Friday, February 27, 2015

February 2015

Friday, February 27 (thanks to WPKN volunteer Melinda Tuhus): 

In the news tonight, municipal officials battle with Connecticut state regulators over stormwater management; the UConn Foundation battles legislators over transparency issues; and two fired Suffolk County prosecutors battle their dismissal in lawsuits. 

The UConn Foundation is trying to fend off two transparency bills in the General Assembly. Lawmakers are paying attention because the foundation has made several expenditures of hundreds of thousands of dollars each in the past few years with no public oversight. 

While it is a private foundation, some lawmakers and open-government advocates say the foundation is so closely linked to a state government institution – UConn –  that it should be subject to the freedom-of-information public disclosure law. 

Although some lawmakers stressed they were not looking to require disclosure of information on the foundation’s donors, two top foundation officials said they were concerned the bills would deter donations. 

However, James Smith, president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, told lawmakers they should require the disclosure of information on the foundation’s donors as well. He said the foundation acts as a “surrogate” for UConn through its fundraising, investing, and administration of grants.

Sean Connolly, a lawyer, Army reservist and decorated veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, is giving up a senior defense industry post to become Connecticut’s commissioner of veterans’ affairs.  Connolly, 40, of Hebron, the global ethics and compliance officer for Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, was introduced Thursday by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy as his choice to lead the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

If confirmed by the General Assembly, Connolly will be responsible for overseeing the Veterans’ Home in Rocky Hill and other state services for 270,000 veterans in the state.
He said he sought the job.

Connolly would succeed Linda Schwartz, who resigned last fall to accept an appointment by President Obama in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Deputy Commissioner Joseph Perkins has been acting commissioner.
His salary as commissioner will be $160,000.

A battle over stormwater has raged in Connecticut for months. Managing the water that flows into the thousands upon thousands of storm drains around the state — which is normally a standard municipal function — has become something close to a standoff between the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection – DEEP -- and a battalion of those municipalities.
At issue are new requirements DEEP says are needed to keep the runoff that goes into stormwater drainage systems from polluting the waterways they empty into. Money has turned into the focal point. Local officials, led by two municipal lobbying groups, are labeling the proposed requirements an “unfunded mandate.” DEEP and environmental advocates are saying the Clean Water Act has the force of federal law.
Roger Reynolds, legal director for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, said, "These are federal standards for clean, fishable, drinkable, swimmable water. It’s really a health standard.”
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities recognizes there’s a federal environmental mandate. But  Ron Thomas, director of public policy and advocacy for CCM says, “We’re concerned about going beyond what the federal government requires.”

Two former Suffolk County prosecutors have filed federal lawsuits, claiming they were victims of racial discrimination and were fired illegally in 2013, Newsday reports. One is from Sri Lanka, the other is an African American woman. They filed suit separately last year in U.S. District Court in Central Islip against District Attorney Thomas Spota and top officials in his office.

Earlier, both had filed complaints with the state Division of Human Rights, which found probable cause that discrimination occurred. That allowed them to move forward with the federal suit.

Both plaintiffs claim in their suits that their firings were discriminatory, and that they suffered harassment, retaliation and character assassination before termination. The suit also claims that minorities are promoted at a far slower rate than white prosecutors.

Mary Ellen Donnelly of the Manhattan firm of Putney, Twombly, Hall and Hirson was hired as outside counsel to handle the case for the district attorney’s office. Alleging the two plaintiffs’ failed to carry out their duties, she said the suits are without merit and denied all the allegations. She has moved to dismiss both cases.

Thursday, February 26th (thanks to WPKN volunteers Nadine Dumser, Kevin Brewer and Scott Harris): 

In the news tonight: Secretary of State Denise Merrill has outlined legislation that would replace Connecticut's unique system that relies on locally elected registrars of voters; Bridgeport and Stratford voters on Tuesday sent ex-state Sen. Edwin Gomes (Gomz) back to the Connecticut Senate; Governor Andrew Cuomo’s has proposed changes to New York State’s teacher evaluation system  – and Wastewater management advocacy group “Defend H2O” is urging the Southold Town Board to adopt more stringent sewer discharge regulations to reduce nitrogen pollution.

Secretary of State Denise Merrill has outlined legislation that would scrap Connecticut's unique system of relying on locally elected Republican and Democratic registrars to supervise elections in all 169 of the states cities and towns.  They would be replaced with a single, non-partisan official appointed by a local governing authority.

Merrill's office oversees elections but has little control over them, even in cases of obvious malfeasance and voting delays.

Secretary Merrill's plan would establish qualifications, annual training, and certification for registrars.

Melinda Russell, president of the Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut, has promised to work on reform, but defends the unique two party registrar system, adding " it is vital that we preserve checks and balances and 'two sets of eyes' on the election process."

Representative Ed Jutila, co-chair of the Government Administration and Election Committee, says his panel will conduct a public hearing on Merrill's proposal.
Bridgeport and Stratford voters on Tuesday sent ex-state Sen. Edwin Gomes  (Gomz) back to the Connecticut Senate, a day before his 79th birthday.

With the win, he became the first candidate in the nation to win a state legislative office by running solely on the Working Families Party line, according to the party.

Gomes, who won by 542 votes in the special election, beat out Democrat Richard DeJesus, Republican Quentin Dreher and petition candidates Kenneth Moales Jr. and Charles Hare.

According to the Connecticut Post Gomes had lost his seat representing the 23rd Senate District, which covers portions of Bridgeport and Stratford, in a 2012 primary election. But his successor, Andres Ayala, gave up the seat earlier this year when he was appointed commissioner of the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recently proposed changes to New York State’s teacher evaluation system have incited anger among local educators.

Currently, 60 percent of teacher evaluations come from classroom observations carried out mostly by local principals and administrators; the remaining 40 percent are determined by student scores on state and local assessments.

In Cuomo’s proposal, student scores would comprise 50 percent of the teacher’s evaluation. The other half would be determined by classroom observations carried out by a third party, rather than by local administrators.

According to Nancy Carney, Riverhead Schools Superintendent, “Principals get to know teachers over time and work with them in developing goals based on ongoing observations and assessment.”

Cuomo’s proposal also includes changes for awarding tenure to teachers. Based on the new evaluation guidelines tenure would only be awarded after five consecutive annual ratings of “effective” or “highly effective,” rather than the current policy of tenure being awarded after 3 years.
Wastewater management advocacy group Defend H2O is urging the Southold Town Board to follow in the footsteps of Brookhaven Town and adopt more stringent sewer discharge regulations.
During Tuesday morning’s Town Board work session, Kevin McAllister, founder of Defend H2O and former Peconic Baykeeper, continued his push for East End towns to enact regulations similar to Brookhaven’s, which are aimed at reducing nitrogen pollution associated with sewer systems.
According to the Suffolk Times high nitrogen levels in area waters have been feeding harmful algae blooms — the red tide the area sees each summer — which in turn have damaged the local ecosystem by depriving water bodies of oxygen. As a result, area fisheries have suffered.
Board members said they hope to make progress on limiting nitrogen pollution by working with Suffolk County, as opposed to enacting local laws that supersede current county regulations.

Wednesday February 25: (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Anne Murray)

In the news tonight, Malloy’s proposed budget exceeds the spending cap, an earthquake hits eastern Connecticut, tipped workers get a raise and East Hampton explores school consolidation.

Due to a miscalculation, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposed budget is now $54.5 million over the state's spending cap, according to the Hartford Courant.

Malloy's budget office said Tuesday it will change its calculation of the cap, which means the state will have less money to spend than expected in the next fiscal year.

Budget director Ben Barnes said there was a miscalculation in the growth of personal income used to calculate the statutory spending cap.

The discrepancy occurred when data was pulled from a new outside vendor, which resulted in a one-quarter shift not noticed until after the governor's plan was submitted.

Under the original estimates, the proposed budget was $6.3 million under the spending cap for the fiscal year that starts on July 1 and $135.8 million under the cap for the 2017 fiscal year.

Now, proposed spending is $54.5 million above the cap next year and $80 million under the cap in the second year of the two-year budget.

The administration said the vendor was IHS Global Inc., of Englewood, Colo., which was paid $41,000 to provide economic forecasting for Malloy's revenue forecast.

Barnes apologized and pledged to work to find the adjustments needed to comply with the spending cap.

A 2.1-magnitude earthquake rattled eastern Connecticut Tuesday morning, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The quake, centered about a mile north of Moosup, was the 13th in eastern Connecticut since the beginning of January, according to NBC News in Connecticut.

