Tuesday, February 2, 2016

February 2016

Monday, February 29  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Scott Schere.)

In the news tonight:  more Connecticut ticks are linked to Lyme disease; New York’s State Comptroller releases his Executive Budget Report; the NAACP launches probe into I-95 stun gun death; and, New York investors ask the SEC to reject Exxon’s attempt to silence questions on climate change.

According to the Connecticut Post, a new report released by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station states that nearly one-third of the 3,494 deer ticks tested in Connecticut last year for the organism that causes Lyme disease tested positive.

Thirty-two percent tested positive in 2015 for the Borrelia burgdorferi organism that leads to Lyme disease. The percentage is higher than the 27% of the black-legged deer ticks that tested positive the previous year.  Most communities in southwest Connecticut were within a few percentage points of 32 %. The number of ticks tested in towns varied from just one in Ansonia, Derby, Sherman and Weston, to 176 in Newtown.

The results show an increase in the number of ticks that tested positive over the last five years. The lowest percentage during that period was 19% in 2012.

Lyme disease is found in 14 states, concentrated heavily in the Northeast and upper Midwest.  Across this state, towns in eastern Connecticut and along the Connecticut River have seen the highest number of infections. The CDC says untreated Lyme disease can produce a wide range of symptoms, depending on the stage of infection, including fever, rash, facial paralysis and arthritis.


New York state’s fiscal position has improved, but the state may face increasing budgetary challenges in coming years as revenue growth is expected to slow and billions of dollars in settlement money are spent, according to an analysis of the $154.6 billion Executive Budget released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.  This report, prepared each year following the release of the Executive Budget, provides information to assist in the evaluation of the 2016-17 proposal.

DiNapoli said: “The state's fiscal position is much improved because of actions by the Governor and the Legislature, legal settlements and robust tax revenues this year.” He added: “Structural budget challenges remain, and we cannot count on extraordinary one-time windfalls to pay our bills down the road.”

DiNapoli praised the Governor’s reform proposals, including a constitutional amendment to authorize the forfeiture of pension rights for public officials who are convicted of crimes related to his or her public office, and campaign finance reforms.

The report also finds New York State will continue to rely heavily on debt and bear the weight of billions of dollars in borrowing in the next few years.

Outrage flared Friday over the death of Thomas Lane, the Ansonia man police blasted with a stun gun before pulling him from his wrecked car Monday on Interstate 95 in West Haven.

Scot X. Esdaile, the NAACP statewide president, announced the group is initiating an investigation into Lane’s death, according to the Connecticut Post.  Esdaile called for federal authorities to intercede, and demanded legislative action during the noon conference at the NAACP’s headquarters in New Haven.

The stun guns were fired after Lane allegedly reacted violently to first responders trying to extract him from the wreck.  State police maintain the stun guns were used “in order to safely remove Lane from the vehicle, to provide him medical care, and to stop him from causing further harm toward himself and first responders.”

The NAACP and other groups have demanded that cameras be attached to stun guns to document their use.  Lane, a Stamford native, is the 18th stun gun-related death since 2005 in Connecticut, where two-thirds of the fatalities have been black or Hispanic.

Investors, led by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and the Church of England’s investment fund, the Church Commissioners, asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to reject ExxonMobil’s plan to block a shareholder proposal for information on how the company will be impacted by public policies seeking to rein in climate change.

DiNapoli, as trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the Church Commissioners and other ExxonMobil investors filed a shareholder proposal in December, asking the company to publish an annual assessment of the impact on its business of public climate change policies, including how lower demand for its products and carbon restrictions would impact its oil and gas reserves and resources.  The company’s response was to notify the SEC of its intent to block the proposal from a shareholder vote at its annual meeting in the spring.

Investors responded to ExxonMobil’s move in a letter to the SEC on Monday.  DiNapoli said: “ExxonMobil risks becoming an outlier among its peers who have publicly supported reining in climate change. As investors, we need to know how ExxonMobil’s bottom line will be impacted by the global effort to reduce emissions and what the company plans to do about it.”

Friday, February 26 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Melinda Tuhus, Gretchen Swanson, Jim Young, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Quinnipiac University honors a retired New Haven teacher and civil rights activist; overnight winds left thousands without power on Long Island; former Suffolk County police chief pleads guilty to federal charges; and, overflow of electronic waste sucks tax dollars from New York citizens.

A retired New Haven teacher and former Freedom Rider was honored Thursday night by Quinnipiac University School of Law with the 28th annual Thurgood Marshall award. Marshall was the first African American member of the U.S. Supreme Court. 

WPKN's Melinda Tuhus reports:
After her first year of teaching in Chicago, Lula White decided to join the Freedom Riders in 1961 in their efforts to integrate public buses in the Deep South, after seeing what happened to the first group.

“Well, when I saw the photograph of the burning bus I was just infuriated that something like that could happen in this country.” She said she was scared, but it was something she felt she had to do. The bus she rode was not attacked, but after being arrested in Mississippi, she and other Freedom Riders spent six weeks in Parchman Penitentiary, one of the country's most notorious prisons. 

She was asked at a reception before the ceremony if she had any words of wisdom for Americans confronting injustice today: “I would advise people to do whatever they can. Everyone isn't ready to go to jail, but there are many other things people can do. So, keep up the good fight. There are a lot of things wrong. You know, we're a wonderful country in some ways, but we have a lot of problems, and people need to address them.”

In her brief remarks, White downplayed her own role and said she wanted to thank the many others who helped make civil rights history: the lawyers, like Thurgood Marshall; financial supporters of the movement, Southerners who opened their homes to northern volunteers; and black children in the South who also risked their lives to win freedom. 
Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News. 

Newsday reports: 
Long Islanders received a rude awakening on Thursday morning, after rain and high winds came through overnight, as downed trees took out power lines and made roads impassable.  The island recorded impressive amounts of rain, with as much as 1.62 inches falling in Merrick and 1.26 inches at McArthur-Islip airport. 

High winds were recorded, including 64mph at Eaton’s Neck, 54mph at Shirley and 52 mph at Islip, according to the National Weather Service.

Schools in the Jericho district and Huntington High School were closed and without power on Thursday.
Secondary roads were left impassable while work crews patched the broken power system. 

90,000 homes were without power at one point yesterday morning. By yesterday afternoon, there were still 7,500 customers out.

The New York Times reports:
James Burke, the former police chief of Suffolk County, pleaded guilty today to federal charges stemming from a December, 2012 episode in which Burke is accused of beating and threatening to kill a suspect in police custody, and then coercing fellow officers into covering up the misconduct.  Burke, 51, was subdued in Federal District Court in Islip as the charges against him were read aloud.

Since the federal investigation into Mr. Burke’s actions began some three years ago, investigators have expanded their inquiries and are now examining the workings of the police department and the district attorney’s office.

The charges against Mr. Burke stem from a December, 2012 episode involving Christopher Loeb [who] was arrested on suspicion of stealing a duffel bag stuffed with cigars, pornographic DVDs, and sex toys from Chief Burke’s car.  Loeb was brought to a precinct house and shackled to the floor.  According to prosecutors, Mr. Burke assaulted Loeb at the precinct and subsequently coerced the detectives who witnessed the assault to conceal it.

Mr. Burke’s attorney, Joseph Conway, told reporters he expected his client to be sentenced to fewer than five years in prison for violating the civil rights of the suspect and conspiring to obstruct justice.

According to the Albany Times-Union, New York residents are paying the price to dispose of obsolete televisions and computer monitors.  This contradicts a 2010 law requiring e-waste recycling to be free and convenient for consumers.  

Manufacturers pay recycling fees based on product weight and sales. But local taxpayers are spending millions, because lawmakers severely underestimated both the volume and weight of electronic waste, which was banned from municipal landfills in 2015.  Recycling companies are overburdened and toxic stockpiles are accumulating. 

Old TVs and computer monitors contain hazardous leaded glass tubes that have no recycling value. Counties must find a way to pay for safe disposal, or refuse these items. Queensbury Town Supervisor John Strough said: "We are charging residents, even if it might not be in accord with the law." 

Lawmakers questioned why it has taken so long to address this issue.  

Eugene Leff, deputy commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, said the State will increase enforcement of current recycling laws, but is not inclined to ask manufacturers to pay more.  Leff also said the State will subsidize local e-waste recycling programs, up to a maximum of $2 million, with funding from New York’s Environmental Protection Fund. 

Thursday, February 25 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Neil Tolhurst and Nadine Dumser.)

In the news tonight: Governor Malloy defends need for budget cuts; legislative aid for ex-felons seeking work in Connecticut; new rules will stop energy supply sales companies from preying on New York consumers; and, Amityville moves to spur development.

At a meeting Tuesday at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven, Connecticut residents asked Governor Malloy to explain his budget priorities for the upcoming fiscal year.

Kimberly Rice of New Haven, who works for the Department of Social Services in Bridgeport was concerned about budget cuts. Rice said: “You appear to be abandoning your policies and adopting an austerity budget, and that concerns me. You’re talking about possibly defunding programs that need it the most, laying off workers who are on the front lines to provide those services.”  She told Malloy a better option is to raise taxes on Connecticut’s wealthiest citizens. The audience applauded.

Malloy replied: “...let me assure you, I am not abandoning my principles and what I’ve stood for. Obviously, I took a giant step in 2011 and raised taxes, when our state faced a $7 billion deficit over a two-year period of time.”

But Malloy said growth since the end of the recession in 2010 was too slow to support government as it exists today.  Another tax increase would leave the state at a competitive disadvantage with neighboring states, driving people out of Connecticut.

