Friday, March 3, 2017

WPKN Local News

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WPKN Local News is prepared from several sources including,,, The Suffolk Times,, and

Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford, Thomas Byrne, Chris Cadra, Nadine Dumser, Mike Merli, Anne Murray, Kristiana Pastir, Scott Schere, Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst and Melinda Tuhus

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

March 2017

Friday March 10, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: paid family leave legislation clears first hurdle in Connecticut; Justice Center authority questioned by New York State Attorney General; and, New York to join Washington State’s move to block new Trump immigration order.

On an 8-5 vote yesterday, the Labor and Public Employees Committee in Connecticut forwarded the House a bill that would allow employees to earn up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. The bill would allow employees to start contributing a portion of their paycheck to a Family and Medical Leave Fund Compensation Trust Fund in 2019, and to start using the system by July 1, 2020. The amount of money an employee on leave could receive would be capped at $1,000 per week.

The bill has been a priority of Democrats in the House and Senate.  Only one Republican, Senator Craig Miner (Litchfield) voted in favor of the House legislation yesterday. The other Republicans on the committee opposed the measure.

While employers would be mandated to help their employees set up a payroll deduction into the fund, there would be no funding required from businesses. Employees are the ones contributing to the fund so proponents of the legislation argue there’s no additional cost to employers, which is why several employers support it. At the same time, large business groups, like the National Federation of Independent Businesses, are against it.

If passed, Connecticut will become the seventh state to have paid family and medical leave. Other states providing paid family and medical leave include California, Washington, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts.

A case involving allegations of sex abuse by a teacher has raised potentially groundbreaking questions about the legal authority of a special agency created by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature to oversee institutions ranging from psychiatric hospitals to prisons for young offenders.

As part of the defense for alleged sex abuser Marina Viviani, her lawyer Michael Pollok, yesterday questioned the ability of the state’s Justice Center for the Protection of People With Special Needs to pursue the case because its prosecutors are unelected. Pollok contends that runs counter to the state constitution, which requires prosecutors to be elected by the voting public. While one might describe the argument as a mere defense tactic it has drawn the interest of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has joined the case. He, too, questions whether Justice Center prosecutors have the authority to bring criminal charges of their own.

The Justice Center was created by Cuomo and the Legislature in 2013 largely in response to a series in the New York Times about abuse and neglect of disabled New Yorkers who live in state-run hospitals and residences, and also in centers that are licensed by the state. Equipped with a hotline that people can call with complaints as well as a corps of investigators and lawyers, the Justice Center can prosecute those accused of abusing or neglecting people in their care.

According to the Albany Times-Union, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will on Monday join a lawsuit in the Western District of Washington state, seeking a restraining order against President Donald Trump’s revised executive order on immigration, or travel ban.

Schneiderman said in a statement Thursday: “President Trump’s latest executive order is a Muslim ban by another name, imposing policies and protocols that…violate the Equal Protection Clause and Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution. As the Trump White House has already said, the administration’s latest Muslim ban seeks to accomplish the same unlawful and unconstitutional outcomes as the original order. Smart, aggressive litigation by state attorneys general and civil rights advocates across the country successfully torpedoed President Trump’s first Muslim ban…we are now marshaling our resources to fight Trump’s latest, unconstitutional decree in the Ninth Circuit.”

Trump’s revised order, issued Monday, is set to take effect March 16.  Six countries are still subject to a 90-day ban on entry; Iraq was removed from the list. Travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen who hold visas or green cards may enter. Acceptance of refugees is still suspended for 120 days.

Hawaii filed a separate lawsuit against the order.

Thursday March 9, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Local Elected Officials Tell Connecticut Lawmakers To Take Teacher Pension Shift Off the Table; Connecticut Officials Launch Opposition to Affordable Care Act replacement; and, New York Governor’s administration details projected ‘devastating’ impacts of Affordable Care Act replacement.

A group of local elected officials said Thursday that it is illegal for Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy to shift about a third of the state’s contributions to the Teacher’s Retirement System to cities and towns. “We didn’t create this problem,” Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said. “... The problem is theirs today, not ours.”

David Grogins, an attorney with Cohen and Wolf, drafted an opinion that says the governor “cannot require municipalities to contribute” because state statute defines the allowable sources of funding. He said the only allowable sources of funding are contributions from teachers, appropriations from the General Assembly, bond proceeds, and earnings from investments. “It is clear in its mandate that these are the only funding sources,” Grogins said. He opined that Malloy’s proposal also violates the 2008 bond covenant the state created to help address the unfunded pension liability. “Statute specifically states that the proceeds of the sale of these bonds must be used to reduce the unfunded liability of the TRS Fund,” Grogins wrote. “The Governor’s proposal circumvents the mechanisms set forth in the Statute to address unfunded liabilities of the TRS Fund.” 

But the Malloy administration defended its proposal Thursday. “We understand that some communities would prefer not to lose this generous hidden subsidy from the state, but it is discouraging that they would hide behind spurious legal arguments rather than directly stating their opposition to paying for their own teachers’ pensions,” Chris McClure, a spokesman for Malloy, said.

He said they believe the proposal doesn’t violate the bond covenant. “We stand by our assertion that requiring the towns to pay only 1/3rd of the cost for the pensions of their employees is not just the right thing to do for the state, but is not violative of the bond covenant,” McClure said. “The relevant portion of the covenant states ‘there shall be deemed appropriated from the General Fund of the state the amount equal to the annual required contribution to the fund for the Connecticut teachers’ retirement system,’ which is exactly what we have proposed. The covenant is silent as to source of revenue to fund that appropriation.”

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and members of Connecticut’s Congressional delegation are criticizing a Republican proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with the American Health Care Act.  At an unrelated press conference Wednesday, Malloy said regardless of what happens with replacement efforts “they probably have put a nail in the coffin of the exchanges by withdrawing the mandate.” The individual mandate required Americans to purchase insurance or pay a penalty. Those penalties helped cover the cost of the law.  “It remains to be seen who will come forward to write in any of the states for any of the exchanges,” Malloy said. 

The exchanges provided a way for those in the individual market to purchase health insurance, if they didn’t have employer-sponsored insurance. There was a guarantee that it would be issued regardless of an individual’s medical history. Under the Republican proposal it’s unclear if those exchanges, which were supported by assessments on insurance companies, will continue to exist. U.S. Rep. John B. Larson said Wednesday that the process has been rushed and lacks transparency. He pointed out that the Congressional Budget Office hasn’t even had a chance to estimate how much it would cost and how many people would be covered. 

Connecticut insurance companies have to submit their rates for 2018 to the Insurance Department regulators by May 1, and ConnectiCare is continuing to work with legislators and regulators to ensure a stable and sustainable health insurance market.

The Albany Times-Union reports that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration is projecting that more than 1 million New Yorkers would face a significant loss of health coverage under the House Republicans’ American Health Care Act and more than $4.5 billion in costs would be shifted to the state, counties and hospitals over four years if that bill comes to pass. Those projections were accompanied by strong statements from Cuomo condemning the GOP’s plan as “regressive” and as a “direct assault on New York values.”

Cuomo’s Department of Health projects that some $2.4 billion in costs will be shifted to the state, counties and “safety net” hospitals beginning in 2020, and that could grow when the impact of Medicaid block grants is taken into account. The impact in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins April 1, is projected to be $240 million.

“Furthermore, this plan is a direct assault on New York values – defunding Planned Parenthood, restricting access to abortion and reproductive health services, and eliminating $400 million in means tested credits that lowered insurance costs for low-income New Yorkers, while slashing taxes on the wealthy,” Cuomo said, warning that with conservative opponents of the bill demanding changes, “as disturbing and devastating as the proposed cuts would be, the final result could be downright bone chilling.”

Wednesday March 8, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Lawmakers Quietly Kill Governor’s Quest to Lower Liquor Prices in Connecticut; Connecticut Police Chiefs Try Again To Require Gun Holders To Show Permit; and, Riverhead-North Fork ‘Unity Town Hall’ event planned to bring
local communities together.

The legislature’s General Law Committee quietly killed Democratic Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s bill to change Connecticut’s liquor laws Tuesday. The committee, which technically has until March 14 to approve legislation, decided to end its work early this year. That means the bill that would have allowed liquor, beer, and wine retailers to sell their alcohol below what they paid for it never got called for a vote. Rep. David Baram, D-Bloomfield, who co-chairs the General Law Committee, said Tuesday that they didn’t have enough support to pass it.

Malloy’s attempts to modernize Connecticut’s liquor laws and make them more friendly for consumers have met with resistance from the package store industry, which doesn’t believe it will be able to compete with large retailers and grocery stores. Carroll Hughes, executive director of the Connecticut Package Store Association, has argued that changing the law to eliminate the minimum bottle price would cause at least 600 package stores and 10 manufacturers of specialty spirit products to lose their businesses.

Total Wine & More, which has four stores in Connecticut, filed a lawsuit against the Department of Consumer Protection in August 2016 alleging that the state’s 35-year-old practice of regulating liquor prices constitutes a price-fixing scheme. The lawsuit is still pending and could go to trial at the earliest in 2018.

The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association and a handful of Democratic state lawmakers are trying again to pass a bill that would allow police officers to ask gun owners for their permit if they are openly carrying their weapon. A court decision clarified that gun owners only have to carry their permit. They don’t have to show it.

The decision put police chiefs in a tough spot. Police officers will receive calls about a person carrying a gun and they will have to respond to the location, but once they find the person carrying the weapon they can ask to see a permit to find out if the person is carrying the gun legally. However, that person doesn’t have to produce a permit for the officer. Farmington Police Chief Paul Melanson said Tuesday that they then have to call the person back who reported the person with the gun and tell them they were unable to figure out if the person was legally carrying a firearm. Melanson said: “What if that person carrying a firearm is outside a daycare? What do I tell the parents who have to come pick up their kids? … We’re just asking for the ability to protect the public the best way we know how,” Melanson said.

Judiciary Committee Co-Chairman Rep. William Tong (D-Stamford), said the legislation is straightforward and not complicated. He said it makes all the sense that if you’re openly carrying, a police officer should be able to ask you to present your permit. It’s not a gun bill and it’s not about gun owners, “it’s about police safety,” Tong said. Similar legislation passed the Public Safety and Security Committee last year, but was never called for a vote in the House.

Second amendment groups like the Connecticut Citizens Defense League say they are opposing the legislation again this year because it’s about a constitutionally protected right. “While most people would willingly show their pistol permit to a law enforcement officer asking to see it, it is another thing altogether for that same officer to simply demand it in the absence of any wrongdoing,” CCDL President Scott Wilson said. He said lawful gun owners understand and respect law enforcement, “but there is a reason why citizens have constitutional protections, and there is a reason why law enforcement has limits on their authority.” He said people “minding their own business who happen to carry a firearm deserve the same protection under the law. They should not be made second class citizens and denied constitutional rights afforded every other citizen.” 

But Tong maintained that the bill is not about gun owners and does not infringe on their rights. Tong’s message to gun owners: “This bill is not about you … If you’re carrying your firearm and you show your permit, it’s no problem.”

The public hearing on the legislation will be on March 15.

A Riverhead-North Fork Unity Town Hall is in the works. It aims to bring people in the area who feel vulnerable together with those who are motivated to take action in response to current political tensions. The event is set for Sunday, March 26, from 3 to 5 p.m. at the St. John the Evangelist School cafeteria in Riverhead.

It will serve as an initial gathering of people who feel they are part of targeted groups, activists who are already engaged in progressive action and those who are unhappy about current trends but are unsure how to get involved. “We’re trying to bring everyone together so everyone can have a sense of the fact that they’re not alone,” said Carolyn Peabody, who is co-chairing the event with Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate. The agenda will include presentations on issues such as immigration, women’s rights and the environment. The town hall will be a place to share stories and information, acting as a springboard for creating local “unity action committees,” Ms. Peabody said.

The committees will form a network for people to learn about the impact of the administration’s policies affecting themselves and others and connect people who are willing to stand up for each other’s concerns and rights, she added.

In addition to developing new relationships, attendees will be invited to commit to the cause in ways such as supporting those who feel threatened and calling attention to biases they’ve encountered or discrimination they’ve observed. Dinni Gordon of Greenport, who is helping organize the event, described it as an “introduction to activism,” as well as a way to connect the North Fork. She said: “The North Fork is kind of a long, skinny finger and often people from one hamlet don’t work with people in another hamlet, which isn’t all that far away, but isn’t part of their immediate environment. Part of it is sort of trying to bring people together who have common issue interests and who are from the North Fork, not just from their own hamlet or village.”

Tuesday March 7, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Debate On Recreational Marijuana in Connecticut Takes Center Stage; Business Confidence in Connecticut Improves; and, Environmental Groups Push Forward with Plum Island Lawsuit.

Today was “pot day” at the Connecticut state Capitol. As groups gathered in two different rooms at the Legislative Office Building, the views on legalizing recreational cannabis couldn’t have been more conflicting. 