The USGS reported the quake happened at 9:18 a.m. and residents of Danielson, Dayville, Moosup and Plainfield felt the impact.

Although the USGS only had one quake on record, the Weston Observatory at Boston College reported that two earthquakes occurred within five minutes of each other Tuesday morning, at 9:13 and 9:18 a.m.
Twelve prior earthquakes have shaken eastern Connecticut since Jan. 8.

Tipped workers in New York State will be getting a raise at the end of the year, according to the Albany Times Union.

New York’s Acting Labor Commissioner Mario Musolino accepted a state board's recommendation Tuesday to raise the cash wage for tipped workers to $7.50 per hour beginning Dec. 31.

Musolino approved putting all tipped workers in one class, allowing New York City to raise its minimum for tipped workers by $1 if the Legislature approves a separate minimum wage for the city, and he will review whether to eliminate the cash wages and tip credits system.

By classifying service workers (such as waiters and hotel maids) as one type of employee, New York will abolish the current three-tier wage system, which sets current minimum tipped wages at $4.90, $5 and $5.65 per hour, depending on the type of job.
The announcement was cheered by labor supporters and criticized by restaurateurs and hospitality industry executives.

State Labor-Religion Coalition Director Sara Niccoli said a worker earning $2.50 an hour for an eight hour day will get an increase of $20 a day, which could mean the difference “between buying healthy groceries or living on ramen noodles.”

A group of East Hampton residents is forming a committee to push for school consolidation and expects to finalize an application for a state-funded study as quickly as next week, according to the Southampton Press.

Zachary Cohen of Springs said he and Charles Hitchcock of East Hampton met with 
Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. to discuss funding for the study, with the goal of submitting an application for funding by March 1.

Thiele said there is money in the state budget for districts that want to study consolidation.
Cohen said the committee will discuss various consolidation ideas for all five school districts in East Hampton Town - East Hampton, Springs, Amagansett, Montauk and Wainscott - and may also include the Sagaponack and Sag Harbor school districts.
Total enrollment at the East Hampton School District is approximately 1,800 students, Springs has 650 students, Amagansett has 135 students, Montauk has approximately 400 students, and Wainscott, which has a small two-room schoolhouse, has 20 students.


Tuesday, February 24:
Tuesday, February 24 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Kristiana Pastir and Mike Merli):

In tonight’s news, Connecticut lawmakers consider requiring seatbelts for rear motor vehicle passengers; A new agreement gives 1,000 Hartford inner city children access to magnet and suburban schools; The Suffolk County Water Authority Board approves a rate increase; and Cancer Services Program wins a national grant for their work.

The Connecticut General Assembly’s Transportation Committee heard public testimony on Monday, regarding a new bill that would require back seat automobile passengers to wear seatbelts.

There was strong support for HB 6821, with many residents delivering testimony.
Rose Mason of Guilford lost her daughter Kelley in 2009 when she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. During her testimony, Rose said, “I’ve dedicated the last five years to seat belt awareness in schools and with police departments.”

State Transportation Commissioner James Redeker and Gary Lapidus, a physician’s assistant at the Connecticut Injury Prevention Center at Hartford Hospital, each made the point that rear passengers can become projectiles during a crash, putting not just themselves at risk but the front passengers as well.

Lloyd Albert, senior vice president for public and government affairs for AAA, noted that Connecticut’s seat belt law has changed several times since 1986. 1993 saw the removal of the exemption for front-seat passengers in vehicles with airbags. In 1994, the law was amended again to require seatbelts for all passengers between the ages of four and 16, regardless of where in the vehicle they are sitting.

The state of Connecticut has agreed to offer 1,325 more seats in existing magnet or suburban public schools next year to Hartford inner city children. This decision comes as part of a long-term effort to comply with an 18-year-old Connecticut Supreme Court decision that ordered the state to eliminate the educational inequalities caused by Hartford’s segregated schools.

The state Department of Education reports that over the last decade, the state has spent $1.4 billion to build new magnet schools and renovate existing buildings as a result of the Sheff vs. O’Neill lawsuit. More than $140 million is spent each year to operate those schools.

Monday's new one-year agreement commits the state to spending nearly $20 million more next year to operate these magnet schools with an additional 1,000 students, and to send 325 more Hartford students to a neighboring suburban school. The agreement also commits the state to building three more facilities to expand magnet schools.

The Suffolk County Water Authority board unanimously approved on Monday night a 4.2 percent rate hike -- $14.68 annually for the average customer -- citing rising energy and infrastructure costs, according to Newsday.

The increase, effective April 1, will bring in $5 million a year, raising average customers’ annual bills from $350 to nearly $365. The authority serves about 1.2 million of Suffolk’s residents.

Authority chairman James Gaughran said the agency faces large fixed costs, like a $20 million per year electric bill to pump water, and funding a $63 million capital program to replace aging mains.

Peconic Bay Medical Health in Riverhead announced today that Cancer Services Program of Suffolk County has been awarded a $15,000 grant from Pfizer Inc. and the Avon Foundation for Women.

Cancer Services Program in Suffolk County is one of 23 grant recipients around the country, receiving a total of $1 million from the Avon-Pfizer Metastatic Breast Cancer Grants Program, “Identify-Amplify-Unify”.

The grants program began in June 2014 to support organizations helping metastatic breast cancer patients navigate the medical and emotional challenges associated with the disease.

The Cancer Services Program in Suffolk will use the grant funds to increase patient awareness and expand to include bilingual support specific to patients with metastatic breast cancer. 

The Program aims to give metastatic breast cancer patients better access to clinical trials, and community support such as transportation, legal help and home assistance.

Monday, February 23 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Scott Schere and Paul Atkin):    

In tonight’s news, Governor Cuomo ties ethics reform to the state budget; a Connecticut senate bill aims to protect unpaid interns; Medford residents oppose a proposed casino; and Stratford town officials may finally decide the fate of the famed Shakespeare theatre.

The TimesUnion reports that on Friday Gov. Andrew Cuomo added a wide ethics overhaul package to his executive budget proposal, setting up a showdown with the Legislature and possibly returning to the days of late state budgets.

The proposal covers several  areas including changing the diem system for legislators' expenses to a receipt-and-reimbursement process; forcing more disclosure about officials' outside income, including; forfeiture of pensions for an expanded number of officials if they're convicted of corruption; and greater disclosure of independent expenditures. The plan wouldn't impose outside income limits for lawmakers.

Cuomo said, "We must prove once again that state government can be trusted, and that means passing tough new ethics laws and creating a system that deters, detects and punishes individuals who seek to abuse and corrupt."

The Governor’s ethics ultimatum was laid out after a seemingly endless list of scandals and continued criticism of the governor's early shutdown of a commission he created to root out wrongdoing. Cuomo has pointed with pride to his four-year record of on-time budgets and said he would fight for an ethics package, even if it means a delay in the budget.

Unpaid interns working to gain experience and educational credits would be protected from workplace harassment and discrimination under a proposed new Senate bill offered by Connecticut State Senate President Martin M. Looney a Democrat from New Haven.
The protection would be afforded victims by classifying them as employees and protected by workplace laws. Looney believes the interns are among the most vulnerable to discrimination and harassment

Looney said. “Interns seek to make good impressions in the hopes of being hired permanently, network with colleagues, and receive good references for other job applications. This creates an environment where interns can be subject to exploitation,”
New York State has joined California and Oregon in enacting a statute to protect interns from harassment and discrimination, according to Senator Looney while Illinois and Washington, D.C., have provisions protecting interns from workplace harassment, but not discrimination.

The Labor and Public Employees Committee drafted the proposal as a committee bill Thursday.

Newsday reports that Medford residents, led by local civic groups, are voicing their opposition to a proposed $65 million video lottery parlor in the community, contending it would threaten their quality of life.

Suffolk Off-Track Betting has acquired the former Brookhaven Multiplex movie theater site near Exit 64 of the Long Island Expressway for $10.95 million. It plans to offer about 1,000 video lottery machines and 1,400 parking spaces, starting next February.

Suffolk officials think the parlor would be a boon for OTB and help close a $20 million county budget deficit. Supporters say it would bring 500 construction jobs and create up to 400 other jobs.

But civic group members want to force Suffolk OTB to withdraw its plans, just as Nassau OTB officials, under pressure from local, county and state officials, recently abandoned plans to locate a video lottery terminal at the former Fortunoff's site in Westbury.
Brookhaven Town leaders recently adopted a nonbinding resolution opposing the casino, which critics say should help halt construction.

