Wednesday, March 2, 2016

March, 2016

Thursday, March 31 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Nadine Dumser.)

In tonight’s news: critics of insurance company mergers want transparent review process; Governor Malloy asks for volunteers to retire ahead of state employee layoffs; two-hour leaders meeting, but still no New York budget deal; and, Suffolk launches Second Septic System Lottery

Critics of two pending mergers of major health insurers have asked the state’s insurance commissioner to take steps they say would increase transparency in the review of Anthem’s proposed acquisition of Cigna.

The Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, Connecticut State Medical Society and Connecticut Citizen Action Group oppose the proposed deal. They are concerned that a public hearing on the matter might not adequately allow for all views to come out. They want a public hearing at a place and time that “allows for maximum public participation.”

Also, they want a group that represents consumers to participate in the review process as intervenors, allowing them to call witnesses and cross-examine witnesses from insurance companies. They also want a study to analyze the potential impact on cost, access, and the state’s economy, similar to the analysis now required when regulators review certain hospital mergers.

Hartford-based Aetna is also seeking to acquire Humana, but the state insurance department will play a more limited role because Humana does not participate in Connecticut’s insurance market.

Insurance company officials have touted the deals as ways to improve health care delivery and improve care quality and choice for consumers. But critics say that any savings that large companies achieve are not passed along to consumers but are pocketed by the insurance companies.

Following a budget meeting Wednesday with lawmakers, Connecticut Governor Malloy plans to issue pink slips to state employees over the next few weeks to close a $900 million budget deficit.

To determine the actual number of layoffs, Malloy wants to know how many workers plan to retire before reducing the state labor force. Malloy said: “If you can . . . please retire and save somebody else’s job.” Layoff estimates vary, ranging between 2,000 and 3,000.

State officials have called on union members to consider concessions, including health insurance and pension plans, but union leaders denounced concessions to a contract that they say is fair and in effect until 2022.

Malloy said he realizes the current fiscal crisis is not the fault of state workers, but layoffs are necessary to close the budget gap.

Legislative leaders gathered in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office Wednesday morning for nearly two hours, but departed looking decidedly less confident of reaching a deal on the state budget, according to the Albany Times-Union.

Sen. Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference joined Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in the meeting. No budget bills had been finalized by noon Wednesday. 

The state’s fiscal year ends today, which means lawmakers will have to pass bills at speed with messages of necessity in order to meet any self-imposed budget deadline. Flanagan said that while the negotiators were close: “We’re not there yet.” He confirmed that an income tax cut, reportedly worth roughly $1 billion, was on the table. Such a measure has been seen as the price Democrats would have to pay to get the Senate GOP to accede to an increase in the hourly minimum wage toward $15.

Heastie said that Cuomo’s desire to squeeze $250 million in Medicaid savings from New York City was another issue his members were concerned about.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced on Monday that a lottery will be held for the second phase of the County’s Septic Demonstration Program for single family homeowners. Winners will receive a free advanced, nitrogen-reducing wastewater treatment system – which includes free installation, monitoring and maintenance for five years.

The Suffolk County Health Department is using these demonstration projects as part of its study of whether to approve the systems for widespread use within the county. The program is part of Suffolk County’s Reclaim Our Water initiative, a plan to improve the region’s water quality by reducing nitrogen pollution using advanced on-site wastewater treatment systems and sewering in targeted areas.

Applications for the lottery are due Friday, April 8, 2016. Applicants must have a year-round primary residence occupied by three to nine people and must not be connected to a public sewer or be located in a sewer district. The application can be obtained by emailing

Wednesday, March 30 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Anne Murray.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut legislature adopts a budget plan; state college tuition hikes are approved; Southampton Hospital becomes a designated trauma center; and, state lawmakers consider tax cuts for New Yorkers who earn less than $300,000 a year.

The General Assembly adopted a bipartisan plan Tuesday afternoon to close most or all of the current year's budget deficit, shifting the focus to a larger projected shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1.  The House of Representatives voted 127-16 Wednesday to approve the plan after the Senate adopted it 33-3.

While the legislation eliminates $220 million in red ink in the budget that ends June 30, it doesn't reduce larger shortfalls on the immediate horizon. Resources from off-budget accounts and other one-time sources of revenue covered 40% of the deficit-mitigation effort, or $87.2 million.  Most of the remaining $133 million in cuts involved small reductions to programs only for this fiscal year. 

Legislators said the plan closes the current shortfall, mitigates future deficits and should trigger the release of $140 million in payments owed to hospitals. But it may not have closed the entire deficit for this fiscal year. The Malloy administration estimated the shortfall at $220 million and the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis said it is $247 million.

Tuition increases next year for many of Connecticut's public colleges and universities were given final approval Tuesday morning.

The Board of Regents for Higher Education approved 3.5% to 5% tuition hikes for the 17 schools in the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system with only one dissenting vote. Tuition will increase by 5% at the four Connecticut state regional universities, by 3.5% at the dozen community colleges, and by 4% at the online Charter Oak College.

During the regents meeting at Manchester Community College CSCU President Mark Ojakian said full-time tenured faculty would have been reduced without the tuition hike.

The vote came one week after Ojakian proposed the tuition hike and met with the student advisory committee to receive its input. The system's nearly 90,000 students were on spring break, and the only dissenting vote came from Gordon Plouffe, a Manchester Community College student who is a member of the board.

In recent years, attempts to increase tuition were met with student protests.

Newsday reports that the state has designated Southampton Hospital a trauma center — the first on the East End — which means patients injured locally won’t automatically be taken to Stony Brook University Hospital. Time is critical in treating injuries, said Dr. Sampath Subramaniam, Southampton’s trauma medical director.