In one room was a group of state legislators, and other advocates saying the time has come for Connecticut to join the eight other states and Washington, D.C. in legalizing recreation use of cannabis for adults over 21 years of age. Across the hall, a few hundred yards away, was another group of legislators, about 40 police officials, and a different group of advocates claiming legalizing recreational marijuana in Connecticut would be the worst thing to do. In dueling press conferences, both sides presented information which they said validated their position. Later in the morning, the Public Health Committee held a public hearing on the matter.

One of the four bills, H.B. 5314, sponsored by Rep. Melissa Ziobron, R-East Haddam, directs the Department of Consumer Protection to establish a regulated system of marijuana cultivation and sales for adults 21 years of age and older. The Department of Revenue Services would create a tax structure that would generate revenue for the state and certain municipalities.

Said Ziobron: “One of my goals in proposing legislation to legalize marijuana is to promote a healthy and substantive discussion on the issue. I feel that the legalization of marijuana is inevitable and, as such, Connecticut should be at the forefront of the movement in order to set the standard for effective policy.” Ziobron and the sponsors of three similar proposals — Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and Reps. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, and Toni Walker, D-New Haven — have agreed to work together to end cannabis prohibition in Connecticut and to ensure whichever bill moves forward will create the best system possible for regulating and taxing the plant. During testimony in front of the Public Health Committee later in the day, Ziobron said that marijuana is “safer than alcohol and tobacco.”

The potential for making money off cannabis was clearly one of the biggest reasons recreational use seems to have a better chance of making it through the legislature this year than in the past, as the state struggles to make up a huge budget deficit. Representative Walker said the state has “to look at new industries.” She estimated that legalizing cannabis for recreational use could bring in $63 million in revenue in year one, and more than $100 million in the second. She added that it also could bring in 15,000 new jobs.

Nearly two-thirds of Connecticut voters, or 63%, support making possession of small amounts of cannabis legal for adults, according to a March 2015 Quinnipiac University poll. Those opposed to legalizing recreational cannabis were just as ardent as supporters in their statements. Monroe Police Chief John Salvatore, who is also president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, said legalizing pot “will diminish the quality of life in the state.” Salvatore, who was surrounded by 40 other police officials from various towns in the state while making his comments, said he’s talked with police officials in Colorado, which was the first state in the country to legalize recreational cannabis, and the feedback he gets isn’t good. “Increases in crime, increases in homelessness, many panhandlers in streets in areas that were once night resort areas are now decaying and they’re losing convention business. So there are other costs a municipality or a state will incur if they do legalize recreational marijuana,” Salvatore said.

Governor Dannel P. Malloy has repeatedly stated that legalizing recreational use “isn’t a priority” for him. “While the governor’s personal position has not changed with respect to this issue, he is following the debate as this proposal works through the legislative process,” said Meg Green, spokesperson for the governor.

A growing number of Connecticut business leaders expect conditions to improve for their companies, a recent survey found. Forty percent of business leaders said they foresee conditions getting better, according to the CBIA/Farmington Bank Fourth Quarter Economic and Credit Availability Survey, up from 26% who felt that way in the previous quarter.

Though the survey was regarding the fourth quarter, businesses were polled via email from mid-January to early February, after the presidential and state elections had taken place. There were 173 respondents. Among them, 39% said they expect stable conditions, down from from 49% in the third quarter; 21% had a negative outlook, down from 24% in the third quarter. A growing number of business leaders, 24%, said they expect to grow their workforce, up from 19% the previous quarter. Most, however, or 65% expected no change and 11% planned to cut jobs.

Given the timing of the survey, 59% of business leaders thought the Trump Administration’s economic, regulatory and fiscal policies would positively affect growth here.

Governor Dannel P. Malloy is expected to address the business community at 10:15 a.m. Wednesday, March 8 at the Legislative Office Building where CBIA and many chambers of commerce will be gathered for their lobby day. 

One month after the federal government filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought last year by environmentalists over the proposed sale of Plum Island, environmentalists are continuing to push forward with their legal challenge. The lawsuit filed last summer by a coalition of environmental groups alleges the federal government failed to consider conservation alternatives, failed to consider any form of sale other than a public auction, failed to consider the potential transfer of the island to another government agency, and failed to adequately detail the necessary environmental cleanup of the island.

The plaintiffs include Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound and Soundkeeper, Group for the East End, Peconic Baykeeper; birder and environmental advocate John Turner; CT/RI Coastal Flyfishers President John Potter and historian and author Ruth Ann Bramson of East Marion, lead author of “A World Unto Itself: The Remarkable History of Plum Island, NY.” The defendants, which include the United States General Services Administration, United States Department of Homeland Security, and the administrators of those agencies, said in their Feb. 2 motion to dismiss that the environmental groups’ case lacked “subject matter jurisdiction” because the federal government has not yet finished its environmental review of the sale.

In their March 2 response, the plaintiffs said they “need not wait until bulldozers descend on Plum Island to bring this challenge” and that their claims “were ripe the moment the defendants issued their flawed Final Environmental Impact Statement [FEIS]” in 2013.”

Connecticut Fund For the Environment Legal Director Roger Reynolds described the defendants’ motion to dismiss as “procedural wrangling.” Mr. Reynolds said the defendants need to submit their final reply to the U.S. District Court by March 16, and he expects the case to go before a judge sometime later this summer.

Monday March 6, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight:LGBTQ Advocates Lobby For Passage Of Bill Banning Conversion Therapy in Connecticut; Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Democratic Leaders Look To Push Back Municipal Budget Deadlines; and, East Hampton Petitions U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Airport Noise Case.

Connecticut state lawmakers are considering a bill that would prohibit licensed professionals from performing conversion therapy on minors, a practice designed to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Medical and mental health experts have widely denounced conversion therapy, which also is known as sexual reorientation therapy, as being ineffective and detrimental.

Critics of conversion therapy say it is based on the flawed assumption that homosexuality and bisexuality are sicknesses. “It’s disgraceful,” said state Rep. Jeffrey Currey, a Democrat representing the 11th House District. Currey introduced the bill along with Democratic Fifth District Sen. Beth Bye. “It may not be as widespread as in other parts of the country [but] we do know it occurs in the state.” Currey said the bill, which is before the Public Health Committee, focuses on minors because they have increased risk factors. Lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender youths are more than twice as likely as their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the National Association of Social Workers and other groups have denounced the practice, saying homosexuality is not a mental disorder and cannot be “cured.” Mental health providers with close ties to religious institutions and organizations tend to be promoters of conversion therapy, according to the American Psychological Association. The Connecticut Psychological Association is also among the groups supporting the bill.

The legislation will be among bills discussed in public hearings Tuesday, Currey said.  More than 60 lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors.

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Democratic legislative leaders told the head of the state’s largest municipal lobby today that they want to see if they can help cities and towns delay their budget process and avoid possibly overtaxing or undertaxing their residents.

“We have heard and understand the anxiety expressed by local leaders over the timing of municipal aid assumptions and budget adoptions, especially when there is a long session and so many changes have been and will continue to be put on the table for consideration,” Malloy and legislative leaders wrote to Connecticut Conference of Municipalities CEO Joe DeLong. “To that end, we would like to work with CCM and its members on potential changes to existing statutes to give municipalities more time to adopt budgets, as well as expedited adoption of grand lists.” In a phone interview, DeLong estimated they will have a better idea about whether this can be done within the next week to 10 days.

Windsor Town Manager Peter Souza said its charter dictates that tax bills must be sent out by the middle of June and it takes a few weeks to print those bills, so Windsor must have a budget that’s been approved by its voters by the end of May. That means, the Town Council adopts a budget at the end of April and they usually hold a budget referendum the second Tuesday in May.

DeLong said the legislation they’re looking to pass would supersede the town charters and relieve municipalities of those deadlines in the short-term. DeLong said the problem with the governor’s budget, which makes several changes to municipal aid formulas and funding, is that municipalities run the risk of overtaxing or undertaxing their residents. “If the towns move forward with a budget now, they risk overtaxing their residents,” DeLong said. “If they take a more cautious approach … they run the risk of having to do a supplemental tax bill.”

Neither scenario is desirable for state or local officials. “We believe that providing municipalities a chance to have more concrete information on state-provided aid before making local decisions is a reasonable and appropriate measure to explore together,” Malloy and legislative leaders wrote.

East Hampton Town today filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court decision over the town’s proposed airport noise regulations “that would rob East Hampton and thousands of other local airport sponsors of their ability to manage their airport, in the best interests of their residents,” according to the town’s announcement this afternoon.

The town had attempted in 2015 to enact several pieces of legislation limiting the use of the airport by noisy fixed wing and helicopter traffic, but aviation groups soon sued. While the U.S. District Court upheld two out of three of the town’s rules, they were struck down by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in November 2016, shortly after which the town announced its intent to take the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The town maintains it has the right to exert local control over its airport after not taking federal funds for upkeep of the airport for several years, with the intent of allowing so-called “grant assurances” that the town would not restrict aircraft to expire.

Said Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell in a press release: “For the last three years, this town board has been fighting to regain local control of our airport. We followed the FAA’s advice and elected to forgo federal funding so that we could protect our residents. We engaged in a lengthy public process to identify meaningful but reasonable restrictions, and the District Court agreed that we met that test. But, with the stroke of a pen, the appeals court decision has federalized our airport and stripped us – and the thousands of similarly situated airports – of the ability to exert local control. We cannot let that decision stand.”

Friday March 3, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Connecticut’s taxi industry asks for changes in a changing industry;  New York lawmakers seek refugee funding amid federal uncertainty; and, New York State education officials seek public input on holding schools accountable.

The president of one of the largest taxicab companies in Connecticut told the legislature’s Real Estate Committee yesterday that the taxi industry “is very near extinction.” Bill Scalzi, president of Metro Taxi, said they’ve watched their customer base disappear “as a result of the oversaturation of for-hire vehicles.” Scalzi was referring to ride-sharing services such as Uber, and Lyft.

Scalzi said the legislation being debated yesterday would “legitimize” those companies, “without giving the taxi industry a means to compete. Instead of opposing legislation that codifies the practice of ride-sharing services, Scalzi pitched lawmakers on giving the taxi industry the ability to operate with fewer restrictions. Scalzi said being able to remove rooftop lights, change insurance requirements, and allow drivers to start working on a probationary period before their background checks are completed would be helpful changes to the taxi industry.

Lyft declined to say how many drivers it has in Connecticut. It says it doesn’t share market specific data, but it has 600,000 drivers nationwide. Uber has been servicing Connecticut since April 2014. The company launched in Fairfield and New Haven counties and has since expanded its operation to Hartford and New London. Lyft suspended its services in Connecticut in 2015, but started back up in November and is currently recruiting drivers.

A bill that would have tightened regulations for ride-sharing services passed the House in 2015, but stalled in the Senate. The 2015 bill would have tightened background checks for drivers and would have established insurance coverage requirements that don’t currently exist.

Wednesday, Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy and fellow Assembly Democrats from upstate’s major cities called for $12 million in the state budget to provide state funding for refugee resettlement. Their proposal follows a recent influx of refugees in upstate cities. They want funding so refugee resettlement agencies remain at capacity if federal funding — provided based on the number of refugees resettled — declines, to help extend federal government-funded resettlement efforts from the current 90 days to 180 days, and to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate legal services to refugees.

October 2015 through September 2016 data show of the 5,028 refugees who were resettled in New York, 4,745 were resettled upstate.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, told reporters Wednesday that while refugee resettlement may be a federal issue, “when the people come here, they’re residents of New York State, and I think the state should have some responsibility in making sure they get services they need, so we will look to do that.” Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, R-Long Island, told reporters Wednesday that he believes refugee resettlement is primarily a federal issue, though he noted that some GOP senators have been outspoken in favor of refugee 

According to the Albany Times-Union, New York State’s Education Department wants the public’s input on how to hold schools accountable—for student success, potential alternative testing methods, and possible interventions for low performing schools.

The Department is currently crafting a statewide plan to address these issues and comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal law that replaced No Child Left Behind, granting more flexibility to states for holding schools accountable. States must submit their accountability plans to the U.S. Department of Education during early 2017. 
ublic meetings will be held across New York this month, to gather community input. The meetings will address issues like: what new assessment practices New York may wish to pilot; requirements for newly arrived English language learners; strategies for professional support for educators; design of the state’s public school accountability system; and supports and interventions in low performing schools.

Check the State Education Department website for more on Every Student Succeeds and the latest meeting information. Meetings are already scheduled on Monday March 13 at Eastern Suffolk County BOCES in Patchogue, 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. and 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. and at Western Suffolk BOCES in Wheatley Heights 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.

Thursday March 2, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: advocates push to ban under-the-radar sales of Connecticut state property; Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim Seeking Tenants for Bridgeport’s Ballpark; and, New York lawmakers push upstate and Long Island SAFE Act
repeal bill.

