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January 2016

Friday, January 29  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Jim Young, Neil Tolhurst and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Governor Malloy proposes bail reform; Bridgeport participates in Connecticut’s Homeless Point In Time Count; the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation seeks public input on their nitrogen action plan; and Congressman Lee Zeldin will open a new office in Riverhead.
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Governor Dannel P. Malloy will target bail bond reform as part of his Second Chance Society 2.0. 

Yesterday, at the Citadel of Love, a church in the north end of Hartford, Malloy stated that there are too many Connecticut residents sitting in jail because they can’t post a $20,000 bond, which requires them to pay between $250 and $2,000.

Malloy said, “These are individuals who are often drug addicted, mentally ill, or just plain poor, who have been charged with minor, often misdemeanor charges.”  Malloy would like for these individuals to be let go on a promise to appear in court.

The legislation the Governor plans to propose next week will prohibit a judge from setting a monetary bail for anyone charged with a misdemeanor, with a few exceptions. The legislation would give a judge discretion to impose a cash bond on individuals who pose an immediate threat to the health or well-being of another person.
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The Connecticut Post reports:
Each year, volunteers help the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness count the number of homeless in towns and cities throughout the state by visiting shelters and other areas where people might live, such as under bridges or in abandoned buildings.

During an hour-long training session Tuesday evening at The Franklin Apartments in Bridgeport, officials told the roughly three dozen volunteers that finding no homeless people on their routes was the best possible outcome.

Each team spent four hours traversing their sections of the city and its surrounding towns.The volunteer teams traveled with blankets for any homeless men or women they might encounter, as well as two-page surveys with questions related to their personal histories including age and ethnicity, whether they are veterans or victims of domestic violence.
  
The numbers compiled from Tuesday night’s volunteer count will reflect the number of homeless people living in shelters compared to those on the streets. 

Last year’s Homeless Point In Time Count identified 4,038 homeless people in Connecticut, a 4% decline from 2014, and a 10% drop from 2013. 
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The problem of nitrogen contamination to Long Island coastal waters is the subject of an upcoming public forum at Suffolk Community College on February 2. 

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation is drafting a document for their Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan. According to their scoping document, excess nitrogen from septic systems and fertilizers are "impairing surface water embayments at crisis levels.” 

Chemical imbalance can cause excessive algae growth and dead zones, where there is little or no oxygen in water bodies.  Also marsh grasses have been shown to grow shorter roots in search of sustenance, which harm the grasses so vital to protecting land from the storm wave impact.

Scientists gauge that 10 parts per million marks the maximum safe level of nitrogen in drinking water while marine and aquatic ecosystems can tolerate no more than point four parts per million.

Also under consideration is the Army Corps of Engineers' plan to recommend that homes be elevated in fragile areas, and that sewer connections be available when feasible instead of septic systems. Proximity to treatment plants, and clustering of units each affect that feasibility.

New York State has earmarked $5 million dollars for the initiative. The area of focus includes Peconic Estuary System, bays along Long Island Sound, and South Shore estuaries throughout Long Island.
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Congressman Lee Zeldin will open a Riverhead office on February 1. 

Mr. Zeldin said in a statement: “An East End office will bring the wide range of constituent services that my office provides a little closer to home for eastern Long Island residents. If you are struggling with a federal issue or agency, or have any questions or concerns, I encourage you to contact and take full advantage of my East End office.”

The Riverhead office will be at 30 West Main Street, Suite 201. It will be open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or by appointment starting February 1. The phone number is 631-209-4235.

Mr. Zeldin’s office “works with all levels of government, on issues including law enforcement, quality of life, environmental and infrastructure,” according to a statement.

Earlier this month, the Suffolk County Legislature also announced a plan to hold two meetings in Riverhead in an effort to bring government closer to East End residents. Congressman Zeldin's new Riverhead office complements this effort to make government more accessible for East End citizens.
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Thursday, January 28  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Nadine Dumser and Rick Henrietta.)

In the news tonight: Bridgeport’s Mayor opens the books; Connecticut Legislature will look at tax reform; rRelocating Suffolk’s OTB Casino; and, relief for Long Island homeowners with electric-only heating.
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In Bridgeport, a new online initiative will lay out the books for anyone with computer access, according to the Connecticut Post.

The site piggybacks on work already done at the state level by Comptroller Kevin Lembo when he created “OpenConnecticut.” For $2,000 a month, Bridgeport has access to the same software and updates Lembo uses to provide a slew of data to the public on budgets and expenses. 

The City Council, which has a finance committee, has often complained that its monthly budget updates are months behind and has even considered hiring its own independent budget adviser. 

Ganim hopes to roll out “OpenBridgeport” within one to two months. The site will initially contain budget and expense information, with more information to come.  

Cheri Quickmire, executive director of the statewide Common Cause clean government group said “OpenConnecticut” was “certainly an improvement.” But Quickmire acknowledged an online budget site will only contain so much information, and if a public official wants to get away with something, they still can, so citizens and the press must remain vigilant.
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2016 is an election year, a fact which is reflected in activity at the state capitol, as lawmakers introduce new legislation for consideration during the shorter legislative calendar.  The 2016 General Assembly session starts next Wednesday, February 3, and ends on May 4.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate have filed 18 proposed bills, ranging from privatization of the DMV to raising the threshold on Estate and Gift Taxes, or eliminating the taxes entirely, in an effort to keep older citizens in the State.

The DMV has been in crisis of late after a backlog of insurance renewals caused Connecticut drivers to be fined or penalized. The DMV closed for eight days for a computer upgrade. That was followed by Commissioner Andres Ayala’s resignation last week.

Three representatives submitted bills calling for the elimination of the annual $250 business entity tax, which brings in about $40 million to the state annually, but the shortfall would have to be covered by other revenue sources.

Also proposed is legislation that would impose a fee on the manufacture, distribution, prescription, and dispensation of opioids, which are manufactured by several companies in Connecticut. It is hoped this will control the opioid and heroin epidemic that reportedly caused over 300 deaths in the state in 2014.
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Pending lawsuits and local opposition from Brookhaven Town has forced Suffolk Off Track Betting Corporation to reconsider the location of a planned video slot machine parlor.

OTB would replace a site it already owns in Medford with the Marriott Hotel off the Long Island Expressway in Islandia.  It would retrofit a portion of the hotel which it would lease.  The Islandia site may soon be purchased by Delaware North, a private management company financing the $11 million Medford purchase, since OTB is in bankruptcy. 

Newsday sources suggest Delaware North is encouraging the change of venue because of a seemingly more inviting reception from Islandia and the greater readiness of the Marriott site. 

Neither Delaware North nor Suffolk OTB would confirm the move.  But a local official said a deal could be struck within a week or two and the operation could be ready in a matter of months at the Marriott site. Sources confirm OTB has consulted with Islandia on the move which could funnel as much as $3 million yearly to village coffers.   
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Newsday reports: 
Suffolk Legislator Sarah Anker of Mount Sinai and the state Department of Public Service are exploring ways to bring relief to some 42,000 PSEG Long Island customers who heat their homes with electricity. 

Many residents from two all-electric senior communities in Ridge can’t afford to pay their monthly electricity bills, some of which total $1000, depending on the power supply charge and usage.

Leisure Village and Leisure Knoll were built during the 1970s, when electricity was cheap and was expected to get cheaper with the anticipated opening of the Shoreham nuclear power plant. Instead, a state agreement led to the decommissioning of the plant. Ratepayers assumed billions in debt, a move that has helped keep rates high. 

PSEG Long Island spokesman Jeff Weir said the utility offers a 40% discount on the delivery charge for all-electric customers. The rate takes effect after the first 400 kilowatt hours of usage.  

Anker said the discount is not enough and will petition the state to have a senior advocate named to the Public Service Commission. She has also enlisted the help of AARP, a senior advocacy group.
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Wednesday, January 27  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Anne Murray.)

In the news tonight: a group charges that Connecticut’s budget shortchanges children; the Bridgeport school superintendent testifies that state funding is inadequate and schools are crumbling; losses for New York health insurers raise concerns about the state health exchange; and, a Democrat wins in the Southampton town board election.
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A new analysis shows that despite increases during the recession, the share of Connecticut's budget going to children has declined.

According to Derek Thomas, a fiscal policy fellow at Connecticut Voices for Children, the poverty rate for children in the state is higher than ever at almost 15%, or 114,000 children, and the rate for children of color is five times greater than for white children.

Figures vary from one community to the next: in Hartford nearly half of the children are in poverty, which is three times the state poverty rate and 25 times the rate in some of the state's wealthiest towns.

At its 15th annual Budget Forum Tuesday, Voices for Children called on policy makers to make strategic investments in child health and education, and address the widening disparities. Among the topics was property tax reform, including a proposal to create a statewide property tax.  Putting about 60% of property taxes in a statewide pool for education would help equalize school funding.
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The Connecticut Post reports that the state Tuesday argued Bridgeport’s schools are adequately funded, but stories of crumbling walls, collapsing ceilings and teachers leaving en masse undercut the effort.

Bridgeport Interim School Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz told a Hartford Superior Court judge presiding over a lawsuit seeking to change how Connecticut funds education that she prays every morning that “the boilers in some of the schools turn on.”

The ceiling fell through in one school last year and walls are crumbling in others, but there is no money for repairs.

The lawsuit brought by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding seeks to equalize education spending. The coalition argues the system is so reliant on local property taxes it leaves poor cities like Bridgeport with inadequate schools, while wealthy towns like Greenwich offer superior educational opportunities.