The state Department of Health as of Monday recognized the hospital as a “provisional” Level III trauma center.  A Level III center has 24-hour coverage by emergency medicine doctors and a surgeon available within 30 minutes. Subramaniam said he believed 90% of local trauma cases can now be handled at Southampton and only 10% will need to be transported to Stony Brook.

Southampton’s “provisional” designation has to do with ultimately being certified by the American College of Surgeons, which is a several-year process. In the meantime, emergency medical teams will now be able to transport trauma victims to Southampton.

State lawmakers are discussing the possibility of trimming income tax rates for New Yorkers reporting less than $300,000 a year, sources told POLITICO New York.

The cut would be timely for Republicans in the Senate, who are contravening the wishes of business groups by preparing to swallow an increase in the state's minimum wage. Sources said the cuts would be at least 0.5% on tax brackets for New Yorkers reporting less than $300,000 a year.

Assembly Democrats are pushing to increase taxes on the wealthy to pay for more social programs, while Governor Andrew Cuomo has sought to push the conversation about income taxes until next year, hoping his focus on a minimum wage hike will satisfy liberal Democrats.  When asked about the Assembly's tax hike plan Tuesday, Cuomo told reporters it was “not a presently discussed option.”

The sources did not say how much impact a tax cut would have on the state's fiscal plan.

Tuesday, March 29 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Trace Alford.)

In tonight’s news: public unions fight Connecticut's stance on benefits cuts or layoffs: DoD funds more billions for Electric Boat and congressmen tour the Arctic aboard a sub; call for expansion of New York's medical marijuana program; and, plastic bag ban for Suffolk gains Southold's support. 

Faced with layoffs and cuts, public safety workers are telling Connecticut legislators to find other ways to balance the state budget, according to the Public News Service. 

Governor Dannel Malloy wants the unions that represent court security, corrections officers, firefighters and police to renegotiate their pension and health-care benefits. But Charles DellaRocco, a Connecticut Judicial Branch police officer, says when the state asked for sacrifices in those areas five years ago, they came through. DellaRocco said:"And we gave $1.6 billion in concessions back then. And we also signed within that contract that it would not be opened up until 2022."

Faced with a $220 million shortfall in this year's budget, and a $900 million deficit in the next, Gov. Malloy says without cuts to state workers' benefits, the state may be forced to lay off thousands.  But DellaRocco says more concessions won't close the gaps and, unless the state looks elsewhere for income, workers will still be laid off, putting public safety at risk.

Governor Malloy says the next round of retirements, which won't be announced until April 1, may help reduce the number of workers who will be laid off. 

The Navy on Monday released a new submarine construction plan that makes General Dynamic's Electric Boat in Groton the prime contractor on the costly Ohio-class replacement sub program. They will continue to construct the older design Virginia-class subs along with the Newport News, Virginia shipbuilders.  The total price tag of the subs is over $100 billion. 

Congress still has to appropriate funds for the program. Construction of the first Ohio-class replacement sub is scheduled to begin in 2021.
Connecticut lawmakers said it gives Electric Boat a big boost.

Rep. Joe Courtney, whose 2nd Congressional District includes Electric Boat’s shipyard and the New London Naval Submarine Base, said: “For Connecticut, today’s announcement underscores the positive outlook for growth, not just at the Groton shipyard, but across the region and state." Both Connecticut senators, Democrats Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy praised the program and Electric Boat. 
Last week, Senator Murphy and Representative Courtney were the guests of the U.S. Navy aboard the Connecticut built USS Hartford, along with other members of Congress. 

Murphy said one reason he spent the weekend under Arctic ice aboard the sub is to become a better advocate for the state’s shipbuilding industry and the Naval Submarine Base in New London. 

As reported by Politico, nearly three months into the launch of New York's medical marijuana program, roughly half of the patients deemed eligible have received the drug, according to the state Department of Health.

The program kicked off in early January with several dispensaries not opening by the launch date.  Since then, the state estimates 2,039 patients have been certified by their doctors to be eligible and about 1,000 patients have obtained the drug.

But advocates and the lawmakers who sponsored the medical marijuana legislation, say patients struggle unnecessarily to find doctors who can prescribe the drug. As of last Tuesday, 471 physicians had registered for the program. Advocates say the program, which calls for 20 dispensaries statewide, isn’t sufficient and creates large geographical gaps. 

The Democratic-dominated Assembly's budget resolution called for doubling the number of dispensaries a registered organization could have-- from four to eight--and also doubling—from five to 10—the number of registered organizations by January 1, 2017.

On Long Island medical marijuana dispensaries are located in Riverhead and Lake Success. The Shinnecock Indian Nation has plans for a dispensary and production facility on their Southampton reservation. That facility is not limited by the state law. 

With Suffolk County now discussing a ban on single-use plastic bags, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell and other board members who had declined to take up the issue at the local level, voiced support for the county-wide legislation.

The proposed law would prohibit retail stores from distributing plastic bags to customers. Paper bags would still be allowed for the time being and could be sold for 10 cents.

Mr. Russell had opposed a plastic bag ban that affected only Southold Town. He said local legislation would put North Fork businesses at a disadvantage compared to their nearby competitors.

A first public hearing on the proposed law was held in Hauppague last Tuesday. A second hearing on the law is set for April.

Monday, March 28 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: State employee unions in Connecticut to rally against contract negotiations; Connecticut lawmakers discuss future of Millstone Power plant; in New York, the heated debate continues on a minimum wage increase; and, Huntington will hold a hearing on repealing some restrictions on where sex offenders can live.