The CT Post reports that the Stratford town council may finally decide the fate of the former American Shakespeare Festival Theatre Monday night.
The council will have three options before it. Two proposals would restore the 1,500-seat theater and operate stage productions there, but each has a different strategy for achieving that goal.

The third idea is to tear down the teak-paneled theater and replacing it with an outdoor amphitheater as well as making other improvements to the property.

Sources say that the council members are all over the map on the theatre question with no clear consensus on which way they'll go, and Mayor John Harkins hasn't indicated which way he's leaning on the long-standing debate either.

High school students from throughout the Northeast went to Stratford from 1955 until the theatre closed in early 1980 where they saw dozens of stars of stage, screen and television perform Shakespeare.

The town took over the property from the state in 2005, and it's been the cause of much debate ever since.

The theatre discussion will take place at a special Town Council session tonight at Stratford Town Hall.


Friday February 20 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer editors Kevin Brewer, Tony Ernst, and Paul Atkin):

In tonight’s news, Connecticut’s arts and culture budget may be cut by more than $3 million, East End towns seek state funds to upgrade residential septic systems; Access Health CT considers special health care sign-up period; and New York State is still losing union members. 

The Hartford Courant reports that Gov. Malloy’s proposed budget has reduced state funding for the arts by more than $3 million leaving arts and cultural leaders not knowing if they will receive anything this year.

A number of not-for-profit producing and presenting houses and arts organizations will no longer have a noncompetitive line item ensuring them a certain level of funding. 

Instead, the Governor has proposed lumping all the funding dollars into one competitive pool. It's unclear how those new funds will be allocated by the arts commission. 

Also adding confusion to the change in funding is the status of the deputy commissioner at the Department of Economic and Community Development — who oversees arts funding. That position is vacant.
Arts leaders are also concerned about their operational support if they are in a competitive 
pool that might have other designations for the money's use.

27east reports:

Officials from the five East End towns on Long Island have made an appeal to Governor Andrew Cuomo for $100 million in state surplus funds, with plans to direct the money to upgrading residential septic systems in the region to combat water quality issues.

The East End Mayors and Supervisors Association, a coalition of municipal leaders from five townships and 10 villages, sent a letter to the governor last week asking that some of the $5.5 billion in one-time surplus funds that the governor has said the state will have in its coffers going into next year’s budget crafting process be used to set up a residential 
septic system replacement rebate program on the East End. It would be patterned on successful rebate programs on the South Fork in recent years.

Connecticut residents not enrolled in an individual-market health insurance plan before the deadline of last Sunday, February 15, will pay a fee when they file their taxes this year.  

Governor Malloy's plan to scale back Medicare eligibility for some could add an additional 
34,000 people seeking enrollment in a plan, along with those who missed last Sunday's deadline.

This has prompted some to urge special enrollment periods.  There is concern for the system's ability to handle a wave of new enrollments, and what changes to the system would be required, according to acting Access Health CT CEO Jim Wadleigh.  He said a 
decision on setting up special enrollment periods would be made by the end of February.

As of February 13, 103,000 people had signed up for private insurance plans.  Access Health CT plans to announce full enrollment figures this Monday, February 23.

New federal data show unions in New York State lost 6,000 members last year, a reversal of the increase recorded between 2012 and 2013. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Thursday that the ranks of private-sector and 
government unions in the state totaled nearly 2 million in 2014, a drop of 0.3 percent from a year earlier.

The membership decline is part of a long-term trend, with the notable exception of 2013 when unions added 145,000 members, the first increase since 2007.

Union membership remains below its recent high of 2.1 million,  recorded in 2005.

Martin Kohli, the bureau's chief regional economist, noted union members represented 24.6 percent of all workers in New York State last year, a slight increase from 2013 even though membership declined.

Thursday, February 19 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Nadine Dumser, Kevin Brewer and Scott Harris)
In the news tonight: Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy's budget proposes cuts for the state's public colleges and universities; the legislature is considering a bill that would test police body cameras in three Connecticut municipalities; North Fork residents hoping for relief from helicopter noise are fearful that seaplanes could be their next nemesis – and a new effort is underway to preserve the Southampton Village homestead of former slave Pyrrhus Concer.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy's budget proposal cuts support for the state's public colleges and universities.

Though it provides level funding for state aid to school districts, offers financial aid to undocumented students, and would fund new charter schools, the proposal reneges on a campaign promise to create a tax credit for student-loan debt. However, it would implement a promised tax credit for retired teachers' pensions.

The budget doesn't provide full operating funding for two long-term initiatives — Next Generation and Transform CSCU — that Malloy has championed to improve Connecticut’s universities and colleges.

The cuts will put significant pressure on college leaders to further raise tuition or reduce the number of employees.

Malloy's budget proposes an overall cut of $10.6 million for the University of Connecticut.

The state's other community colleges and state universities face a $1.6 million cut, but officials say they will be $17 million short of what’s required to fund existing programs.

Malloy told legislators that he would maintain a commitment to funding public education, which would open new seats in magnet schools and four new charter schools.

However, legislators have expressed concern that the proposed increase for these schools has outpaced increased state support to operate existing neighborhood schools.

New Haven Mayor Toni Harp and Police Chief Dean Esserman testified Tuesday in support of a bill developing a program to purchase and monitor police body cameras for one year in three Connecticut municipalities.

The legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee would fund the program.

Mayor Harp said the bill spoke directly to police accountability following police-involved deaths last year in Ferguson, Missouri; Staten Island, New York; and Cleveland, Ohio.

Though Chief Esserman believes body cameras benefit police officers as well as members of the community, he said lawmakers must wrestle with a policy dictating when the cameras should be switched on, and when it’s appropriate to turn them off.

North Fork residents and anti-noise advocates are worried that proposed local laws limiting helicopter use in the area , through curfews on hours and frequency of operation , will be circumvented by the use of seaplanes. 

According to the group Quiet Skies Coalition the suggested new legislation needs to include and define seaplanes as " noisy aircraft " along with helicopters.
The anti noise group says "The former helicopter users will migrate to the seaplanes because the Manhattan seaplane dock is a mere 11 blocks from the 34th St heliport "  

They say not including seaplanes in the "noisy aircraft" definition would make the new laws more difficult to defend in court.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter says the Town "fully supports the rules East Hampton is proposing". 

A public hearing will be held before the East Hampton Town Board on March 5th.
A new effort is underway to preserve the Southampton Village homestead of Pyrrhus Concer, born a slave in Southampton in 1814, who later in life was an intrepid, world-traveling whaler.

After years of legal battles, owners of the property David Hermer and Silvia Campo took down Mr. Concer’s historic house last year, but they have since abandoned their building plans and placed the property on the market.

The property was listed for sale by Meegan Darby of The Corcoran Group in late November, 2014 for nearly $5 million.

State Assemblyman Fred Thiele said he supports the purchase of the property through the Community Preservation Fund.

The Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities and Southampton historian Sally Spanburgh have also voiced support for the preservation of the property.

After returning from his whaling days, Mr. Concer headed west during the California gold rush, before settling back home in Southampton. He died in 1897.

Wednesday February 18 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Anne Murray):

In the news tonight, a report says Connecticut economy could grow 8 percent this year, a Tennessee man is charged in a Sandy Hook charity scam, Long Island legislators seek statehood for Long Island, and New York’s chief judge proposes grand jury changes.

Connecticut’s economy could grow at a rate of 8.1 percent this year, according to a report released Wednesday by University of Connecticut economists, who describe the prediction as both “stunning” and “dubious.”

The Connecticut Center of Economic Analysis said preliminary estimates for 2014 show Connecticut growing faster than the national economy and then surging by a stunning (and dubious) 8.1 percent in 2015, before tapering off to 3.2 percent growth in 2016.

The report is based in part on Real Gross Domestic Product figures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis that put the state ahead of national growth trends.

Although Connecticut might now be on a strong growth trajectory, the array of downside risk is unusually long, given uncertainties in the trajectory of fuel prices and the U.S. dollar exchange rate.

The report showed an increase in private sector jobs, with service jobs accounting for 72.5 percent of all employment in the state, though wages have generally failed to keep up with national growth or have decreased.

Although the report’s most optimistic model predicts an additional 44,000 jobs statewide by 2016, it noted that downside risks include the state’s inadequate public-sector investment, inattention to major strategic opportunities, and poor data.