Joseph Rubin, an attorney defending Connecticut, tried to show the tens of millions of dollars poured into Bridgeport schools each year is sufficient to augment local taxes and educate the city’s children.  Rabinowitz said state funding is inadequate and the district struggles with a litany of social, criminal and parental issues not found in the suburbs. Since the district lacks resources, 200 teachers leave every year.
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Though New York’s Obamacare exchange increased the number of state residents with insurance, losses by participating insurance companies over the last two years raise concerns about its sustainability, according to a report released Tuesday by Standard & Poor’s, according to the Albany Times-Union.

The exchange, New York State of Health, was created in October 2013 to meet the requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act. 

“If the experience in New York is any indication of how the rest of the country is managing, we can expect it to be a bumpy ride,” the report concludes. Three-quarters of the insurers participating in New York’s exchange reported operating losses for plans sold to individuals in 2014.

The state’s insurance regulator, the Department of Financial Services, denied full rate increase requests from all but five insurers operating on the exchange. The New York Health Plan Association, which represents insurance companies, called for reform of rate-setting system, which requires insurers to get approval each year for rates.
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Newsday reports that Democrat Julie Lofstad defeated Republican Richard Yastrzemski in the Southampton Town special election Tuesday. With all 42 electoral districts counted, Lofstad had 2,771 votes to Yastrzemski’s 1,721, according to preliminary results from the Suffolk County Board of Elections.

Lofstad will serve the two years left in the unfinished term of ex-Councilman Bradley Bender, who pleaded guilty to selling oxycodone pills and resigned November, 24.

Her victory means a Democratic-Independence alliance will continue to control the town, where the GOP dominated politics for decades until 2013. Lofstad had the backing of the Independence and Conservative parties in the special election while Yastrzemski had only the Republican line.
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Tuesday, January 26  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut teachers don’t want their evaluations based on standardized tests; Moody’s gives Connecticut a credit negative after GE announces its move; ReCharge NY helps power Long Island businesses; Riverhead considers banning 24-hour businesses.
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The Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said the state should not use any standardized tests as part of teacher evaluations. Under the guidelines adopted by the state Education Board in June 2012, standardized tests and other student indicators make up about 45% of a teacher’s performance.

CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg said the union is proposing that 50% of teacher evaluations involve student growth and development indicators, 40% classroom observation, and 10% professional responsibility.

In 2014, the CEA withdrew its support for the 2012 teacher evaluation method they participated in creating. CEA president Sheila Cohen said: “Our state’s current teacher evaluation guidelines are actually detrimental to student learning.” Any other test agreed to by a local school district could count toward that 50% of teacher evaluations under the CEA’s proposal.

The state Education Department will remain neutral in the debate.
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Major Wall Street rating agency Moody’s Investors Service, cited GE’s impending move as it issued a “credit negative” for Connecticut. It’s not a formal rating downgrade, but rather a public statement about a development that could harm Connecticut’s financial standing in the long run.

GE announced earlier this month that it would move its Fairfield headquarters to Boston over the next two years. Moody's called the departure "a slight credit negative" for Fairfield, but added "the town should be able to absorb the loss with its diverse tax base and favorable long-term prospects."

While the partisan debate continues on why GE is moving – Democrats citing the various draws of Boston and Republicans blaming recent tax hikes – Moody’s notes the state’s under-performing tax revenues, budget deficits, low reserves, population loss and economy that hasn’t recovered all jobs lost in the last recession.

But the state government still has a strong credit rating with Moody's, which Malloy’s budget office spokesman Gian-Carl Casa said “is a recognition that the underpinnings of Connecticut's economy and budget are solid.”
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Newsday reports: 
Employers across New York State have committed to preserving and creating nearly 401,000 jobs — including 60,000 on Long Island — in return for discounted electricity from the state Power Authority.

The authority, in the first official review of its ReCharge New York program, said businesses, hospitals and nonprofits saved $89.5 million statewide in 2014. On Long Island, employers saved $12.5 million.  As of December 1, 2015, the four-year-old program had 741 participants, 148 of which were in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

In return for lower electric bills, participants agreed to maintain, and in some cases expand, their payrolls over seven years. They also pledged to invest $33 billion in buildings and equipment, $3 billion of it locally, according to the report.

The report also shows a big increase in the number of companies and nonprofits benefiting from ReCharge compared with its predecessor programs, Power for Jobs and Energy Cost Savings Benefit. Power Authority chief executive Gil Quiniones said ReCharge uses hydropower, “which is some of the cleanest, most reliable and consistently inexpensive power available.”
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A proposed 7-Eleven at Vinland Commons has Riverhead town officials considering a ban on some businesses from operating overnight.

The ban would affect retail businesses within three zoning districts abutting rural and residential areas. It wouldn’t affect businesses within the heavily commercialized Route 58 corridor, nor would it apply to restaurants, bars, nightclubs or anywhere that sells alcohol for “on-premises consumption.”

At a town board meeting last Wednesday, Town Supervisor Sean Walter said: “We’re trying to protect the peace and tranquility of the residents in districts which transition from heavy commercial to purely residential.”

Scott Greenspan, an attorney representing 7-Eleven, said that Riverhead would be overstepping its zoning and police powers by imposing a ban on 24-hour operations and the ban would illegally pre-empt the New York State Alcoholic Beverage Control law.

7-Eleven has been trying to open a store at the shopping center since September 2014. Riverhead has fought Vinland Commons, rejecting the 7-Eleven’s application to the town building department. But after Vinland Commons sued the town, a New York State Supreme Court justice ruled in favor of Vinland Commons last October.
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Monday, January 25  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Scott Schere.)

In the news tonight:  Milford is awarded two medical marijuana dispensaries; Smithtown OKs Enterprise vehicle-lease plan; an inducement package should help sell Entenmann’s property in Bay Shore; and, Melinda Tuhus reports from Governor Malloy’s kickoff of Connecticut’s Solar for All program.
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Earlier this month, the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection awarded licenses to open three more marijuana dispensaries in the state — and two of them are in Milford. The third is in Waterbury. 

According to the Connecticut Post, the Milford sites aren’t just in the same town, but less than two miles apart.  One will be in an office building at 318 New Haven Ave., and the other is at 255 W. River St., in a building formerly occupied by the Eyesurgic Center. The facilities, expected to open in early summer, will join the six existing dispensaries in the state.

The three new approved sites were picked from a pool of 19 applications. Department of Consumer Protection spokeswoman Lora Rae Anderson said nearly half of the applications were for sites in Milford, which is “a pretty central location” given that the bulk of the 8,228 medical marijuana patients registered in Connecticut live in New Haven or Fairfield counties.

The chosen Milford applicants both had strong business plans, according to Anderson, and among other things, did a good job of showing they could run a safe, secure facility.
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According to Newsday, Smithtown officials are moving forward with a plan to lease vehicles from Enterprise Fleet Management as part of an effort to reduce the costs of acquiring new vehicles and maintaining the town’s aging fleet.

The town board voted 5-0 last week to authorize the a master equity vehicle lease agreement with Enterprise FM Trust.The lease proposal calls for replacing 173 town vehicles over five years, but the town board has the flexibility to shorten the implementation period.

The town plans to replace 23 high-mileage vehicles this year. Town comptroller Donald Musgnug said earlier this month that the average age of the town’s fleet is 10 1⁄2 years, and 111 of the town’s 192 vehicles are more than a decade old.

Musgnug said that Enterprise would purchase cars, sport utility vehicles or trucks under 26,000 gross pounds vehicle weight directly from the manufacturer, apply government incentives specific to Smithtown toward the purchases and then lease the vehicles to the town.
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The Islip Industrial Development Agency last week passed a $3.21 million inducement package toward the sale of the iconic Entenmann’s property in Bay Shore according to Newsday. The old bakery ceased production at that site in August 2014.

Its potential new owners are looking to turn the 519,493-square-foot space at 1742 Fifth Ave. into a two to-six tenant industrial park for businesses in the food and beverage industry. The new owners say they hope to close the $10.75 million purchase by March 1 and have tenants in by the start of the third quarter of this year. 

The package includes a $112,000 savings in mortgage recording tax; $200,000 in sales tax savings for construction and a 15-year tax abatement worth $2.9 million.

The new tenants at the anticipated park -- to be dubbed Entenmann’s Corporate Park -- are expected to bring at least 150 jobs to the area.
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Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy kicked off an event in New Haven last week to inaugurate the state's Solar for All program. 

WPKN's Melinda Tuhus has the story:
The governor, staffers for the CT Green Bank, and the head of PosiGen, the solar company that will be recruiting low- and moderate-income homeowners, spoke to an enthusiastic, standing room only crowd at Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven. 

Malloy last year signed a bill aimed at increasing the state's solar capacity ten-fold, from 30 megawatts to 300 megawatts. 

Kerry O'Neill is with the Green Bank: “As part of our Green Bank investments we've also committed five million dollars into the solar fund that helps finance these systems and allows homeowners to go solar for no money down. And we're also using our relationships and connections with folks here in New Haven to make sure they get the introductions they need to be on the ground in the community and be successful.”  

While the focus is on low- and moderate-income prospects, the program is open to all homeowners.

If PosiGen recruits 50 or more homeowners by March 31, all of them will pay only $20 a month for the first year, and then $79 a month for the rest of the 20-year contract. There are no upfront costs. 

The monthly charge includes installation, maintenance and insurance, plus a free energy audit. Homeowners will also still have to pay a modest fee (NOTE: $17 in New Haven) to their electric utility for their connection to the grid. 

