Update, 11:58 a.m.
NEW LONDON, CT -- The chairman of the state's Republican Party has called for State Rep. Ernest Hewett of New London to step down following a remark he made to a 17-year-old girl last week.
According to the Hartford Courant, GOP chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. criticized House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey's decision to strip Hewett of his deputy speaker title in response to the incident as a "slap on the wrist." Labriola said the Connecticut General Assembly has the ability to inflict a harsher punishment on Hewett, such as an official censure calling on him to resign, and that Hewett would "save the legislature some valuable time" by stepping down.
"Representative Hewett’s offensive remark was a disgrace and an embarrassment," Labriola said. "The fact that it was made to a 17 year-old intern visiting the State Capitol to attend a public hearing sends an absolutely atrocious message."
Update, 10:55 a.m.
Rep. Ernest Hewett has apologized to a 17-year-old girl for a remark he made to her during a public hearing of the Appropriations Committee.
According to the Hartford Courant, Hewett made the apology through Connecticut Science Center CEO Matt Fleury. Fleury said he, the girl, and her parents were attending the hearing and that none of them heard Hewett's remark clearly. He said he was unaware that the remark could be interpreted as an offensive one until the appearance of later news accounts.
"Tonight I called Representative Hewett, who emphatically apologized. We believe him to be sincere," Fleury said in a statement. "We have passed his apology on to the student, and she has accepted it. We are honoring her desire to maintain her privacy."
The girl spoke at the Appropriations Committee's public hearing on Feb. 20 to advocate for funding for the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford, which would lose $630,000 under Gov. Dannel Malloy's budget.
A video recording of the hearing was unavailable on the Connecticut Network website. According to an audio recording posted on The Day, the girl spoke about her work with the center including how it had made her overcome her fear of snakes. During comments at the end of the girl's testimony, Hewett commented, "And if you're bashful, I've got a snake sitting under my desk here."
Hewett said he meant to make a humorous comment and later realized that the remark could be misconstrued. House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey stripped Hewett of his deputy speaker role, which he received in January, upon hearing the recording.
Rep. Ernest Hewett has lost his deputy leader position after Speaker of the House J. Brendan Sharkey determined that the New London representative made a sexually suggestive remark to a teenage girl.
According to the Connecticut Post, Sharkey stripped Hewett of the title after listening to a recording of a budget hearing before the Appropriations Committee last week. During the hearing, a 17-year-old intern from the Connecticut Science Center reportedly said her work at the center had helped her overcome her fear of snakes; Hewett allegedly responded by saying he had a live snake under his desk.
Sharkey said he considered the remark to be sexual innuendo and thought that it was "disturbing," according to the report. He said he did not think such language should be used in a public setting.
Connecticut Network takes video recordings of Connecticut General Assembly committee hearings, but a recording of the incident was not available in the site's archives.
Hewett said he took responsibility for the incident and apologized to the girl and his fellow legislators. According to The Day, Hewett said he meant to make another joking statement and realized later that his remark could be interpreted as sexual innuendo.
The loss of the deputy leader position comes with a $6,446 pay cut given to leaders above the regular $28,000 legislator's salary, according to the Connecticut Post.
Hewett, a Democrat who formerly served on the New London City Council and as the council's ceremonial mayor, has represented the city in the Connecticut General Assembly since his election in 2004. He easily won re-election to a fourth term last November.
Sharkey appointed Hewett as deputy speaker in January. According to an annoucement on Hewett's website, the role allowed Hewett to preside over business in the House of Representatives when Sharkey was absent. Hewett has also served as deputy majority leader in the legislature.
Hewett is serving on the Appropriations, Children, Judiciary, and Legislative Management committees for this term of the legislature.