 

These claims come from nearly 100 signatures on a petition from parents who said they need more options when it comes to educational plans for their children and more access to their children's classroom.

More than 20 parents testified before the Connecticut Board of Education Wednesday afternoon, all voicing concerns with the current federally instilled independent educational evaluations or IEE's their children with special needs receive.

The concern parents said is not all kids are being treated the same from school district to school district. Speakers proposed a new regulation allowing parents or independent evaluators to come to class with their child. A practice BOE attorney's said is already allowed. But parents argue it’s not consistent across the state.

"The concern is that some kids don't have that ability to tell us what's happening so it's imperative for parents to have that information," said mother Melissa Sullivan of Suffield.

After more than four hours board members decided to create a new task force. The team is assembled by school officials, other stake holders.

The objective will be to collect data from current federal IEE's and their implementation. Also collect input from future public discussions regarding both IEES's and matters proposed on the petition.

"If there are any problems, then the problems can be addressed by monitoring the enforcement of existing federal rules," said Board of Education Legal Director Peter Haberlandt.

The task force will have to report back to the BOE with their finding within the next 180 days with their findings.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

East Lyme Schools Looking To Update 3 Elementary Schools


A lack of air conditioning, better security and increasing enrollment are reasons the East Lyme Superintendent of Schools said the town's three elementary schools need upgrades.

The $37 million dollar project is in the hands of the Board of Selectmen Wednesday night, but it also comes with a price tag for taxpayers.

The average homeowner would need to foot an extra $300 to $400 dollars each year, for 20 years, according to First Selectman Mark Nickerson.

But after multiple proposals — one in the range of $100 million that involved building a brand new school — Nickerson said the three-school renovation is the most financially responsible prospect.

"It keeps everyone's house value up when you have good schools because the next family that's going to buy your home is looking for that community with a great school system," Nickerson said.

Superintendent Jeffrey Newton said all three elementary schools — Niantic Center, Flanders, and Lillie B. Haynes — need better air flow, need to become compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act, along with fixing broken ceiling tiles, getting new flooring, and new lighting.

"I'm a proud graduate of Niantic Center elementary school and it looks exactly the same as it does when I went there," Newton said.

Newton said enrollment keeps going up. Right now it's at 850 elementary school students. It's projected to increase to 900 to 1,000 students.

"We're seeing a lot of jobs that are on the rise through (Electric Boat) and that's driving some parents into the area as well," Newton said.

"Parents are pretty happy with the education their children get. But if you look around the buildings are aging," said Tara Dowling. Her son went through Niantic Center School. Her daughter is still a student there. She works at Lillie B. Haynes.

She believes he project will benefit the entire community.

"Just because your children grow it doesn't mean that you don't need to take care of the next group of kids that come through."

The Board of Selectmen is voting on the project Wednesday night. It would then move to the Board of Finance and eventually be put up for vote on a town referendum.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Record Number of Runners Raising Money for New Haven Organization Helping Refugees


A record number of runners are signed up for the 10th annual Run for Refugees in New Haven.

The annual fundraiser benefits IRIS, Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, which just last year helped more than 500 refugees resettle in Connecticut.

“It allows us to physically get out there and show our support for more families being resettled here,” said Amy Boratko, who signed up two weeks ago. “Since the election, I’ve wanted to get more involved in activism, but specifically in New Haven and I’ve long been an admirer of IRIS’ work.”

Boratko is part of a ten person team from the Yale School of Drama.

“I have never done anything that is part of a fundraising effort,” Daniel Cress said, “but I am absolutely ready to go on Sunday.”

“When we first started we tracked at about 300 runners,” IRIS Executive Director Chris George said.

After a surge in sign-ups since Friday, 2,500 hundred people are expected to run in this year’s 5K race on Super Bowl Sunday morning.

“So over the weekend a thousand people signed up,” George said, “I think it might have something to do with the executive orders.”

Citing security concerns and the goal of preventing terror attacks, President Donald Trump has suspended the refugee program for four months and indefinitely blocked the arrival of Syrian refugees.

George said the record number of runners are sending a message to Trump’s administration.

“No you can’t do that,” George said, “this is our finest American tradition, we support refugee resettlement, we believe refugees coming here are thoroughly vetted.”

With less federal funding this year, George said the private donations from runners will be critical to support the services IRIS provides for refugees now living in Connecticut, like housing, healthcare and teaching English as a second language.

“I feel like the united states should welcome those in need with open arms,” Boratko said.

Run for Refugees starts 10 a.m. Sunday at Wilbur Cross High School. It will be followed by a March for Refugees.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut
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