PosiGen CEO Tom Neyhart says his company already has 35 jobs in the state and will create 40 more in the next year.  State Rep. Pat Dillon said she'd love to see women get some of those jobs, and four women from Bridgeport stood up to say they already work for the company.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.
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Friday, January 22 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Jim Young, Neil Tolhurst and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news:  Bridgeport receives the majority of Connecticut’s $54 million in federal disaster resilience funds; deficit of $7.1 million projected for Connecticut; the National Weather Service predicts a winter storm with snow and high winds  for Long Island and coastal Connecticut; and, New York State’s new protections for transgender residents take effect.
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Bridgeport and the new administration of Mayor Joe Ganim appear to be the biggest beneficiaries of $54.2 million in federal funds awarded yesterday to Connecticut to help Fairfield and New Haven counties better prepare for coastal flooding and climate change.

According to his spokesman, Av Harris, Mayor Ganim was pulled aside at the White House conference of U.S. Mayors and informed his city would be receiving about $38 million for flood control in the south end.

The grant was awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Rockefeller Foundation as part of the $1 billion Natural Disaster Resilience Competition for states and communities affected by major disasters between 2011 and 2013. 
Ganim’s predecessor, Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, was a strong backer of the application.

A number of Bridgeport neighborhoods have suffered repeated flooding, most notably during hurricane Sandy and the earlier tropical storm Irene. 

HUD said the state’s coastal resilience plan is focused on “reconnecting and protecting economically-isolated coastal neighborhoods through investments in mixed green and gray infrastructure that protect against flooding while strengthening their connectivity to existing transportation nodes.”
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The Connecticut Office of Policy and Management is projecting a $7.1 million deficit for fiscal year 2016. Revenues are down $26.8 million, but Ben Barnes, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, said they are offset by “net improvements of 19.7 million on the expenditure side of the budget.”

In his monthly letter to state Comptroller Kevin Lembo, Barnes said that “heightened security of hiring and contract approvals are anticipated to address this minor projected shortfall.” 

According to Barnes, on the revenue side, personal income tax is down $75 million as estimated payments are trending below target. Federal grants are down $46.1 million because of a revision in what the state can claim for medical services.

However, at least two revenues streams are projected to increase: the corporation tax revenue has been revised upward by $50 million and the estate tax has been revised upward by $24 million.

The state is still projected to spend $100.6 million less than it budgeted, but several accounts are still running deficiencies totaling $45 million. The largest of those is a shortfall of about $35 million from lower-than-anticipated sales of bond premiums.
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The National Weather Service predicts a winter storm with snow and high winds for Long Island and coastal Connecticut  this weekend. Snow is forecast starting early Saturday morning, and continuing through early Sunday morning.

As of noon Friday, the National Weather Service was predicting total snow accumulation of from 5 to 9 inches and winds up to 36 mph with gusts to 47 mph for Suffolk County, and total snow accumulation from 2 to 8 inches  and winds up to 23 mph with gusts to 37 mph  for coastal Connecticut.
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The Albany Times Union reports:
The New York State Division of Human Rights has officially adopted regulations aimed at protecting transgender New Yorkers from discrimination and harassment.

Announced in October but effective yesterday, these new regulations will prohibit discrimination and harassment in the areas of public and private housing, employment, credit, education, and public accommodations. This action became necessary when the state legislature proved unable to reach a decision on the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo wrote: "Today we are sending the message loud and clear, that New York State will not stand for discrimination against transgender people. This is an issue of basic justice, and I am proud that New York is continuing to lead the way forward.”

Under state law, the Division has the authority to impose civil fines and penalties of up to $100,000 in the case of "willful, wanton or malicious" and, unlike under federal law, compensatory damages to individuals are not capped.
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Thursday, January 21 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Nadine Dumser and Rick Henrietta.)

In the news tonight: NAACP leader speaks at Yale; should I-95 be widened?; and, cleaning up Long Island Sound.
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The NAACP’s CEO Reverend Cornell Brooks gave the Martin Luther King keynote address at Yale University Wednesday evening.  He talked about an inter-generational struggle to fight oppression.    

WPKN's Melinda Tuhus reports: 
The Rev. Cornell Brooks took over as president and CEO of the NAACP in 2014. He addressed his comments to the college students who were largely absent from a capacity audience that included mostly older members of the New Haven community.

A dozen students with the a capella group Shades of Yale sang before Brooks took the podium.

"We Shall Overcome" (singing)

Brooks put the current college generation in context: “These students, who grew up in the age of Obama, did not arrive on this campus as mere scholars. They arrived on this campus as citizens of this republic, they arrived on this campus in the midst of Ferguson, they arrived on this campus in the midst of Tamir Rice, they arrived on this campus in the midst of Freddie Gray, they arrived on this campus in the midst of a social justice revolution.”

In addition to the activism of Black Lives Matter, Brooks noted the fight for voting rights that still continues, with the decision by the Supreme Court to throw out a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

To demand the protection of voting rights, the NAACP led a march of 1,002 miles from Selma to Washington, D.C. last summer.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.
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Commuter advocacy groups and a member of the Connecticut legislature have urged Governor Malloy and lawmakers to shelve the I-95 widening portion of Malloy’s $100 billion, 30-year transportation plan. 

Evan Preston, executive director of the Connecticut Public Interest Group said: “The problem with road widening is simple: it does not address congestion.” Preston said: “The driving boom is over….If we’re going to attract talent … {and} keep young people after they graduate … we need … options that allow people to not depend on their cars.”

Jonathan Steinberg, a Westport Democrat, who chairs the transportation bonding subcommittee, supports Malloy’s vision.  But he disagrees that widening I-95 will improve congestion. Steinberg says: “Our emphasis should be on mass transit”.

Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s Joseph Cutrufo said there seems to be some congestion relief in the short-term with highway widening, but not the long-term.

Judd Everhart, of the Department of Transportation, responded: “We are familiar with and agree with studies that show that increased highway capacity projects often attract more cars, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Congestion pricing and tolls are part of the equation.” 
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Decades of overdevelopment, pollution, dumping of dredged materials, and releases of untreated sewage have severely hurt the Long Island Sound’s water quality. But this week, according to the Connecticut Post, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed the Long Island Sound Restoration and Stewardship Act.

The act is supported by all four Connecticut and New York Senators. It aims to strengthen the implementation of a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for the Sound. This includes studies on the impacts of climate change on the Sound watershed and measures to increase awareness of the ecological health and water quality conditions of the Sound.  

The act follows on the EPA Long Island Sound Study of 1985 designed to address low oxygen and nitrogen levels that have depleted fish and shellfish populations and hurt shoreline wetlands. 

The Act also requires the EPA to carry out a pilot project to demonstrate the efficacy of a new process for the removal of nitrogen and phosphorous from the Sound watershed.

The Act does not appear to focus on the dumping of dredged materials.  Recently that practice was approved by the Army Corp of Engineers, over the objections of environmentalists.
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Wednesday, January 20 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Anne Murray.)

In the news tonight: an anti-gun rally is held at a Newtown gun group’s headquarters; Bridgeport community members speak out against PSEG’s fossil fuel plants; a hospital merger means East End residents can finally get access to heart and trauma care; and, a new survey shows CEOs believe companies can succeed on Long Island.
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As the National Shooting Sports Foundation prepared Monday to kick off the nation’s largest gun show in Las Vegas, its Newtown headquarters was the site of an anti-gun rally — and a counter protest by gun-rights supporters.

The Newtown Action Alliance held the demonstration to rally against the group’s “irresponsible marketing and lobbying efforts” and to support President Barack Obama’s executive actions on gun control.  Alliance chairwoman Po Murray said the group wants Newtown to be remembered as “a place where a tragedy was transformed into action to end gun violence.”

The protest came a day before the NSSF opened its annual trade show in Las Vegas. Among dozens of gun-rights supporters at the site was Sandy Hook resident Brian Solt, who said the protestors do not represent all Newtown residents. Murray said the NSSF interferes with efforts to expand gun-control legislation.

The trade group spent more than $2.9 million on lobbying from January to November last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ website.
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Many community members turned out Tuesday night at Two Boots in Bridgeport for a speak out concerning the Community Environmental Benefits Agreement proposed by PSEG, the company that owns the state's sole remaining coal plant. 

WPKN's Melinda Tuhus reports:
Speakers noted that burning coal is the dirtiest form of energy, and that it precipitates many serious illnesses, including asthma. They noted that PSEG originally promised to close the plant by 2020, but is now indicating it will likely be 2021. The company has also proposed a new fracked gas plant on the site that burns methane, which is a much bigger contributor to global warming even than coal.

Ten-year-old Jaysa Mellers lives in Bridgeport and developed asthma at age 6.

“If we barely manage to put up with one, two fossil fuel plants is double the pollution. PSEG should retire the coal plant by 2020 to avoid more issues, if not sooner. I hope you will consider what I've shared with you today. No coal, no gas, go green!”

Other speakers said the Benefits Agreement needs to include more funding and more protections for residents, like periodic health screenings.

The Bridgeport City Council is scheduled to vote on the agreement at its February 1 meeting.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News
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The historic merger between Peconic Bay Medical Center and Northwell Health will soon make life-saving medical services available to East End residents who always needed to travel up-island for trauma care and cardiac arrest treatment. The merger agreement was signed during a ceremony at Peconic Bay Medical Center yesterday.