Conservation advocates hope to clear a crucial hurdle this spring toward establishing tougher standards for the sale or transfer of Connecticut state property. With successful votes in the House and Senate, they could put a proposed amendment to the state Constitution on the November 2018 ballot. If ratified, it would prevent the legislature from selling, trading or giving away state land without a public hearing and a two-thirds’ vote of approval in both chambers.

The General Assembly has a longstanding practice of conveying dozens of state parcels annually in an omnibus bill that gets little public scrutiny. And as state government enters a 15- to 20-year period of constrained budgets, some advocates fear officials might be tempted to sell valuable land assets for short-term budgetary solutions. With more than 170 parks, forests and wildlife management areas, Connecticut has a treasure trove of natural assets that greatly add to the quality of life here.

But Eric Hammerling, executive director of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association, said it doesn’t take much — such as the development of a mini-mall on a seemingly innocuous parcel of wetlands that actually drains into a nearby nature preserve — to dramatically change a valuable asset. “We typically have little warning on which parcels of state lands are being proposed to be given away,” Hammerling testified before the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee this week. And if that transfer is one of the many ordered annually by the legislature, it usually comes in the waning days of the session “when the rules are suspended and bills are flying through. … The process shouldn’t work this way, and conveyances of public lands through the General Assembly should be the last resort, and not the first.”

The proposed constitutional amendment deals only with sales or transfers ordered by lawmakers. Those arranged by state agencies in accordance with the law, advocates say, typically follow a much more deliberative and transparent process. Margaret Miner, executive director of the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, testified that if the amendment is ratified, it also will dissuade some who otherwise would attempt to move land in a less-than-transparent way.

2017 marks the Bridgeport Bluefish’s 20th anniversary of the Ballpark at Harbor Yard. The baseball franchise is operating under a one-year contract extension that guarantees the season kicks off next month and gives the team and the City time to negotiate a new contract. The team’s original contract expired at the end of last season, the Connecticut Post reported. But on Wednesday, a legal notice from the City appeared in the Connecticut Post, calling for proposals “for professional sports team operator or an outdoor entertainment venue” for the ballpark.

Rowena White, spokeswoman for Bridgeport’s Mayor, Joe Ganim, said the Request for Proposals should not be viewed as a sign the Bluefish are out. “Of course, any and all participants are encouraged to apply, including the Bluefish,” she said.

Frank Boulton, team owner since 2008, declined to comment specifically on the Request for Proposals, but made it clear he wants to remain the stadium’s tenant. “Our focus is on the 20th anniversary season and working with the city to make sure we’re here for many years to come. Hopefully the community values the Bridgeport Bluefish and all they’ve done to bring affordable family entertainment to southern Connecticut,” he said.

A source familiar with the situation who wished to remain anonymous said they were “disappointed to see” the city looking for other tenants, but not surprised.

The Albany Times-Union reports that Republican state lawmakers are pushing legislation they say strikes a balance between a desire across much of New York state to repeal the SAFE Act gun-control law and a desire to keep the law in full effect in New York City. The bill would make a number of elements of the SAFE Act applicable only within the five boroughs. It would repeal upstate and in the city’s suburbs provisions that include the five-year recertification requirement for pistol permits, restrictions on transferring firearms to family members as part of an estate and the SAFE Act definition of an assault weapon, replacing it with the old statutory definition.

Sponsors of the legislation say they aren’t opposed to all parts of the SAFE Act, including provisions related to gun ownership by those who have been convicted of a violent crime and increased penalties for those who murder a first responder, the so-called Webster provision. Still, they maintain that key provisions they see as restricting gun ownership needn’t apply for law-abiding gun owners across most of the state. The bill sponsors say there is precedent for such regional lawmaking, including the different phase-in schedules for the minimum wage increase in New York City, its suburbs and upstate.

The bill has Republican Majority Conference support in the Senate but lacks key Assembly Democratic Majority backing. A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, tweeted in response to the bill, simply, “no.” Without the support of Assembly Democrats and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who counts the SAFE Act among his progressive legacy-defining achievements, the legislation is almost certainly doomed to fall flat. But the lawmakers behind it say they want to start a longer-term “reasonable and rational” conversation about how to govern a diverse state.

Wednesday March 1, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Public Hearing In Bridgeport concerning future Gas-Fired Power Plant; Connecticut Bag Bill Appears to Have Enough Votes to Pass; and NY congressman pushes bill allowing striped bass fishing off Montauk

Dozens of people attended a public hearing in Bridgeport City Hall Tuesday night regarding ​the air permits needed before a power company can build a gas-fired plant on the site of its currently operating coal-fired power plant. WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus reports. Those who spoke in favor -- including several from the plant's immediate neighborhood -- praised PSEG as a good corporate neighbor that gave two million dollars for community projects as part of its Community Environmental Benefits Agreement to help get the gas plant approved.

​Some community members, along with many environmental activists, spoke about ​the harmful ​health and safety impacts of bringing fracked gas into the area, as well as about the contributions ​to climate change ​of methane releases from ​the gas. 

Kelly Heidelman ​ ​is a young mother who​ lives near the site. “I’m here to stand in support of everyone who has come before me who has asked for a health assessment to be done here ahead of the air permits being approved. As a parent I’m very concerned that as I raise my three small children here, they will be chronically exposed to toxins in the air.”

The CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection or DEEP conducted the hearing, which ​was requested by the climate group 350 Connecticut. Written testimony for or against DEEP issuing the air permit may be submitted by March 10 to

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.

A majority of the legislature’s Environment Committee think it is a good idea to charge five cents for single-use plastic bags and to use the money to help maintain state parks, which are currently funded at the same level they were back in 2006. However, many expressed concern about whether that fund would truly be dedicated to helping state parks, or that it would be just another account that could be swept into the general fund to help erase the budget deficit.

Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, said he believes the five cent fee for plastic bags makes an environmental policy statement. The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is not in favor of creating a new fund with the fees collected from the bags and would prefer the money be deposited in the general fund. Some lawmakers expressed concern about it being a regressive tax on a poor population, who can’t or won’t afford the more expensive reuseable cloth bags, while others said they should just ban plastic bags.

This is the first year the Connecticut Food Association, which represents grocery stores, is supporting the bill. Only stores with gross annual sales of at least $2 million and more than 10,000 square feet of retail space will have to comply with the collection of the bag fee. The state, if the bill passes the full General Assembly, could start collecting the fee as early as Oct. 1, 2017.

Newsday reports:
U.S. New York Representative Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has proposed a bill that would permit striped bass fishing in federal waters off the coast of Montauk.

The Local Fishing Access Act, introduced in the House on Feb. 16, would reverse restrictions on striped bass fishing in the Block Island Transit Zone between Montauk Point and Block Island. While other types of fishing are permitted in this zone, striped bass fishing has been prohibited since 1990 after a sharp decline in the stripers’ population In neighboring New York and Rhode Island waters, both commercial and recreational fishermen can catch a limited number of striped bass.

“The Local Fishing Access Act would eliminate the regulatory confusion hurting the hardworking, responsible men and women of the region’s struggling fishing communities, while freeing up Coast Guard and other law enforcement resources that are diverted from more critical missions, such as national security and vessel safety,” Zeldin said in a Feb. 21 news release. A regional fisheries commission would determine which types of fishing gear are allowed, Zeldin spokeswoman Jennifer DiSiena said.

Charles Witek, a member of the New York Marine Resources Advisory Council, said increasing recreational fishing in the area would threaten the striped bass population, which is just higher than the threshold denoting overfishing. “We shouldn’t be doing anything to put that stock at risk given its current state,” Witek said Thursday. Witek agreed with a supporter of the bill that overfishing caused by commercial fishermen would likely be prevented by a highly regulated quota system that dictates the number of striped bass permitted to be caught. “It’s not going to increase the commercial catch. It’s going to increase the territory,” said Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association in Montauk.

Zeldin proposed a similar bill to permit recreational striped bass fishing in the Block Island Transit Zone in July 2015. The proposed legislation passed in the House in April and was not voted on by the Senate.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

February 2017

Tuesday February 28, 2017 (Thanks To WPKN Volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Representative Rosa DeLauro pushes to keep gun silencer rules in place while Connecticut gun rights group says devices needed for safety; federal monitor reports Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families can’t meet requirements under ‘current conditions’; and, Peconic Bay Medical Center Ready to Become a Level III Trauma Center.

On Monday, at the Hamden Police Department, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro spoke out against a bill that would make it easier to purchase gun silencers. The Hearing Protection Act, introduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, would remove silencers from the list of accessories governed by the National Firearms Act, eliminating the need for background checks and fees. The purpose of the bill is to help prevent firearm-related hearing damage from the noise of a firing bullet, commonly referred to as “shooter’s ear.” 

Scott Wilson, President of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, which works to support the rights of gun owners and the right to bear arms, said that silencers are not commonly used in crimes. They are favored more by people who shoot recreationally and in competitions and are exposed to the noise from repetitive shooting.

Hamden Police Chief Thomas Wydra believes it should not be easy to buy a silencer because it increases the likelihood these devices could end up in the wrong hands, and this could put public safety at risk.  “We need for bystanders to know that a gun has been fired, they need to be able to get to safety as soon as possible, and we need police and EMS to be notified as soon as possible,” he said.

After moving closer to compliance with its court supervision exit plan in the first quarter of 2016, Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families was unable to make additional progress in the second and third quarters of 2016, a federal court monitor reported Tuesday.

The court monitor, Raymond Mancuso, said much of the blame for DCF’s continued failure to meet certain compliance standards – the most significant of which is whether enough of children’s needs are being met – falls on the state government. “It was then, and remains clear now, that the state’s past and present unwillingness to consistently commit the necessary resources to the agency has been one of the principal undisputed reasons the current 22 outcome measures have not been met and sustained,” Mancuso wrote. “What has become abundantly clear is that the expectation that the department can routinely meet all of the Juan F. requirements is not feasible under the current conditions,” Mancuso added later.

Mancuso’s report comes in advance of a scheduled April 20 court hearing in the decades-old Juan F. case, where a federal judge might take action to ensure DCF compliance. The plaintiffs provided a notice of actual or likely noncompliance to the court on Feb. 1, triggering a 30-day window for the parties to reach an agreement on how to resolve it.

The notice came after the General Assembly rejected a proposal that would have prevented the state from cutting DCF’s budget and moved the department closer to exiting federal court supervision. DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said her agency has made “tremendous progress,” but she “deeply regrets” the General Assembly’s decision. For years, Mancuso has pointed to the department’s staffing levels as a primary source of its shortcomings. He did so again in his report Tuesday.

Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead will begin operating as a Level III Trauma Center on March 1, after earning provisional status from the New York State Department of Health.

To receive a designation as a Level III Trauma Center, a facility must demonstrate the ability to provide prompt assessment, resuscitation, surgery, intensive care and stabilization of injured patients and emergency operations.

“We’re answering a critical need for emergency services. For far too long, residents of the East End have had to travel too far to receive life-saving medical treatment. Now they will be able to be treated with advanced medical technologies and capabilities in our own community,” said PBMC President and CEO Andrew Mitchell in making the announcement.

Monday February 27, 2017 (with thanks to WPKN volunteers)

In the news tonight: A Rally in New Haven To Save the Affordable Care Act; Connecticut Tribes Pick East Windsor For Third Casino Location; and, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo orders State Police to investigate anti-Semitic bomb threats.

A few hundred people came to the New Haven Green on Saturday for a rally to save the Affordable Care Act.

WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus was there:
Speakers addressed the various ways the ACA, also known as Obamacare, has provided critical health coverage to millions of Americans who lacked insurance. A big emphasis was on women’s health care, as Gretchen Raffa with Planned Parenthood of Southern New England explained:

“Repealing the ACA would mean that 30 million people across this country would lose access to the health care they’ve gained, and 55 million women would lose access to preventative health care services like birth control, like cancer screenings, mammograms. And we are not going to stand back quietly and let that happen.”

Sen. Dick Blumenthal and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro also spoke, and immediately following the rally, Blumenthal held a Town Hall meeting at a nearby high school, where the auditorium was filled to overflowing with overwhelmingly friendly constituents.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News

The former Showcase Cinemas off I-91 in East Windsor was chosen by Connecticut’s two federally-recognized Indian tribes as the preferred location for the state’s first casino off tribal land. A 5-0 vote by the East Windsor Board of Selectmen on Saturday paved the way for East Windsor to be chosen over two locations in Windsor Locks. East Windsor determined it would not need a local referendum of taxpayers to move forward with the proposal.  Sen. Tim Larson, who represents the district, said that it’s great news for East Windsor and the state.

MMCT Venture LLC, the joint business venture between the Mohegan Tribal Nation and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, pitched the state on opening a third casino two years ago to compete with the one scheduled to open in fall, 2018 being built by MGM Resorts International in Springfield, Mass at a cost of $950 million. The two tribes came to the General Assembly to ask them for permission to build a third casino to blunt the competition and spare Connecticut jobs. The $300 million casino being proposed by the tribes would be around 200,000 square feet.It would include 2,000 slot machines and 50 to 150 tables.