State Senator Ed Gomes of Bridgeport is campaigning to build support for a measure that would ban private employers from asking job-seekers whether they’d ever been convicted of a crime.

Gomes says, after serving a sentence for stealing from a restaurant when he was homeless and hungry at 17, he tried to join the military but recruiters turned him down. They didn’t want an ex-convict, leaving him stuck in a series of menial, temporary jobs with no future. Then the U.S. Army drafted him, despite his criminal record. With an honorable discharge, Gomes flourished.

The legislation is headed for a public hearing before the Labor and Public Employees Committee. It has the backing of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus and the American Civil Liberties Union. But, employment law expert Daniel Schwartz, of Shipman & Goodwin in Hartford, says the proposal would make the already challenging tangle of laws facing potential employers even more complicated. 

Schwartz said that similar pieces of legislation have been adopted in other states, and in some cities, including New York and Philadelphia. It also lets employers ask about convictions, if there’s a legal requirement for it, such as for openings in a school. Schwartz said he’s skeptical the change proposed would ultimately have much impact on hiring.

The Albany Times-Union reports:
Governor Andrew Cuomo has put into effect new rules designed to stop energy supply sales companies, known as ESCO’s, from preying on consumers.  

Under rules that took effect in the 1990s, utility consumers can choose between their utility or an ESCO for their electricity or natural gas "supply," which makes up about half of a typical utility bill, with the other half being delivery charges.

Regulators had hoped that ESCOs would drive down the cost of energy.  But that has not happened, and regulators have been swamped by complaints from consumers saying their bills are higher with ESCOs than with utilities.  Some ESCOs were found to have "slammed" consumers by switching them out of their utility plans without their knowledge.

Under the new rules, ESCOs, will not be allowed to sign up any new customers unless they offer guaranteed savings compared to the utility — or if they offer a product with 30 percent renewable energy, meaning electricity from solar, wind or hydro plants.

Amityville could select a developer for major downtown work by November, according to a schedule released at Monday night’s Village Board meeting.

According to Newsday, that schedule calls for the village to send a request for proposals by April 1 to the several developers that have partnered with neighboring municipalities and have expressed interest in doing business with the village.

The area under consideration is a stretch of the Route 110 Corridor from Sunrise Highway in the north, south roughly to Avon Place. It includes approximately 60 parcels with 40 owners and includes the mostly empty former location of Brunswick Hospital, over seven acres. 

Rezoning is likely for that area, easing density, parking and building height requirements and allowing for mixed uses, all changes that could make the area more attractive to developers.

Wednesday, February 24  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Anne Murray.)

In the news tonight: a ghetto-themed party prompts a forum in Fairfield; a new poll shows Connecticut is within the bottom in job creation; Suffolk calls on the FBI for help in power broker’s shooting; and, Cuomo begins drive for minimum wage.

The Connecticut Post reports that Fairfield University officials plan a forum to discuss racial issues on campus in the wake of a "ghetto"-themed off-campus party.

Saturday's party, at a Bridgeport beach house near the private Jesuit school, reportedly included white students in blackface or wearing temporary gang tattoos, chains and other "ghetto" attire.  School spokeswoman Teddy DeRosa said: "We have confirmed that it was 'ghetto'-themed, but we have not confirmed that there were any students in blackface or in brown makeup."

University officials are in the process of determining whether any students will face discipline, but police are not involved. University president Reverend Jeffrey von Arx, sent a letter to the campus community decrying the party for perpetuating racial stereotypes.  About 73% of Fairfield's 4,000 undergraduate students are white, while just over 2% are black and 7% are Latino, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

A forum will be held on Wednesday so the campus community can discuss racial issues and express their concerns.

The Connecticut Post reports that when it comes to job growth, Connecticut isn't the worst but it's far from the best.

A recent Gallup poll placed Connecticut among the bottom 10 states on its job creation index for 2015, which polls workers on hiring activity at their place of employment.  Connecticut's ranking makes it the only state to place within the bottom 10 each of the eight years of Gallup's index. Vermont, also in the bottom 10 rankings, joins Connecticut as New England's only two below average states.

Results of the Gallup Poll were compiled over telephone interviews from January 1 to December 31, 2015 of working adults across the country.

Meanwhile, the Connecticut Department of Labor reported earlier this year that job creation in 2015 was largely positive, though not through the roof. In measuring the state's nonfarm employee trend, which excludes general government, private household, farm, and non-profit workers, Connecticut added over 22,000 jobs and sat at 5.2% unemployment by December, 2015.

Newsday reports that Suffolk County police Department has asked the FBI to assist in its two-year old investigation of Oheka Castle owner Gary Melius’ unsolved shooting, according to Commissioner Tim Sini.

The attempted murder is the second major open investigation in which Sini has asked the FBI for help following the arrest of former police chief James Burke. The FBI is also investigating the Gilgo Beach killings, which have been unsolved since the discovery of human remains there five years ago. Sini said involving the FBI in the Melius case was part of his “top-to-bottom assessment of the department,” which included scrutinizing all significant open cases.  

Melius, a real estate developer and political power broker known for his close friendships with politicians and law enforcement, survived a masked gunman’s bullet at his Huntington hotel estate on February 24, 2014. The shooting occurred in broad daylight, and surveillance cameras captured two vehicles believed to be involved, yet no arrests have been made.

New York News Connection reports that Governor Andrew Cuomo has taken his call for a statewide minimum wage of $15 an hour on the road.  Surrounded by union members and city officials on Tuesday morning, Cuomo announced his Drive for $15 campaign at a rally in Manhattan.

He said New York is creating more jobs than ever, but those jobs are polarized between good pay for a few and low pay for the rest as the gap between rich and poor continues to grow.  The governor plans to take his Drive for $15 bus tour to cities across the state over the next few weeks.

Cuomo said raising the minimum wage is just the first step and “the second step is paid family leave, because paid family leave is all about respect for the worker." The governor has proposed legislation to allow workers up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child or sick family member.

Tuesday, February 23  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)

In the news tonight: Sandy Hook families accuse gun maker of negligence in lawsuit over the school shooting; about 8,000 Access Health CT customers lose coverage because they missed their first payment; New York State Comptroller discloses lengthy delays in fining errant nursing homes; and, Riverhead Councilman offers change to term-limit law. 

New Haven Register reports: 
A judge heard arguments but made no ruling Monday on whether the lawsuit families of Sandy Hook shooting victims filed against makers of a firearm used by shooter Adam Lanza should move forward. The lawsuit claims negligent entrustment of the seller, distributors and manufacturers of the firearm, suggesting the three are partially liable for its lethal use.

Defense attorneys argued that their clients are protected from litigation under a law that gives parties immunity from liability when their firearms are used in crimes. Attorneys pointed out that the firearm was lawfully obtained by Lanza’s mother and that allowing the lawsuit to move forward could potentially put other gun manufacturers at risk of being sued—even if their weapons are lawfully purchased and used unlawfully. 

A status conference on the matter is scheduled for April 19.  Judge Barbara Bellis, who presided over the hearing, said that she may reach a decision before then.

About 8,000 people who signed up for coverage through Connecticut’s health insurance exchange missed their first payment deadline and lost coverage, according to Access Health CT CEO Jim Wadleigh.

Just over 116,000 people signed up for private insurance through the state’s exchange during the open enrollment period that ended January 31. The first payment is due within 30 days of receiving the bill.

Last year, the exchange allowed people to sign up for coverage outside the open enrollment period without a qualifying reason. This year, Access Health is following tighter rules for off-season signups, meaning those who didn’t pay their first bill won’t be eligible to sign up again unless they have a change in circumstances that affects their coverage, such as divorce or losing a job.

With a January 31 deadline, some customers are still within the window to pay their first bill. Wadleigh said: “We’re trying to quickly course-correct and make sure everybody understands that there’s a little bit more to do to finish the enrollment.”

Albany Times-Union reports: 
Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released an audit Monday showing that the state Department of Health takes years to levy fines for health and safety violations in nursing homes.  DiNapoli said the audit “raises some serious issues.”  In some cases, it has taken the state up to six years from the time the violation is found to actually fine the home. 

DiNapoli blamed much of the backlog on inadequate staffing at the state Department of Health. At one point, he said, the department had just one part-time person assigned to process the referrals for fines from the state.  He noted that the Health Department has since added staff, and the agency cleared up fine backlogs shortly after the audit’s review period, which ran from 2012 through mid-September 2015.

The findings also come as the increased fines – up to $10,000 – will sunset April 1, 2017.  DiNapoli said lawmakers should look at extending the fine levels.

After recently expressing opposition to term limits for elected officials, Riverhead Councilman John Dunleavy proposed an amendment that would grant him one more term in office if he gets re-elected next year.

The Town Board recently discussed not only 12-year term limits, but also changing the supervisor’s term from two years to four.  Riverhead's Supervisor Sean Walter said the four-year term would bring greater continuity to the office.

The intent of the supervisor’s term limit proposal, as stated in the legislation, was “to increase the accountability of and expand participation in the governance of the Town of Riverhead.”

Monday, February 22  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Scott Schere.)

In the news tonight: a new proposal would increase televised coverage of Connecticut State Government; a Medford company is awarded a grant to develop a Zika virus test; Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim scrutinizes the city’s labor force; and, a new website shows how climate change is impacting Long Island Sound.

A proposed State Civic Network would offer live and archived coverage of every Connecticut legislative hearing, appellate court argument and more.

The proposal to turn the Connecticut Network into a more comprehensive civic network would ax the annual $3.2 million state payment and instead shift the operation’s cost to cable television subscribers, who would each pay about $5 a year more.

Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester and co-chairman of the Government Administration and Elections Committee, said the proposal’s adoption would represent “a sea change for us” and would make it possible for people to see for themselves all the work that goes into crafting legislation.  Paul Giguere, president and chief executive officer of the Connecticut Public Affairs Network that operates Connecticut Network or CT-N, said by covering every hearing and appellate court case, the new network would “create the opportunity for the public to better engage” with what’s going on in each branch of government. 

The proposed change is included in a bill slated for a public hearing Monday before Cassano’s committee. If the legislature approves it and Governor Dannel Malloy supports it, the new network could be in place by November.

Newsday reports that a Medford company has been awarded a $550,000 grant to develop a rapid test for the Zika virus and similar illnesses.

Chembio Diagnostics Inc. announced it has been awarded a “catalyst grant” from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, which has previously supported Chembio’s research efforts. Paul G. Allen is a co-founder of Microsoft Corp.  Chembio will develop a stand-alone test to detect Zika and another to detect Zika, dengue and chikungunya viruses. The company also will add Zika to a six-virus blood test that is in development and received $2.1 million last year from the Paul G. Allen Ebola Program.

Chembio chief science officer Javan Esfandiari said: “We are well positioned to act quickly, given our ongoing collaborations with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Brazil’s Ministry of Health and the global scientific community.”  Dr.  Sandra Laney, innovation director for Allen’s Vulcan Philanthropy, said: “This work is an example of how the lessons from the recent Ebola crisis are sparking innovations in how the global health community tackles outbreaks.” Last year, Chembio developed point-of-care tests for malaria and Ebola that are now in use in West Africa.

Since Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim took office on December first, he has embarked on cost-cutting initiatives which do not sit well with city employees according to the Connecticut Post. 

Ganim wants to undo two major contracts for union represented city workers that contain retroactive and future raises.  There is talk about another two-dozen job cuts, as well as restructuring departments in the budget Ganim will propose to the City Council in early April.

Most recently, Ganim’s staff has been scrutinizing so-called labor side agreements that assign specific employees extra duties in exchange for extra pay.
Mayor Ganim blames his cost-cutting actions on his predecessor Mayor Bill Finch.

Ganim said, “We were left with a $20 million budget deficit and contracts not disclosed or properly processed. It’s unfortunate we inherited that.”

Long Island Sound has been experiencing the effects of climate change from rising sea levels to declining cold-water fish populations.

These impacts are examined in a new website for residents that explains the impacts of climate change in the Long Island Sound.  The website was launched last week by a partnership of government agencies and organizations known as the Long Island Sound Study.

Slowly increasing temperatures in the Sound are blamed for a decline in cold-water species like lobster and winter flounder and an increase in summer flounder and scup, which typically thrive in more southern regions.  Sea levels in the Sound have also been increasing at a similar or slightly greater rate than global sea level increases.

The website, lissclimatechange.net, provides information about the changes that have occurred in the Sound in recent decades, the scientific research behind global climate change and what local residents can do to help turn the tide.  It also lists the climate change-related research and management efforts that are going on in the Sound right now, including monitoring of sea level rises in salt marshes and ocean acidification research. 

Friday, February 19 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson and Jim Young.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut set to expand medical marijuana program; federal funding for Connecticut transportation programs;  Governor Cuomo’s plan to address New York’s water quality issues; and New York State Senator proposes minor-specific Miranda rights. 

The Connecticut Post reports:
Lawmakers are set to expand the state’s medical marijuana program next week. New regulations will be voted into effect by a bipartisan committee, without any further action from state lawmakers.

This will add seven to the original list of eleven approved conditions. Medical marijuana provides non-opiate pain relief and improved quality of life. 
Patients suffering from failed back surgery; ulcerative colitis; sickle-cell anemia; and other conditions will be able to ask their doctors about joining the program. 

This brings additional state revenue from program card-holder fees, and raises the total number of approved patients to nearly 9,500.

Tremendous public support prompted the new rules, which received approval from a board of physicians and the state’s attorney general. The nonpartisan Legislative Commissioner’s Office found no substantive concerns with the proposals that could give lawmakers a solid reason to delay action. But some lawmakers starkly oppose the new rules and say it will be a difficult vote, although Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris said: “We’re confident that we have support…to pass these conditions.”

Connecticut officials say that 47% of state-maintained roadways are in “less-than-good condition”, and 35% of Connecticut’s bridges are functionally obsolete or structurally deficient as reported by ctbythenumbers.infoThe Connecticut Business and Industry Association says that 42% of businesses think the state’s road congestion hinders their opportunities and growth.

But the federal government, after years of inaction, adopted the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation or FAST act at year’s end.   As a result, Connecticut will receive about $3.5 billion over five years, or about $700 million annually, for highway and transit programs, which is about $62 million more per year than it received in 2015.   

The state Department of Transportation says the act’s importance is in the predictability and assurance of funding it provides. The FAST Act’s transfer of $70 billion into the federal Highway Trust Fund was essential to keep the fund solvent. 

The federal 18.4 cent gas tax has not been increased in more than 20 years, and this has reduced the fund’s purchasing power and reduced its ability to keep pace with rising costs and inflation.  There continue to be concerns that if revenues going into the fund are not increased, insolvency may await as soon as 2020.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Thursday the creation of a statewide water quality rapid response team to address contamination problems like those in the upstate village of Hoosick Falls on Long Island.  

As reported by the Albany Times-Union, the team will be tasked with coordinating the response to water emergencies, establishing a clean drinking water program that addresses regulated and unregulated contaminates in public and private water systems. 

The announcement was made on Long Island, where the state will also take steps to address water quality issues. That includes a $6 million island-wide study of salt water and chemical contamination of fresh groundwater.  The state will also mandate independent testing of a plume of contamination  surrounding the Northrop Grumman plant in Nassau County.

Cuomo said he believes incidents in upstate New York, Long Island and Flint, Michigan, are “the precursor of what we’re going to see going forward.”

As reported by the Albany Times-Union: New York State Senator Michael Gianaris, of Queens, is proposing legislation that would establish a new set of Miranda rights to be read to those under the age of 18 who are in police custody.

Gianaris says that more than 1 million juveniles nationwide were criminally charged each year but only about 10% are found to have exercised their Miranda rights.  He says many underage New Yorkers are waiving their Constitutional rights because they do not comprehend them.

Under Gianaris’ legislation, juvenile arrestees would need to be told: “You have the right to remain silent. That means, you do not have to say anything. Anything you say can be used against you in court. You have the right to get help from a lawyer. If you cannot pay a lawyer, the court will get you one for free. You have the right to stop this interview at any time.” Investigators also would be required to ask: “Do you want to talk to me?” and “Do you want to have a lawyer?”

The American Bar Association backed such a reform in 2010.

Thursday, February 18  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Nadine Dumser, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Connecticut Senator Andrew Maynard will not seek re-election; advocates push for paid family and medical leave in Connecticut; drill tests underway to determine the most viable option for providing power to Shelter Island; and, plans for Long Island Rail Road scoot trains have been put on hold.

Senator Andrew Maynard (D – Stonington), who suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2014 and last month was in a motor vehicle accident, announced Wednesday that he won’t seek re-election.  Maynard said in a statement that it was an honor to serve.

Senate President Martin Looney (D – New Haven), who volunteered to adopt Maynard’s constituents while he was recovering from a fall back at his home in July 2014, said Maynard has been “an extra-ordinary friend and colleague.” Looney said that he believes that Maynard has accomplished a great deal for his district and the entire state.

The press release from Maynard’s office yesterday touted his accomplishments over the past decade in office. It highlighted the bipartisan jobs bill approved during a special session in October 2011 and October 2012 legislation helping establish the Small Business Express Program.

Maynard was also instrumental in helping veterans. He helped pass legislation to offer unemployment compensation benefits to military spouses forced to leave their jobs due to a military relocation, and shepherded legislation to grant state tuition waivers to Connecticut’s public colleges and universities to the dependent children and surviving spouses of military personnel killed in active duty.  

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano (R – North Haven) thanked Maynard for his ability to work in a bipartisan manner.

Yesterday, more than a dozen Connecticut lawmakers and advocates said that it is embarrassing for the United States to be the only developed nation without paid family and medical leave.  

The group seeks to make Connecticut the fourth state in the nation to make sure its residents continue to get paid if they decide to have a child, take care of a sick family member, or seek medical attention for themselves. New Jersey, California, and Rhode Island are the three states that currently offer some form of paid family and medical leave. 

Paid family leave is a concept that seemed as if it was all but dead last year until lawmakers were able to allocate $140,000 to hire a consultant and an actuary to crunch the numbers and tell the state what it needs to do in order to create a fund to help pay for up to 12 weeks of leave for employees.

If implemented, the program would be mandatory for all employees. The recommendations, which will offer guidance to the state about how to go about setting up a fund to support the program, is expected to be released next week.

PSEG is looking for the most viable option to provide safe, effective, and reliable power to Shelter Island. Currently the Island depends primarily on one aged cable from the North Fork and one from the South Fork that isn’t capable of covering the entire Island.

A barge is boring holes underwater and along the shore to determine if it’s possible to run underwater electric cables between Greenport and Shelter Island Heights.  Neither Greenport nor the Heights has yet entered into any agreement with PSEG, pending the outcome of the hole-boring tests. 

In 2013 a subcontractor of the Long Island Power Authority was unable to complete the placement of new underwater cables between Greenport and Crescent Beach on Shelter Island when a drill bit snapped and there was a spill of some nontoxic material on the Greenport side. 