Connecticut’s state employee unions plan to rally tomorrow morning in opposition to requests for contract givebacks. This is part of their fight against requests by Governor Malloy and both Democratic and Republican lawmakers to open the part of state employees’ contracts that deal with health and pension benefits.

Service Employees International Union spokeswoman Jennifer Schneider said: “After tragedies that prompt a focus on mental health needs, lawmakers speak about the need for these services…Yet, these services and workers are first on the chopping block.”

On Tuesday, the 10,000 members of AFSCME Council 4’s Public Safety Employee Coalition will lobby state legislators and “urge them to oppose harmful service cuts and layoffs, and to make better choices to raise revenues needed to protect public services,” according to a press release. Last week, Malloy said, “There are going to be layoffs. How many layoffs is dependent on a number of factors, not the least of which is retirements.”

The rally will be held Tuesday, March 29, at 10 a.m. on north steps of the state Capitol.

Connecticut’s Energy and Technology Committee discussed what would happen if Millstone Power Station closed during a three-hour informational hearing late last week.

Dominion, the company that runs Millstone, initiated the hearing. Its executives told the committee that Dominion wants to sell the plant’s energy on the open market. Currently, in a deregulated marketplace, Dominion has to negotiate rates with power purchasers. Those purchasers are leaning more on low-cost natural gas generators, affecting the profitability of nuclear generators.

Dominion’s senior vice president of nuclear operations Daniel Stoddard said: “I do not anticipate in the short term the need to shut down Millstone. However, the challenges exist.” He said if the trends continue and profitability decreases, then they have to make a decision. Stoddard said they want to “compete on a level playing field with other forms of generation.”

Department of Energy and Environmental Protection deputy commissioner Katie Dykes said Millstone generates more than half of the state’s electricity and is the largest nuclear plant in New England. She said Millstone’s units are licensed to continue operating until 2035 and 2045, with options to be renewed again for 20 years.

With only a few days until New York's April 1st budget deadline, both sides of the heated debate over whether to raise the hourly minimum wage to $15 continued to negotiate and maneuver on how the issue might be addressed in the budget. The state branch of the National Federation of Independent Business called for the minimum wage issue to be pulled out of the budget entirely. 

The Albany Times-Union reported Thursday on labor and business groups that have backed differing studies on the wage, creating a data fog that has made it difficult to find truly independent research on the issue. Meanwhile, pressure is building from non-profit disability-assistance groups supportive of a minimum wage increase called for a boost in state funding to help them pay for raises for their employees.

Last Wednesday, legislative leaders discussed in broad terms possible exemptions for some industries, though negotiations continue. Even the governor floated his own “modifications” on Tuesday. Also being discussed is a regional minimum wage, particularly in the Adirondack region.

Newsday reports:
Huntington officials will hold a public hearing April 5 on a resolution that would repeal stringent restrictions on where sex offenders may live, and bring the town into compliance with the state.  According to the resolution, the change is necessary because a state Court of Appeals ruling determined that the state — not local governments — must make those decisions.

The resolution states: “The town board has no choice but to update the code so as to remove previously-enacted legislation protecting the rights of minors.” The town adopted sex offender residency restrictions in 2005, which limits where sex offenders could live to a quarter-mile from schools, day cares and camps, among other restrictions.

The public hearing will be held at the monthly town board meeting, at 2 p.m. Tuesday, April 5.

Friday, March 25 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Kristiana Pastir, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Connecticut lawmakers vote to eliminate sales tax from parking fees at state parks; Connecticut will close two centers for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities; the New York State Republican Party will host Donald Trump at their black-tie gala; and Suffolk County officials will meet to discuss the Zika virus.

Yesterday, Connecticut lawmakers on the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee unanimously endorsed eliminating the sales tax on parking fees at state parks. The provision was widely criticized when it became part of last year’s state budget. The committee voted to send a revised version HB 5627 to the House for a vote.

Further, the committee amended the bill so that if it passes, it will take effect immediately upon passage and “will be in place by Memorial Day weekend,” according to Representative Jeffrey J. Berger (D-Waterbury).

Passed in the last legislative session, the 6.35% sales tax was added to parking fees at 25 of Connecticut’s 109 state parks.  According to CT News Junkie, the sales tax drew an approximate $200,000.

According to Connecticut News Junkie, 40 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are being forced to find a new home in the next three months. Yesterday, the Department of Developmental Services announced that by the end of June, it plans to close Stratford’s Ella T. Grasso Center, in addition to the Meriden Regional Center. They stated this will help the agency re-appropriate funds to serve more clients.

Residents must either move to a private community-based facility, or to Norwalk, Newington or Torrington, where other state-run centers are located.  Laura Gibson’s daughter, now 28, has lived at Ella T. Grasso Center since she was 18.  Laura said: “My daughter is losing her home, her loved ones, people she trusts and who know how to take care of her.”  One-hundred-seventy-one state employees will need to be reassigned upon closure of the facilities. 

Union spokesperson Jennifer Schneider said: “Shuffling clients from one facility to another to save money is not how we should be caring for our most vulnerable…and has detrimental effects.”  Governor Dannel P. Malloy said, “We must rebalance our priorities to ensure that we can serve more families in need of services, within our budget. We’re in a new economic reality.” 

Albany Times-Union reports:
On April 14, the New York State Republican Party will host GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump at its annual black-tie gala at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan. The event is five days ahead of the state’s presidential primary.  All three Republican presidential candidates have been invited, according to a GOP press release.