Federal prosecutors said Tuesday they have indicted a Tennessee man for stealing money from a charity he established to support school safety and victims of violence after the shooting deaths of 26 children and adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in December 2012.

The Hartford Courant reports that Robert T. Bruce, 34, a personal trainer in Nashville, was charged with six counts of fraud by a grand jury in New Haven and arrested on Friday in Tennessee. 

Bruce will be brought to Connecticut for prosecution.
The indictment said Bruce created a charity called 26.4.26 and solicited donations through athletic events, one in New Hampshire called a Schools 4 Schools run and another in Tennessee called Cross Fit Cares.

Prosecutors said Bruce collected money through PayPal and spent most of it on himself and his personal training business.
Bruce is free on a $20,000 bond and is scheduled to be arraigned in Hartford on Feb. 23.

State Sen. Ken LaValle, a Republican, and Assemblyman Fred Thiele, a former Republican currently holding the Independence line, recently introduced a bill that would establish a 24-member Nassau/Suffolk bi-county commission to conduct a feasibility study on the establishment of a state of Long Island.”

The Albany Times-Union reports that the panel would complete its work by July, 1, 2017, in order to place the question of statehood to the Nassau/Suffolk electors on the ballot in the November 7, 2017 election in a non-binding referendum.

The legislators noted that the issue of creating the State of Long Island in Nassau and Suffolk counties has long been a topic of debate.

The bill would allow for a full discussion of the myriad of issues involved and allow the citizens of the two counties to analyze the report and express their opinion on statehood.

New York's chief judge proposed major changes in the grand jury process Tuesday by having a judge -- not a district attorney -- preside over proceedings involving police-civilian violence.

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, referring to recent grand jury decisions in the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, also proposed releasing all documents in cases that do not result in charges, according to Newsday.

The judge wants to apply the disclosure rule to all cases of "high public interest," not just police-civilian clashes. 

In his annual State of the Judiciary address at the Court of Appeals, Lippman said prosecutors can't shake the perception that they are unable to objectively present to the grand jury cases arising out of police-civilian encounters, which undermines “public trust and confidence in the justice system."

Lippman's proposals, which he said would "end grand jury secrecy as we know it,” would need state lawmakers' approval.

Tuesday, February 17 (thanks to WPKN Volunteer Mike Merli): 

In tonight’s news, the Connecticut commissioner on mental health and addiction services resigns; Islip begins a new round of groundwater testing at a local park; and a Suffolk legislator seeks to expand lobbying rules with a new law.

On Sunday, a source said that Patricia Rehmer, state commissioner on mental health and addiction services, will be leaving her post to embark on a new opportunity outside of state government.

Legislators, mental health advocates and treatment providers have praised her work, notably her commitment to the people her agency serves, and her determination to maintain services in the face of budget cuts. In some cases, Rehmer has shifted funds around within the department to keep services running.

Rehmer began her career as a nurse at the Institute of Living in Hartford, and went on to lead the Capitol Region Mental Health Center, before moving to the DMHAS, first as deputy commissioner and then, in 2009, she was named commissioner by then Governor M. Jodi Rell.

In addition, Rehmer currently serves as president of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.

Recent groundwater monitoring at Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood found raised levels of several metals, a pesticide, and other hazardous materials. 

The Town of Islip is now planning its third round of tests.

Included in the levels found in the former soccer fields and from wells at the southeast corner of the park were chromium, lead, manganese, and selenium. A pesticide called dieldrin was also found at the site, according to a report released by Enviroscience Consultants, Inc, the Ronkonkoma firm hired by Islip to conduct the tests.

Enviroscience describes the January tests as “inconclusive” and officials are saying they may be flawed.

The county Health Services Department plans to install 13 temporary wells in the park to conduct its own testing. So far, there have been no reported effects on drinking water.

The park has been closed since April, after it was discovered that 50,000 tons of debris was illegally dumped on the site.

Suffolk legislator William Lindsay III (D – Bohemia) has proposed a local law to expand lobbying rules to cover anyone seeking decisions by county departments that would involve spending public funds.

Lindsay’s intent is for those hired to influence county legislation register with the legislature and report their activities to the clerk.

Last year, Suffolk Information Technology Commissioner Donald Rogers resigned his post after failing to report his private consulting firm, and forcing an aide to lie about a county requisition number for a $5 million computer contract.

County records only list four lobbyists, a number Lindsay believes is only at least one-third the actual number lobbying before the legislature and county agencies.

Lindsay warns that his law would need to coincide with education and enforcement to ensure that county departments and the executive office only work with those in compliance.

The first hearing for the proposed measure will take place on March 3 in Riverhead.

Monday, February 16 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Melinda Tuhus):

In the news tonight, Gov. Dannel Malloy pitches sales tax revisions; veterans are benefiting from treatment rather than jail; Southampton offers a first-in-the-state program to encourage farming for food; and Port Jefferson promotes electrification of the L-I-R-R.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy called for lowering the state sales tax and scrapping certain exemptions during a Sunday morning television appearance. According to a spokesman, the change will boost revenues by $68 million next year. The rate would decrease over two years from 6.35 percent to 5.95 percent. 

The budget Malloy presents Wednesday must close deep deficits in the next two years. The state is projected to be $1.3 billion in deficit in 2016 and $1.4 billion in 2017. 
Malloy didn’t specify which exemptions he would eliminate, but said some would be “on the corporate tax side.” He also mentioned an exemption that applies to most clothes. He added that the budget will preserve a “luxury tax” on expensive products like certain jewelry and cars that cost more than $50,000. 

Two programs that connect arrested veterans to treatment – rather than jail – report that many are getting their lives back on track. Some 81 percent of veterans in the program run by the Veterans Health Administration have not been arrested again. And one run by the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services shows a 36 percent drop in illegal drug use among its veterans and a 44 percent decrease in symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

Connecticut Health- Investigative-Team ( reports that the programs, designed to help veterans with mental health and substance abuse problems, operate in courts statewide, where social workers reach out to arrested veterans to let them know about treatment options for PTSD, anger management, and addictions, among other illnesses. A judge decides whether to sentence the veteran to a treatment program instead of jail or other penalties, such as fines. The crimes committed range from motor vehicle violations to domestic violence charges to car thefts.
The two programs have served about 1,800 veterans since 2009.

A young farmer from a farming family will be the first to farm land preserved under Southampton Town’s new enhanced development rights purchase program. Last summer the Southampton Town Board preserved its first two farmland parcels using new criteria that the land, totaling 33 acres, must remain in the hands of working food farmers.

Southampton Town agreed to pay $338,000 per acre for extra covenants on the land when they purchased it, after which the Peconic Land Trust purchased the land, stripped of its development value, in the hopes of turning it over to a working farmer.

In agreeing to pay for the extra restrictions on the land, Southampton Town became the first town in the state to implement such a food farming program, which became necessary because the value of agricultural land on the South Fork, even stripped of its development rights, is far out of reach of most food farmers.

Hank Kraszewski III said he plans to grow vegetables on his 19 acres this season, and perhaps ultimately put a farm stand there.

The Village of Port Jefferson board on Feb. 4 unanimously approved a sense resolution expressing its support for the electrification of the LIRR's Port Jefferson Branch, Newsday reports.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said the project would boost several downtown development projects along the branch, and give LIRR commuters incentive to travel from stations closer to home, rather than drive to the LIRR's busy Ronkonkoma station for better service.

Garant said she planned to meet with officials from other local governments along the line, including the Town of Brookhaven, to urge them to pass similar bills in support of electrifying the line.

The Port Jefferson branch, used by nearly 500,000 riders each year, is powered by electrified third rail only as far east as Huntington. The remainder of the line, which includes Greenlawn, Northport, Kings Park, Smithtown, St. James, Stony Brook and Port Jefferson, relies on less-reliable and slower diesel trains.

In recent months, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, the Long Island Association and LIRR president Patrick Nowakowski have all expressed their support for the eventual electrification of the line. But the project is not included in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's proposed $32 billion capital program.

Friday February 13 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Nadine Dumser and Paul Atkin):

 In the news tonight, The Sandy Hook commission recommends more gun restrictions and more mental health care in the schools, New Haven’s Jorge Perez slated to be State Banking Commissioner, no indictment in the case of a Long Island cop shooting a cabie, and Cuomo sounds off on legislators’ disclosure of outside income.

The Sandy Hook commission, created by Governor Dannel Malloy in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook School killings was to consider a draft report today.   

The report recommends a further tightening of Connecticut’s gun laws and measures to prevent mental health problems starting in children’s early years.  