PSEG has been seeking a resolution since it became the system operator.

Plans for so-called scoot trains, once envisioned as a way of increasing Long Island Rail Road service to the North Fork, have been put on hold.  East End officials were hoping to coordinate the scoots with a system of feeder buses to take people from the trains to various locations not served by rail.

Riverhead resident Vince Taldone of Five Town Rural Transit said: “That is the heart of the system. We need to have more frequent rail system — which isn’t saying much, considering that on winter weekends, we don’t even have any rail service.” The self-propelled scoots would be less costly for the MTA than running diesel engines that pull numerous passenger cars, Mr. Taldone said.

Mitch Pally, Suffolk County’s representative on the MTA’s board of trustees said: “The problem with the scoot train is the design did not come back the way we thought it would. … They were too heavy and didn’t fit the tracks. That doesn’t mean it won’t work with another design. It just means that this design didn’t work.”

Wednesday, February 17  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Anne Murray.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut launches a public-private substance abuse program; Malloy says no to legalizing pot; a new audit slams New York for squalid shelter conditions; and, a microgrid study is ready in East Hampton

The state is launching a $12.5 million public-private initiative to help parents overcome substance abuse problems that rip families apart and land children in foster care.

The Connecticut Family Stability Pay for Success project will tap private sources to pay for a program to assist 500 families with children six or younger with ongoing, in-home care by clinicians and social workers.  If the effort succeeds – saving millions for taxpayers – the philanthropic investors get their money back with interest, but if it flops, they don’t.

Governor Dannel Malloy said Tuesday it is “tackling a critical issue” by helping parents overcome substance abuse issues and “pay for good outcomes.” Officials are confident the innovative program will make a dent in the number of children entering foster care. There are about 2,000 children in state care today because drugs shattered their homes.

The program will create six new family recovery teams that will allow them to reach new areas, including Waterbury, Danbury, Torrington, Norwich, Middletown and New Haven.Clinicians and a family support worker will visit households three times a week for the first six months of the initiative and continue visits for as long as 18 months if necessary.

Gov. Dannel Malloy said legalizing marijuana for recreational use is not "in our best interest," even if it might help generate new revenue, during a town hall meeting on the state budget Tuesday night, reports the Hartford Courant.

Questions on Malloy's approach to the state budget ranged from raising taxes on wealthier residents, maintaining state programs and casino development in the state.

Edward Wallner asked Malloy his thoughts on legalizing recreational marijuana as a way to address the budget. "I don't believe that's in our best interest,” Malloy said, adding the state has “taken the right steps with marijuana” by decriminalizing it.
Malloy, fielded questions from during Tuesday night's town hall meeting, the second since outlining his budget, and addressed a crowd of nearly 150 people at Middletown City Hall.

In a scathing audit released Tuesday, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s's office said the state's failure to properly monitor and inspect homeless shelters led to a multitude of violations and squalid living conditions in shelters across the state, reports the Albany Times-Union.

The audit blistered the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance for not ensuring proper maintenance at 39 of the state's shelters and not taking enforcement action to correct problems it found during inspections. 

It described mold in residents' rooms, repairs to walls and ceilings made with plastic sheeting or garbage bags and duct tape, and air vents taped over to prevent vermin from entering rooms. Auditors said shelters had "filthy and unacceptable living conditions, the worst of which posed obvious and serious risks to shelter residents' health and safety."

The audit was conducted between April 1, 2013, and Aug. 5, 2015, before Gov. Andrew Cuomo made it a signature issue.

Cuomo recently acknowledged squalid conditions in shelters and signed an executive order requiring all homeless people to be brought into shelters when the temperature drops below 32 degrees.

Newsday reports that the first phase of a study to determine which East Hampton buildings should be included in a community microgrid has been completed and the results will be presented to town board members next month.  A community microgrid would keep critical services going in the event of a power outage or other emergency. 

Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said Tuesday that a microgrid can improve the town’s renewable energy resources and is important to resiliency in case of power outages.  Microgrids can separate from the larger electrical grid and generate their own power.

Facilities under consideration for the microgrid include East Hampton Village Emergency Services, the East Hampton Airport, East Hampton High School, the East Hampton Healthcare Foundation, the Town Hall Campus, the Montauk Fire Department and the Montauk Playhouse.

The presentation will be made to the board at the 10 a.m. March 1 work session at town hall.

Tuesday, February 16  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)

In the news tonight: Crumb rubber artificial turf raises concerns in Connecticut; UConn plans learning community to support black men; EPA announces proposal for nitrogen-reduction for Long Island Sound; and, New York State weighs outdoor smoking ban at parks.

Artificial turf made from ground-up used tires, called crumb rubber, has raised some concern and controversy over whether it contributes to cancer diagnoses among athletes who play on the turf.  For many municipalities, crumb rubber seems like a no-brainer. It keeps old tires out of landfills, and it requires zero water and little maintenance.

As of now, no study has shown a definitive link between playing on crumb rubber and any illness. But the Environmental Protection Agency, along with the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is launching an action plan to study crumb rubber turf fields and playgrounds with initial results promised by the end of 2016.

The matter came up after University of Washington soccer coach Amy Griffin noticed cases of cancer among soccer players and began a list – 200 athletes, with three-quarters of them soccer players.  Monroe is considering non-crumb rubber fields, and Hartford has banned crumb rubber and petroleum-based artificial turf.

A new University of Connecticut residential learning community is aimed at promoting academic success for African-American men.

The Scholastic House of Leaders who are African-American Researchers and Scholars, or ScHOLA2RS House, is intended to be the home of as many as 43 freshman and sophomores on the Storrs campus, according to Director of First Year Programs and Learning Communities David Ouimette.

One of the community’s major goals is to put African-American men on a path to success in undergraduate and graduate school by connecting them with campus scholars and community leaders as well as providing access to opportunities for research and study abroad.

The honors program has similar goals, but Ouimette said it’s not diverse enough to provide resources to all African-American males who may benefit.  ScHOLA2RS’ other main goal is to boost the graduation rate among African-American men students, stuck at 55% in 2015.

This initiative has sparked backlash, ranging from accusations of "segregation" to concerns about how effective it will be in combating low graduation rates. ScHOLA2RS House is not the first gender- or race-based community at UConn. There is WiMSE for female students in the science, technology, engineering and math majors and La Comunidad Intelectual, a community for students with a Latin American background.

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a new nitrogen-reduction strategy for Long Island Sound, warning New York and Connecticut that current efforts are not enough. 

The strategy was defined in a letter to heads of environmental departments for New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont—states that either border the Sound or have tributaries that feed into it.  The plan includes changes at wastewater treatment plants that discharge into the Sound and looking at more than water quality as a measurement of progress.

Coastal watersheds, tributary watersheds and western Long Island Sound coastal watersheds where large wastewater treatment plants discharge directly into the Sound would be of particular focus. While the plants have made progress in reducing the amount of nitrogen from discharged wastewater, regional EPA administrators stated that nitrogen from other sources, including storm water runoff, septic and cesspool systems and turf fertilizers, remain a problem.

The Times Herald-Record reports: 
New York's highest court is considering whether to overturn smoking restrictions in state parks, including an outright ban at several smaller parks in New York City.

Attorney for a smokers’ rights group, Edward Paltzik, argues that parks officials exceeded their authority, and the decision should be left to the legislature, which has enacted outdoor smoking bans at playgrounds and train platforms. Assistant Solicitor General Victor Paladino says the restrictions balance the interests of visitors, most of whom consider smoking a nuisance, and are consistent with its authority to promote and enhance the park experience.

A trial judge found the regulations invalid, but a mid-level court reversed his ruling. The Court of Appeals decision is expected next month.

Monday, February 15  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Scott Schere.)

In the news tonight: Some Connecticut lawmakers support legal recreational marijuana; a Fire Island deer hunting plan is protested by animal advocates; Connecticut legislators are considering enhancing drone laws; and, new Latino group director says Latinos lack representation on the East End. 

Ten Democratic lawmakers, including two from New Haven, are hoping their colleagues will entertain a debate this year about legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

With other surrounding states like Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island considering legalization, Representative Roland Lemar from New Haven said he wants Connecticut to benefit from being the first state in the northeast to legalize it. 

Lemar, along with Representative Juan Candelaria, who is the main sponsor of the legislation, says it’s time for Connecticut to follow states like Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon, which have legalized marijuana through ballot measures. 
Connecticut doesn’t have the ability to put public policy on the ballot for voters, but recent polls show voters support the concept, including a Quinnipiac University Poll conducted in March 2015 that found 63% of voters support legalization.

And even though Governor Dannel Malloy supported decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and helped establish the state’s medical marijuana program, he’s not in favor of legalizing it for recreational use. Malloy said last week at an unrelated press conference: “I’m not in favor of legalizing marijuana.”

Fire Island seashore officials say an estimated 300 wild deer live within park boundaries on the barrier island and at William Floyd Estate in Mastic Beach. 

The deer are prodigious eaters threatening vegetation on the isle, particularly a maritime holly forest that is one of only two in the world. The deer have no natural predators to keep their population in check, and National Seashore officials are faced with finding a solution to the overpopulation.

On Friday, according to Newsday, a hardy group of protesters braved the cold to express their displeasure with a recently published plan to minimize the damage caused by the deer and reduce the population using a combination of methods including hunting, approved birth control, education and fencing of sensitive areas.

The greatest public outcry comes from the part that would allow hunting of the white-tailed deer.  John Di Leonardo, president and founder of Long Island Orchestrating for Nature, an animal advocacy group said: “It’s incredibly cruel and ineffective to be using hunting.”  The group advocates using an immuno-contraceptive vaccine. 