Chairman Ed Cox said, “We are thrilled to welcome Republican presidential candidate and fellow New Yorker Donald Trump to our event...This year has become one of the most exciting and vital presidential elections in many years.”

Tickets to the gala cost $1,000.

Southampton Trustees plan to meet with Suffolk County officials on April 4 to learn more about the Zika virus and measures to prevent an outbreak.  Some of the symptoms of the Zika virus are fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes.

Governor Cuomo said: “We have put in place a first-in-the-nation action plan that will work to eliminate Zika at its source, reduce potential transmissions, and safeguard expectant mothers against this dangerous disease.”  Part of the plan would be to distribute 100,000 larvicide tablets to residents in areas that could become affected by Zika virus.  Mr. Cuomo’s plan also involves trapping and testing the Aedes mosquito throughout the entire southern portion of New York.

State officials want residents to place the tablets in standing water, in containers like flower pots, and to remove other sources of standing water like old tires, clogged gutters and plastic containers, because Aedes mosquitoes breed in containers with clean water. 

The governor wants to provide 20,000 Zika prevention kits—including larvicide tablets, insect repellent, condoms and educational materials—to health care professionals to distribute to pregnant women. The virus has also been found to be transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person.

Thursday, March 24 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Nadine Dumser, Gretchen Swanson, Kristiana Pastir, and Mike Merli.

In tonight’s news: a Republican lawmaker in Connecticut expresses concern over raising the age; Connecticut is solidifying a plan to close its deficit; Governor Cuomo orders heightened security following Brussels attack; and the New York State Assembly votes to legalize mixed martial arts.

Connecticut News Junkie reports:
Yesterday, a Republican Senator told members of Governor Dannel Malloy’s administration that while he understands their desire not to ruin the lives of young people, he is concerned about a proposal to treat 18-to-20 year-olds like juveniles in the criminal justice system. Governor Malloy, as part of his Second Chance 2.0 legislation, proposed allowing 18, 19-, and 20-year-olds to have their cases heard within the juvenile justice system, as opposed to adult court.

Senator John Kissel (R–Enfield) said yesterday that he understands that Connecticut, until recently, was an outlier and Draconian in its treatment of 16- and 17-year-olds in the criminal justice system. However, when 18-year-olds can vote and go to war, Kissel said he struggles with the idea that they would be able to appear in court without anyone knowing.

According to Michael Lawlor, the governor’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy, the Governor is proposing the creation of a new class of “young adults” within the juvenile justice system. This new class of juveniles will be treated as juveniles and receive “youthful offender” status from the time of their arrest, which means they will be able to keep their name out of the newspaper; be subject to no more than four years of incarceration; and have their records erased four years after their conviction as long as they complete their sentence.

According to Connecticut News Junkie, the state is nearing a solution to its 2016 budget problem, with bipartisan support. The last of three proposals for closing Connecticut’s $200 million deficit was submitted on Wednesday. 

The Democratic plan proposed spending cuts, but did not close the deficit. So, Democratic Governor Malloy proposed an additional $27 million in cuts to balance the proposal.  Republican legislative leaders proposed even more cuts, but some of their ideas overlap with the Democrats.

Most of the cuts Malloy proposes involve layoffs that need to happen before June 9. Malloy said: “How many layoffs is dependent on a number of factors, not the least of which is retirements, which we’ll have a better idea of on April 1.” 

He added: “If you’re going to retire, you should retire…in all likelihood you’re saving someone’s job.” However, no incentives will be offered to state employees for early retirement.

Funding for hospitals and most nonprofit providers is expected to be maintained.

Also on Wednesday, lawmakers asked state leaders about resolving Connecticut’s 2017 budget, but gave them another week to respond with a plan. Connecticut faces a $900 million deficit in 2017.
On Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo directed state law enforcement to increase security at key downstate transit points following that day’s attacks in Brussels that killed dozens and injured hundreds.

State troopers will be assigned to Penn and Grand Central Stations in Manhattan, as well as the Queens Midtown Tunnel and the George Washington Bridge. Port Authority police will step up their presence at airports, bridges, tunnels, transit hubs, and the World Trade Center. Police security will also be increased at MTA subway and commuter rail stations. 

The state is actively coordinating with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and the New York City Police Department. Security at the Capitol complex in Albany has also been visibly heightened since the Paris terrorist attacks in November.

Offering his deepest sympathy to the people of Belgium, Cuomo said: “. . . New York will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the international community against terrorism – as the world has done for us in the past.”

Albany Times-Union reports: 
The Assembly passed legislation Tuesday to legalize professional mixed martial arts bouts in New York.
The bill, held from the previous legislative session, passed in a 113-24 vote. 

Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, an Albany Democrat, voted against the bill. After the three-hour meeting on the legislation, she said: “I continue to have the serious concerns that the violence of this sport and the long-term impact on the participants outweighs the short-term economic development gains.” Fahy noted that opposition from multiple Assembly members led to safety-related regulatory changes in the bill, including health and disability insurance protections.

At a press conference, Governor Cuomo acknowledged MMA is violent:  “But football is violent, boxing is violent, politics can be violent. So I do support mixed martial arts because it’s also an economic generator.”

State law allows for amateur mixed martial arts fights, though they’re unregulated. This legislation seeks to reverse the 1997 ban on professional fights. New York is the only state where professional fights are unlawful. The bill now goes to Governor Cuomo for approval.