Though the East End has the highest proportion of 55-and-over residents in Suffolk County, there was never a local hospital with a cardiac catheterization lab. Heart attack victims had to travel to Brookhaven Memorial Hospital in East Patchogue and Stony Brook University Hospital in Stony Brook for appropriate care.

Northwell will begin construction on a full-service trauma center as early as the end of the year.
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Newsday reports that nine in 10 local chief executives said municipalities provide little support for businesses, but more than half said Long Island is a place where companies can succeed, according to a new poll.

Ninety-two percent of CEOs participating in the first Long Island Business Leaders Survey, released Wednesday, said county, town and other local governments do a poor or fair job of aiding business development.

But 56% said the Island is either excellent or good as an “area where business can succeed” while 42% said the region is fair or poor in this regard. More than 70% identified the high cost of living, traffic congestion and lack of affordable housing as impediments to business success.

The poll was conducted from October to December 2015 by the Siena College Research Institute.
The executives said the area’s greatest strengths are its workforce and environment.
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Tuesday, January 19  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra)


In the news tonight: food stamps are ending for some in Connecticut towns with high employment; a new state website encourages Connecticut residents to help fight fraud; some big New York State plans won’t reach the East End; and, Suffolk County livestock farmers may get a local processing facility.
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The state’s economic upturn isn’t good news for about 3,600 food stamp recipients.

In 2009, because of the Great Recession, states obtained a Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program, or SNAP, waiver that allowed single adults with no children and no job to receive food stamp benefits.

With the improving economy, Connecticut cities and towns with high employment rates will no longer be eligible for the waiver. That means in 87 towns – which include Stamford, Fairfield, and Trumbull – recipients will lose their benefits on April 1 unless they get jobs, education or training for at least 20 hours a week. Some cities and towns, such as Bridgeport, Norwalk, and New Haven, are still eligible for benefits.

Connecticut Department of Social Services spokesman David Dearborn said the end of the waiver is “very good news overall because the unemployment rate has fallen in Connecticut.” End Hunger Connecticut executive director Lucy Nolan said the state “has done a very good job protecting people who are on the program. But there are people who still need the program being told they are getting kicked off.”
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A new state website, FightFraud.ct.gov, will help tackle fraud, waste, and abuse that cost the state money.

The site is intended to educate the public about what constitutes waste, fraud, and abuse in government programs. According to State Attorney General George Jepsen, that all costs state programs tens of millions of dollars each year.

Jepsen said the state has recovered tens of millions of dollars from fraud in the Medicaid program alone, largely by improving the state’s False Claims Act and hiring a firm to help detect Medicaid fraud patterns.

FightFraud.ct.gov will also make it easier for people to report suspicious conduct – such as suspected wrongdoing in tax filings, health care, antitrust violations, unfair competition, workers’ compensation, and other areas.

The State Attorney General said, “My office works very closely with our agency and law enforcement partners to protect state programs, and the taxpayers who fund them, from fraud. The public plays an important role in our work.”
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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had revealed a variety of initiatives designed to aid Long Island last week, including spending a $1 billion to reinvigorate the area’s transportation infrastructure and protect local environments. For the most part, though, the East End seems to be left out.

The proposal to install a third track on Long Island Rail Road’s main line from Floral Park to Hicksville and a $50 million renovation of the Ronkonkoma Hub, for instance.

New Suffolk Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo said the North Fork in particular “deserves more state attention” for its LIRR’s infrastructure. The assemblyman said he would attempt to get more funding to expand the East End railroads in the 2016 budget.

Another large proposed project is expanding sewering in Suffolk County. The project would focus on five Suffolk County watersheds. None of them are on the North Folk, though Palumbo said that’s likely because the area’s geography does not support total sewering. He said that nitrogen purification and upgraded septic systems are likely the best solution.
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Suffolk County officials are looking to boost local livestock farming.

About a dozen farmers in Suffolk raise livestock for meat production, but without a local processing facility, they must ship their animals upstate or out of state for processing – a complicated and expensive task that raises prices and limits what could be a growing sector of the local economy.

So, county legislator Al Krupski is spearheading an effort to establish a commercially accessible animal processing facility at the Suffolk County farm in Yaphank. Krupski said local meat production presents a growth opportunity for Suffolk’s agricultural industry, as people become more aware of the health and environmental benefits of eating locally grown food.

County officials are looking for a private sector partner to renovate the Yaphank facility and operate it, and issued a “request for expressions of interest” this week. Depending on the response, due March 1, the county may then issue a more formal request for proposals.
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Monday, January 18  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: spending and enrollment is up, but Medicaid per-person cost is down in Connecticut; a former Suffolk police officer is convicted of stealing from motorists but not on hate crimes charges; vendors and fees among options to boost Connecticut parks revenue; Long Island education leaders say Cuomo’s two-year payment plan comes up short; and, New York Senator Chuck Schumer campaigns to fix cellphone dead zones.
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Connecticut’s $ 6 billion Medicaid program is projected to cover almost 20% of state residents this year. But as new recipients are added, per-person medical costs have dropped almost 6%.

The Medicaid program is a joint State and Federal undertaking, and since 2010 has grown from 505,000 recipients to over 732,000. 

The budget meanwhile, has increased from $4 billion to $6 billion, and it is believed the per-person costs have dropped because of  changing demographics and proactive programs to reduce costs. 

While rising costs are the norm in health care, Medicaid has an advantage in controlling costs that private insurers don’t. While insurance companies must negotiate payment rates with health care providers, Medicaid programs generally set their own prices and medical providers who participate are bound to accept the Medicaid payments or not participate.

This year the Federal government picks up 60% of the total tab for Medicare.
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Former Suffolk County police sergeant Scott Greene was convicted Friday on charges of stealing money from motorists, according to Newsday.

Greene was acquitted on hate-crime charges of targeting six Hispanic men because of their ethnicity.
The men testified that their vehicles were stopped by Greene and he searched them when they could not provide a driver’s license or other documents. They later found that money was missing from their wallets or pockets. 

Several of them specified the exact amount missing because they were day laborers who were paid their weekly cash wages in $100 and $50 bills.

Greene will be held without bail until his sentencing February 16. He faces up to 11/3 to 4 years in prison on the most serious charge of grand larceny in the fourth degree. Prosecutors said he faced 7 to 20 years if convicted on all charges.

Trial on another indictment for victimizing an additional 20 Hispanic men is pending.

The organization LatinoJustice questions whether Suffolk County Police knowingly tolerated abuses by Sgt. Greene and others, towards the Latino community, and failed to take appropriate action. They are bringing a civil case against the county as reported by New York News Service.

The Justice Department signed a letter of agreement with the police department several years ago to resolve a pattern of civil rights violations.   
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Connecticut’s parks are in financial trouble, and legislators should look at options including concessions, canoe rentals, and even increasing fees for weddings at Gillette Castle to help solve the problem.  State Senator Ted Kennedy Jr. suggests that the General Assembly Environment Committee – which he is co-chairman - address some of the issues in the next legislative session.

Kennedy said during a recent editorial board meeting with the New Haven Register: “One of the challenges that we have is to try to find alternative funding mechanisms for our state parks.”

In the last legislative session, a bill was introduced by the Environment Committee–“An Act Concerning the Fiscal Sustainability of State Parks”– which contained several proposals with the purpose of generating funds for the state park system.  

The bill also sought to create a long-term secure funding source account that would ensure that those funds would truly pay for park operations, rather than being funneled into the state’s general fund without guaranteed return to the parks.
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One-third of $117 million in state financial aid owed to Long Island’s public schools would be repaid next year under New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget blueprint, a proposal that displeased local education leaders expecting to face the tightest tax cap ever this spring.

Cuomo, in his annual budget message last week, called for repaying $434 million in statewide GEA obligations over the next two years. Individual districts would be left, in effect, with large state IOUs at the end of the next school year.

Local experts contended that school-aid cuts imposed in the past have had a strong cumulative effect as the years rolled by, the state enacted its property-tax cap, and districts had to reduce staffing and student services. 

Morris Peters, a spokesman for the governor’s Division of the Budget, said the state’s overall aid payments to Long Island’s schools in 2016-17 would total $3 billion — up 4.5% from the current year and at a rate higher than the state average.
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Senator Chuck Schumer has initiated a new campaign to force wireless cellphone companies to fix Long Island’s and New York City’s notorious dead zone spots by asking consumers to report on his website the locations where service is regularly dropped.

According to Newsday, Schumer stated at a news conference Sunday, “It’s vexing and annoying that in Long Island and in New York City’s most crowded areas, cellphone coverage drops. It drops every time you pass that same spot.” 

The senator said consumers can report their cellphone dead zone locations and the name of their wireless carriers on Schumer’s website. The data will be compiled into a report and sent to the wireless carriers to be “investigated.” 
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Friday, January 15  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Anne Murray.)

In the news tonight: a Connecticut legislator calls for a constitutional amendment for public land preservation; legislators seek to keep business in the state after GE’s announcement; Long Island gets $5 million in funding to grow local manufacturers; and, Cuomo’s proposed deepwater port for Shoreham stirs up opposition.
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Connecticut State Senator Kevin Witkos, a Republican from Canton, has called for a constitutional amendment aimed at preserving public lands in perpetuity. 

His proposed amendment, which has strong support from park and land preservation groups, would allow the state to sell or swap open space property owned by taxpayers only after a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the General Assembly on a stand-alone measure detailing the deal.