The vaccine was administered as part of a 1993 to 2009 research project on Fire Island in which community groups and the Humane Society used darts to inject female deer with a form of birth control.    

The aerial drone craze continues to take off for thousands of Connecticut hobbyists and entrepreneurs so now lawmakers are dealing with public-safety and privacy issues which will likely result in new laws this year.

Connecticut State Representative William Tong said, “People need to understand the consequences of misusing drones and until the message gets out there, I don’t think there is enough public awareness.”  The Connecticut Post reports that Tong added in a phone interview: “We want to criminalize reckless use. We don’t want people flying them a half mile away and causing an injury or hitting a car.”

Representative Stephen Dargan, co-chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said that lawmakers have to anticipate the evolving nature of the drone hobby and the public’s penchant for pushing the envelope.  Dargan said he was recently warned by state prison officials of the possibility of drones flying over state prison yards to drop weapons, money or contraband.

Last year, the FAA ordered that most hobbyist drones would have to be registered and have federal identification numbers.

Although Long Island’s East End’s Latino population has grown explosively over the past decade, you wouldn’t know it by looking at the boards of local governments, which do not count a single Latino member among them.

The new executive director of Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, Minerva Perez, hopes to address the issue as she expresses disappointment with the lack of Latino representatives in local government, both as elected officials and appointed positions.

Perez noted that unifying the Latino communities across the East End will allow them to speak with a single, clear voice to express their needs – both in the community and in local government.  Perez said: “If we can’t show that kind of solidarity, we are not going to get what we need, which is, very simply, some equal representation.” 

The organization holds seminars and panels aimed toward Hispanic residents on topics like immigration, computer literacy, legal education and entrepreneurship. Perez hopes to involve the North Fork in some of those educational events this year.

Immigrants on the East End hail from a diverse variety of Central and South American countries, and Perez hopes to use that diversity to strengthen the local Spanish-speaking communities rather than divide them. 

Friday, February 12  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Neil Tolhurst and Jim Young.)

In the news tonight: Teachers union boss says Malloy’s budget is bad for education;
Connecticut’s prison gerrymandering under fire; Long Island congressman asks Ayatollah for Iran visa; and, activists drop suit over Montauk beach work.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, came to an inner-city school in Hartford Thursday to lambaste the education budget cuts proposed by Governor Dannel Malloy.
Facing a $570 million deficit for the fiscal year that begins in July, Malloy is proposing closing that shortfall with spending cuts, including some $56 Million from the education budget.

The A.F.T’s Weingarten said: “When you see cuts of that magnitude, that are ultimately going to seep its way into schools throughout the state, that basically says that the fight from last year of corporations bullying the governor worked.  When the state takes this kind of cut, it’s basically saying it’s reversing course on its values."

Malloy proposes a $52.9 million cut in funding for special education, after-school programs, reading tutors and other services in low-performing public schools across the state. Another $3.6 million would be cut from early childcare and education programs. But the Governor does propose an $11.5 million funding increase that was included in the previously adopted two-year budget.

Malloy said Thursday his budget still was good for education, noting he has maintained funding levels for Education Cost Sharing, the state's major funding program for local education. 

A broad coalition of advocates wants to end the practice of prison gerrymandering in Connecticut. Currently, prisoners are counted as constituents of the district in which their prison is located, rather than the city or town where they lived before they were incarcerated.  Advocates say this undermines the constitutional principle of “one person, one vote.”

While Connecticut prisons are located almost exclusively in rural towns with predominantly white residents, the prison population consists disproportionately of Blacks and Latinos from urban areas. 

Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative, said prison gerrymandering gives extra representation to those communities that house prisons. Wagner and others support legislation that would require prisoners to be registered in their last known address.

David Kiner, who represents Enfield, said that the current way the districts are drawn is not gerrymandering.  Kiner said that his district is “owed thousands” because of the state’s failure to follow through on payment-in-lieu-of-taxes that would otherwise be paid to the town.

Lee Zeldin, a Republican who represents New York’s first district on eastern Long Island, is one of three congressmen who are planning a trip to Iran according to 27east.com.

In a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei, Zeldin and congressmen Mike Pompeo of Kansas and Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey asked for visas, and for invitations to meet with Iranian leaders to discuss Iran’s work on nuclear and missile technology. 
They also asked to visit three nuclear energy research and development sites that were the focus of the recent sanctions-lifting deal with the United States which Zeldin opposed. 

The letter to the Ayatollah also accuses Iran of playing a role in the recent kidnapping of three Americans in Iraq through “one of your proxy Shia militias” and demands information about their whereabouts. But the three say their main reason for wanting to visit Iran is to observe the elections. They are concerned about reports of candidates prevented from running.  

In this fall’s U.S. elections, Zeldin will face one of two candidates vying for the Democratic Party’s nomination.  They are former Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and David Calone, a former head of the Suffolk County Planning Commission.

27east.com reports:
Environmental advocates have withdrawn their lawsuit challenging the Army Corps of Engineers' construction of a sandbag revetment along the oceanfront of downtown Montauk, which is more than three-quarters complete. 

Kevin McAllister, the president of Defend H20, an environmental advocacy group, announced Thursday that the group was abandoning its court fight. The lawsuit had been rendered largely moot by the rejection of an injunction request in November that could have halted the project before construction work began. The group’s statement reads in part: “Sadly, construction has progressed to a point where the damages to the beach and natural protective features are too far gone." 

The project had been opposed by environmental and community groups, but supported by owners of some of the larger oceanfront hotels. Critics said that the sandbag revetment constituted hardening of the shoreline, which is expressly prohibited in town codes and threatened the existence of the downtown's ocean beaches.

Mr. McAllister said that despite the failed legal challenge, the effort to shed light on ill-advised coastal protection policies would continue and that “Montauk will be the wake-up call for a new approach”.

Thursday, February 11   (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Nadine Dumser and Tony Ernst.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut labor and advocacy groups call for tax hikes instead of budget cuts; Connecticut lawmakers fight to keep European-origin names like “feta” for American-made cheeses; PSEG Long Island will add $1.69 to electric bills to recoup shortfall; and, the Long Island Philharmonic shuts down.

A top Connecticut labor leader blasted Governor Dannel Malloy’s proposed budget of spending cuts and state workforce reductions as one that continues “to protect the very, very wealthy.”

Connecticut AFL-CIO President Lori Pelletier spoke Wednesday at a press conference held by a new coalition called D.U.E. Justice – A Coalition for Democracy, Unity, and Equality. Its broader agenda is reducing income inequality and promoting democracy.

Members called for taxing soda and capital gains, and fining large employers that pay workers less than $15 an hour. Malloy has ruled out tax increases, and even many lawmakers critical of his proposed spending cuts have signaled that tax hikes would be a tough sell.

Malloy spokesman Christopher McClure said the administration “couldn’t agree more with the AFL-CIO that no one should work forty hours a week and live in poverty. However, we do not believe raising taxes is the right step forward.”

The coalition, however, emphasized the challenges workers face in an era of flat wages and that spending cuts were poor alternatives to raising more tax money from the wealthy. And Pelletier added that laying off state employees would hurt the local economy.

The entire Connecticut congressional delegation has asked U.S. trade officials to oppose a new trade pact provision that would bar state cheese producers from labeling their products “Asiago” or “Feta.”

State dairy farmers and cheese producers worry that a final Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, an agreement under discussion between the United States and European Union nations, would implement the EU’s requirement that food not originating from a specific geographical area cannot be named after that area. This geographic indicator provision would mean that American cheese producers couldn’t use the names “Feta” or “Asiago” or “Gorgonzola,” because their products are not produced in Greece or the Italian cities that gave their names to local cheeses.

This is cause for concern because $21 billion in U.S. cheese production already uses European-origin names, according to the letter Connecticut lawmakers wrote to the U.S. Trade Representative and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.  Lawmakers also noted that the partnership’s “focus must be on tackling those real-world trade challenges, not on assisting the EU in its efforts to hamper competition from U.S. suppliers.”

The threat of restricting common European-origin food names also poses concerns for the American wine and meat industries. 

Newsday reports: 
PSEG Long Island next month will add a new charge of $1.69 to average customer monthly bills to recoup a 2015 revenue shortfall under a newly instituted LIPA policy ostensibly aimed at promoting green-energy programs.

Called a “revenue decoupling adjustment,” the charge is an outgrowth of a change LIPA instituted last year to help the utility recoup costs even if sales dip below expectations. For the second half of 2015, the shortfall amounted to $18.3 million, according to figures LIPA released last month. Average residential customers will see the $1.69 charge on their bills, but commercial and other customers could see a larger figure. LIPA has blamed the sales shortfall on an unusually warm December.  

Newsday reports: 
The Long Island Philharmonic, the Island’s longest continuously operated performing arts institution, announced Monday that it would close effective immediately.

Philharmonic chairman Larry Austin said in a statement announcing the closure after 36 years: “This is a tragedy for all of Long Island....These are tough times for arts organizations everywhere.”

Co-founded by folk singer Harry Chapin, the Philharmonic shut down after failing to renegotiate terms of a loan that would allow it to continue paying its freelance musicians and skeleton staff.  As a result, there will be no in-school programs with Philharmonic musicians this spring and no free concerts this summer in parks across Long Island.

The Philharmonic’s music director David Stewart Wiley said that he and some Long Island Philharmonic musicians, with the help of Nassau BOCES, plan to continue working “on a freelance basis” with music students in school districts the Philharmonic had previously committed to serving.