Wednesday, March 23  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Nadine Dumser, Gretchen Swanson, Kristiana Pastir, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: a fatal police shooting in Connecticut raises concern over SWAT teams; Senator Blumenthal calls for reforms to non-immigrant worker visa program; New York State Senators fight to stop sale of Plum Island; and, the Suffolk County Historical Society announces a new Executive Director.

Public News Service reports:
Following the police killing of a Stamford man, civil liberties advocates are calling for more transparency on how, when and why police deploy SWAT units. Twenty-five year-old Dylan Pape was killed in his home Monday by a Stamford Police Special Response Team. His death is still being investigated, but it has been ruled a suicide.

ACLU of Connecticut legislative and policy director David McGuire said his organization has received two complaints about the misuse of SWAT teams in Stamford over the past 18 months.  McGuire said: "We do think it's absolutely essential that all departments or regions that have SWAT teams account for how they use those teams."

Last year, a bill requiring reporting and oversight of SWAT teams failed to pass the General Assembly.  McGuire said that bill would have required SWAT units to report the number of raids, suspect demographics, firearms use, and whether they found evidence.

McGuire noted that SWAT teams, originally intended only for extreme circumstances, have been deployed more frequently in recent years when he said regular police would have sufficed.

Yesterday, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal criticized a non-immigrant visa program that allows companies to replace American workers with foreign workers. He was joined by three former Eversource employees and their attorney at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

Craig DiAngelo, a former Eversource employee, said it was difficult to maintain a level of professionalism for five months while he trained foreign workers to do his job. He said if he hadn’t he would not have received his severance.

Blumenthal believes this program is being abused to make businesses more profitable. He added that at Eversource alone, nearly 200 workers were replaced.  Blumenthal said there are 5,669 non-immigrant foreign visa holders in Connecticut working for companies or consulting firms, who hire these workers and contract with larger companies.

Blumenthal stated that he is supporting bipartisan legislation that would prevent companies from hiring a foreign visa holder to displace an American worker and would require a good faith effort to fill a job with an American worker before hiring a foreign visa holder. It would also prevent companies from filling more than 50% of their jobs with these foreign visa holders if the company has more than 50 employees.

According to Riverhead Local:
New York State senators are fighting to stop the sale of Plum Island to a private developer. Instead, they want a federal agency to preserve Plum Island as an ecological resource. 

On Monday, Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand met with the Senate Appropriations Committee. They urged the repeal of provisions requiring Plum Island to be sold to the highest bidder. 

Legislation to protect Plum Island was introduced last year, and gained bipartisan support in Long Island and Connecticut.  Senator Schumer said: “With open space ever dwindling on Long Island, we should preserve the environmental and wildlife habitat that is Plum Island.”

Plum Island is owned by the federal government, through The Department of Homeland Security. Since 1954, it has housed Plum Island Animal Disease Center, which employs approximately 400 people. 

The government is no longer satisfied with biocontainment measures at the Plum Island facility. It is building a replacement facility in Kansas, and wants the proceeds from the sale to help cover construction costs.  

Senator Gillibrand wants Plum Island to be, “federally protected for future generations.” Local officials, however, prioritize the preservation of jobs over preservation of the island, and some want to keep the facility open.

Victoria Berger — a former corporate and non-profit manager, as well as a historian and curator in her local community in Islip — has been named as the new executive director of the Suffolk County Historical Society. Ms. Berger joined the Riverhead-based group in January, filling a vacancy left by former director Kathy Curran, who joined the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation.

As executive director, Ms. Berger will oversee operations of the Suffolk County Historical Society’s museum and research library. One of her immediate responsibilities will be to raise funds and oversee construction of a new entrance wing that will provide handicap facilities and improved access throughout the building.

Tuesday, March 22  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)

In the news tonight: expanding TV coverage of Connecticut state government would cost cable customers; Malloy to review bill limiting new opioid prescriptions to seven-day supplies; New York’s new law requiring electronic prescriptions takes effect Sunday; and, several New York millionaires ask the state to extend their tax hike.

The General Administration and Elections Committee narrowly approved a bill Monday that would expand television coverage of state government.  The bill to create a State Civic Network was approved 8-6, along party lines. The bill would allow a nonprofit organization to stream up to 15 live events at the same time rather than the two currently possible.

Connecticut Network currently holds the contract to broadcast state government. CT-N’s president Paul Giguere said money to support the network would come from cable subscribers, and it would no longer have to rely on state funding.

The state currently spends $3.2 million a year on CT-N’s operation. Under the new bill, cable subscribers would be asked to pay about 40 cents more. But cable companies told the committee that it would cost more than that to support a nonprofit public affairs network.  State president of AT&T John Erma said a Connecticut cable customer who pays $100 a month will have to pay nearly an additional $12.50 a month if the proposal is approved.

Connecticut’s Public Health Committee approved a new bill Monday that would limit new opioid medication prescriptions for non-chronic pain to a seven-day supply.

State legislators from both parties back the proposal – one of several bills aimed at curbing this drug epidemic.  Under the proposal, adult patients could get refills if needed. Minors could not – with some exceptions. The bill includes exceptions for cases in which the prescribing practitioner determines that the patient needs a longer supply.

Legislators and a physician who studies prescription drug abuse described the proposal as a way to help prevent opioid addiction, reduce the availability of extra pills, and make it easier for doctors to find a balance between treating pain and avoiding drug misuse.

Lawmakers are also working with the Malloy administration on a separate portion of the bill that would allow pharmacists to administer opioid antagonists with a standing order.  Malloy spokesman Devon Puglia said the administration is working closely with the committee co-chairs and will be reviewing the bill.

Doctors in New York State will have to write all prescriptions electronically and send them directly to the pharmacy under a new law that takes effect Sunday, March 27.