The East Windsor agreement states that MMCT will pay the town $3 million no later than 15 months before the facility opens and $3 million annually on top of regular tax payments, which are estimated to be about $5.5 million per year. The two tribes have also promised to use union labor and make sure no less than 4% of the casino workforce will be made up of East Windsor residents, and no less than 15% will live within a 25-mile radius of the facility. An estimated 75% of the positions at the new casino will be full-time, according to a press release from the tribes.

The General Assembly will have to pass a law legalizing a commercial casino before the tribes can move forward. Mohegan Tribal Chairman Kevin Brown told reporters last week that the General Assembly has to get it passed this session.

The Albany Times-Union reports:
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in the wake of more bomb threats directed against Jewish Community Centers in Tarrytown, Staten Island, New Rochelle, and Plainview, is ordering the State Police to work with federal and local police to apprehend the culprits. Albany’s JCC has also received such threats as have centers across the nation from Florida to Michigan.

In a statement, the Governor said:
“Today we witnessed another round of bomb threats, this time directed at Jewish Community Centers in Tarrytown, Staten Island, New Rochelle, and Plainview, which appear to be part of a recent wave of threats against JCCs in New York and across the country. Make no mistake: these reprehensible and cowardly attacks are not limited to the Jewish community. They are assaults on all New Yorkers and I vow that we will do everything in our power to catch those responsible for this wave of hate crimes.

“In response to these anti-Semitic attacks, I am ordering the State Police to work with our federal and local law enforcement partners to investigate these threats and apprehend those responsible. Last week, my administration announced among other measures a $25 million grant program to boost safety and security at New York’s schools and day care centers at risk of hate crimes or attacks because of their ideology, beliefs or mission.

“I share the pain and the outrage of so many New Yorkers who are affected directly and those who are sickened by watching these attacks unfold. We will not allow anyone to intimidate or strike fear in the state of New York. The full force of government will be brought to bear in these efforts and these perpetrators will be punished.”

Friday February 24, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Hazel Kahan, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: a new report affirms that immigrants are a powerful economic force in Connecticut; Norwegian Air will begin non-stop flights to Europe from Bradley International Airport; Greenport votes unanimously to become a Welcoming Community; and, the New York State Education Department reminds school districts of transgender protections.

A new report shows that immigrant-led households in Connecticut earned $18.9 billion in 2014 – 13.9% of all income earned by everyone in the state that year. The report, Map the Impact, was released by New American Economy (NAE).

The report was compiled for all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C, and was designed to highlight the impact immigrants have on the nation’s economy. The report found that in the United States, immigrants are more likely to be working-age than their U.S.-born counterparts.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal said he hoped the report will help “defeat some of the misconceptions and myths that have been spread all too widely by less-informed public officials and they will heed and hear the voices of reason and information.”

He added that more than half, 51%, of the Fortune 500 companies in the country have been started by immigrants.

Norwegian Air will begin non-stop service to Europe from Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. Promotional fares for Norwegian Air International flights to Edinburgh, Scotland will start at $65 one-way, and regular fares will be $99 one-way.

Lars Sande, Senior Vice President for Sales with Norwegian Air, says direct flights from Bradley to Edinburgh begin June 17. He added: “There’s been way too long a wait for the American people to fly really cheap trans-Atlantic. Now we’re bringing this to you, also for you to explore Europe but also for the Europeans to come over here and come here as tourists.” 

The Connecticut Airport Authority will provide half a million dollars in marketing money for the flights, which will operate Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays during the summer, and twice a week in the winter.

The new service comes at a time when international air travel to the U.S. is down. According to, the Global Business Travel Association says visits to the United States are down 2.2% since Donald Trump became president.

Greenport Trustee Douglas Roberts’ resolution proclaiming the Village a “Welcoming Community” passed unanimously last night, after more than two hours of public testimony about the role immigrants have played in making the village one of the most diverse communities on the East End.

The resolution, a series of statements about the village’s history of welcoming immigrants, says that “by recognizing and applauding the contributions that we all make to sustain and enhance our already vibrant culture and growing economy, we continue to make our community more prosperous and more inclusive to all who call it home.”

About 100 people from Greenport and throughout the North Fork showed up to discuss the measure, with most speaking in favor of it and about a half-dozen speaking against it, either because they wanted increased immigration enforcement or because they believe Greenport is already a welcoming community.

Mr. Roberts suggested the symbolic resolution an alternative to Greenport becoming a “Sanctuary City,” where police officers do not honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers for undocumented immigrants, because Greenport does not have a police force.

According to The Albany Times-Union, yesterday the New York State Education Department reminded public school districts statewide that transgender students are protected by state and local law from discrimination and harassment. This follows the federal government’s decision to rescind Obama administration guidance, that public schools allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice.

In a joint statement, Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman cited the state’s Dignity for All Students Act, which prohibits student discrimination, harassment or bullying based on gender. That includes a student’s actual or perceived gender, their gender identity or expression. Elia said: “Transgender youth are valued members of our schools and communities…statistics show that more than half of them will attempt suicide…by their 20th birthday. So we must…create learning environments that are safe and welcoming for all.”

Separately, Governor Andrew Cuomo requested that the state Education Department issue a directive to school districts, clarifying that transgender students are protected by law. Cuomo wrote: “There can be no confusion in this state. New York schools must continue to enforce the law and protect students…we speak with a single voice: we do not and will not tolerate discrimination in the state of New York.”

Thursday February 23, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy Issues Guidelines In Response To Trump Immigration Orders; Connecticut Lawmakers Debate Exclusivity of Tribal Gaming Expansion; and, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman affirms there was not a single substantiated claim of voter fraud in the 2016 election.

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy sent Connecticut school superintendents and police chiefs guidelines Wednesday on how to handle the Trump administration’s pronouncements and orders regarding undocumented immigrants. Malloy said the guidelines were in response to numerous concerns regarding the executive order from Donald Trump on immigration matters and corresponding implementation memos from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The Connecticut protocol for local officials came the day after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced new immigration policies, making it easier to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, including people arrested for infractions such as traffic violations. Any immigrant who is in the country illegally and is charged or convicted of any offense, or suspected of a crime, will now be an enforcement priority, according to memos signed by Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. “Putting all opinions about this presidential executive order aside, its enforcement is going to have a local impact, especially given the constrained resources and financial impact this will have on state and municipal budgets, which we already know are stretched to their limits, in addition to giving rise to serious concerns in affected communities,” Malloy said.

The Malloy administration is recommending that law enforcement should not take any action to solely enforce federal immigration law. It explained that Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests are “requests” and not warrants or orders and should only be honored if they are accompanied by a judicial warrant. The guidelines go on to recommend that law enforcement should not provide access to individuals who are in law enforcement custody to ICE. The guidelines also recommend that any ICE agent approaching a school for student information should be referred to the Superintendent’s office.

Malloy said the enforcement of the federal actions will likely result in a host of constituent concerns and legal questions that are thrust upon local communities. Ultimately, Malloy said, local law enforcement agencies determine whether, and to what extent within the parameters of the Connecticut Trust Act, they assist ICE. “Above all, we are obligated protect the rights afforded to all our residents and ensure that students attend safe, welcoming schools,” Malloy said. “The best approach for local communities is to have a plan in place so that everyone in our state, including young students, are supported respectfully and fairly under the laws of our state and our nation.”

Carlos Moreno, spokesman for the Connecticut Immigrants Rights Alliance (CIRA) said the group “welcomes the governor’s response.” CIRA was just one of the groups applauding Malloy’s action.

Connecticut’s two tribal casinos are looking for the legislature to give them the green light to build the state’s first commercial casino off tribal land. But there are several unanswered questions, legal hurdles, and a newly elected General Assembly that present challenges for MMCT Venture, the joint business venture between the Mohegan Tribal Nation and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe. The two tribes said Thursday during a legislative hearing that the new casino won’t impact the Compact, which allows Connecticut to receive 25 percent of the slot revenue from the two tribal casinos in the southeastern part of the state. 

Mohegan Tribal Chairman Kevin Brown said it will seek a formal opinion when the Connecticut General Assembly gives them its full-throated permission to proceed with a third casino. He said the revenues to the state from that Compact are decreasing because the state did nothing in response to gaming expansion in neighboring states, and if the tribes no longer have exclusivity over gaming in Connecticut, then the Compact and the money the state currently receives from that Compact will immediately be put at risk. 

A consultant hired by the two tribes concluded that a $300 million casino would generate $300.9 million in gross gaming revenue and create more than 2,000 jobs. 

The Albany Times-Union reports:
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman wrote to Democratic members of Congress on Wednesday that there was not a single substantiated claim of voter fraud in New York last year. Schneiderman sent a letter to three House Democrats stating that while New York’s voting system is rife with challenges, the state Board of Elections has not referred any cases of voter fraud during the 2016 elections to his office, nor did two allegations of voter fraud brought directly to his office last year pan out.

“The lack of such complaints made directly to my office, as well as the absence of referrals from other agencies, leads me to conclude that voter fraud — the act of an ineligible individual casting a vote in an election — is a non-issue, at least in New York State,” Schneiderman wrote to Rep. Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee; Rep. Robert Brady, ranking member of the House Administration Committee; and Rep. James Clyburn, assistant House Democratic leader, in response to an inquiry from the three Democrats last month, seeking information on confirmed incidents of voter fraud during the November federal election.

“Donald Trump wants a major investigation of voter fraud—-well now he has one,” Cummings said in a statement when the letters were first sent. “He continues to be obsessed with false numbers and statistics, but these are not ‘alternative facts,’ and there is no evidence to support these claims.” Trump has continually asserted that voter fraud took place in some states, though he hasn’t specifically identified New York as a state where alleged illegal voting took place.

Wednesday February 22, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: One of Two Connecticut Minimum Wage Bills Squeaks Through Committee;
Solitary Confinement Cell Makes Its Way to the Connecticut State Capitol; and, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo defends Affordable Care Act at union rally.

A Senate bill to increase the minimum wage in Connecticut to $15 an hour by 2022 failed on a split vote, but the House bill passed the Labor and Public Employees Committee by a slim one vote margin after an hour of debate. The bill pitted Democrats on the committee against Republicans and it was the first test of the shrinking Democratic majority in the General Assembly.

Democrats who support an increase in the minimum wage argued that it will help the economy because it will put more money in the pockets of consumers. Both sides of the issue were passionate in their attempts to defeat or win support for the legislation. But it also marked the first time a legislative committee has had to deal with the new reality of what an evenly split Senate means going forward: it means that most controversial legislation this year will be making its way through the House because the Senate has the ability to split the committee vote on a Senate bill. That means Senate Republicans could kill more legislation at the committee level, if they see Democrats don’t have the votes.

Earlier in the day, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy took a neutral stance on the minimum wage. He said he’s been supportive of minimum wage increases in the past and will watch the legislation as it winds its way through the legislative process. “Perhaps through this process we’ll understand what the best way is to go,” Malloy said.

Malloy said he believes there should be regular adjustments to the minimum wage without a vote. He hinted that he’d be in favor of tying it to inflation. That said “no one should live in poverty who is working 35 to 40 hours per week,” Malloy added.

Connecticut State Senator Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, was just one of many left alone under a fluorescent light in a small cell with only a bunk on Tuesday. Unlike the estimated 80,000 inmates nationwide in solitary confinement, Winfield was able to leave after two hours. 

The cell was a replica built by lawyers, psychiatrists and religious leaders who are bringing a national movement to limit the use of solitary confinement in Connecticut. “Our goal is to provide members of the community with an opportunity to experience isolation, to learn about its harms, and to engage in advocacy for limiting its use,” Rev. Allie Perry, board president of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, said. Prisoners in solitary confinement are placed alone in a cell for 22 to 24 hours a day with little human contact or interaction. On any given day, 80,000 people in the United States are held in solitary confinement. 

Sen. Paul Doyle, D-Wethersfield, who co-chairs the Judiciary Committee, said at the start of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration there were over 200 people in solitary confinement, now there are 35. Doyle said there is no plan to eliminate solitary confinement in the State—just to use in sparingly and for extreme cases. 

The cell will be on display in the South Atrium of the State Capitol, and anyone can sign up to sit alone in a cell and listen to the hum of lights and recorded sounds from an actual prison.

The Albany Times-Union reports:
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo offered an us-versus-them defense of the Affordable Care Act on today at a rally hosted by one of the state’s major health care worker unions. 

“Our reality is what they’re proposing is not even smart,” Cuomo said of ACA opposition at 1199SEIU’s Bronx rally. “Not only is it mean, it’s not even smart. Because healthcare now is not just about the individual. It’s a public health issue. We understand better and better that we are in one society and health for one is health for all. If I sneeze, you catch a cold, and germs don’t discriminate.”