Senator Witkos also seeks to guarantee that any proceeds from a land sale could be used only to acquire more open space, parks, forests or farms.
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As Connecticut recovers from General Electric’s decision to move its headquarters to Boston, legislators say keeping other companies from leaving will be a priority, according to the Hartford Courant.
The upcoming legislative session, beginning February 3, will offer the legislature's first reaction to the GE move.

Republicans are calling for action on issues that concerned GE, including the state's unfunded pension liabilities, which will cost billions of dollars in the long term.They released an internal email from GE's CEO Jeff Immelt that cited increased corporate taxes as the reason the company created a relocation committee that selected Boston.

Democrats countered that taxes were not the biggest reason because GE left for a relatively high tax state like Massachusetts — instead of low tax states in the South.

State Rep. John Hampton, a conservative Democrat, said the legislature can "get out of the way" and let businesses operate with less regulation and interference from the state. House Speaker Brendan Sharkey of Hamden said the GE situation shows the state needs "to keep a close eye" on its competitiveness for businesses.
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Newsday reports that Stony Brook University and the Long Island Forum for Technology have been awarded nearly $5 million in state and federal funding over the next five years as part of a national program to help local manufacturers grow.

The Stony Brook and LIFT “team” has been designated as one of New York State’s 11 Manufacturing Extension Partnership centers by the Empire State Development Corp. and the centers will advise small to mid-sized manufacturers on best practices and the use of efficient technology.

The funding breaks down into annual grants of $950,000 for five years, with the option to renew funding for another five years. In addition to the state funds, Stony Brook is committing $320,000 per year, bringing the total budget to $1.27 million annually.

William Wahlig the executive director of LIFT, said the new partnership with Stony Brook will bolster LIFT’s mission to aid manufacturers by bringing a wealth of resources and expertise in biotechnology, a priority industry cluster as determined by the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council.
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Plans for the old nuclear plant in Shoreham are stirring up opposition again as Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to study the feasibility of a deepwater port at the property. The Riverhead News-Review reports that some local residents and politicians, concerned about the cost and traffic, say they want no such thing.

In his State of the State address Wednesday, Governor Cuomo proposed spending $1 million to study the idea of opening a deepwater port at the now-defunct plant as part of a revitalization package for Long Island infrastructure.

Sid Bail, president of the Wading River Civic Association, said: “You have to wonder what folks in Albany have been smoking.” The governor believes a deepwater port will reduce traffic on Long Island roads.

Both state representatives for the area, Senator Ken LaValle and Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo, said they oppose the plan to even study the concept.

LaValle said the area would require substantial — and costly — dredging before a port could open.  Palumbo said that despite the governor’s claim that the port would reduce traffic, they are concerned about an influx of large trucks into the quiet area.
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Thursday, January 14  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Melinda Tuhus, Neil Tolhurst and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: environmental groups push for an updated climate action plan for New Haven; two Connecticut nonprofit associations merge; Democratic primary race underway for First Congressional District seat on Long Island; and, Suffolk health department testing well water near Calverton composting site.
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Representatives of more than 30 New Haven and Connecticut organizations held a press conference inside New Haven city hall on Wednesday to ask Mayor Toni Harp to update the city's Climate Action Plan, last updated in 2004. 

WPKN's Melinda Tuhus reports:
One of the speakers was Rabbi Joshua Ratner with the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs. He said the Roundtable recently released an environmental jobs study that refutes the claim that jobs are in conflict with climate action.

We can protect our planet, combat global warming, and grow our economy through green jobs. Pursuing an aggressive climate protection strategy can save consumers money on electricity, heating and transportation costs, while creating at least 6,000 more jobs than the business as usual scenario.

Speakers said much has changed in the past 11 years and New Haven, as a coastal city, is very much at risk due to rising sea levels.

Forty percent of the state's greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector, so several speakers emphasized the need for better mass transit and safe cycling and walking infrastructure.

Signatories include human rights, faith, labor and youth organizations, in addition to environmental groups. 

The mayor was out of town when the advocates went to her office to deliver the letter, but her spokesman said: “The Harp administration has been working all along to address concerns it shares with environmental stewards,” including reducing energy consumption and expanding access to electric car recharging stations.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News
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Two of Connecticut’s largest nonprofit trade associations are joining forces and will become one organization by February 1.

The Connecticut Association of Nonprofits and the Connecticut Community Providers Association will merge to become the Connecticut Community Nonprofit Alliance with 600 member nonprofits.

The combined associations will represent nonprofit organizations focused on providing human services, health care, education, anti-poverty programs, housing, recreation, and arts and culture. 
The combined membership will employ more than 100,000 individuals and spend about $3 billion each year.
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The Democratic primary race for the First Congressional District seat currently held by Republican Lee Zeldin is underway.

Former Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and Suffolk County Planning Commission Chairman David Calone, a venture capitalist from Setauket, are both seeking the Democratic nomination to run for Mr. Zeldin’s seat.

Both candidates have up until now focused on their differences with Mr. Zeldin on national issues ranging from gun control to funding for Planned Parenthood. 
   
Mr. Calone’s campaign says they received endorsements from nearly every Democratic South Fork town board member, many of whom had worked closely with Ms. Throne-Holst on local issues here.

Ms. Throne-Holst is a long-time member of the Independence Party, who recently registered as a Democrat to seek the congressional nomination.
Her campaign manager, Andrew Grunwald, says that Ms. Throne-Holst has many Democratic supporters on the national level, including U.S. Congressman Steve Israel, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and other members of the New York delegation.  

Ms. Throne-Holst had a slight lead in fundraising as of the most recent Federal Elections Commission (FEC) filings on September 30, 2015.

Ms. Throne-Holst had raised about $851,000 to Mr. Calone’s $710,000.  They trail Lee Zeldin by considerable margins. Mr. Zeldin’s campaign had raised over $1.610 million  by that date.
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The Suffolk County Department of Health Services is conducting a survey of well water in a Calverton neighborhood to check for “possible contamination” from a nearby “vegetative organic waste management site.” 

The survey is targeting residents that use private wells as their only water source.

Residents grew concerned when they recently received a questionnaire in the mail from the health department asking if they’d like to opt-in to the free-of-charge testing to determine impacts from “possible contamination.” The letter didn’t explain further or identify the source of any possible contamination.

Health department spokesperson Grace Kelly-McGovern says the agency is offering to test private wells within a half-mile northeast down-gradient from White Post Wholesale Growers, a Melville-based corporation registered with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Ms. Kelly-McGovern said: “We are doing so based on what we have learned from other compost facilities, that is, that there have been elevated levels of certain contaminants, such as manganese, in test wells downgradient of several such facilities...”
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Wednesday, January 13 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Jim Young.)

In the news tonight: GE will move headquarters to Boston; Rosa DeLauro is fighting the trade pact promoted by President Obama; dumping waste into Long Island Sound will proceed over local opposition; and, Suffolk County and environmentalists fight over lawsuit payoff.
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General Electric will announce that it has selected Boston for its new headquarters, moving from Fairfield and leaving its home for the past four decades. 

GE officials and Connecticut Governor Malloy were not available for comment according to a report by the Boston Globe and the Hartford Courant. 

General Electric has been conducting a nationwide search for a new headquarters since last summer. The company announced last year that it was unhappy in with the business climate in Connecticut and particularly the state's tax policies.

GE has about 800 employees in Fairfield. The Globe reported that GE has not yet picked a final location in Boston. 
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Connecticut’s 3rd district U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro is defying President Obama over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade pact between the US and 11 other nations that ring the Pacific Ocean. 

In a Monday press conference, DeLauro joined a group of Democrats and labor union representatives who blasted the agreement.

DeLauro said the TPP is a “threat” to American jobs, encouraging outsourcing and foreign competition that would depress U.S. wages. Last year DeLauro and her anti-TPP allies opposed “fast-track” legislation that would require Congress to vote the agreement up or down, without amendments. DeLauro lost that bitter fight.

Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University, said it's likely Congress will approve the trade pact, handing DeLauro another defeat.
Under the provisions of the “fast-track” bill, lawmakers will have 90 days to vote on the agreement once Obama sends it to Congress. The White House has not said when that will be.

The TPP will eliminate tariffs on American-made products and open markets in 11 Pacific Rim nations.
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Despite widespread public opposition, the Army Corps of Engineers will go ahead with planned long-term dumping of dredged material into Long Island Sound. The waste is the result of dredging harbors, inlets, and rivers. The Army Corp says the material will undergo stringent testing for toxic content. 

After a draft dumping plan was released in August, more than 1,800 comments, letters and emails were sent to the Army Corps in response. Local activists and elected officials say the Army Corps’ new plan does not address those concerns. 

The plan increases the amount of dumping from 20 million cubic yards, proposed in 2004, to between 30 to 50 million cubic yards. The plan designates four sites in Long Island Sound for disposal, including sites north of Greenport and Orient on Long Island.  

Environmental advocates have accused the Army Corps of failing to consider alternatives to open-water dumping, such as using dredged material for beach re-nourishment, wetlands restoration and landfill capping.

The Army Corp of Engineers suggests that local governments and municipalities are welcome to sponsor their own alternative re-uses of the dredged material. 
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The administration of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone settled a 2014 lawsuit with environmentalists over the diversion of $37 million from the county’s drinking water protection program. Now the County says it does not want payoff on an earlier suit over a diversion by former County Executive Steve Levy, as reported by Newsday.

Last month lawyers for the Long Island Pine Barrens Society drafted a court order based on the environmental group’s victory in the Levy lawsuit. The nonprofit said Suffolk must return $29 million to the sewer assessment stabilization fund that had been diverted to the general fund to help plug budget deficits.