According to Governor Cuomo, the law is intended to cut down the number of fraudulent and stolen prescriptions, which will in turn combat prescription drug abuse.

Electronic prescriptions have been required for controlled substances since 2014, but now they’re required for all prescriptions. Plus, prescriptions will have to be transmitted directly to the pharmacy, rather than through the patient.

Though heroin is responsible for most of the overdose deaths reported in the county last year, many heroin users were first addicted to prescription pain medications. Some users say they switched to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to get than prescription pain medications.  So lawmakers are trying to reduce the number of people who have access to prescription pain drugs, hoping it will lead to fewer heroin addictions.

New York News Connection reports:
More than 40 New York millionaires sent a letter to Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature asking them to pass a tax plan that would continue higher taxes on the wealthy. Their letter, organized by the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Responsible Wealth project, supports the Institute’s “One Percent Plan for New York Tax Fairness” proposal. The plan would replace the “millionaires tax” set to expire at the end of 2017.

The proposal calls for tax rates ranging from 7.65% to 9.99% applied to new tax brackets, starting at $665,000. It also calls for continuing the lower tax rates for lower- and middle-income residents.

In their letter, the millionaires said, “As New Yorkers who have contributed to and benefited from the economic vibrancy of our state, we have both the ability and the responsibility to pay our fair share.” The One Percent Plan is similar to a measure included in the State Assembly’s proposed budget, but has not been embraced by either Governor Cuomo or the State Senate leadership.

Monday, March 21  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Scott Schere.)

In the news tonight: three Connecticut mayors urge lawmakers to maintain property tax relief; widening I-95 is a key step in Governor Malloy’s transportation master plan; fentanyl is linked to increasing Long Island overdose deaths; and, New York Governor announces new diversity council.

Mayors from three of Connecticut’s largest cities asked lawmakers on Friday not to reverse the property tax relief approved last year.  Last year, the General Assembly used 0.5% of the sales tax to lower the mill rate on motor vehicles in 32 communities, set aside an additional $46 million to change the funding formula for tax exempt properties, and allocated $109 million to a grant program for municipalities.

New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary, and Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim said they’ve all included the property tax relief in their budget proposals.  House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, a Derby Republican, said she tells communities they shouldn’t count on the money.  Mayor O’Leary said the state’s cities are in a “state of crisis.” And the property tax relief passed last year gave them the relief they need.

The state is facing another $220 million deficit this fiscal year and a $900 million deficit in fiscal year 2017.

One major proponent of Governor Malloy’s 30-year transportation infrastructure improvement plan has raise serious debate – the proposal to add a lane in each direction across the full length of I-95.

In a report issued in January, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and the Frontier Group said widening I-95 "would do little to solve congestion along one of the nation’s most high-intensity travel corridors.”  A big reason why is a concept known as “induced traffic.” According to several transportation studies, the newly available travel lanes induce drivers who may have been taking transit, driving at odd hours or staying home, to take the highway instead. 

Critics of the Malloy plan, called Let’s Go CT, argue that the state could spend billions and endure years of construction delays, only to see the highway fill up again. But that’s why State Department of Transportation officials also want to introduce congestion or time-of-day tolling, to raise transportation revenue and reduce congestion. 

While Let’s Go CT is still at the conceptual stage, the legislature and federal highway officials must approve tolling before any final decisions are made.

Newsday reports: 
Illegal opiates believed to have been produced in overseas labs are behind a rash of recent overdose deaths on Long Island, signaling a dangerous new turn in the region’s pain pill and heroin epidemic, law enforcement officials said.

The drug gaining prominence because of its toxicity is fentanyl, which is at least 25 to 40 times more powerful than heroin. It is sometimes used to induce anesthesia before medical procedures, and even a small dose can be fatal. Until recently, fentanyl was used to dilute heroin, but now it is used by itself, or in tandem with other drugs, authorities said. There is also concern that fentanyl derivatives are being sold locally in pill form, purchased by users who think they’re actually taking oxycodone, officials said.

Opiates of all types killed more than 28,000 people in the United States in 2014, more than any year on record. Thousands of additional overdose victims around the United States were saved thanks to widespread use of the lifesaving intranasal overdose antidote Narcan, authorities said. Narcan is now available without a prescription.

Albany Times-Union reports: 
Governor Cuomo announced Friday two new efforts to increase diversity in the nearly 75% white state workforce. 

First is the newly created Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion, tasked with focusing on accelerating the hiring of strong minority candidates for state government positions.  Currently, 74.3% of the New York State government workforce is Caucasian.

The Council will examine best practices in the public and private sectors; identify challenges and opportunities within the existing system; and collaborate with state agencies to develop a Five-Year Strategic Plan for Statewide Diversity and Inclusion.

Additionally, Cuomo announced a series of career fairs planned around the state in the coming weeks with goal of increasing diversity and establishing a pipeline for state careers. The first such career fair was held over the weekend, in partnership with the annual SOMOS El Futuro Spring Conference in Albany.

Friday, March 18 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Human Services Committee wants a vote on Connecticut Medicaid changes; New York’s campaign finance LLC loophole upheld; East Hampton plans to regulate septic systems; and, a new peer support group for veterans launched in Riverhead.

The Connecticut state legislature’s Human Services Committee told the Malloy administration yesterday that it was not going to give up its right to vote on changes to the state’s Medicaid program. Waivers to the Medicaid program can be used to expand, cut, or restructure services that impact Connecticut residents.