The governor implored Democrats in Congress to staunchly stand against Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare. “They better show us what they’re made of because there is no going back,” Cuomo said. “They have to stand up and learn from what the Republicans did when they didn’t agree with something. And the Republican Congress fought Bill Clinton every step of the way. The Republican Congress fought Barack Obama every step of the way. And these Democrats have to take a page out of their book and say, ‘We’re not going to let you take us backwards. You’re not going to undo the progress that President Obama made that was upheld by the courts.'”

The Cuomo administration has estimated New York stands to lose $3.7 billion in funding if the ACA is repealed. Some 2.7 million New Yorkers would be at risk of losing their health insurance coverage provided through Medicaid or private insurance plans purchased through the state’s ACA exchange.

Tuesday February 21, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Officials Say Congressional Action Jeopardizes Retirement Savings Law; Setauket rally joins nationwide anti-Trump protest; and, New York State senator offers legislation to promote cricket.

Connecticut state officials are worried that a retirement savings plan created last year by the General Assembly — intended to help the roughly 600,000 residents who lack such a plan — will be in jeopardy if Congressional Republicans get their way. Connecticut’s plan, slated to take effect in 2018, would require businesses with five or more employees to offer a retirement savings plan. The plan would take 3% of an employee’s paycheck and deposit it into a state retirement fund; employers would not be required to contribute money to the fund.

Connecticut has joined with other states to oppose two recent Congressional resolutions that, state officials say, would jeopardize retirement security for hundreds of thousands of Connecticut workers. State Comptroller Kevin Lembo is among those urging the U.S. Senate to reject the resolutions, H.J. Res 66 and H.J. Res 67. The resolutions would repeal a U.S. Department of Labor rule that helps states create retirement savings plans for private-sector workers. Repealing those rules, Lembo said, would make it more complicated for plans like Connecticut’s to get off the ground. The rules clarified the authority under which states and municipalities could implement retirement programs, and about 30 states and municipalities nationwide are implementing or exploring them, Lembo said.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said he called U.S. Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal and asked them to appeal to their Republican colleagues to reject the House resolution. Aresimowicz said this shouldn’t have been a partisan issue. He said that despite what happens at the federal level, “we are committed here in Connecticut to ensuring that our hardworking residents are given the tools they need to save for a comfortable retirement.”

An AARP survey last year found that regardless of political affiliation, 79% of Connecticut residents agree that elected officials should support a state retirement savings plan.

Newsday reports:
About 100 Long Islanders held a rally in Setauket on Monday — joining protesters in New York and other cities nationwide — to demonstrate against Donald Trump’s month-old administration. The demonstrators, including children, gathered at the corner of Route 25A and Bennetts Road to denounce Trump’s policies, echoing the “Not My President’s Day” rallies held in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and other cities.

“No Trump. No KKK. No fascists in the U.S.A.,” the protesters chanted. Many held up homemade signs that included “Keep Calm And Resist Trump,” “Is Putin Our President,” and “I’ve seen better cabinets @IKEA”. Across the street, on the north side of 25A, about a dozen people showed up in support of Trump, holding signs that said that Trump will make America great again. Occasionally, the two groups — with the anti-Trump greatly outnumbering the pro-Trump — shouted at each other across the road. Motorists driving through tooted their horns in a show of support for both sides.

The rally in Manhattan marked a third day of protests in New York City. City officials and organizers said it drew about 13,000 people. About 1,000 people had gathered in Times Square on Sunday for the I Am Muslim Too rally, to show support for the Muslim community. And on Saturday, a mock funeral for the presidency was held in Washington Square Park.

According to the Albany Times-Union:
New York State Sen. James Sanders, D-Queens, has re-introduced legislation that would establish an Empire Region Cricket Board to be comprised of appointees from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The bill, which went nowhere in 2015 or 2016, also would require passage in New Jersey and Connecticut before the board would be established. The stated purpose is to promote and grow the game of cricket in the tri-state area, which allegedly would be an economic boon to the region. The fiscal implications of the bill have yet to be determined.

“Most players are immigrants from all over the world who have brought the game of Cricket to their new homeland,” the legislation’s sponsor memo states. “This has made Cricket into one of the most diverse sports in the United States. The diversity of the New York Tri-State Region (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) and the influx of immigrants into the region have made Cricket a fast growing sport in the region. You don’t have to drive far to find Cricket games being played every weekend throughout the area.” Though still relatively obscure on the national stage, the sport is rising in popularity in the U.S.

Monday February 20, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: a busy weekend for immigrant rights activists in Connecticut; Connecticut Labor Unions Unite Against Anti-Collective Bargaining Bill;and East Hampton Town Declines Trump Directive on Immigration.

This was a busy weekend for immigrant rights activists in Connecticut. It followed a packed meeting in New Haven last week on the same issue. 

WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus reports:
Last Friday in Meriden, 200 people showed up at a Catholic Church hall, mostly undocumented immigrants who hold what are called Driver Only driver’s licenses, meaning they can be used to drive legally but can’t be used as identification for any other purpose, like voting. A bill in the CT General Assembly would repeal the law passed in 2015 allowing such licenses. About 30 of those present were there to take testimony from the immigrants before a public hearing on the bill set for this Wednesday.

On Saturday, volunteers fanned out around Fair Haven, a New Haven neighborhood with a big immigrant population. They talked to more than 100 business owners and residents about how to respond to a possible interaction with immigration enforcement officials and how to exercise their rights if arrested. And on Sunday, 300 people from more than 20 congregations gathered at Mishkan Israel synagogue in Hamden to learn how to support people who are going through deportation proceedings, for example by going with them to hearings in Hartford. Volunteers also signed up to help immigrant families in other ways.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.

Under attack for decades of bad decisions regarding their pensions, Connecticut’s labor unions are uniting to fight back against a bill that would exempt retirement benefits from collective bargaining. Described in emails to their union brothers and sisters as “an all hands on deck moment,” the labor community will be at the Capitol on Tuesday to oppose the legislation. The Labor and Public Employees Committee public hearing on the House Bill 5552 will start at 3 p.m. in room 2E of the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. 

“This bill would take public employee pensions out of collective bargaining, leaving them to the unilateral whim of whichever politician happens to be in charge at any given time,” according to an email from CSEA SEIU Local 2001. “HB 5552 would bring us a step closer to Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. (and Koch Bros. puppet) Scott Walker and the Republican legislature destroyed collective bargaining and made the state a worse place to live and do business.” Council 4 AFSCME described the legislation as the “most odious of more than 100 proposed bills attacking the rights of working people to have a public hearing, and among the most egregious.”

At the moment, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and a coalition of bargaining groups are the only two entities at the state level that can negotiate retirement benefits for state employees. The current contract with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition doesn’t expire until 2022. In order to reopen the contract and renegotiate those retirement benefits, the governor would have to get the unions to agree through a vote of their leaders. The legislation, which was proposed by three Greenwich Republican state Reps. Fred Camillo, Mike Bocchino, and Livvy Floren, also seeks to exempt retirement benefits from collective bargaining at the municipal level.

The East Hampton Star reports:
East Hampton will not take an enhanced role in enforcing immigration laws, Supervisor Larry Cantwell told a packed meeting room at Town Hall on last Thursday night. The town, Mr. Cantwell said, will not ask the Department of Homeland Security to authorize its police officers to take people into custody solely for immigration violations. Last month, Donald Trump issued an executive order instructing the federal officials to deputize local jurisdictions for that purpose, should they request it.

The town will not change its policies, Mr. Cantwell said. In cases involving criminal activity or deportation orders, police will continue to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But, he said: “We do not seek out illegal immigrants in the process of law enforcement.” Mr. Cantwell said town officials, including Police Chief Michael Sarlo, were consulting federal and state officials, including the office of the New York State Attorney General, about the changing immigration policy.

Mr. Cantwell said: “We’re evaluating impacts on people who live and work here in town. I think all of us feel an obligation to the community. All of us as individuals have a responsibility to reassure people that we know that it’s going to be okay,  that we’re going to help them. . . . We understand how the immigrant community is an important part of our economy and our culture, and we intend to respect that.”

Friday February 17, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Melinda Tuhus, Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: graduate student teachers hold rally at Yale;  gun owners target Governor Dannel Malloy over pistol permit fee increase; New York farmers see chilling effect of ICE raids; and, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman seeks public input on internet speeds.

Hundreds of Yale graduate student teachers were joined by their allies in other Yale unions and community supporters for a raucous rally at United Church on the Green Wednesday evening, to rev people up for their unionization vote next week. 

WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus has more:
Their counterparts at only two other private universities have voted to unionize, as school administrations have opposed unionization across the board, including, vociferously, at Yale.

The National Labor Relations Board determined that 300 graduate teachers across nine departments may vote to affiliate with Local 33 of H-E-R-E, the union that also represents two other locals at Yale. There are 3,000 grad students at Yale, and Local 33 says more than half have signed union cards.

Aaron Greenberg, the chair of Local 33, shared his excitement: “This is a rally with our allies ahead of our historic vote next week. The federal government is going to be supervising our election, and we’re going to have a chance to vote for our union for the first time in 25 years. It’s a hugely historic and exciting moment for us. There are some members who were not alive when we started organizing. On the other hand, graduate teachers’ unions at public universities have been recognized starting in the late 1960s.”

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News

Earlier today, gun owners and legislators of both parties criticized Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal to increase the state portion of the pistol permit fee from $70 to $300 and the initial five-year pistol permit fee from $140 to $370. The increase in fees for gun owners will bring in another $9 million to the state annually, according to the governor’s budget estimates.

Questioned about the gun permit fees issue later in the day, Malloy defended his plan but added that he said when he proposed the budget: “I had no anticipation that it would be adopted in its entirety.”

New York farmers fear anti-immigrant fervor has had a chilling effect on immigrants who working low-paying, labor-intensive agricultural jobs shunned by native-born Americans. Anxiety has worsened, farmers say, as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents conduct sweeping raids targeting undocumented workers across the country, including one in the Hudson Valley region last week.

New York Farm Bureau's Steve Ammerman wrote on Monday: “ICE raids have been an ongoing concern for farmers and their migrant employees for many years. With the added attention on enforcement from the Trump administration, those concerns are certainly heightened. While we recognize that border security is essential, an enforcement-only approach to immigration issues in this country will leave farms with a diminished workforce and will lead to more food being imported into the U.S.”

In New York, where more than 900 temporary H-2A work visas were issued to farm workers last year, farmers in the state’s $3.5 billion agriculture sector fear they’ll be unable to fill vital positions at a time when Americans are turning away from farm work. Cornell University's Thomas Maloney, an agricultural labor researcher, said: “Latino workers have become a part of our agricultural economy. With each generation we get further from a farm economy, so there’s less people in our population that have had any kind of farm experience.” 

Disrupting the state’s flow of documented and undocumented workers “would have economic consequences,” he said, estimating the latter account for at least half of all national farm labor. 

According to The Albany Times-Union, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is asking New Yorkers to visit his website, soliciting the public to provide information about internet speeds, as part of an ongoing investigation into whether internet service providers are delivering on promised speeds. 

The attorney general is suing Charter Communications and subsidiary Spectrum for promising “blazing fast” internet speeds but allegedly failing to deliver.  Charter says it is making “substantial” investments to upgrade its system and is “disappointed” that Schneiderman is suing over promises made by Time Warner Cable before Charter acquired it. 

Schneiderman said in a statement Thursday: “Millions of New York families and businesses depend on reliable internet for everything from running a business to communicating with family and friends. No one should be paying a premium for speeds and services they aren’t receiving. Conducting a speed test will ensure people are getting the speed they’re paying for. I urge New Yorkers to submit their results and help my office continue to hold service providers accountable.”

New Yorkers can test their internet speeds online at or search for Schneiderman speed test or AG NY speed test and look for the link to the attorney general’s website.

Thursday February 16, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Democratic Lawmakers and Advocates Seek Minimum Wage Hike; East Hartford Developer Continues Casino Pursuit; and, Suffolk County gets $5.2 million for legal services for the poor.

While not predicting the odds of the Connecticut General Assembly approving an increase in the minimum wage this year, Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said he wouldn’t give up the fight because “it’s the right thing to do.” Last month, Connecticut’s minimum wage increased to $10.10 an hour, but advocates and labor unions have been pushing for $15 an hour.

With a split Senate and a House where the majority of Democrats is so small that all it would take is four votes to defeat a measure, it won’t be easy to get a controversial proposal like a minimum wage hike across the finish line. “There’s always a challenge, but I’ve been here long enough to know you keep fighting until you get across the finish line,” Looney said.

Leadership in the House is also keeping an open mind about the proposal. “There is clearly significant support for moving on an increase this session, and we will know in the next few months if that translates into the votes needed to pass the full legislature,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said. A spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wouldn’t say exactly whether the governor would support the proposal, but sent a supportive statement. “Governor Malloy is supportive of predictable, incremental, and consistent increases in the minimum wage,” Meg Green, a spokeswoman for Malloy, said. Looney said today’s public hearing is the first chance to hear about the proposal, which would phase in an increase so that it reaches $15 an hour in 2022 and then is indexed to inflation in the future. He said indexing future increases “is a pragmatic way to reach out to those who have had doubts in the past about supporting the legislation.”