The county attorney says the 2014 settlement precluded the need to make any payments arising from the earlier lawsuit.  Richard Amper, executive director of the Pine Barrens Society, says the two suits are separate and that the county must pay off on both.

In the settlement with environmentalists the County committed to spending $20 million on land preservation and $9.4 million for water quality projects.

Talks on the issue are likely to pick up shortly.
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Tuesday, January 12  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)

In the news tonight: trial on landmark education funding in Connecticut begins; Connecticut Senators push for hearing on funding gun research; Long Island Congressman proposes changes to curb student loan defaults; and, Governor Cuomo wants to expand minority- and women-owned business enterprises contracts.
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A trial about whether or not Connecticut provides a suitable and adequate education to all of its public school students begins today in Hartford Superior Court.

The landmark lawsuit, filed by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding in 2005 against then-Governor Jodi Rell, argues that the Education Cost Sharing grant, which is the primary source of funding for most communities, is not based on the actual cost of educating students in Connecticut. 

According to court documents, the Coalition, with several families, contends that low-wealth, high-poverty districts — such as Bridgeport, Danbury, East Hartford, New Britain, New London, and Windham — are unable to provide students with all the resources necessary for an adequate and equitable education.

The Attorney General’s office spokeswoman Jaclyn Falkowski said the plaintiffs are seeking a $2 billion increase in state education funding each year. 

Falkowski said: “We think the evidence in court will show that the state is meeting its constitutional responsibilities, particularly considering that Connecticut already has one of the best-funded and most effective public education systems in the United States.”
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Following President Obama’s executive action on gun control, Connecticut Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal are among the many Democratic legislators calling for a hearing on funding gun research.

The group of Senators want the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to restart its gun violence prevention research and are urging a hearing on funding it. 

Since a 1996 budget rider banned the CDC from lobbying for stricter gun laws, the group has stayed away from any research on gun violence. Obama called on the CDC to reverse this self-imposed ban after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but the moratorium remained.

In their letter to the legislature, the Senators wrote that the budget rider “has had the unfortunate consequence of blocking all efforts by the federal government to study the causes of gun violence.”

Connecticut Citizens Defense League president Scott Wilson, however, said he is concerned about objectivity. He said: “The CDC is a bureaucratic entity that takes direction from an agenda-driven administration.”
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Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin announced Monday a plan to change how people pay back student loans after graduation to help curb the country’s growing student loan crisis.

Called the Earnings Contingent Education Loans (ExCEL) Act of 2015, the legislation would allow graduates to pay back their student loans at a rate determined by their annual income. Each month, the income-based amount would be withheld from their paychecks.

Zeldin said the payback rate would change in line with any income increase or decrease, unlike the current more rigid payment plan. 

According to the Department of Education, nearly 12% of borrowers have defaulted on loan repayments from 2013 to 2015. Additionally, the U.S. government is faced with almost $800 billion in outstanding student loans.

While Zeldin said this legislation would benefit students trying to pay back loans, it will also benefit the government and taxpayers “by dramatically reducing the default rates.”
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The Times Union reports: 
In advance of Wednesday’s State-of-the-State and Budget presentation, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called for extending the state’s 30% goal of minority- and women-owned business enterprises, or MWBE, in localities that get state funding. 

The funding would tap into an estimated $65 million in annual state contracts not currently available to local entities.

In 2014, when the governor established the 30% goal for New York’s MWBE contract utilization, it only applied to contracts issued by state agencies and authorities, not counties, cities, towns, villages and school districts.

This year, Cuomo will advance legislation addressing that disconnect by expanding the participation of MBWE in all state contracting.

Under Cuomo’s leadership, more than $6.3 billion in state contracts have been secured by women- or minority-owned businesses. As a result, MWBE certification and utilization on state contracts has more than doubled in five years. 
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Monday, January 11  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Scott Schere.)

In the news tonight: Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim is stuck between rising crime and overtime; New York Governor Andrew Cuomo outlines a plan to “stop this cycle” of incarceration; a Connecticut legislative panel looking at a ban on smoking in cars broadens its review; and, Long Island school districts may recover $117 million in lost state aid.
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As a candidate last year, Bridgeport’s then ex-mayor Joe Ganim portrayed opponent Mayor Bill Finch and Police Chief Joseph Gaudett as culpable for the rise in homicides and nonfatal shootings.

But even as Ganim pledges to crack down on violent crime now that voters returned him to office, according to the Connecticut Post, he faces the competing pressure of a bloated cop overtime bill. 

Halfway through the fiscal year, the department has blown through its entire $4.3 million overtime budget.  By the time the fiscal year ends on June 30, Bridgeport Police Officers are projected to have earned $10.5 million in overtime — higher than the prior five years — and double 2014’s bill.

On Friday, Ganim eliminated the assistant chief position and ordered a reorganization of the department’s handful of top cops to improve “functionality, operational and economic efficiency.” 

Sgt. Chuck Paris president of the police union said: “Public safety should be the No. 1 priority. It takes a lot of manpower to help slow down the issues we’re having now with the shootings, crime and drug sales.”

Wilbur Chapman, a former city police chief who is serving as Ganim’s public safety adviser, said: “When our grandchildren are senior citizens, people will still be complaining about police overtime.”
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Newsday reports that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo outlined a reform plan for the criminal justice system Sunday, beginning with preventive programs in schools and including post-prison apprenticeships to “stop this cycle” of incarceration disproportionately affecting young black and Hispanic men.

The Democratic governor, speaking before a receptive audience at Mount Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem, previewed an initiative to be announced in his State of the State speech on Wednesday. The governor told reporters afterward: “It’s wrong to put people in cages like animals and waste young lives.”
Cuomo also called for conditional pardons of 16- and 17-year-olds who commit nonviolent crimes and stay out of trouble for 10 years.

The governor could not immediately provide the cost of his plan to reporters, but said in his remarks: “It is less expensive to do things right in the first place . . . 
that is not to mention the human cost.”
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A legislative task force is trying to find the best way to protect children from secondhand smoke, especially those riding in a vehicle with a smoker.

The study panel was created after a bill that would have banned smoking in cars with young passengers raised many questions among members of the General Assembly. But it’s unclear what, if any, retooled version of the proposed ban will ultimately be recommended for lawmakers to reconsider when they return in February.

The proposed ban has been met with opposition from lawmakers concerned about the potential for invasion of privacy and whether it could lead to profiling by police looking for a reason to pull over particular drivers. Other legislators have questioned whether such a law would even be enforceable.

Bryte Johnson, director of government relations and advocacy at the New England division of the American Cancer Society, is pushing for the group to recommend the state spend more money on tobacco control efforts, such as ad campaigns and smoking cessation programs.   

Johnson has suggested the task force recommend the state spend at least 50 percent of the CDC’s recommended level, given the reality of Connecticut’s budget problems.
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In 2010, New York state, facing a massive budget deficit, began cutting aid to school districts across the state, eventually totaling some $2.7 billion. Two years later, the state began restoring that aid in a progressive manner, with the largest payments going to the poorest districts.

As part of the restitution, Newsday reports that Long Island school districts stand to recover more than $117 million during the coming year. The region’s education leaders say the money will help districts cope with increasing state cap limitations on local property taxes.

With elections approaching in November, education is currently in the spotlight in Albany, with State lawmakers expected this spring to approve a generous state-aid package.  

State Regents have recommended a $2.4 billion boost, with $1.3 billion going to foundation aid and more than $400 million to education restoration.
Now hopes are growing that the balance of state funding owed districts will be paid back entirely during the 2016-17 school year, but as with most budget decisions, an agreement to restore all of the $433.5 million still pending statewide would help some districts more than others.

Some critics say complete repayment of the balance in 2016-17 would benefit wealthy and middle-class districts more than districts with concentrations of impoverished students.
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Friday, January 8  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Anne Murray.)

In the news tonight: the Bridgeport mayor pulls the plug on cable access in city government to close the budget gap; enrollment in the state health exchange is close to hitting estimates; a free school-readiness program opens for low income Bellport residents; and, families with children may be eligible for a New York state tax credit.
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Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim’s administration has pulled the plug on cable access in city government as it looks to close a budget gap, according to the Connecticut Post.

A recent memo from John Gomes, Ganim’s chief administrative officer, instructed individual department heads to disconnect their cable equipment.

The city, allegedly, spends about $15,000 annually on the service.

In a memo to department heads, Gomes said that as of January 1, 2016 the Public Facilities department will be implementing the dismantling of television cable boxes and equipment and will disconnect cable service unless each department provides a detailed email memo to his office on the necessity of the service.

The memo said the Gomes’ office would review the emails and advise department heads of the disposition of the requests.
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Connecticut’s health insurance exchange, Access Health CT, announced Thursday that it enrolled 104,363 individuals between November 1 and January 5 in private health insurance plans.

Enrollment is open until January 31 and Access Health CT officials estimated they would enroll about 105,000 to 115,000 individuals in the third year of the Affordable Care Act. Individuals can sign up with one of four companies: Anthem, ConnectiCare, UnitedHealthcare, and HealthyCT. 

As the final weeks of open enrollment approach, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, who chairs the Access Health CT Board, urged residents to check their coverage and make sure they have everything in place for 2016.

This year the penalty for not purchasing health insurance will increase to $695 per person or up to 2.5% of your adjusted gross income, whichever is greater. 