In 2013, after the Newtown killings, legislators banned the retail sale of military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines and expanded background checks on gun purchases. 

Since then, there has been no obvious legislative champion for making more changes. Legislators faced strong opposition from gun-rights advocates to the 2013 bill.                     
A spokesman for the governor was noncommittal Thursday about whether Malloy is
interested in launching another gun debate.

Additional measures the Commission recommends include:  

Require every firearm to be registered. Police estimate nearly 2 million firearms in Connecticut are unregistered.

Require ammunition sold or possessed in Connecticut to have a serial number on the shell allowing  authorities to track “straw purchases” of ammunition and helping to solve gun-related crimes.

Require a “suitability screening process” for anyone wanting to purchase, sell or carry a firearm.
Allow a judge to temporarily remove any firearm or permit to carry from someone subject to a restraining or protective order that the judge believes could be a threat. 
Determine regulations necessary to restrict purchase of ammunition online.
In the mental health portion of its report, the group suggests that schools increase the availability of guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists and other behavioral health professionals, to be available after-school and possibly on Saturday. 

After decades as one of New Haven’s leading elected officials, Jorge Perez has been tapped to enter state government as Connecticut’s new banking commissioner.
As president of New Haven’s Board of Alders, Perez has wielded more power over major decisions affecting the city — including its budget and economic development — than any elected official other than the mayor. He has served on the board since 1988, representing the Hill neighborhood. He is a banker, currently working as senior commercial lending officer for Liberty Bank on Church Street.

Governor Malloy was to announce his nomination of Perez today. The nomination will  go to the General Assembly for confirmation.

If confirmed, he will become the state’s first-ever Latino banking commissioner.
State Senate President Martin Looney said Friday he “foresees no problems” in Perez's getting confirmed. He called Malloy’s decision “a terrific appointment.”

Newsday reports that a special grand jury convened to investigate former Nassau County Police Officer Anthony DiLeonardo’s off-duty shooting of an unarmed cabdriver in Huntington Station in 2011 expired last year with no criminal charges brought.

Robert Clifford, a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota stated that Spota allowed the special grand jury to expire last year without calling dozens of potential witnesses to the shooting and its aftermath.

Nassau County Police investigators found that DiLeonardo committed four felonies during the incident but Clifford's statement blamed the special grand jury's inactivity on the shooting victim's unwillingness to testify and DA office's inability to obtain Nassau and Suffolk County police internal affairs reports concerning the incident.

The grand jury might have probed how police officers at the scene of the shooting did not report noticing that DiLeonardo had been drinking alcohol and may also have answered questions concerning how Long Island's two largest law-enforcement agencies handled investigations into the shooting.

Had the grand jury brought charges against DiLeonardo, it would have highlighted the fact that Spota did not convene the proceedings until Newsday published an expose of the shooting more than two years after the incident.
Spota did not contest many legal experts' opinion that this case should be taken over by a governor-appointed special prosecutor.

The Albany Times-Union reports that Governor Andrew Cuomo said Thursday it’s imperative that lawmakers disclose how exactly they’re earning their outside income. He is seeking legislative sign-off on this reform in exchange for signing an on-time budget.
The governor has included such disclosure in his budget ultimatum, summing it up as “Explain the money.” State officials would be required to explain who paid, how much, and for what services.

Regarding U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s [Bar-AR-a] interview with MSNBC earlier this week, the governor said he was never told he couldn’t speak about the shuttering of the Moreland Commission as federal investigators started digging into its work and why it was shut down.

Thursday, February 12 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Melinda Tuhus):

In tonight’s news, New Haven works on sustainability; auto dealers push to keep Tesla out of direct sales in Connecticut; a ruptured gas pipeline causes a horrific fire in Southampton; and Southold pushes to monitor shellfishing beds.   

An aldermanic committee in New Haven held a workshop Tuesday night on the city’s efforts toward sustainability. WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus was there:

City Engineer Giovanni Zinn formerly worked in the city’s Office of Sustainability, and his PowerPoint presentation covered the sources and uses of the energy the city consumes, from a fuel cell to natural gas to biodiesel for its fleet of vehicles. After giving the comprehensive definition of “sustainability” from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Zinn then gave his own:

"The definition that I like to give the finance folks is that first and foremost, sustainability is eliminating waste of resources. I think that's one of the key things here -- sustainability doesn't need to cost more. Sustainability is inherently more efficient."

He said Mayor Toni Harp signed a pledge last year that by 2018 there would be a 20 percent reduction in energy use by municipal buildings, and a 20 percent voluntary purchase of electricity from renewable sources. That’s on top of the city’s successful pledge to purchase 20 percent renewable energy by 2010. 

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.

Owners and managers of the state’s auto dealerships rallied Wednesday against a bill that would allow electric car manufacturer Tesla to sell cars directly to Connecticut residents, telling legislators the measure jeopardizes consumer safeguards and jobs. The bill before the legislature’s Transportation Committee would make a specific exception for the electric car company, giving it permission to bypass auto dealers and sell its vehicles directly to Connecticut customers.

Dozens of auto dealers gathered at the state Capitol Wednesday to discourage lawmakers from passing the bill and force Tesla to use dealerships if it wants to sell its cars in the state. The group argues existing franchise laws provide protections to consumers, such as servicing and warranties.

Lawmakers on the legislature’s Transportation Committee are considering allowing Tesla to open a limited number of stores in Connecticut. Last week, a Tesla vice president asked the committee to make a special exception for the small, innovative company, so Tesla employees can explain the car’s innovative technology directly to potential customers. . 

Another bill before the legislature would strengthen the same franchise law that Tesla is seeking an exemption to. 

As reported by Newsday: 
Southampton Town police report that an old Water Mill house exploded Wednesday after two construction workers cut gas pipes in the basement and the fuel ignited. One worker is in critical condition and the other is in stable condition at Stony Brook University Hospital. 
The two-story house, on Old Country Road, off Montauk Highway, was destroyed and parts of it could be seen hanging in nearby trees. The explosion also blew out windows and doors at a nearby condominium complex. Detectives are trying to clear up confusion over who was supposed to shut off the gas -- the owner, National Grid or the workers. A town spokeswoman said the owner had a demolition permit request that was "pending."

Two National Grid workers in the area heard the bang and rushed to the scene before firefighters, said spokeswoman Wendy Ladd. "They were able to shut off the gas at the curb immediately so that would stop feeding the fire," she said

About 70 firefighters responded to the blaze, which was extinguished in about an hour.  A spokesman for PSEG-Long Island said the company turned off the electricity, because live wires on the ground were making it hard for firefighters to work.

The East End of Long Island has some of the best shellfishing beds around, but due to cutbacks at the Department of Environmental Conservation, the waters around many of them have not been tested, and the D-E-C’s response is to just close the beds.
Southold Town has been at the forefront of an effort to train citizens as volunteer water samplers, in the hopes of proving to the DEC that the waters are safe for shellfishing.

Over the past several years, Southold has helped 12 citizen scientists become certified in sampling the town’s waterways, but last year, just two rounds of samples were actually tested by the lab, Southold Town Trustee John Bredemeyer told the Southold Town Board at a work session Tuesday morning.

The DEC also often closes shellfishing beds after heavy rainfall until the water can be tested, under the assumption that runoff will increase the bacteria in the bays. But Town Engineer Michael Collins said at a work session of the Town Board on Tuesday that those assumptions don’t match the science in Southold. He said the town has been doing a good job controlling runoff, and D-E-C should look elsewhere to determine what’s causing water pollution.

Wednesday February 11 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Anne Murray):

In the news tonight, a Sandy Hook victim’s name is misused on social media, the Connecticut DMV upgrades its computers, National Grid workers may strike on Friday, and the Community Preservation Fund brings in nearly one billion to preserve land.

The family of teacher Victoria Soto, who was killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting, has applied to trademark her name to stop others from misusing it on social media.
Family friend Ryan Graney, who has helped her family battle dozens of unofficial tribute pages, some of which have solicited donations in her name, said her family is concerned about people abusing Soto's image.

Soto, 27, was killed Dec. 14, 2012, while trying to protect her first-grade students from gunman Adam Lanza at Newtown's Sandy Hook School.
Her mother, Donna Soto, created a Facebook tribute page to raise money for scholarships for students pursuing careers in education.

Fake accounts on Facebook and Twitter using Soto's name were set up by so-called "truthers," who believe that the killing of 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook was a hoax, according to a report in the Connecticut Post.