At a Capitol press conference Thursday, advocates said the gradual increase to $15 an hour minimum wage would allow Connecticut to keep pace with other states and cities throughout the nation. New York state has already passed legislation to incrementally raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022 in most parts of the state. California and Washington D.C. have also enacted gradual increases to $15 an hour. The Connecticut Low-Wage Employer Advisory Board reported in December 2016 that at least 20 percent of Connecticut’s workforce or 336,000 workers currently earn less than $15 an hour.

An East Hartford developer isn’t giving up on his push to convince state lawmakers that his East Hartford location is the best site for a third Connecticut casino. Tony Ravosa of Silver Lane Partners, LLC, which has secured the rights to purchase the former Showcase Cinemas off I-84, said Tuesday that lawmakers should increase the gaming tax on both slots and table games at the new casino. 

Ravosa is proposing that the state get 35% of slot revenues and 15% of table game revenues. He said if there were 2,000 slot machines and 150 table games then the state could generate an additional $30 million annually, which could be put toward funding improvements to the XL Center in Hartford and other area attractions. Sen. Tim Larson, (D-East Hartford), who co-chairs the Public Safety and Security Committee, which deals with gaming issues, said he also believes that some portion of the revenue produced by a new casino should go back to supporting the tourism industry in the state. 

Last month, MMCT, the joint business venture of the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Tribes, narrowed its options for a third casino to East Windsor and Windsor Locks. It held public forums in both locations to get a sense of how welcoming the towns would be to casino development, and the East Hartford location being pitched by Ravosa is no longer on their list. 

Meanwhile, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he plans on borrowing $250 million to make improvements to the XL Center in Hartford to optimize the building’s revenue streams and increase the efficiency of the mechanical and operational systems. 

Newsday reports:
A decade after the New York Civil Liberties Union first sued the state for failing to properly defend the poor in local courts, Suffolk County finally is about to receive $5.2 million to improve criminal legal services for defendants who are unable to pay. A legislative resolution to accept the state grant comes as part of a settlement of the lawsuit, in which Suffolk, and three other counties were also defendants. All will now get more state funding.

Annual state payments to improve legal services to the poor are to continue through 2023. At that point, the state is expected to pick up ongoing costs for all counties statewide.
“After decade of insufficient funding, we will be getting the proper resources,” said Laurette Mulry attorney in charge of the Suffolk Legal Aid Society. “It will go a long way to creating an equal playing field for those who cannot afford their own counsel.”

The suit, filed in 2007, was settled on the eve of trial in 2014 after the NYCLU alleged that the state and counties violated due process rights of indigent defendants through a patchwork system of understaffed attorneys with few resources. The suit, Hurrell-Haring v. New York, said those defendants often were arraigned without attorneys; urged to take plea bargains regardless of the facts in their cases; faced excessive bail and were kept in jail for long periods even for petty crimes.

The settlement ensures poor criminal defendants will have an attorney at their first court appearance when pleas are entered and bail is set; sets caseload limits for legal aid lawyers and funds hiring of more attorneys and support staff.

Wednesday February 15, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: U.S. Senate abolishes Obama gun rule prompted by Sandy Hook; and, As Russian Intel Ship Skirts Long Island, Lawmakers Sound Alarm

By a 57-43 vote, the U.S. Senate approved legislation today that will roll back an Obama administration rule requiring the Social Security Administration to submit information about mentally impaired recipients so they can be added to a list of people barred from purchasing a gun.

“Republicans consistently say we don’t need new gun laws, we just need better enforcement of the laws already on the books. But today, they voted to undermine enforcement of existing law that provides complete information for the background check system,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, one of several Democrats who argued against overturning the rule.

Issued in December in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the rule was expected to add about 75,000 names to a database of people banned from purchasing weapons. It applies to recipients of disability insurance and supplemental security income who require someone else to manage their benefits because of a disabling mental disorder, ranging from anxiety to dementia or schizophrenia. The Republican-led House voted 235-180 in early February, largely along party lines, to cancel the rule.

Gun control groups, and other organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the American Federation of Teachers, lobbied against repeal of the rule. Donald Trump is expected to sign the legislation into law.

As a Russian intelligence vessel skirts the eastern tip of Long Island in international waters in the midst of heightened national attention to U.S.-Russian relations, federal lawmakers in Connecticut and on the East End are sounding an alarm about the ship’s proximity to U.S. military installations. The vessel, identified by the U.S. Defense Department as the SSV-175 Viktor Leonov, is a Vishnya-class intelligence collection ship built for the Soviet Navy in the 1980s. This class of ship is 91.5 meters long, about 300 feet, and is designed for signals intelligence gathering and interception of electronic communication.

“Reports have stated that a Russian spy ship was spotted just south of Montauk and that this latest activity is reportedly consistent with, but further north than, the ship’s past activity,” said East End Congressman Lee Zeldin, a former Army Military Intelligence Officer who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “My office has requested more information from officials. I will continue to monitor the situation closely and I will share updates as we can.”

“Russia’s increased aggression is a direct threat,” he added. “Vladimir Putin aspires to be Vladimir the Great and probably would love to put the U.S.S.R. back together again if he could. Russia is our adversary, meddling in ways globally that are putting American service members and the security of the free world at risk.”

News reports first picked up the presence of the ship off the coast of Delaware Tuesday. It had also been reported off the coast of Florida in 2014 and 2015, and caused a stir when it was seen docked in Old Havana, Cuba in 2015, just before the U.S. restored diplomatic talks with the island nation and Russian ally. The U.S. Coast Guard confirmed Wednesday afternoon that it is tracking the ship. “The U.S. Coast Guard is aware of a Russian Federation-flagged vessel transiting international waters off the East Coast of the United States, as we are of all vessels approaching the U.S.,” said the Coast Guard in a statement. “The ship has not entered U.S. territorial waters, which extend 12 miles out to sea,” the agency added. “We respect freedom of navigation exercised by all nations beyond the territorial sea of a coastal state consistent with international law. The Coast Guard continues to coordinate with federal agency partners to monitor maritime contacts operating in the vicinity of U.S. shores.”

But Connecticut lawmakers whose districts include Naval Submarine Base New London and the United States Coast Guard Academy, also in New London, were more wary. “A Russian spy ship patrolling 30 miles from the Groton SUBASE underscores that the threats posed by a resurgent Russia are real,” said Connecticut Congressman Joe Courtney, a ranking member of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, in a statement Wednesday. “This unacceptable, aggressive action, combined with the buzzing of US Navy ships in the Black Sea yesterday, are clearly testing the resolve of a new administration,” he added. “While I have total confidence in our Navy’s vigilant, responsible readiness, the White House needs to move past their seeming infatuation with Putin and treat him like the serious threat to global peace and security that he has been for the last five years.”

Tuesday February 14, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN Volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut would protect Planned Parenthood Medicaid funds under Governor Malloy’s budget proposal; Southern Connecticut State University Students Study Trump Presidency in Real Time; and; New York Assembly passes Raise the Age as budget negotiations continue.

As Republicans in Congress seek to cut off federal funds to Planned Parenthood, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has proposed legislation that would allow the state to make up any federal Medicaid dollars the clinics would lose. Malloy did not include any additional money to go with the proposal in the budget he introduced last week – something a spokesman for his budget office said reflected the uncertainties about what changes might occur at the federal level. But Chris McClure, a spokesman for Malloy’s budget office, said the language included in one of the governor’s budget bills is intended to “ensure there is no disruption in family planning services provided to Medicaid recipients.” 

“Planned Parenthood is an important provider to the Medicaid program,” McClure said. “The language is added in case it becomes an issue.” As an example, he said, Planned Parenthood is responsible for 25% to 30% of long-acting reversible contraceptives – such as intrauterine devices, known as IUDs – in the program.

The federal government reimburses Connecticut for a portion of what the state spends on medical care for people covered by Medicaid. Under Malloy’s proposal, if a family planning clinic that meets the state’s standards to participate in Medicaid becomes ineligible to receive federal matching funds, the state’s Medicaid program would continue paying at the current rate. In other words, the clinics would receive no cut and the state would make up what the federal government won’t fund. Connecticut’s Medicaid program only pays for services that are eligible for federal Medicaid funding, unless there is an exception in state law or regulation, McClure said.

Federal law already prohibits federal dollars from paying for abortions, so any change under Malloy’s proposal would not affect abortions. Connecticut’s Medicaid program pays, without federal reimbursement, for abortions that are deemed by a doctor to be medically necessary and medically appropriate. In Connecticut, Planned Parenthood has about 30,000 patients per year covered by Medicaid – about half of the clinics’ total patients. Malloy’s proposal was included in a larger bill that would implement the governor’s human services-related budget proposals.

The dozen students who are taking a new political science course at Southern Connecticut State University focused on the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency all agree there has been no shortage of material to discuss the first few weeks of the semester. “It’s been a real interesting class each session,” Robert Vaughn, a history major, said just before the weekly class got underway Monday at Engelman Hall.

Vaughn admitted that “he’s not a big fan of Trump,” but he’s finding the course, Seminar in American Politics: Presidential Elections and Transitions, being taught by Art Paulson, a professor emeritus of political science at Southern “a real good lesson in our constitutional process.”

“They have been active and vocal,” Paulson said of his class, which is made up of mostly graduate students. The three main areas of study have been the Trump transition, the office of the presidency from both a theoretical and practical standpoint and an examination of the presidency and the executive branch of government. Paulson, a longtime professor at Southern, said he wasn’t aware of any similar courses being taught anywhere else in the country.

The Albany Times-Union reports:
The New York Assembly continues passing today legislation that is part of a 12-point package that includes a bill that would raise the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 years old. The Raise the Age bill was approved 81-40.

That piece is key for the Assembly’s Majority Democrats as the calendar moves deeper into budget negotiation season. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has included Raise the Age legislation in his budget, but past efforts to get those under the age of 18 out of adult prisons and tried in the family court system have fallen flat.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), had said at a press conference today he would not make a declaration that the budget should be held up if Raise the Age isn’t included. But at the same time he made Raise the Age out to be an imperative as part of an overhaul of the criminal justice system. “Deep-red states that have a Republican governor and Republican (legislature) have found a way to do this,” Heastie said. “For me personally it’s embarrassing that New York is still one of the two states (not) to do this. For me, as a speaker of color, it truly is hurtful to me that New York and North Carolina are the only ones that still treat 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.”

Senate Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan told reporters last month that Raise the Age is a complicated measure. “You have issues that I think still involve fingerprinting to a degree, but family court jurisdiction,” he said. “And how do you do this in a way that actually works? I know, clearly, that this is extremely important to the speaker, which I respect greatly. But we’ll have to figure out where we want to end up.”

Monday February 13, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Melinda Tuhus.)

In the news tonight: New Haven rally calls for name change at Yale; pistol permit fee hikes prompt NRA and others to rebuke Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy; New York State Supreme Court ruling backs Greenport’s short-term rental law; and, proposed EPCAL facility avoids further environmental review.

As members of Yale University’s governing body gathered in New Haven over the weekend, students and community members rallied in front of Calhoun College, demanding that Yale change the name of that residential college, which currently honors John C. Calhoun, an ardent defender of slavery. Four of them were arrested. 

WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus has more:
A Yale committee appointed by the president recently recommended changing the name. A Yale student spoke at the rally: “When the Yale Corporation votes to change the name of Calhoun, it will not be the end of our struggle. The point is to change Yale, to imagine a world that we want to live in, to resist the racism and corporate interests that make changing the name a fight to begin with. We are hopeful because of the coalition that has come out of this struggle. In our time here as Yale students, we have rarely if at all seen organizing that unites the students on this campus with the people in New Haven.”

After a short rally, four people sat down in the intersection of Elm and College streets, in a protest coordinated with New Haven police, who cordoned off Elm Street. Motorists honked impatiently, and the four were arrested after about ten minutes. The Yale Corporation did in fact, agree to change the name – to honor Grace Hopper, a 1930s alumna who was a pioneer in computer science.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News. 

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal to bolster state pistol permitting fees drew a sharp response from the National Rifle Association, a Connecticut-based advocacy group and top Republican officials. The Democratic governor’s new two-year budget, released last Wednesday, would increase the state portion of the pistol permit fee from $70 to $300, and of the initial five-year permit from $140 to $370. A separate background check fee would rise from $50 to $75. These changes, which would take effect July 1, would raise an estimated $11.6 million per year, according to the administration.

“Governor Malloy’s proposed fee hikes on firearms will make it harder for some of Connecticut’s most vulnerable citizens to protect themselves,” Chris Kornacki, the NRA’s Connecticut legislative liaison, said Monday. “Some of our state’s poorest residents, many of whom live in high-crime neighborhoods, may not be able to afford a firearm for self-protection under Malloy’s proposed fee hikes.”