The committee voted 12-5 on new language that would ensure it retains its power to vote on the waivers. The Malloy administration proposed a bill that would have removed that power, but members of the Human Services Committee deleted that language yesterday before sending the bill to the Senate.

A court ruling on Wednesday dismissed a case seeking to do away with the so-called “LLC loophole” in New York’s campaign finance law, according to the Albany Times-Union. The loophole allows huge campaign contribution giving by real estate developers that control many limited liability companies, as well as others.  

An appeal of the ruling is expected, according to Lawrence Norden of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program, the lead plaintiff in the case.  

Others seeking to do away with the LLC loophole include three New York City Democrats, State Senators Daniel Squadron and Liz Krueger and Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh. They say: “The LLC Loophole has repeatedly been at the center of some of Albany’s biggest scandals. It’s clear the Loophole contravenes New York’s campaign finance laws.”  Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Democrats support closure of the LLC loophole.

Lisa Fisher, the justice who made the ruling to dismiss the case, is a recently elected Republican in Greene County. One of the parties defending the LLC loophole was the state Republican Party.  

East Hampton's Town Board has proposed a draft law requiring advanced nitrogen-reducing septic systems for new construction projects and septic upgrades to existing construction. 

These new requirements would apply to projects within waterfront areas.  Recent toxic algal blooms in bays and creeks were fed by excess nitrogen from septic systems.

Other East End town boards have balked at superseding the county health department’s requirements. But Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine initiated similar stringent septic requirements in the critical Carmans River watershed area last February. 

The law would require “best available technology” to be used to reduce nitrogen in the effluent to three parts per million, on average, over the course of 12 months, or five parts per million in any one month." 
A public hearing is expected to be scheduled for the town board’s April 7 meeting.

A new support group to serve veterans on the East End, the Dwyer Project, was launched Wednesday in Riverhead. The Dwyer Project gives peer-to-peer support for returning veterans, some battling post-traumatic stress disorder.  All of its mentors are themselves veterans. 

The Project began four years ago, in memory of the late Long Islander, PFC Joseph P. Dwyer. Dwyer enlisted two days after 9-11, and served in Iraq; after returning home, he lost a battle to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The Dwyer Project groups are confidential and anonymous, and open to all veterans. In Riverhead, meetings are held on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m., at the Synergy Center, 1380 Roanoke Avenue. Groups also meet in Amityville, Huntington, Bay Shore, Yaphank, and Sag Harbor; at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue; and at Suffolk County Community College. 

More information is available at DwyerProject (one word) on Facebook.

Thursday, March 17  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Nadine Dumser.)

In the news tonight: emergency spending cuts ordered by Governor Malloy; bill would allow New Haven to tax Yale’s real estate holdings; groups oppose changes to New York’s Freedom of Information Law; Southampton School Board considers Columbus holiday change.

According to
In 2014, Connecticut took in more state income tax revenue per person than any state except New York: New Yorkers paid $2,420 per person in income tax, while residents of Connecticut paid $2,340. 

Connecticut ranked first in per capita income tax in 2012 and 2013. Connecticut also ranked fifth in sales tax revenue per person ($1,800) as well as total taxes per person ($4,400) in 2014.

Despite these statistics, while legislators committed Wednesday to close a $220 million hole in state finances by March 31, Governor Dannel Malloy ordered $79 million in emergency cuts, two-thirds of which hit social service agencies and education. Malloy, who already had ordered rescissions twice this year, said Wednesday that he again had little room to maneuver fiscally. 

The New Haven Independent reports: 
New Haven Mayor Toni Harp says she supports a State Senate bill to clarify a 182-year-old statute that governs the city’s ability to tax Yale University’s real estate holdings.  The Mayor pointed to Yale’s recent purchase of 350 George Street and the University’s travel agency as examples of why she supports the bill. 

Tuesday afternoon, Harp was joined by alders and local unions who support State Senate bill 414, which would clarify an 1834 state statute that says certain colleges, including Yale, “shall not hold in this state real estate free from taxation affording an annual income of more than $6,000.”

Board of Alders President Tyisha Walker said the language is not clear. She and others said the bill would clarify the law and potentially put more tax money in city coffers as Yale helps lead New Haven’s “eds and meds” economic development.

Yale spokesman Tom Conroy pointed out the university is one of the largest taxpayers in the city.  Conroy said the University pays $4.5 million on its non-academic property, along with an $8.3 million voluntary payment.

New York News Connection reports:
Advocates of greater government transparency in New York are opposing two proposed changes to the state's Freedom of Information Law, or FOIL, in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget bills.

John Kaehny, executive director of the group Re-invent Albany, says when people or organizations are forced to sue for access to public records, they almost always win, but one proposed change would make it harder for them to recover attorneys' fees.

The second proposal would create an exemption in the law for information about what is termed "critical infrastructure." According to Kaehny, the law already says any information that would endanger the life or safety of any person isn't subject to disclosure. "The concern here," he said, "is that this exception will be used as an excuse not to provide the public with records about big infrastructure projects like, say, the Tappan Zee Bridge."

With the growing number of state elected officials being forced from office for corruption and unethical behavior, Kaehny said the Freedom of Information Law is the most basic transparency tool the public has.

Newsday reports:
At the request of Southampton school students, a call to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day set off an emotional two-hour debate Tuesday night among more than 100 American Indians and Italian-Americans. 

Members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation said there should not be a Columbus Day because he was responsible for the genocide of millions of Native Americans, while representatives of Italian-American organizations called Columbus Day a celebration of Italian contributions to the United States. The Southampton district encompasses the Shinnecock Indian Nation’s 800-acre reservation, home to about 660 people. American Indians make up 7% of the student population.