Access Health CT CEO Jim Wadleigh encouraged individuals to shop for a plan online or visit one of their enrollment centers.  Anyone who signs up before January 15 will have coverage effective February 1. Individuals who sign up by January 31 will have coverage effective March 1. 
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The Family Service League in Suffolk County is offering a free school-readiness program to underserved families in the Bellport area. The Parent-Child Home Program serves parents and 2- to 3-year-old children with two years of intensive, twice-weekly home visits.

Lisa Jamison, a division director at Family Service League, said the visits focus not only on developing learning skills but on strengthening parent-child interactions. The objective is to close the achievement gap by giving low-income parents the tools and the skills that they need to prepare their children for school success.

The program now serves communities in a dozen states, working one-on-one with low-income parents to help them become their children's first teacher.  

Jamison said 50 years of experience have shown that those efforts produce measurable results.

Like most early-childhood home visiting programs, the program on Long Island is being privately funded.
Advocates say programs such as this not only improve children's performance in school but are ultimately cost effective as well.

More information is online at parent-child.org.
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Newsday reports that most Long Island families with children are in line to receive $350 from New York State again this year, though unlike in 2015, the money will be in the form of a tax credit, not a check in the mail.

The state Department of Taxation and Finance recently posted on its website Form IT-114, which eligible taxpayers eligible for the Family Tax Relief Credit must complete and mail with their 2015 personal income tax return.

For taxpayers filing electronically, tax-preparation software will automatically determine eligibility and submit the application.

The tax credit was first given last year and no application was necessary to get the $350 check mailed to eligible households.
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Thursday, January 7 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Nadine Dumser, Neil Tolhurst, Melinda Tuhus and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: the Connecticut DMV is working to resolve an insurance suspension backlog; Mayor shows support at immigrant rights rally in New Haven; ethics reform to be top priority for New York State Assembly Democrats; and, Suffolk County gets its first medical marijuana dispensary.
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A dozen Department of Motor Vehicles employees will be working this weekend to resolve an issue that has caused some Connecticut drivers to have their registration suspended.

William Seymour, a spokesman for the DMV, said the problem started when the agency closed in August for a week to upgrade its computer system. During that week, none of the insurance suspension notices were sent to motorists.

Typically, the DMV will send out 8,000 insurance suspensions a month, but after the upgrade, the number of motorists receiving the letter jumped to 11,500. Seymour said about 50% of the notices resolve themselves because the new insurance company contacts the DMV to let them know the coverage for an individual was continued through a different company. The computer upgrade in August prevented the DMV from processing the notices.

On December 23, Seymour said they corrected the sensitivity of the computer system to decrease the frequency of when the notices are sent.  He added that a dozen employees – five regular and seven additional employees – will try to catch up on processing the notices that are more than 45 days old this weekend.
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The mayor of New Haven and other top city officials joined dozens of immigrants and their supporters at a rally in the Fair Haven section Wednesday afternoon to denounce the federal immigration raids that have happened in other cities and to declare New Haven a safe city for all. Most of those arrested are women and children who fled terrible violence in Central America over the past two years. 

WPKN's Melinda Tuhus reports:
Mayor Toni Harp said she came to reassure the community, some of whose members have been traumatized by reports of arrests in other cities. New Haven police officers, school district employees and other city workers do not and will not act to enforce federal immigration law.

Harp added that city officials can't prevent federal immigration officials from entering the city, but they will work with immigrants to defend their rights.
A federal immigration official released a statement that parents bringing their children to the U.S. is no protection from deportation.

Mike Wishnie, a professor at Yale Law School mentioned several groups that have come together to defend New Haven immigrants.  If Immigration comes, students and faculty at Yale Law School will join with ULA and Junta and the City of New Haven and St Rose and others in the community to defend those arrested.

He said that last time ICE came to New Haven, in 2007, only five of the 32 people arrested had final orders but that by working together, advocates were able to bring 30 of them back home.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.
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Albany Times-Union reports:
In a speech kicking off the 2016 legislative session on Wednesday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie vowed that ethics reform would be the top priority of Assembly Democrats.

The session emerges in the wake of the corruption convictions of former leaders Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and ex-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who held power at the beginning of the 2015 legislative session.

Heastie said, “In the coming weeks,” ethics reform will be a major focus. He listed as priorities closure of the so-called LLC loophole, “limiting big money in politics,” and pension forfeiture for lawmakers convicted of felonies. 

Heastie also called for a tax “fairness” policy, which he described as a “permanent tax cut for working families” and “making wealthy New Yorkers” pay their fair share. He said he would focus on economic development, “sustainable jobs,” and supporting small businesses, and businesses owned by women and minorities.

He touted the Assembly majority’s support to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, as well as passage of the DREAM Act, a measure codifying abortion protections, and a bill granting paid family leave. 
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Columbia Care’s medical marijuana dispensary will open by the end of the month on Riverhead’s East Main Street in a medical office building where a prominent oncologist has a practice.

Andrew Mitchell, CEO of Peconic Bay Medical Center, who helped Columbia Care find the location, said:“It seemed like a logical choice, since so many of the people who are prescribed medical marijuana are cancer patients.” 

The drug will be grown in a Rochester facility and manufactured there for medicinal sale. As per state law, it will only be sold in non-smokable  forms, such as pills, liquids or vapors.

Medical marijuana will only be prescribed to patients with a select few conditions, like cancer, fibromyalgia, HIV/AIDS and Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). For patients who qualify for medical marijuana treatment, it can significantly improve their quality of life.

Columbia Care representatives have previously emphasized the aggressive security measures it will take to protect the dispensary, including 24-hour monitored cameras and lighting around the property. 
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Wednesday, January 6  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Jim Young.)

In the news tonight: heroin and opioid overdoses on the rise in Connecticut towns; New Haven’s new police class; Cuomo proposes new track for the Long Island Railroad – but where is the money? and, Long Island’s Steve Israel won’t run for Congress in November.
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Opioid pills and heroin are making a lethal comeback among young adults in Connecticut communities.

Over-prescription of pain medications is a major factor in the increase of opioid addiction.  In most instances, this heroin addiction usually begins with a preliminary addiction to some sort of opioid pain pill, such as oxycodone, methadone, morphine and fentanyl.

The transition from pills to heroin occurs for various reasons— usually cost, accessibility or the desire to achieve a better high. More options for taking heroin, besides shooting up with a needle, make the drug more appealing to a broader range of people. Users can now smoke it, swallow it or snort it.

Opioid pills sell for a minimum of $30 and can reach price tags as high as hundreds of dollars per pill whereas heroin sells for $10 a hit.  
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The New Haven Police Department has launched a new initiative to widen the net of police recruits. As reported by the New Haven Independent, the latest crop of trainees, thirty of which began the program on Tuesday, reflect the scope of diversity

The new grouping of 30, known as Class XXI, is more than two-thirds white, with five of those being women. 

The rest of the trainees include two Hispanic men, one Hispanic woman, and six black men.  While the department's recruiting efforts have targeted more blacks and Latinos, the number also includes six women.  Seven of the current recruits are New Haven residents - a much higher number than in recent recruitment efforts.

The future cops have begun 32 weeks of training at the academy on Sherman Parkway. The rigorous curriculum will run the gamut of police concerns. 
Among these are firearms and physical tactics, report writing and Connecticut law, traffic laws, driver training, domestic violence, crime scene investigation, de-escalation training and domestic violence, and child development.
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The New York Times reports: 
Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday he wants to jumpstart a long-stalled plan to expand a key stretch of the Long Island Rail Road.

The plan, which would add a track to part of the Main Line, would increase the number of trains serving the system and, the Governor says, would deliver a boost to Long Island’s economy. 

Mr. Cuomo said more reliable rail service would lure more drivers out of their cars and onto mass transit and that would in turn ease congestion on Long Island’s roads.

The proposed third track, which would run between Floral Park and Hicksville, has been discussed for decades. But it has faced opposition from residents along the route, and it is estimated to cost at least $1 billion.

In announcing his effort to move the plan forward, the Governor said several million dollars would be spent to start the process, but he did not explain how he intended to finance the cost of constructing an additional track.

The Long Island Rail Road is part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which the Governor controls. The authority’s five-year capital plan does not include money for the proposed additional track.
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Congressman Steve Israel of Huntington won’t seek re-election to a ninth term in November, as reported by Newsday. Israel, a Democrat, has held the third Congressional District seat since 2000. It covers parts of western Suffolk, northern Nassau County and a bit of Queens. Democrats outnumber Republicans by 41,000 in the district.

Israel served two terms as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of House Democrats, until 2014.  He is currently chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.

Potential candidates to replace Israel include Nassau Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs and former Nassau County Executive, Democrat Tom Suozzi. On the Republican side, potential candidates include Huntington Councilman Eugene Cook, and Suffolk Legislator Robert Trotta of Fort Salonga. 
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Tuesday, January 5  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)

In the news tonight: Bridgeport overwhelmed with donations for fire victims; Connecticut governor and officials at the White House to support Obama’s executive action on gun control; Suffolk committees to meet twice yearly in Riverhead; and. approval is delayed for Riverhead’s three-day summer music festival.
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The Connecticut Post reports: 
Donations for the victims of the New Year’s Eve fire in Bridgeport poured into city headquarters so quickly that volunteers had to move the donated goods by the truckload to a second location.

On Saturday, a box truck shuttled back and forth between Morton and Derecktor shipyards. Thomas Guadett, an assistant to Mayor Joe Ganim, said: “They’ve been coming in by the carload…We didn’t plan on this at all. We had a couple of tables yesterday, a couple of volunteers.”  Now the city has dozens of volunteers from all around Fairfield County help to sort through all the donated goods.