The family applied for trademark protection Monday in the hopes of expediting the removal of the fake accounts.

If you have business with the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles, be aware that some offices will be closed the next few weeks as the department replaces its computer system.
Two branch offices each week will close while employees are trained in how to operate the new system. The first closings begin next week in Bridgeport and Norwalk, according to the Connecticut Post.

DMV Commissioner Andres Ayala Jr. said the department will alternate the office closings to avoid major inconveniences that would come from shutting all offices for one week.

The closings are needed to train DMV employees for a switchover to a new $25 million computer system.

The DMV’s aging computer systems are 40 to 50 years old and lack connections with each other to deliver cost-effective and efficient services.
The Bridgeport and Norwalk branch offices will be closed next week from Tuesday, Feb. 17 to Friday, Feb. 20.

The Stamford photo license center will also be closed during that period.
For the schedule of all the state DMV branch closings go to

National Grid union workers on Long Island could go on strike at midnight Friday if a new labor agreement with the utility is not reached.
Local 1049 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers authorized a strike last weekend.

The union’s contract expires Friday.  A strike would affect 1,200 gas and power-plant employees.

The sticking point in talks appears to be the amount of money employees must contribute for medical and retirement benefits.
Some union workers are calling the company “National Greed.”

A spokesperson for the utility said National Grid is dedicated to reaching a fair agreement, and if there is a strike, the company will draw on its experienced management to maintain the system.

The Peconic Bay Community Preservation Fund smashed records in 2014, bringing in a total of $108 million, demolishing the previous record of $96.02 million set in 2007.
Since the fund began in 1999, it has now brought in nearly one billion dollars.

The CPF is funded through a 2 percent real estate transfer tax approved in a public referendum in 1998 and extended again by voters in 2006 until 2030. The money is used by individual East End towns to buy farmland development rights, open space, parks and historic properties.
State Assemblyman Fred Thiele said the real estate industry on the East End is in its strongest position since the start of the recession in 2008 as he announced the record revenue this week.

The program took in $14 million in revenue in December 2014, the highest one-month total in the history of the program. The towns of Southampton and East Hampton also generated their highest annual revenue in the history of the program last year.
Since its inception the Community Preservation Fund has generated $993 million, and it could exceed the $1 billion mark within the next month or two.

Tuesday February 9 (Thanks to WPKN Volunteer Mike Merli)

In tonight’s news, a Connecticut lawmaker seeks to equalize motor vehicle taxes; a public hearing drew input on bills proposing stricter penalties for distracted driving; a church in Babylon Village faces opposition to their new food pantry; and a new report projects New York will double its tax breaks from last year.

State President Pro Tem Martin Looney (D - New Haven) has introduced a bill that would equalize motor vehicle taxes in the state of Connecticut.
Property taxes in some of the state’s larger cities have in some cases been six and even seven times those of its wealthiest suburbs.

In 2013, for example, the owner of a car worth $20,000 would have paid $1,485.80 in taxes in Hartford, but just $207.80 in Greenwich.
Looney believes there are two approaches the state could take to ending the disparity.

The first approach would involve replacing local car taxes with a state tax, at the average rate in Connecticut. The state would then send funds to cities and towns, with more going to areas with higher rates.

The second approach would involve joint collections, setting an average tax rate, and then allowing cities and towns to levy a portion, and ultimately the state would levy the rest and redistribute it.

While acknowledging that neither approach is perfect, the lawmaker believes that the redistribution of car taxes could be a strong first step to reforming the state’s property tax system.

Connecticut lawmakers heard testimony on Monday regarding several bills that aim to make our roads safer by cracking down on “distracted driving.”
At the public hearing, the Committee on Transportation sought input from elected officials and residents on several bills currently under review.

Two of the bills propose raising the fine paid by anyone texting while driving. A third bill seeks to increase penalties for using any electronics while behind the wheel, while an additional bill would prohibit the consumption of open alcohol containers in vehicles.
Many lawmakers expressed support for the legislation. Chairman Representative Tony Guerrerra (D – Rocky Hill) called distracted driving an “epidemic” in the state, and noted that this is not the first time these issues have been discussed.

According to Newsday around 80 Babylon Village residents have signed a petition opposing a new weekly food program in Christ Episcopal Church on Prospect Street.

Church leaders intend to feed 30 to 50 people a week with the program, a number which they believe would primarily include “senior citizens, widows and widowers, people on a very fixed income.”

Residents who oppose the new food program have expressed concerns ranging from increased traffic, to the trashing of their community with beer cans and even hypodermic needles.

In addition, residents against the program have argued that there are other churches in the area that currently run food programs three nights a week.

Kevin Cruze, a senior warden with the church, said it would be difficult for those churches to do more than they already do, and there are more people who need help.

There are also many residents who support the church’s program, and want to see it become a reality. One resident stressed how the people who came to the soup kitchens she has volunteered at were just like her, parents trying to make ends meet.

Capital New York reports: 

A new tax expenditure report released last week projects the state of New York will double the amount of tax breaks offered under its Start-Up NY Program.

The program establishes tax-free zones on university campuses. According to Ken Adams, CEO of Empire State Development, the program has so far brought 2,400 jobs and $104 million in private investment into the state.

The report projects that New York will give $106 million in tax breaks in 2015, up from the $59 million projected for 2014.

According to Adams, the Start-Up NY program now contains 16 out-of-state companies, 37 new companies and 20 existing New York companies.

The program, and Adams, have been criticized for a lack of transparency about exactly which companies are receiving which benefits.

Last month, Capital reported that the agency was unable to release a required annual report on time, which raised suspicions among lawmakers.

Adams is scheduled at the end of this week to leave his current post to become the new head of the Department of Taxation and Finance. He has vowed to release whatever details are available before making that transition.

Monday February 9 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Paul Atkin and Scott Schere):

In the news tonight:  Malloy’s bill would take firearms from recipients of temporary restraining order, Anthem warns of email scams after data breach, a legislative battle over New York state education funding, and New York’s Comptroller questions finances of the state economic development corporation.  

Governor  Malloy  announced Friday a measure will be introduced later this month to immediately take away firearms from recipients of temporary restraining orders, usually because of domestic disputes. Currently, the law leaves the issue of access to firearms in such cases up to a judge at a hearing that may be held as many as two weeks after the initial order.

Malloy said.  “We know that the period of time immediately following a domestic violence victim’s application for a restraining order is one of the most volatile, and access to a firearm in that situation presents an additional, outstanding threat If a judge determines that a victim is in enough danger that they should be granted a temporary restraining order, that victim should not have to wait until they are fully protected.”

Karen Jarmoc, CEO of Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, cited the state’s average of 14 domestic violence homicides each year. 

She said guns are the weapon used most frequently and that a victim in an abusive relationship is five times more likely to be killed if their abuser has access to a firearm.

After reports of millions of customers’ personal information being accessed by hackers, insurance company Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is warning Connecticut residents to be aware of scam emails targeting current and former customers of the insurer. 

The emails are made to look as if they come from Anthem and offer a “click here” link for people who want credit monitoring, but are actually intended to capture customers’ personal information, the company said.

Anthem said it will not call customers or ask for credit card information or Social Security numbers by phone. All information from the company will be sent by mail.

According to Anthem, there is no indication that the scam emails are being sent by the hackers involved in the cyberattack, or that scammers are using information accessed in the attack.

Newsday reports: 

State Senator John Flanagan an East Northport Republican, who is chairman of the Education Committee, has rejected threats by Governor Cuomo that he might limit an increase in statewide education aid to as little as $370 million.  

Speaking at Longwood Middle School on Long Island, Flanagan said the ‘floor’ for state education funding is $1.1 billion and ‘we will add money”.

The Governor had tied the increase to approval of his proposals for tougher teacher evaluations and other changes in the public school system.

The Governor has pushed, for legislation that he contends would promote better 
 job performance by school administrators and teachers.

Cuomo has also threatened not to sign off on next year's budget by the April 1 deadline unless lawmakers approve other proposals he has advanced to clean up corruption in the state Capitol. Such a move could leave legislators with the distasteful choice of either going along with Cuomo's agenda or shutting down state government.

Michael Lonergan, the Longwood school superintendent, said Flanagan's remarks left him "encouraged and thankful." Lonergan added that his district remained anxious to restore the 41 teaching and Administrative positions cut in response to previous years' state-aid reductions.

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says the Empire State Development Corp. (ESDC) has released minimal financial information for many of its subsidiaries and limited public reporting on results of economic development initiatives around the state.