Wednesday, February 10  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Anne Murray.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut domestic violence shelters operate above capacity; the Senate majority leader pushes an electric car bill; the Suffolk legislature confirms a new police commissioner; and, a proposed Southampton development is deemed incomplete.

The Connecticut Post reports that the state’s 18 domestic-violence shelters are operating at above capacity, as increasing public awareness and outreach campaigns prompt more women and children to escape abusive relationships. Advocates said it underscores the need for more stable housing options.

In the last five years, outreach programs and police assistance have raised awareness, making it easier for victims to leave abusive relationships. The Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence reported Tuesday that 2,323 victims of abuse sought shelter last year, including 1,158 children, with an average stay of 43 days, a length that has increased by 65% since 2008.

Karen Jarmoc, CEO of the coalition, said the shelters are over capacity and have stayed open with a daily cost of $7 per person with mostly funds from private sources. In mid-September last year, 332 victims stayed in local shelters, while just 312 beds were available statewide. The extra people slept on sofas and roll-away cots in living areas and playrooms.

Advocates oppose the governor’s plan to remove the funding from the state Department of Social Services and turn it into a block grant because the current budget line approach is more stable.

After the Senate failed to consider House-backed legislation last session, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff has introduced a bill to allow electric car manufacturers to sell vehicles directly to consumers in Connecticut. It would allow electric car manufacturers to sell their cars at up to three locations in the state.

A representative for Tesla, one of the country’s largest manufacturers of electric cars, said it will expand in Connecticut if the legislation becomes law. Jim Chen, Tesla’s vice president of regulatory affairs, said each location would bring from a dozen to two dozen jobs and the sales activity will account for $1.68 million in annual sales tax revenue.”

Car dealers oppose the legislation and want Tesla vehicles sold through third-party dealers, as is the case with other cars. Jim Fleming, president of the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association, said consumers could be harmed if the legislation is passed and Tesla should close its doors.

Newsday reports the Suffolk County Legislature confirmed Timothy Sini Tuesday as the next county police commissioner. In a 14 to 3 vote, with one abstention, legislators approved Sini, who was nominated by County Executive Steve Bellone.

Sini is taking over a department under a “cloud” of federal investigations following the arrest of former top uniformed cop James Burke on federal charges that he beat a suspect and coordinated a cover-up.SIni said he would work to restore public trust and department morale and added that “there is more work to be done to clean up the department.

Sini, 35, a former assistant United States attorney, who has served as a deputy commissioner since November, said he has beefed up the internal affairs department and opened his door to honest feedback from officers and employees.

The Southampton Press reports that an initial environmental review of The Hills at Southampton, a proposed golf course and residential subdivision in East Quogue, was labeled “incomplete” at Tuesday’s town Board meeting.

The developer, Arizona-based Discovery Land Company, is seeking approval for a planned development district, or PDD—a zoning mechanism that allows increased density in exchange for perceived community benefits. It would allow the firm to build 95 single-family homes, 13 clubhouse cabins and 10 clubhouse condominiums, along with an 18-hole golf course, just off Spinney Road.

The review was submitted to the Town Board on December 21 and reviewers determined that the report was incomplete because it does not contain all of the mitigation analysis, and lacks consistency.

Mark Hissey, a representative from Discovery Land Company, said the determination was not surprising, since it can be difficult for applicants to meet the draft environmental impact study, or DEIS, requirements the first time around. Hissey said his staff will start correcting the problems and he wants to have the DEIS resubmitted to the Southampton Town Board as soon as possible.


Tuesday, February 9  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford, Chris Cadra, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Connecticut man awarded $6 million after 20 years of wrongful imprisonment; Connecticut sees an increase in Access Health enrollment for its third year; Cross Sound Ferry adds a new boat to its fleet for peak travel times; and, Shinnecock Tribe Plans Medical Marijuana Facilities.

Miguel Roman, who served 20 years, six months, and 10 days in prison for a murder the state concedes he did not commit, was awarded $6 million yesterday by the Connecticut claims commissioner. DNA evidence exonerated Roman in 2008, and convicted another man in 2011.

The state did not contest the damages calculated by the claims commissioner, J. Paul Vance Jr., who has sole authority under state law to attach a monetary value to damages arising from a wrongful conviction and incarceration.

Roman was convicted in the murder of his pregnant ex-girlfriend, 17 year-old Carmen Lopez, who was found dead in her apartment in Hartford on January 5, 1988. According to a summary of the case by the Innocence Project, even though no physical evidence tied Roman to the crime, he was convicted on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of a jailhouse informant.

His conviction was affirmed by the Connecticut Supreme Court, but the case was reopened after the Innocence Project and Roman’s attorney, Rosemarie Paine, sought DNA testing unavailable at the time of the trial. 

During the third year of the Affordable Care Act, 116,019 Connecticut residents signed up for plans through the exchange with four private insurance carriers. That’s an increase of 5,924 individuals over last year’s enrollment period.

An estimated 19,499 of the 116,019 enrollees were new to the exchange. And of the estimated 96,520 repeat customers, only about 16% or 12,529 enrolled in a new plan this year. This is the third year of enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, which allows residents with preexisting medical conditions to receive coverage.

There are also penalties for not having insurance. 
This year families who don’t get insurance will be subject to a federal penalty equal to 2.5 % of their annual income or $695, whichever is more.

Jim Wadleigh, CEO of Access Health CT, said the numbers represent “61,000 citizens who were not previously insured and who now have access to affordable healthcare.” He credited the jump in enrollment to outreach and marketing efforts.

Wadleigh said the new challenge will be to make sure those who have insurance know how to use it. He estimated about 30% of those who purchased insurance through the exchange have not used it.

Cross Sound Ferry in Orient will add another boat to its fleet to expand service to and from New London during peak summer travel times. Director of marketing for Cross Sound Ferry, Stan Mickus, said ridership on the ferry has increased to pre-recession levels and the added vessel will offer more service at the most popular times. 

Once it launches in June, the 50-vehicle, 300-passenger boat will slot into the existing schedule so ferries run more frequently. The new ferry will not run year round and will likely be taken out of service each winter. 

The new ferry is considered “mid-sized,” smaller than the four major ferries, each of which holds between 80 and 120 vehicles. Workers are currently outfitting the new ferry with airline style seating, a bar and food service.

As reported by the Southampton Press:
The Shinnecock Indian Nation will grow and process medical marijuana and build a dispensary on reservation land by the end of the year according to Tribal Trustee Chairman Brian Polite. 

The plan was approved by the tribe’s voting members on Saturday. 

The tribe will abide by state regulations regarding type and use of medical marijuana. This includes producing only liquid or capsules of the drug. The tribe is still currently in consultation with the State, which must ultimately approve the project.

A security plan for the facilities has been developed by a consultant. The cultivation and dispensary facilities will cost millions of dollars to construct.  

A private investor will finance the project which is expected to create between 80 and 100 jobs and generate a significant amount of revenue for the tribe. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2016. 

Monday, February 8  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: A new Yale study seeks ways to help reduce stress in children;  a Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan targets pollution in waterways; the cause of last summer’s massive fish kill in the Peconic River is determined, and; Sikorsky Aircraft reopens talks with Poland.

There are 925 dog-visiting programs in American universities, but only one study has been done on whether playing with a puppy or other pet would reduce anxiety in children. 

According to the New Haven Register, a study by Yale School of Medicine students found that “just a brief interaction with the therapy dog of seven to 10 minutes reduced anxiety and improved mood,” this according to Molly Crossman who conducted the research.

Now, researchers are looking to see if brief interactions with robots, resembling baby seals, help children to feel more relaxed. Crossman said: “We’re specifically interested in these brief, one-shot interactions, the kind that therapy dogs provide.  It’s usually one visit that’s supposed to help. … Are you really getting a benefit from something that’s so short and time-limited?”

Specific results won’t be known until the study is completed, but Crossman added, “Anecdotally, the kids really love the dog and really love the robot.”

Excess nitrogen — coming from septic systems and cesspools, fertilizer runoff and other sources — has caused a variety of harmful effects in Long Island’s waterways. The nutrient has led to an increase in harmful algal blooms, decreased oxygen, and a weakening of the coastal marshlands that serve as a buffer against harsh wave action during storm events.

State and local officials are developing a multimillion-dollar plan to tackle the problem of excess nitrogen, establishing recommended limits on the nutrient and identifying areas best suited for sewers or other wastewater upgrades.

The Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan, funded with $5 million in the current state budget, is spearheaded by the Long Island Regional Planning Council and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The two groups held three meetings last week, soliciting public comment on the draft scope of the plan.

Tuesday’s meeting in Riverhead attracted a standing-room-only crowd according to Newsday.  Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, suggested at that meeting, the creation of an “action index” to measure yearly progress of the plan.

And a study released Friday did confirm that last summer’s massive fish kill in the Peconic River was caused by algal blooms.

Hundreds of thousands of bunker fish washed up dead in the Peconic River early last summer and, after a months-long collaborative effort between the state, the county and researchers at local universities, its been determined that a spike in algal blooms, fueled by increased levels of nitrogen in the water, deprived the water of oxygen and caused “mass asphyxiation” in the river’s bunker.

A large population of predatory blue fish at the mouth of the river made matters worse, blocking the bunker from escaping the oxygen-drained river. 
The study discounted the possibility that illegal discharges, spills or the presence of toxic substances contributed to the kill. 

The spike in algal blooms were also the probable cause of a diamondback turtle die-off in the Peconic Estuary last May.  High levels of nitrogen in the Peconic River are believed to have fueled the algal blooms.  Residential septic systems, pesticides and fertilizers all contribute to increased levels of nitrogen.