The fire erupted before sunrise December 31 began in the garage area at 215 Charles Street, and quickly tore through all three floors of the 36-unit condominium complex. 

Quick thinking by residents and firefighters ensured that everyone escaped the burning building. However, more than 100 people are now homeless and many lost everything they owned in the fire.

For donation drop-off information, call Scott Appleby at the Bridgeport Emergency Operations Center at 203-579-3829 or the city’s Chief Administrative Office at 203-727-4045.
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Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and Representative Elizabeth Esty visited the White House today to learn more about the 10 executive actions President Barack Obama will take to combat gun violence.

This marks the second time Obama has tried to use his executive authority to change the nation’s gun laws. In January 2013, he issued a series of 23 executive actions after being unable to persuade Congress to approve tighter controls on gun sales.

In this latest effort, one executive order includes requiring everyone who sells firearms, whether through stores, gun shows or online, to have a license and conduct background checks. Additionally, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is overhauling the background check system.

The president also is proposing a $500 million investment to increase access to mental health care, and he wants to make it easier for states to report relevant information about people prohibited from possessing guns for specific mental health reasons.

Representative Esty along with Connecticut Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy met with Obama on Monday to go over his proposals, which they all support.
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The Suffolk County Legislature adopted a new rule Monday that will make it easier for East End residents to make their case to legislative committees several times a year without having to travel to Hauppauge.

The new rule was adopted after three years of lobbying by Legislator Al Krupski of Cutchogue. It will require county lawmakers to hold their week of committee meetings at the Riverhead County Center twice this year. The committees determine the proposed resolutions and local laws that will go before the full legislature for final votes.

Currently, six general legislature meetings are scheduled to be held in Riverhead. Until now, all committee meetings have been held in Hauppauge, forcing East End residents to make the drive.
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Approval of a weekend-long “Freak Out!” music festival planned by Nile Rodgers at Martha Clara Vineyards this August was put on hold after it was learned that the Town of Riverhead had not properly completed reviewing the event’s potential environmental impact.

Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association president Angela DeVito brought the oversight to the board’s attention during a special meeting held last Thursday.

The State Environmental Quality Review requires the applicant complete an Environmental Assessment Form. Building and planning department administrator Jeff Murphree said the assessment would be completed prior to the board’s January 5 meeting. A vote on the resolution is expected then.

Before DeVito pointed out the town’s failure to complete the assessment, several residents spoke out against the permit. Many complained of traffic congestion.

Last year’s festival was held during the week in June. This year’s event is scheduled over an August weekend, which many consider the peak of summer tourism traffic.
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Monday, January 4 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Scott Schere.)

the news tonight: A massive rail plan in Connecticut is moving through the planning stages: a Huntington storm water project is funded; Fairfield officials are worried GE might donate its headquarters to a non-profit institution; and, Governor Cuomo is set to raise the minimum wage for workers at New York universities.
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Nearly four years and $30 million after the Federal Railroad Administration began looking at how to upgrade the Northeast Corridor rail system, there is a proposal.

A nearly 1,000-page environmental impact statement called NEC Future, offers rail improvement choices that range from bare-bones fixes for particular choke points and other problems on the existing line, to entire second lines in Connecticut and even a rail tunnel under Long Island Sound.

The plan is also prompting a good deal of exasperation from officials, communities and all manner of interest groups in Connecticut, even though many have been begging for an improved rail system for years, if not decades.

Many interested parties – including leaders of some of the municipalities that would be most affected – were unaware the new rail plan even existed. 

Those effects could be so pronounced – taking tens of thousands of acres of undeveloped land, farmland and forest and affecting miles of water resources – that some are wondering whether much of the rail plan could do more harm to the environment than the good that would be achieved by getting cars off the road.

Attendance was light at a mid-December public hearing in New Haven on three proposals to upgrade the Northeast Corridor rail system. Another hearing is scheduled for January 13 in Hartford. None is scheduled for Fairfield County, where rail is currently most widely used.
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According to Newsday, a series of 22 grants  totaling more than $1.3 million were given to government and community groups in Connecticut and New York to improve the health and ecosystem of Long Island Sound

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has awarded the Town of Huntington a  $140,000 matching grant for a project expected to capture and treat 80% of the 300,000 gallons of storm water entering Northport Bay from Centerport Beach.

Currently, untreated storm water runoff at Centerport is funneled directly into the bay. As a result, sediment and harmful pollutants on the ground surface are reaching the water and creating a visible sediment plume in the water,

The project will create a water runoff path with gravel-lined areas and native plants in permeable soil that will capture groundwater and remove silt and pollution before it reaches the bay.

Those changes will reduce the presence of harmful algae blooms, which can deprive underwater ecosystems of oxygen, force beach closures, harm shellfish and potentially humans who consume them.
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As if worrying that General Electric might decamp from Connecticut and take its well-paying jobs with it weren’t enough, State and local officials say if GE decides to leave, it could donate its global headquarters in Fairfield to a nonprofit institution. Just the idea of the $84.4 million property being taken off the tax roles, is enough to keep officials up at night. 

GE is the town of Fairfield’s largest taxpayer, generating $1.9 million this year from its real estate and personal property taxes.

The Connecticut Post reports that Michael Tetreau, Fairfield’s first selectman said: “It’s certainly something citizens in Fairfield are concerned about. If they deeded it to a nonprofit, then (we’re) worried that the property tax dollars would go away.”
            
State Senator Tony Hwang, from Fairfield, said there is a buzz over the potential transfer of the property, but nothing concrete.

Hwang, who has been part of a lobbying contingent of Connecticut politicians trying to keep GE, said: “It is a possibility. I hope it’s all for naught, it really is something that is going to take us 10 to 15 years to recover from if they do leave.”
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The New York Times reports that Governor Andrew Cuomo plans to raise the minimum wage for New York State university workers to $15.

The executive action, announced today at a rally in Manhattan, comes after Mr. Cuomo used a state wage board to increase hourly pay to $15 for fast-food workers last summer and initiated a similar plan for an estimated 10,000 state workers in November.

The university plan will affect a larger number of state employees – about 28,000, according to estimates from the governor’s office — and is designed to include students who use work-study jobs to pay tuition and bills while attending classes.
Many of those jobs currently pay the minimum wage, which last week rose to $9 in New York State.

In a statement, the governor framed the action as part of a larger push on his part to increase wages in New York and to add momentum to a national push to narrow the gap in income between the rich and the poor.
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Friday, January 1 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers, Kristiana Pastir, Rick Henrietta and Jim Young)

In the news tonight: Bridgeport weighs its option in workers’ pay-raise fight; Connecticut faces funding cuts in new federal education law; New York raises its minimum wage; A new Riverhead preschool includes a focus on fitness.
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The Connecticut Post reports: In Bridgeport, the New Year finds a developing conflict between workers’ pay raises and the new city administration.

When Mayor Joe Ganim took office in December he inherited a 20 million dollar budget deficit, but, also, a new pay arrangement for certain employees, both union and non-union.

In exchange for the raises, the supervisors took unpaid furlough days and agreed to eliminate costly retiree health benefits for new employees.

The city now has appealed to the state labor board to overturn the contract, hoping to void the raises. Part of that pay increase was retroactively given, including the portion paid to the former mayor and his non-union political appointees.

The city has suggested that present employees might have their pay docked to recover previously paid increases, while past employees might face lawsuits for same.

The majority of the City Council voted to reject the contract before a January 4 deadline.

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The Every Student Succeeds Act recently signed into law by President Obama sets up Connecticut's schools to lose millions of dollars that currently help low-achieving schools.

The new federal law that replaces No Child Left Behind still requires annual achievement testing but gave states back the authority to determine how to turn around struggling schools.

But the new spending formulas for teacher hiring and development will no longer benefit densely populated, high enrollment districts. More funding will go to states with broader concentrations of poverty.

Nonpartisan Congressional researchers estimate the changes mean funding for Connecticut to improve teacher quality will decline every year by about $700,000.

California, Florida, North Carolina and Texas are set up to gain the most.

North Carolina Senator Richard Burr said, “This is a big deal. Making sure that low-income children regardless of where they live get their fair share of funding could be the education civil rights issue of our generation.”

But Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who was on the congressional conference panel that crafted the final version of the bill, said there still is time to reverse the cuts headed for Connecticut's schools: "That will be a question for the budget."

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As of December 31, New York State’s minimum wage bumped up 25 cents to $9 an hour.

Tipped hospitality workers — who make either $4.90, $5 or $5.65 an hour — will now get a minimum of $7.50. Fast food chain employees receive at least $9.75 an hour, unless they work in New York City where they’ll make $10.50 an hour. This is the first increase in wages for fast food workers, according to a press release from Governor Cuomo’s office.

These changes are the final implementation of increases outlined in legislation passed in March 2013. Cuomo continues to push for a minimum wage of $15 an hour.
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The founders of Riverhead’s Kiddie Fit Community Preschool, which opens January 11, believe it’s never too early to start teaching kids about staying healthy. Along with learning their ABCs, children at this new Pulaski Street preschool will be introduced to something that isn’t often taught to young children but is just as important as the alphabet: Fitness.

To meet its goal of dealing with health, fitness, nutrition and the three R’s, the school is also employing an off-site nutritionist to help plan lessons, do fun activities with the students and hold nutrition events for parents in the evenings.

The preschool’s focus on health and nutrition also means that daily snacks are all organic, low-sugar and non-GMO.

The school will offer 2-day, 3-day and 5-day programs. All programs are currently half-day, with plans of expanding to a full-day program.
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