DiNapoli’s office is also currently auditing ESDC’s oversight of vendors responsible for promoting certain state economic development programs. 

ESDC also serves as a financing vehicle for the state. Its outstanding debt totaled more than $10.7 billion for the fiscal year ending on March 31, 2014, an increase of 20 percent over FY 2013. 

The Comptroller says there is increasing reliance by the state on ESDC to issue debt to fund additional projects including highways, correctional and youth facilities, and to refund debt of other authorities.

DiNapoli said. “New York state spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year to spur economic development and job creation through ESDC programs. New Yorkers deserve more thorough accounting about whether these programs are achieving desired results.”

Friday, February 6 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Paul Atkin and Mike Merli):

In the news tonight: Connecticut House Speaker proposes separate tax rate for education; state watchdog is troubled by treatment of special ed students; nearly half-million tons of fracking waste was dumped in New York; and billionaire Ira Rennert is on trial,
charged with looting a subsidiary of his company to build his Sagaponack estate.

On Thursday, Connecticut House Speaker Brendan Sharkey proposed letting towns set a separate tax rate for education expenses as part of a legislative package designed to reduce municipal reliance on property tax revenue.

The proposal included several changes to how towns fund and approve education spending, which Sharkey said often accounts for between 60 and 80 percent of a town’s total budget.

Other proposals in the package include consolidating the state’s network of emergency call answering centers and easing a requirement that towns publish certain notices in local newspapers. 

The legislative package also calls for regionalizing special education programs in an effort to help towns share the cost of the expensive and sometimes unpredictable programs. 

Sharkey said, “The state cannot afford to subsidize, through local aid and education aid, inefficiencies. It can no longer be the function of state government to contribute to and tolerate any inefficiencies that go on at the local level and the state level.” 

He added that Connecticut must find efficient ways to function in a “new normal” of leaner budgets.

The Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate released a new report Wednesday detailing research into school disciplinary practices used on students with special needs.

The report focused on seven schools last school year, and found seventy students were restrained around 1,065 times and secluded 703 times.

The State Department of Education reports that over the last three school years, 1,313 students have suffered injuries from being restrained or secluded.

State law prohibits educators from restraining or secluding students, except in emergency situations or unless their individual educational plan allows for it.

Spaces used to seclude students have ranged from open, comforting spaces, to small brick storage closets and padded rooms. Some of the spaces have included comforting and sensory materials but many have not.

According to the report, no research exists that shows the benefits of restraint or seclusion. 

Nearly a half million tons of solid fracking waste from Pennsylvania have been dumped in New York landfills, according to a new report by Environmental Advocates of New York water and natural resources associated Liz Moran.

According to Public News Service, the report relied on Pennsylvania DEP records to document what Moran called a major toxic and radioactive threat to New Yorkers. 

Moran said New York currently has no system in place to track the waste dumped at seven landfills since at least 2010. Her group is calling for the state to take emergency action and classify the waste as "hazardous." 

Currently that waste is exempt from state hazardous waste regulations, Moran said. Closing that loophole, she said, would stop toxic fracking waste from going into landfills. 

Legislation to classify fracking waste as hazardous was proposed in 2011 but never passed.

New York is in the process of banning fracking in the state. 

27east reports that Ira Rennert who built a 63-acre estate on the Sagaponack ocean front Is in federal court accused of taking 150 million dollars from a subsidiary of Renco his metals company.  

Attorneys for the creditors of Magcorp, a Utah company, say the funds were taken to finance the construction of the multi structure - 110,000 square foot estate. 

Magcorp subsequently failed and the company’s lawyers are seeking more than $600 million, including punitive damages. 

Rennert’s attorneys assert that there is no proof that the money taken from Magcorp was for personal use – or that “in doing so, Rennert rendered the company insolvent”.

Thursday, February 5th (thanks to WPKN volunteers Scott Harris and Nadine Dumser): 

In the news tonight: The Connecticut Nonprofit Human Services Alliance is asking Governor Dannel Malloy for an 8.52 percent cost of living increase; Quinnipiac University student Maria Praeli visited the White House to help put a human face on the issue of immigration reform; a New York state audit found that Southold Town needs to improve financial oversight  – and Long Island University union secretaries and clerks rally in a contract dispute.

The Connecticut Nonprofit Human Services Alliance, a statewide coalition of 800 private nonprofit organizations and 19 associations, is asking Governor Dannel Malloy for an 8.52 percent cost of living increase.

For decades these nonprofits have provided services to adults and children with physical and intellectual disabilities, substance abuse disorders, victims of domestic violence and people with HIV and AIDS.

The nonprofit agencies argue they can deliver services at a lower cost than state agencies. But it’s hard to retain a qualified workforce due to low salaries resulting from state underfunding.

The Office of Program Review and Investigations found that it costs 2.5 times more to serve developmentally disabled clients in a state setting than through private nonprofit agencies.

The struggle for a cost of living increase will be tough this year given the state is facing a $1.3 billion budget deficit in 2016. Governor Malloy will unveil his budget in mid-February.

As Senate Republicans pushed for approval of a bill that would block implementation of President Obama’s immigration policy changes, Quinnipiac University student Maria Praeli traveled to the White House to help put a human face on the issue.

Praeli is one of six “Dreamers”—undocumented children brought to the United States by their parents—who were invited to meet with President Obama and help him fight one of the most bitter political struggles of his administration.

Republicans say Obama overreached with his 2014 executive order shielding the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents from deportation, as well as a 2012 order that gave undocumented child immigrants, like Praeli, provisional legal status.

President Obama pledged to veto any legislation that would overturn his executive orders on immigration policy.  
According to a New York state audit Southold Town needs to improve financial oversight with bidding procedures, payroll record keeping and cash deposits.

On Wednesday, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office released an audit of the town’s finances between January 2013 through December 2013. The Suffolk Times reported that the audit found the town has failed to solicit bids and needs to improve financial policies and procedures to adequately safeguard monies collected in the Receiver of Taxes, Town Clerk and waste management departments.

“As a result of these deficiencies, there is an increased risk that town money could be lost or misappropriated or errors and irregularities could occur and remain undetected,” the audit states.“

The Town Board is currently working on a corrective action plan and hopes to have a draft completed within five to six weeks.
Long Island University's union secretaries and clerks Wednesday held lunchtime rallies on the Brookville and Brooklyn campuses after rejecting a contract offer from the administration earlier this week.

Nearly 50 members of Local 153 of the Office and Professional Employees International Union chanted "What do we want? Fairness!" inside an LIU Post building in Brookville until campus security asked them to leave.

About 80 workers crashed an administrative meeting on health care at LIU Brooklyn, organizers said.

The union members -- the vast majority of whom are women -- work in offices including admissions and financial aid, as well as libraries and various academic departments.

According to Newsday the 182 affected employees have been without a contract and have not received pay increases since 2011. Their salaries range from about $28,000 to $57,000 a year.

The two sides have been negotiating for about three years on issues including employee contributions to health plans and fringe benefits such as free tuition for workers and their family members.

Wednesday February 4 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Anne Murray):

In the news tonight, Governor Malloy calls for changes in the state’s drug laws, federal officials investigate a deadly Metro-North train crash and the New York State Assembly elects its first African American speaker. 

Governor Dannel P. Malloy is calling for sweeping changes to the state's drug laws, including reclassifying certain nonviolent offenses as misdemeanors and eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for narcotics possession.

The proposals, outlined Tuesday in a speech at Yale Law School, would sharply curtail the zero-tolerance philosophy that has dominated criminal justice policy since President Ronald Reagan declared a "war on drugs" in 1982.

Malloy said “We have to become a second-chance society where we don't permanently punish nonviolent offenders, swelling our prisons and creating lifetime criminals out of people who made a mistake."

The governor is also pushing for an overhaul of the pardons and parole system designed to help ex-offenders secure employment after completing their prison sentences, according to a report in the Hartford Courant.

The plan includes classifying drug possession charges as misdemeanors unless there is intent to sell. He also called for eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession, while continuing to allow judges discretion to impose a range of sentences.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators today headed to the scene of a deadly crash in Westchester Tuesday night between a Metro-North commuter train and a sport utility vehicle.

The MTA said six people were killed and 15 people were injured Tuesday evening when the rush-hour train struck an SUV that stalled on the tracks with the gates down.
Five people on the train and the driver of the SUV were killed.
The MTA said fifteen passengers were being treated for injuries at local hospitals, 

Officials told Newsday that the Metro-North Train left Grand Central Terminal and nearly 26 miles north of Grand Central it hit a stalled Jeep Cherokee at about 6:30 p.m. at the Commerce Street railroad grade crossing in Valhalla. 