The NRA also released statements from Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League. Wilson appeared recently on a web-based news channel hosted by the NRA: “This will severely impact the ability of people to protect their families,” Wilson said during a Feb. 9 appearance on the web channel. “People who live in high-crime areas will possibly have to sacrifice their ability to carry a firearm to protect themselves.”

The new fee structure is comparable to those set by New York City, Chris McClure, spokesman for the governor’s budget office, said Monday. “Governor Malloy signed sweeping gun control reforms in 2013,” McClure said, adding that “those reforms, as well as discussion on national reforms, have led to an increased demand for gun permits and thus an increased workload for the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection in processing the pistol permits, long-gun certificates and ammunition certificates. Raising the fee will cover the costs of the Connecticut State Police associated with these workload increases.”

A state Supreme Court Justice has dismissed a Greenport woman’s lawsuit seeking to overturn a 2016 Southold Town Zoning Board of Appeals ruling related to the short-term rental law. The court rejected her claim that renting her home for fewer than 14 days should be permitted as a grandfathered use.

Lisa Cradit of Greenport had gone before the ZBA last year to argue that a home she owns in Greenport should not fall under the town’s 2015 law banning residential rentals of fewer than 14 days on the grounds that she had been renting the home in that manner since 2014. As a result, Ms. Cradit contends that the use is permitted by state law, which allows uses to continue if they existed before approval of an ordinance or zone change disallowing them.

In a decision rendered last Thursday, however, state Supreme Court Justice Arthur Pitts acknowledged that a use that existed prior to a new zoning ordinance can continue only if that use was legal when it was initiated. He said the argument that the use is permitted because there was nothing in the code prohibiting it is “without merit,” because the town code specifies that “any use not permitted by this chapter shall be deemed to be prohibited.”

“The ruling doesn’t surprise me,” Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said in an email. “I said from the beginning, the law is fair and defensible. The town has a right to adopt code that regulates land use especially when commercial uses like short-term rentals start operating in residential communities. We had an obligation to address it on behalf of homeowners.”

Newsday reports:
The Riverhead Town Board by a 4-1 vote, will not require further environmental reviews of plans for a proposed health care and drug and alcohol abuse treatment facility at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

The Peconic Care project calls for constructing six buildings on roughly 40 acres of land at the Calverton site that would house 130 beds — with the potential for 30 extra beds — for inpatient rehabilitation and outpatient care provisions. The 133,917-square-foot facility would also include an extended care building, fitness center, an arts and crafts barn and a gate house.

While the vote means the project will not need a draft environmental impact statement on any environmental issues at the site, Town Supervisor Sean Walter said that several more steps remain and that there was “a long way to go” before the project’s final site plan can be approved.

Friday February 10, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.) 

In tonight’s news: Governor Dannel Malloy touts budget for intellectually and developmentally disabled populations; New York State Senator Tony Avella proposes new law requiring motorists to remove from their car before driving; and, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman unveils voting reform bill.

Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s two year, $41.51 billion budget was a mixed bag for the nonprofit community, but seeks to continue to make progress in annualizing funding for the intellectual and developmentally disabled population.
Malloy’s budget will spend $3.8 million in support for the Intellectual Disability Partnership created last year to develop innovative and cost-effective ways to serve individuals with intellectual disabilities. 

Of that, $1 million will be used to reduce the waiting list for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are able to live on their own in a group setting, $1 million is for pilot programs, and $1.8 million is to help stabilize providers transitioning to a Medicaid fee-for-service model. In addition to the $3.8 million, there’s $1 million in bond funding to convert group homes to supportive housing units, residential care homes, or community companion homes.

Malloy said his budget helps move the state toward privatizing state services, which can be done by private non-profit community providers for less money than the state. The unions that represent the state workers who currently provide these services are challenging the state in court over its decision to privatize 40 group homes, about 30 of which have yet to be awarded to a private provider. They say the state failed to collectively bargain with the unions in order to move forward with these privatizations. Malloy’s budget reflects those 40 conversions and the closure of two regional centers. That’s $16.4 million in savings per year.

Malloy’s budget transfers about $10.4 million of those savings to private providers and the state saves about $6 million as a result of those conversions and closures.

Senator Tony Avella (Democrat-Queens) proposed legislation yesterday to reduce hazards from snow and ice flying off vehicles driven by owners who didn't clear them off. This was proposed in two prior sessions, but hasn’t failed in both the Senate and Assembly, where it was proposed by Long Island Democrat Charles Lavine.  It includes a $75 fine for not making a “reasonable effort” to remove snow or ice from their windshield, windows, hood, trunk and roof before driving. 

If snow or ice blows off a vehicle and causes personal injury or property damage, non-commercial drivers could face a fine of $200 to $1,000 with commercial drivers possibly facing a fine of $500 to $1,250. The legislation exempts parked cars and emergency vehicles.

Avella said: “During a severe snow storm, conditions are already hazardous enough. We should be doing our best to limit hazards that can be prevented. This bill may cause you to spend an extra five minutes, or so, cleaning off your car but it can ultimately be the difference between life and death.”

Connecticut and New Jersey have laws requiring that snow be cleared off vehicles before they hit the road with fines the same as in Avella's proposal.

According to The Albany Times-Union, on Wednesday State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Democratic state lawmakers released proposed legislation that addresses myriad issues with New York’s election system. The proposal outlines 15 points related to voting, including automatic voter registration, same-day registration and early voting.

The New York Votes Act is carried in the Assembly by Staten Island Democrat Michael Cusick but does not have a Senate sponsor. Cusick said the legislation, if passed, would drive up voter participation.

Schneiderman said: “Any law that makes it easier to vote is a good law. New York has long been a bastion of democracy, but our state’s current system of registration and voting is an affront to that legacy. [This] Act will help our state become a national leader in protecting and expanding voting rights.”  State Senate Democrats also released a platform of voting reforms. Governor Cuomo proposes similar reforms. 

Rich Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman, said: “These are many of the same reforms the governor has long advanced and fought to pass into law. We welcome the additional support in our collective efforts to enact our democracy agenda and break down artificial barriers that discourage New Yorkers from taking part in the process.


Thursday February 9, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Liz Becker and Melinda Tuhus.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Hospitals Will Fight Malloy’s Tax Proposal; New Haven Panel discusses solitary confinement; and, New York Adopts Science-Based Sea Level Rise Projections.

The Connecticut Hospital Association panned Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s budget proposal to allow municipalities to tax acute care hospitals in exchange for what they are promising will be more money. Malloy’s proposal is intended to give municipalities more revenue. At the same time, the state would be able to increase its federal Medicaid reimbursement and then would agree to redistribute it to hospitals.

Office of Policy and Management Secretary, Ben Barnes, said the tax would be more than offset by funds from the state, and hospitals would benefit by about $25 million. But the scenario sounds all too familiar to hospitals. The Malloy administration withheld supplemental payments to hospitals last year, and they were partly restored by the legislature as part of a budget deal.

The proposal is similar to the taxing scheme the state instituted, which the Connecticut Hospital Association is challenging in court. The hospitals argued that the idea of implementing the “user fee” — which they equate to a tax — was to increase the amount of federal reimbursement the state receives. In the first few years the state returned most of the money to the hospitals, but as the state’s budget situation worsened it proceeded to keep more of the revenue.

The Connecticut Hospital Association says that as a result of the hospital tax and poor Medicaid funding there have been 1,390 layoffs and more than 1,700 open positions that  have been eliminated at Connecticut hospitals.

A panel that included a lawmaker, a civil liberties champion, the mother of an incarcerated son and a man who spent more than five years in solitary confinement spoke at Yale Law School Wednesday night about the need to eliminate that form of punishment in Connecticut. It was part of a three-week long program about solitary confinement called Inside the Box.

WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus was there:
Mualimm-ak, a leader of an organization that works on prison issues called Incarcerated Nation. He served 12 years in prison, including five in solitary. On any given day between 80,000 and 100,000 human beings are held in solitary in the U.S. He said there are many reasons to get rid of it.

“Because we’re tired of paying for it, we’re tired of being the victims of it, we’re tired of our families suffering, and we’re also tired of the damage from employees who work in the facilities, right?”

He said he now works young people, including the children of correction officers. “And they say: ‘Five, do you know how my dad is when he comes home? Do you understand that working in an isolation unit he locked my brother in his room and just feeds him a sandwich on punishment? Do you understand that he runs his house like the jail?”

A one-sentence concept bill regarding solitary confinement was introduced in the Connecticut General Assembly earlier in the day and will have a public hearing later in the session.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.

New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation announced Monday that the state has adopted official sea-level rise projections to help state agencies and coastal communities plan for the impacts of climate change, becoming one of the first states in the nation to formalize sea level rise projections. The projections are based on peer-reviewed research conducted by scientists at Columbia University, Cornell University, and Hunter College as part of the New York State ClimAID study, which included consideration of possible rapid melt of land-based ice in Antarctica and Greenland.

According to the state DEC’s announcement of the adoption of the regulations, “research confirms that such rapid melting of land-based ice is occurring and could result in high rates of sea-level rise, especially if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated.” The DEC added: “The adopted regulation includes high projections of approximately six feet of sea-level rise by 2100. Many scientists fear that the likelihood of this rate of sea-level rise — or even more — will increase dramatically if current plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and vehicles are curtailed at the federal level.”

The study projected low, middle and high rates for sea level rise at Montauk Point to be between 2 and 10 inches by the 2020s, between 8 and 30 inches by the 2050s, between 13 inches and 58 inches by the 2080s and between 15 and 72 inches by 2100. The study also projected mean temperature increases in New York City at between 1.5 and 3.2 degrees Fahrenheit by the 2020s, between 3.1 and 6.6 degrees by the 2050s, between 3.8 and 10.3 degrees by the 2080s and between 4.2 and 12.1 degrees by 2100.

Climatologists involved in drafting global climate conventions believe that global temperature change must be limited to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-Industrial Revolution levels to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Wednesday February 8, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Winter Storm Warning for Connecticut, Blizzard Warning for Suffolk County; and, Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy unveils his $40.6 billion two-year budget proposal.

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for Connecticut and a blizzard warning for Suffolk County New York.

In Connecticut, the warning is in effect from Midnight tonight until 6 PM Thursday, with expected snow accumulations of 8 to 12 inches with locally higher amounts possible. North winds of 15 to 25 miles per hour with gusts up to 35 miles per hour are expected.

In Suffolk County, the warning is in effect from 3 AM to 6 PM Thursday, with expected snow accumulations of 10 to 14 inches with locally higher amounts possible. North winds of 20 to 30 miles per hour with gusts up to 45 miles per hour are expected.

Throughout our area, temperatures will fall into the 20s and visibilities of one quarter mile or less at times.  Travel will be hazardous due to snow covered roads  and poor visibilities. Blowing and drifting snow is likely.  Local power outages with downed trees and power lines are possible.

Governor Dannel P. Malloy unveiled a $40.6 billion two-year budget today that seeks $1.5 billion in labor concessions, imposes $400 million of annual pension costs on municipalities and reorganizes the financial relationship between the state, communities and hospitals. The governor also would increase taxes by close to $200 million, scaling back income tax credits for the middle class and working poor and boosting the cigarette levy by 45 cents per pack. The plan, which would spend $20.1 billion next fiscal year and $20.5 billion in 2018-19, would eliminate major projected deficits totaling $3.6 billion over the coming biennium.

The pension fees and the hospital funding changes were designed not only to close major shortfalls in state finances, driven largely by surging retirement benefit costs, but also to shield Connecticut’s financially distressed cities. The labor savings target has an ugly alternative. According to Malloy’s budget director, Ben Barnes, the administration’s backup plan would be to seek at least 4,200 additional layoffs.

The governor’s new proposal would boost overall spending in the General Fund — which covers the bulk of annual operating costs — by about 0.8 percent next fiscal year and 1.8 percent in 2018-19. Still, it would spend $1.4 billion less next fiscal year than the level necessary to maintain current services. The new budget does not recommend tolls, gasoline tax hikes or any other major revenue initiative to fund Malloy’s long-term plan to rebuild the state’s transportation infrastructure. Barnes said the governor remains determined not to have that debate until after legislators approve a constitutional “lockbox” amendment to safeguard those funds.

“Our economic reality demands that we re-envision state government,” Malloy said. “Together we need to provide essential core services, and we need to find ways to do it at less cost to taxpayers.” The single-biggest spending cut in the governor’s new plan hinges on an assumption: that unionized state employees can be convinced to provide wage and benefit concessions worth $700 million next fiscal year, and $800 million in 2018-19. To help pay for spiking contributions to the state pension fund for municipal teachers – a $1 billion expense now that will grow by more than 33 percent over the next two fiscal years combined – Malloy is proposing to bill cities and towns for one-third of the cost. That would amount to $408 million next fiscal year and $421 million in 2018-19.