The slide in the price of oil, from $100 a barrel to about $30, has had an unexpected effect on the fortunes of Connecticut-based Sikorsky Helicopter, which is one of the largest employers in the state, and its largest manufacturer.

Oil and gas companies have reduced offshore drilling, impacting the need for helicopters to service rigs.  Revenues from the sales of helicopters have dropped some 75% since 2014, from $1.5 billion dollars to an estimated $375 million in 2016.

But according to the Connecticut Post, negotiations have been restarted with the government of Poland to provide up to 70 Blackhawk combat choppers, a contract bid it lost to Airbus. This opportunity follows Poland's cancellation of a 50-helicopter deal with Airbus Industries, valued at $3 billion.

Sikorsky has two facilities already in place in Poland, and European offices in London. Last year, Sikorsky laid off about 500 workers in Poland, among 1,400 people worldwide who lost their jobs, including 180 in Connecticut.

The helicopter manufacturer was sold by its longtime parent United Technologies to Lockheed Martin last year in a $9.1 billion deal. Worldwide, Sikorsky employs about 15,000 people, and its prime manufacturing facility is in Stratford.

Friday, February 5  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Anne Murray.)

In the news tonight: a New London vigil highlights the heroin crisis; a hearing on a gas pipeline plan near the watershed; the Shinnecock nation loses its land appeal; and, the Suffolk police commissioner nominee heads for full legislative vote next week.

Members of Community Speaks Out in New London knew a vigil was needed to bring attention to more than 20 heroin overdoses in more than a week, reports the Hartford Courant. So Thursday night, more than 100 people stood in a rainy New London plaza as community members and city officials spoke about the heroin problem.

According to Lawrence Memorial Hospital from January 27 through Tuesday, one person died and 21 others were treated for overdoses with neighboring towns reporting their residents were also among the victims.

Lisa Cote Johns, a Community Speaks Out co-founder, lost her 33-year-old son, Christopher, who died of an overdose in 2014 and Johns and others have been working to get people help.

Statewide fatal heroin overdoses are up year-over-year since 2012, according the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and in 2014 more than 300 people died of overdoses. Governor Dannel P. Malloy proposed legislation Thursday that would assure that Narcan is available to those who need it.

A Hartford City Council committee hearing Wednesday evening revealed strong opposition to a pipeline company's plan to build a fracked gas pipeline under the region's drinking water source. The committee chair also criticized the company's lack of notification to the city, and likened it to environmental racism. 

WPKN's Melinda Tuhus has more:
The Metropolitan District Commission has already raised concerns about the Tennessee Pipe Line Company's proposal to add a pipeline under MDC Class I conservation lands, under the drinking water supply for Hartford and several surrounding towns -- a total of 440,000 people.

City Council member Cynthia Jennings chairs the Environment Committee and held the hearing for area residents to weigh in on the proposal. Every person opposed it, as did Jennings. 

“I oppose the gas pipeline going through any watershed, any watershed anywhere. It's a very bad precedent to set. These are highly protected lands.” 

She said the Council will vote on the matter next week, and she knows a majority is against it. Their opposition will be conveyed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which must approve interstate pipelines, as this one is.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News

Newsday reports: 
The Shinnecock Indian Nation has lost an appeal in its 10-year legal battle to reclaim thousands of acres in Southampton. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled in October to uphold an earlier ruling dismissing the case. The 3-0 decision leaves the Southampton tribe with a final option of appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.  

The Shinnecocks argued that an 1859 state law illegally stripped the tribe of about 3,600 acres on the South Fork that has since been developed into luxury homes, the Stony Brook Southampton college campus, and the Shinnecock Hills Golf Course.  State lawmakers at the time approved the land transfer, the lawsuit said, even though a 1790 federal law prohibited states from taking tribal land without approval from Congress.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Platt wrote in a 2006 decision against the Shinnecock nation: “The wrongs about which the Shinnecocks complain are grave, but they are also not of recent vintage, and the disruptive nature of the claims that seek to redress these wrongs tips the equity scale in favor of dismissal.” 

According to Indian Country Today Media Network recent land claim cases show no precedent for a reversal of the decision by the Supreme Court. 

The Suffolk legislature’s Public Safety Committee voted Thursday to send Tim Sini’s nomination for Suffolk County police commissioner to the full legislature for a final vote next Tuesday.

Sini, who has served as a deputy commissioner since November, vowed to move beyond a scandal involving the department’s former top uniformed officer, James Burke, who faces federal charges of beating a suspect and orchestrating a cover-up.

The committee voted 6-1 for Sini, a former assistant United States attorney in Manhattan.  Public safety chairwoman Kate Browning and Legislator Leslie Kennedy abstained, and Legislator Tom Cilmi voted no.

Jason Starr, Long Island director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that given the Burke case and another involving a sergeant who was convicted of stealing from Hispanic motorists, a national search “is absolutely critical.”

Thursday, February 4 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Nadine Dumser.)

In the news tonight:  Malloy’s list of budget cuts affects the living and the dead; another competitor for a third Connecticut casino; Long Islander aims laser at commercial airliner; and, minimum wage challenged by New York farm group.

Governor Malloy is looking to cut $570 million from the next budget.  Even the dead are taking a hit in his proposals. Money used to help pay for a funeral, cremation, or burial for those with no ability to pay, would be cut. 

Also proposed for cuts are mental health and substance abuse grants, arts and tourism, and the closure of a prison and of two highway rest stops.

Early learning programs, totaling about $600,000 and a $155,000 program that provides computers, training, and internet access to 1,600 poor families in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury, would be cut.

The budget proposal suggests ending the state’s $71,000 in funding for the Connecticut Radio Information Service that provides audio services for those with poor vision. 

Adult education pilot programs in Manchester and Meriden and at Gateway Community College and at a New Haven high school — are slated to end to save $400,000.

The Connecticut Children’s Medical Center is slated for a $725,000 cut. And the $30 million in hospital cuts made in December will be carried forward. 

Support for community health centers would cease in order to save $422,000, while paring school-based health centers would save another $477,000.

State Police overtime would be reduced by $930,000 through dispatch center changes.  

The general welfare fund for veterans is slated for a $179,000 reduction.

The federally recognized Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes are planning a jointly owned casino in the Hartford area to compete with a casino being built in Springfield, Massachusetts.  

Schagticoke Tribal Chief Richard Velkey said Tuesday his tribe, based in the Kent area, also wants to pursue building a third casino in the state. 

He thought Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s office had given him permission to form a business to explore the possibility. But Merril said her office made a mistake in accidentally awarding the limited liability corporation. 

And there may be another problem with this plan: the federal Indian Gaming law requires that a tribe be federally recognized to operate a casino. 

Connecticut lawmakers and Kent property owners, led by former state Attorney General – now Senator - Richard Blumenthal, successfully campaigned to reverse the federal recognition of the Schagticokes in 2005. 

According to Newsday, a laser beam hit a jet flying from Newark to Providence as it flew over Mattituck on Long Island.

The crew of the United Airlines flight reported the incident as they traveled at 11,000 feet at about 11:30 pm on Monday night.  Authorities said there were no reported injuries, and the plane didn’t have to make any emergency maneuvers.

Laser pointer-aircraft incidents reported nationally have increased significantly, from 384 in 2006 to 3,894 in 2014. In 2015, as of mid-December, 7,152 incidents were reported.

Pointing a laser at a plane is a federal crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposal to raise New York's minimum wage to $15 an hour is coming under attack by a group that represents farmers, according to New York News Connection. The New York Farm Bureau says the $15 minimum wage would hurt state farming businesses and cost an estimated $500 million per year in added labor expenses. 

Steve Ammerman, the bureau's public affairs manager, says markets determine the price of agricultural products, not farmers, who wouldn't be able to adjust their prices if their labor expenses increased. Ammerman says that New York's average agricultural wage is $12.39 an hour and this already puts farmers in the state at a competitive disadvantage.

Richard Oswald, agricultural correspondent for the Center for Rural Strategies, disagrees. He says many farmers now use machines to do what many farm workers once did. The machines would take some of the sting off of rising labor costs. 

Oswald also notes that many farms already pay their workers wages that aren't much less than $15 an hour.  Also, he says many farms are family-owned and rely on the labor of the family, further reducing labor costs. 

Wednesday, February 3  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Melinda Tuhus, Jim Young, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Governor Malloy prepares to take his state budget proposal on the road; bicycle assembly workers in Branford unionize; former Suffolk Police Chief is offered a plea deal; and, the New York State Assembly passes a family leave bill.

Governor Dannel P. Malloy will be taking his state budget proposal on the road over the next few months, following a one-year hiatus from the tradition.

Leaked budget documents show Governor Malloy will propose $569.5 million in spending cuts in 2017 and no tax increases. The documents indicate there will also likely be a deficit in 2018 and further cuts will be necessary.

This is the second year of Malloy’s second term. In 2011, he held an unprecedented 17 town hall forums. In 2012, he held 13 community forums on his education reform agenda, which were attended by hundreds of teachers and parents. In 2013, and 2014, Governor Malloy held several community forums, which were described as “town hall-style events” in press releases. They were billed as “an opportunity to discuss the state’s pressing issues face-to-face with state residents.”

Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman said these town hall events provide an opportunity for her and the governor “to spend time in a city or town and hear concerns, and for citizens to help inform the policy-making that happens in Hartford.”

Dates and locations for the series will be announced during the coming days and weeks as each of the events are scheduled. It is anticipated that the forums will run throughout the legislative session, which ends on May 4. 