The MTA said that normally flashing red lights and gates come down to prevent cars from going across the tracks.

The NTSB said it will investigate whether the car drove around or whether there was a malfunction of some kind.

Harlem Line service remained suspended between Pleasantville and North White Plains, with limited bus/train service for Upper Harlem Line customers. 
Harlem Line tickets will be cross honored on the Hudson and New Haven lines, and free parking will be available at Cortlandt Station on the Hudson Line.
Train service will operate normally from North White Plains and all points south.
As he took the podium in the center of the chamber on Tuesday, the New York State Assembly's new speaker Bronx Democrat Carl Heastie, (Hay-Stee) said just one word: "Wow."

Heastie, who admittedly listens more than he speaks, was elected by Assembly members Tuesday to lead the chamber for the rest of this year and next, becoming the lower house's the first African-American speaker in state history.

His election came after longtime Speaker Sheldon Silver stepped down as he fights federal corruption charges.

Heastie, the first new leader in 21 years, said his election “breaks the glass ceiling for people in this state, and, to me, lets the young people know that anything is possible."
In his speech, Heastie noted the need to democratize the Assembly and change regulations regarding outside income for legislators.

According to the Albany-Times Union, the speaker said he wants to establish an office of ethics and compliance that members can use as a resource, “to give the public more trust."

Tuesday February 3 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Mike Merli):

In tonight’s news, a CT lawmaker hopes to curb childhood obesity with a special candy and soda tax; President Obama’s budget proposal includes military spending in Connecticut; Governor Cuomo emphasizes ethics reforms during state budget talks; and Brookhaven officials do not plan to block a Suffolk OTB casino project.

Representative Juan Candelaria (D-New Haven) has proposed a new bill hoping to curb childhood obesity, by imposing a special tax on candy and soft drinks.

The bill would establish a new one cent-per-ounce tax on candies high in sugar and calories, and on sugary soft drinks both carbonated and not.

Currently, Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia all have a special tax on soft drinks, and Hawaii and Vermont are considering it, but this new bill would make Connecticut the first to tax candy in this way.

Rep. Candelaria is not the first lawmaker from the New Haven area to propose this type of legislation; U.S. Rep. Rosa Delauro (D) proposed a federal soda tax last year, but it did not pass.

Even if the bill garners support in the legislature, it may not have the support of Governor Malloy, who vowed not to raise taxes last year.

President Obama’s $4 billion budget proposal would dramatically increase spending on military programs that are important to Connecticut’s economy.

The proposal calls for 57 additional F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, the engines for which are built by Pratt & Whitney in Connecticut.

The proposed budget also increases the number of helicopters the Pentagon would purchase from Sikorsky in 2016.

The Navy’s budget includes nearly $6 billion to build two additional Virginia class submarines and $1.4 billion to continue planning of a program to develop a next generation Ohio-class nuclear submarine. Groton-based Electric Boat builds the Virginia class sub and is expected to win the contract for the Ohio-replacement submarine.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal said “The budget will allow Electric Boat, Pratt & Whitney, Sikorsky and other pillars of Connecticut’s economy to continue to provide good-paying jobs and make laudable contributions to keeping our country safe,” he said. 

However, President Obama also renewed his call for another round of base closings, which could potentially endanger the Naval Submarine Base in New London.

In an address delivered on Monday, Governor Cuomo vowed not to sign a state budget that does not include his five-point ethics reform plan as reported by the Albany Times-Union.

The ethics reforms needed in the budget include what would be the country’s most extensive system for disclosure of lawmakers’ outside income; a change to the constitution which would remove the public pension from any lawmaker found guilty of corruption related to their elected duties; reforms to the per diem system by the Legislature; new campaign finance rules that ban personal use of campaign cash; and a new schedule for campaign finance disclosure.

Cuomo spoke about corruption, and the need for transparency in state government, asking, “Who does the legislator really represent at the end of the day – his or her constituents or some undisclosed client interest?”

He observed that 29 of 63 state senators earn outside income, while just 55 of the 150 members of the Assembly have a second job.

According to Cuomo, Sheldon Silver is the exception to the rule, noting that only 10 Assembly members and seven senators earn over $100,000 from an outside source.

However, Cuomo said, “We need to still resolve the seminal debate of whether government is the solution or government is the problem.”

Newsday reports: On Thursday, Brookhaven town officials passed a nonbinding resolution to oppose the gaming site Suffolk OTB plans to build in Medford.

Councilman Dan Panico said, “Anywhere you would site an operation like that, I think it would be met with widespread resistance.”

Nassau OTB recently withdrew their proposal for a casino in Westbury, after Hempstead and North Hempstead officials sued to block their plans.

Unlike in Nassau County, however, Brookhaven officials are not fond of the idea of suing to block the build. A legal battle with Suffolk OTB would be potentially expensive.

Since state laws exempt lottery terminals and OTB facilities from zoning laws, despite the opposition from residents, town officials feel there is not much they can do to stop the project from moving forward.

Monday, Feb 2 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Scott Schere and Melinda Tuhus):

In the news tonight, Fairfield County lawmakers want priority in state transportation fixes; Connecticut’s air flunks clean air standards; 

Bronx Assemblyman Heastie likely to succeed Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver; and PACS flip their support to the winner of  New York’s first congressional district. 

A bipartisan group of lawmakers from Fairfield County called on the state Friday to quickly prioritize transportation infrastructure projects in their region during this year’s transportation-oriented legislative session. 

Representative Jonathan Steinberg, Democrat from Westport, said about 30 lawmakers have joined a regional Transportation Caucus to “complement” the efforts of the legislature’s existing Transportation Committee. Steinberg said Fairfield County lawmakers commend Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s attention to fixing the state’s roads, bridges, and rail systems as well as his efforts to develop a 30-year infrastructure plan, but they need action immediately.

During the press conference, the lawmakers said improvements to Metro-North, replacements for its aging bridges, and projects improving I-95 “must rise to the top” of a list of worthy infrastructure projects likely to be considered this year. 

Nutmeggers have a chance to sound off about federal efforts to reduce ground-level ozone, commonly known as smog, as the Environmental Protection Agency rolls out proposed new rules. The American Lung Association of the Northeast says six of the eight counties in Connecticut got an 'F' for their number of high ozone days in the 2014 "State of the Air" report card. Ground-level ozone exacerbates asthma and C-O-P-D, and can cause premature death.

Most of the air that contributes to poor air quality blows in from the west. The current ozone standard is 75 parts per billion. The new proposal is 65 to 70 parts per billion. Industry leaders say the current ozone standard is working, and that making it tougher raises their costs. But public health officials say the standard should be 60 parts per billion. The E-P-A is accepting written comments until March 17th.

Since New York Assembly Speaker Shelton Silver was arrested on corruption charges and stepped down, Rochester’s Joe Morelle became the third Assembly member to drop out of the contest to succeed him, according to the Albany Times-Union. That leaves only Cathy Nolan of Queens and the heavily favored Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie. The speaker has traditionally been from New York City.

Assembly members Keith Wright of Harlem withdrew on Wednesday evening, with Joe Lentol of Brooklyn on Thursday afternoon.

The chamber is slated to vote Monday to replace Silver with Morelle as interim speaker, with a final leadership vote to be taken on Feb. 10. 

Heastie’s campaign donors include individuals with business before the committee he chairs and supporters of bills that he has introduced. Capital New York reports that he has steered hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money to his contributors.  While that’s not necessarily illegal, the Moreland Commission was looking at Heastie’s campaign spending before its dissolution.

Ten political action committees that contributed money to the campaign of former Congressman Tim Bishop last year have donated funds since the election to his victorious opponent Lee Zeldin. 

Newsday reports that those PACs, run by companies such as Boeing, 
 BAE Systems., Comcast Corp. and Honeywell International, and lobbying firms and trade groups, donated  more than $57 thousand to the campaign of Bishop, a Southampton Democrat, before the Nov. 7 election.

But after the election in the 1st District on eastern Long Island, from Nov. 25 to Dec. 31, 2014, those same 10 PACs gave a total of $22,250 to the campaign of Zeldin, a Republican from Shirley. 

It's common practice for PACs to switch sides and give money to the winner if the incumbent they supported loses. Critics say the PACs do it to ensure they have continued access to whoever is the elected official from a district. 
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