The administration notes this system would place the heaviest proportional burden on the wealthiest communities whose districts typically pay the highest teacher salaries, giving their retirees the most generous pension benefits. At the same time, the administration also would overhaul how Connecticut finances local education, including special education services. The Education Cost Sharing grant, the state’s largest program for local school aid, would be revised to shift greater resources to poor communities. The state also would reallocate a portion of ECS grants to a new initiative to pick up a much greater share of local special education costs.

Though Malloy hopes to save the most money by cutting labor costs, the budget still cuts $236 million from the level of funding needed to maintain current services next fiscal year. The new plan reduces income eligibility levels for poor families receiving health care through Medicaid, eliminates $11 million in annual assistance for small hospitals, caps dental benefits provided to poor adults, limits enrollment in an state-funded home care program and would close one prison and four units scattered in other correctional institutions. However, the new budget still preserves funding in other social services priorities such as programs to eliminate homelessness.

Connecticut’s public colleges and universities, which have absorbed major cuts in most state budgets since the last recession ended seven years ago, would see their block grants reduced, on average by 4.5%.  

Tuesday February 7, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut supports challenge of Trump’s immigration order; big pot of money waiting if Connecticut legalizes marijuana, analysts say; and, Feds File Motion to Dismiss Lawsuit Over Plum Island Sale.

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen joined his counterparts in 15 states Monday in filing an amicus brief in support of Washington state’s lawsuit challenging Donald  Trump’s executive order temporarily banning immigration from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

The 22-page brief is meant to give the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit a sense of how the Trump administration set off waves of uncertainty and chaos that rippled across the U.S., disrupting trade and academia at a potential cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. “In Illinois alone, for example, 22.1% of entrepreneurs are foreign-born, and immigrant- and refugee-owned businesses employ more than 281,000 people,” the attorneys general wrote. “The Executive Order will create broad harm because it hampers the movement of people and ideas from the affected countries into our States.”

New York and every New England state but New Hampshire are among the 16 states supporting Washington and a similar challenge by Minnesota. The two states were best positioned to lead the legal challenge as border states with international airports that are major entry points into the United States, Jepsen said. “The effects are more direct,” Jepsen said. The appeals court set a deadline of Monday afternoon for briefs, with expedited decision expected. The matter is likely to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from favoring one religion over another. The attorneys general described the executive order as “an act of unconstitutional discrimination. “It is well recognized that States have standing to sue the federal government where a federal law or federal action with the force of law impairs their legitimate, sovereign interest in the continued enforceability of their own statutes,” they wrote.

Jepsen seemed skeptical last week about the ability of state attorneys general to fight the executive order, but he said Monday the states clearly can show damages.

Connecticut could bring in $45.4 million to $104.6 million a year in revenue if the legislature legalizes marijuana in the same way Massachusetts or Colorado have, Connecticut’s nonpartisan fiscal experts say. The estimates, by the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis, were for the second full fiscal year after legalization of the drug and varied depending on which state’s model for taxes and licensing fees was followed.

If the legislature allowed municipalities to also apply a 2% sales tax to marijuana, cities and towns could collectively bring in $9 million by the second full year of legalization, OFA estimated. The revenue would be smaller in the first full year of legalization, between $30 million and $63.9 million for the state and $5.6 million for municipalities. The growth from year to year reflects that experienced in Colorado since legalization in 2014.  “To the extent that any enacted policy varies in tax rates and fees from the Massachusetts or Colorado policies, there could be a potentially significant difference in actual revenue collected,” OFA said.

OFA also estimated that regulatory costs would be about 14% of total tax revenues each year. The revenue projection, posted on OFA’s website Monday, was developed in response to a request from an unnamed legislator and could heighten debate at the State Capitol about whether to legalize marijuana. The state is grappling with large budget deficits projected for each of the next two fiscal years. One Republican and 20 Democratic legislators have proposed or sponsored bills to legalize marijuana. The Democrats  include Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney of New Haven. The Republican is Rep. Melissa Ziobron, of East Haddam, the ranking minority House member of the legislature’s budget writing committee.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told reporters in December that it would be a mistake for Connecticut to legalize marijuana, saying the state already had gone as far as he was comfortable with by approving medical use of the drug and decriminalizing possession of small quantities. “I’ve done my part – with medical and decriminalization. I think legalizing it encourages it. It is not my priority,” Malloy said.

The federal agencies charged with the sale of Plum Island off the coast of Southold have filed a motion for a dismissal of a lawsuit filed by environmental groups last summer that alleged the federal government failed to examine possible conservation uses of the island. The motion was made Feb. 2 in United States Eastern District Court in Brooklyn.

Connecticut Fund for the Environment and Save the Sound Director of Communications Laura McMillan said the plaintiffs will be filing their response within 30 days and plan to discuss the case with the press at that time. The lawsuit alleges that the federal government failed to consider conservation alternatives or a bifurcated sale of just the federal animal disease research laboratory facilities on the island, since the original act of Congress authorized the sale of the animal disease research lab infrastructure there, not the whole island. The suit also alleges the federal government failed to consider any form of sale other than a public auction, failed to consider the potential transfer of the island to another government agency, and failed to adequately detail the necessary environmental cleanup of the island.

The plaintiffs include Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound and Soundkeeper, Group for the East End, Peconic Baykeeper; birder and environmental advocate John Turner; CT/RI Coastal Flyfishers President John Potter and historian and author Ruth Ann Bramson of East Marion, lead author of “A World Unto Itself: The Remarkable History of Plum Island, NY.”

The defendants, which include the United States General Services Administration, United States Department of Homeland Security, and the administrators of those agencies, said in their motion to dismiss that the environmental groups’ case lacked “subject matter jurisdiction” because they have not yet finished their environmental review of the sale. “Because Defendants have not concluded their review, and any potential sale is years away and subject to multiple conditions precedent, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction,” the defendants said in their motion to dismiss. They added that the sale is conditional on the completion and subsequent transfer of the lab work to the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan Kansas, the replacement facility for Plum Island, which broke ground in 2015, “which is not likely to occur until at least December 2022.” 

“In light of the current congressional mandate, the uniqueness of the Plum Island asset, and the likelihood that environmental features at Plum Island will change over the next half-decade, DHS and GSA have decided to continue their review of any environmental impact that the congressional mandate may have,” they added.

Monday February 6, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Liz Becker and Melinda Tuhus.)

In the news tonight: New Haven rally in support of refugees and immigrants leads to clashes between police and protestors; Connecticut Governor proposes elimination of property tax credit, but won’t change income or sales tax; and, New York State Senate passes its ride-hailing proposal.

Two hundred protestors took to the streets of New Haven Saturday afternoon, after a rally mostly defending refugees and immigrants turned violent when police intervened. 

WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus was there:
Several speakers condemned all the actions that President Donald Trump has taken in the past two weeks. Jesus, who works with Unidad Latina en Accion, was one.

“I’m a Mexican immigrant; I’m a queer Mexican immigrant, and as such my existence is very politicized. My very presence in this country at this point is an act of resistance. I’m also standing here in solidarity with those affected by executive orders that do not affect me personally. We know that he’s after women’s rights. We know that he’s going after the environment. We know he’s going after each one of the most vulnerable communities.”

After the hour-long rally on the steps of City Hall, people marched down Church Street and then blocked Route 34 for about a half hour as participants took out their anger on a Donald Trump pinata. State police and New Haven police arrived and eventually the blockaders left, with no arrests. As they marched back down Church Street to the Green, police tackled, maced and arrested Norman Clement from the ANSWER Coalition, one of the event’s sponsors.He faces inciting a riot and other charges and is due in court Feb. 13.

On Sunday, up to a thousand people marched to support refugees after the Run for Refugees sponsored by Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, or IRIS.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.  

This year, Governor Dannel P. Malloy is asking middle-income earners to give up their $200 property tax credit to help reduce the State’s budget deficit. The credit costs the state about $105 million a year and is distributed to 874,000 residents, at least 66% of whom have incomes of less than $75,000 a year. “More sacrifice is going to be required of many,” Malloy said Friday during an unrelated press conference.  He said he’s not looking to increase the sales or income tax, but the property tax credit “has to be on the table as other tax credits do.” 

Bipartisan opposition though, was swift: Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said, “Eliminating the property tax credit will hurt middle-class families by weakening the progressivity of our tax system. It’s a popular credit with homeowners, one which Democrats in the General Assembly fought to establish.”

Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he considers that a “tax hike on middle and working class families.” He said the Democrats slashed the credit two years ago and to propose completely eliminating it would be a move in the wrong direction. “We should be looking for ways to boost this credit to working and middle class families, not further reduce it,” Fasano added. House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, agreed, calling the proposal “wrongheaded”. 

The property tax credit has been increased and decreased over the years since it was first implemented in 1995. The governor will unveil his full two-year budget proposal on February 8. 

The Albany Times-Union reports:
The New York State Senate today approved, by a 53 to 5 vote, its version of legislation that would pave the way for expansion of ride-hailing services statewide, though compromise on legislation among the Senate, Assembly and governor is not yet at hand. The bill differs from a proposal pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The Senate bill subjects rides to a 2% tax and does not subject them to state sales tax. Cuomo proposes a 5.5% tax on rides.

Cuomo’s omnibus ride-hailing legislation included in his executive budget proposal largely is similar to what the Senate is pushing. Both proposals touch on everything from state oversight of ride-hailing to criminal background check procedures for drivers to insurance. In taking his State of the State address on the road last month for a multi-city rollout tour, Cuomo made ride-hailing out to be a classic upstate-downstate issue: it’s allowed in New York City under city Taxi and Limousine Commission regulations, but not allowed elsewhere.

Assembly legislation has not yet been introduced by the Democratic majority. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, (D-Bronx), said they will be offering up a proposal in the near future.


Thursday February 2  and Friday February 3 are not currently available.

Wednesday February 1, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Governor Dannel Malloy nominates Associate Attorney General to Supreme Court;  a new ACLU-CT study finds that police make it difficult for the public to file complaints; New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli sets tax levy cap at 1.26%;  and,New York State Assemblyman Michael Benedetto seeks to ban tackling in organized football for youth under 14.

Today, Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy nominated Associate Attorney General Gregory T. D’Auria to serve as a justice on the Connecticut Supreme Court. D’Auria, 53, of Hebron, has worked in the Office of the Attorney General for more than 23 years in a variety of roles.

D’Auria thanked Malloy for the nomination, adding: “If I am privileged enough to gain confirmation by the General Assembly you afford me by this nomination the chance to serve the state’s citizens in a new and exciting way.”  Malloy said he’s confident D’Auria’s public service will continue on the bench.  

D’Auria, if he gains confirmation, will fill the spot previously held by Justice Peter T. Zarella, who retired from the court last December.

According to a new study from the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, police agencies in the state routinely make it difficult for members of the public to access basic and legally-required information about how to file complaints of police misconduct.

Drawn from online research and telephone surveys, “Earning Trust: Addressing Police Misconduct Complaints in Connecticut,” shows that many police agencies fail to clearly post their complaint policies and complaint forms online, and refuse to accept anonymous complaints.

The study adds that many police departments include threats of prosecution in their complaint intake protocols. In some cases, these obstacles violate state law and statewide public policy, according to the study.

Study supervisor David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut, said, “Community members who wish to alert their police departments to misconduct should find open doors, not mazes of red tape and intimidation.”

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli recently announced a 1.26% cap on tax levy increases for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.  The decision marks the fourth consecutive year that schools and municipalities will be tasked with crafting budgets that call for tax levy increases below 2%, according to Dinapoli’s press release.

DiNapoli said in a statement: “My audits have shown some school districts will be able to rely on ample rainy day funds to offset the low growth in revenue, but others must examine their budgets to determine where they can limit spending or cut costs in order to stay under the cap.”

The state’s tax cap law, which took effect for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, requires school districts and municipalities to limit increases in the amount of money they raise through property taxes to either 2% or the rate of inflation determined by the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less. Last year, the state set the tax cap at 0.12%.

If a school district decides to pierce the tax cap, its budget must be approved by at least 60% of voters.

New York State Assemblyman Michael Benedetto has introduced legislation that would ban tackling in organized youth football by those younger than 14.

At a press conference yesterday morning at the Capitol in Albany, Assemblyman Walter Mosley called football “my first love,” which he played from age 7 to 16.  As an adult, he coached children as young as 8 years old. The Brooklyn lawmaker now has a 10 year-old son, who does not play football. Mosley called the game “a collision’s not a contact sport.”

He vividly remembers his worst concussion, which he sustained in a game in southeast Queens, in which he collided with one of his teammates. He quickly lost consciousness for a few seconds, but remembers feeling the after-effects on a bus home to Brooklyn.

Benedetto took advantage of the approach of Sunday’s Super Bowl to discuss the bill, which has remained bottled up in committee since he first introduced it four years ago. It currently lacks a Senate sponsor. He believes the steady increase in the volume of research and public attention could move the needle.