The workers at a self-described "world famous" bike shop in Branford voted a few months ago to form a union. They say since then the owner has retaliated against them and they tried on Monday to submit petitions asking for redress. 

WPKN's Melinda Tuhus has more:
The eight workers at Zane's Cycles who assemble the bikes he sells in his big store in Branford recently joined the United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 919. The union says owner Chris Zane has refused to bargain in good faith and when a group of workers and their supporters tried to deliver petitions with hundreds of names, employees inside locked the door and Zane refused to accept them. 

Union organizer Shane Allen explained what prompted the petition: "We are trying to hand this petition in to CZ to return the three workers he laid off to work immediately, to bring back the wages from the 30 percent reduction that was taken about two months ago, and to also agree to meet with the union at least four more sessions in an effort to get a contract."

The union is calling those moves retaliation. Chris Zane did not open the door to this reporter nor return phone calls to get his side of the story. Shane Allen said there is another negotiating session scheduled for later this week and he was told Zane will accept the petitions then.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.

Newsday reports:
Federal prosecutors have offered ex-Suffolk Police Chief James Burke a plea deal that, sources said Tuesday, calls for a prison sentence of around five years.

Burke, the former top uniformed cop in the county, faces charges that he masterminded a cover-up after beating a handcuffed prisoner who had stolen a duffel bag from his department SUV. He has pleaded not guilty and remains held without bail.

U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler set February 26 as the date for a new status conference to see if a plea deal had been worked out by then. Otherwise, Wexler said, jury selection in the trial would begin March 21. 

Burke faces charges — depriving a person of civil rights and a conspiracy to obstruct justice — that usually call for a sentence of 5 to 5 1⁄2 years under federal sentencing guidelines. But, if Burke is convicted, and depending on the individual circumstances of the case, a judge could 

The New York State Assembly has passed legislation to provide paid time off for those with certain family demands. These needs include the care of a sick relative or newborn child, or even those that result from a family member's military service. 

The existing arrangement is again being extended for the twelfth time while proposals for the funding are considered.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has suggested an alternative source for the same paid-leave proposal by establishing an employee payroll deduction that would reap 35% of one's weekly salary by 2018, rising to 66% by 2021, though capped by an average statewide pay level.

Tuesday, February 2  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford, Chris Cadra, and Melinda Tuhus.)

In the news tonight: protests on Bridgeport’s approval of a gas-fired power plant; Hartford-based Aetna CEO voices serious concerns about Obamacare; Long Island lawmakers propose gas tax limit; and, Riverhead recreation supervisors wants to bond money for park repairs.

Despite a creative protest Monday night at Bridgeport's city council meeting, officials voted to endorse energy company PSEG's plan to replace its Bridgeport Harbor coal-fired power plant with a new fracked gas plant in 2021. 

WPKN's Melinda Tuhus reports:
At a brief public hearing, several residents spoke against the proposed gas plant. They quoted scientific data to show that emissions of natural gas contribute as much to global warming as coal. 

During the city council meeting, Bridgeport resident Gabriela Rodriguez, who is a member of Capitalism versus the Climate, released a banner attached to balloons that floated up to the ceiling. It said: "Fracked gas is environmental racism." She explained that term describes a common situation in which communities of color suffer disproportionately from environmental harms.

“By tearing this down and replacing it with a natural gas plant, which poses health risks of its own -- for example, PSEG reports that the new gas plant would release into the air nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, etc. -- it would be doing the same thing. It would be subjecting communities of color to disproportionate risk to a number of health hazards. So that's why we're opposed to this.”

Only one group of many that had originally pushed for the closing of the coal plant endorsed the plan to build the gas plant. Rodriguez said opponents of the new plant plan to organize others in Bridgeport to demand clean renewable energy, not coal or gas.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.

The Hartford Courant reports: Aetna revealed that its Obamacare policies incurred losses of about three to four percent during 2015. Aetna’s Chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini told stock analysts Monday the company has “serious concerns about the sustainability of the public exchanges.”

Bertolini said new regulations on network adequacy and standardization of benefits would limit Aetna’s ability to offer affordable plans on the exchanges. Bertolini also raised two issues of interest to Aetna’s 6,000 Connecticut employees: downsizing to adjust to the drop in commercial policyholders, and where employees could shift if the proposed merger with Humana closes later this year.

Part of the merger deal includes locating the government businesses in Louisville, Kentucky. The deal needs regulatory approval on antitrust grounds and is expected to close in the second half of the year.

The Albany Times-Union reports: Two Long Island lawmakers are sponsoring legislation that would change the state sales tax on gas to 8 cents per gallon or 4%, whichever is less.

A decade ago, when gas prices headed toward $4 per gallon, New York State capped its sales tax on gasoline at 8 cents per gallon. That meant state taxes, set at 4%, wouldn’t keep rising as the price of gas did. 

But with gas now dropping below $2 a gallon, an 8-cent tax means a tax rate of just over 4%, so Senator Ken LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele want to change the tax to keep it from rising above 4%.

The measure floated in 2015 but never made it into the state budget. Assemblyman Thiele hopes for more progress this year.

Riverhead’s parks are in such disrepair that portions are being shut down.

Every year, the recreation department’s list of repairs and improvements needed at the town’s 31 parks grows, and every year, town board members tell recreation superintendent Ray Coyne the same thing: there simply isn’t any money. After borrowing $70 million in the early 2000s to finance open space preservation, the town’s open space reserve funds to pay that debt have nearly run out.

While the recreation department doesn’t have enough money in its budget to tackle the projects on its own, it has a bond authorization from almost 10 years ago with about $1.1 million left to borrow. That amount could cover many of the repairs needed to keep the parks in usable condition, but the authorization expires in April.

Coyne said the town could pay the bond back through parks and recreation fees each year while giving the department the money it needs right now to make the most urgently needed repairs.

Monday, February 1 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Scott Schere.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Governor Malloy and Bridgeport Mayor Ganim talk guns and public safety; the first medical marijuana dispensary opens in Riverhead; Senator Blumenthal and others meet to discuss heroin deaths; and, police on Long Island are using more license plate readers.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim met with hundreds of faith leaders and organizations from across Fairfield and New Haven counties at Congregation B’nai Israel Thursday night for a talk that focused on gun laws and public safety.

Thursday marked Malloy’s first appearance in Bridgeport, and his first with Ganim since the latter won November’s general election.  Malloy accused the National Rifle Association of orchestrating boycotts of manufacturers and dealers who produced or sold smart guns, which are designed to fire only for the rightful owners. 

The Connecticut Post reports that Ganim was asked if he would hold to his promise to hire 100 new police officers, and whether their training would involve de-escalation tactics and lessons in racial and cultural awareness. Ganim replied “there would be changes in place before a first class of 32 recruits heads to the Police Academy.”  And as for the 100 new cops, Ganim said the city should have them in place well ahead of the promised timeline of his first mayoral term.

Riverhead became one of the first places on Long Island where patients can access medical marijuana with the opening Friday of Columbia Care’s cannabis dispensary on East Main Street.  

Columbia Care is one of five dispensary companies chosen by New York State to provide medical marijuana under the 2014 Compassionate Care Act. The office has comfortable chairs and tables in the waiting room, an abundance of displays of succulent gardens, and wall displays showing close-ups of cannabis plants. Patients are buzzed into the office after showing an ID card.

Scott Poretsky of Suffolk Healthcare Cannabis Alliance, who was on-hand for the ribbon cutting, called today “a great day and great history in the making” but said there was still more work to do.  

There is currently no list of doctors who prescribe medical marijuana, though the state has compiled a list of ailments that would qualify patients for medical marijuana. Patients who are suffering from those ailments must receive certification from their doctor, and can then apply online for a state ID card making them eligible for cannabis at the dispensary.

With heroin and opioid deaths skyrocketing, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal met this morning in New Britain with youth in recovery, educators and experts to discuss measures to combat the crisis. 

Heroin and opiate abuse has skyrocketed in Connecticut and nationwide in recent years. While the epidemic has impacted all demographic groups, 18 to 25 year olds are most at risk. In the past decade, heroin use among young adults has more than doubled. 

This rise in deaths and the increasing addiction rates for heroin are inextricably connected with the availability of illegal drugs, the lack of adequate resources to address addiction and the over-prescription of pain killers.

Blumenthal has hosted similar discussions over the past several months on different aspects of this heroin and opiate abuse epidemic in communities across Connecticut.  

The Connecticut Post reports that Blumenthal said in a news release: “Our high schools are not immune, with educators and substance abuse experts on the front lines of this devastating crisis every day. Despite major advances in Connecticut, including the widespread use of Narcan and greater attention to the prescription of opiate pain killers, we have yet to control and contain this epidemic.”

According to Newsday, the Nassau and Suffolk County police departments, as well as police in villages such as Freeport, now use an expansive network of more than 100 license plate reader cameras that capture the image of millions of license plates and vehicles each year across Long Island.

Other police departments such as Hempstead, Glen Cove, Port Washington, and Lynbrook also have license plate readers which have emerged as the pre-eminent tool for police who use them as an intelligence tool, mining the data for crime trends and using them for solving pattern crimes. 

License plate readers have been used by local police departments for several years — many fixed on police vehicles — to root out traffic ticket dodgers and unregistered cars. District Attorney Madeline Singas, in a statement Saturday, called license plate readers “an emerging addition to a broad set of investigative tools used to solve crimes.”

Freeport, with a population of about 50,000, put license plate readers at every entrance to the village on November 2, 2015. Since then, police have made 25 arrests, impounded 328 vehicles, and issued 1,290 summonses overall. Overall, the cameras have scanned 14.6 million license plates.