Germain Smith, a Shinnecock whose wife is of Italian ancestry, said that Italian-Americans should have a holiday but honor someone other than Columbus.  Lou Gallo, the state chairman of the Commission for Social Justice, the anti-bias arm of the Sons of Italy, said: “If you decide to abolish Columbus Day. . .that’s inclusion by exclusion, and that’s abjectly unfair.” 

School officials opted to adopt a generic calendar in a 4-1 vote. District officials expect to decide which holidays the schools should celebrate by August.

Wednesday, March 16  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Anne Murray.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut GOP legislators propose budget cuts; legislative committee approves bill to fine companies for failure to pay workers $15 per hour; New York lawmakers propose tens of millions to fight heroin epidemic; and, a Long Island company is fined for safety violations.

House and Senate Republicans would furlough all state workers for two days, reduce legislators’ pay, eliminate posts in Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration and reduce spending for education, social services and other programs to balance state finances by June 30.

The GOP said yesterday its plan not only would close a $220 million shortfall, but would restore $140 million in suspended payments owed to Connecticut’s hospitals. Republicans also would cancel a $24 million deposit into the sales tax revenue-sharing program. 

"This is an honest effort," said Malloy spokesman Devon Puglia, adding the governor would sign it if it were passed by the General Assembly.

Malloy challenged both parties last week to offer ideas to mitigate the deficit and restore hospital funds. The Republican plan cuts about 15% from fourth-quarter funding for most components of the state budget, which would save about $83 million. Democrats said they are developing several ideas involving municipal aid, state contracts with private vendors and other options.

Connecticut’s Human Services Committee struggled Tuesday with legislation that would fine large employers who failed to pay their employees $15 an hour.

The committee finally approved the bill 10-8 after a debate with Senator Gayle Slossberg the only Democrat to vote against it. The bill would fine companies up to $1 per hour for every employee not paid over $15 an hour. Research last year determined that companies would pay a fine instead of raising the pay of low-wage employees.

Proponents of the bill argued the state pays up to $486 million a year in Medicaid and other benefits, such as food stamps, to employees making less than $15 an hour. The money from the fines — which could bring in as much as $305 million — would go back into the general fund, presumably to help fund those subsidies.

Senator Marilyn Moore said the bill is about large companies “paying their fair share.” Republicans who were unanimous in their opposition to the bill felt it was a tax on businesses in the state.

With drug overdoses up dramatically throughout the state, legislators are proposing spending tens of millions more dollars to combat the heroin crisis. Overdose deaths in Suffolk County are up more than 50% since 2010, leading officials to expand prevention, treatment and education programs.

Last week, both chambers of the State Legislature put forth budget proposals for the coming fiscal year that would increase spending on the heroin crisis by up to 40%. The Democratic-led Assembly is calling for the most dramatic increase, from $135 million in this year’s budget to $190 million for next year.  Of that, $15 million would go to underserved areas for expanded heroin treatment services.

The Republican-led Senate’s proposal calls for $167 million in funding, with initiatives including recovery coaches and the establishment of 17 additional recovery community centers, and $10 million toward transitional housing for recovering addicts.
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal sets aside $141 million on heroin epidemic, up $6 million from this year.

Newsday reports:
A Canadian ice company is facing a $67,000 fine over alleged safety violations at its Hicksville plant, a federal agency said Tuesday. 

Arctic Glacier U.S.A. lacked a “comprehensive and effective” program to prevent the release into the air of large amounts of hazardous chemicals used to make ice, such as anhydrous ammonia, the U.S. Labor Department said. 

The Long Island office of its Occupational Safety and Health Administration unit conducted an investigation that uncovered alleged violations between September 2015 and January. Without an adequate safety program, OSHA said the company risks an uncontrolled release of ammonia in the plant with “catastrophic and lethal consequences” for workers. 

The company couldn’t be reached for comment.  It has 15 business days after receiving the citation to comply or meet with OSHA to contest the findings.

Tuesday, March 15  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)

In the news tonight: Malloy’s transportation lockbox proposal gets committee approval; Connecticut legal loophole allows rapists to claim parental rights; New York sewage overflows are vastly underreported; and, Suffolk moves to ban single-use plastic bags countywide.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy’s proposal to lock up the state’s transportation fund made it out of the Transportation Committee on a 22-11 vote Monday. Several lawmakers said they want the language strengthened before it gets to the House and Senate for a vote. The Senate passed a similar version unanimously in December, but the measure didn’t get the super majority it needed in the House to get on the November ballot. The governor changed the language and proposed it again.

For years, lawmakers have raided the special transportation fund when the state’s general fund experiences a shortfall.  According to supporters, a constitutional amendment would help put an end to that practice. Opponents point out loopholes in the legislation that don’t identify the exact revenue streams that would be placed in the lockbox.

Senator Toni Boucher, a Wilton Republican who voted in favor of the resolution, said it would receive more support if all revenue sources that go into the fund are identified. Opponents worry that the state is using the lockbox to lure the public into a false sense of security before instituting tolls or some new revenue stream to help pay for transportation improvements.

Connecticut Post reports: 
Lawmakers and advocates on Monday rallied against a legal loophole that allows rapists who impregnate their victims to later sue for child custody and visitation rights.

Critics of the existing state law said rapists use it to threaten custody battles if victims of the estimated 4,000 annual rapes in Connecticut report the crimes. Advocates say that tactic might partly explain why the 626 rapes reported each year represent only about 16% of the projected total.

Ann Rodwell-Lawton, of the Women’s Center of Greater Danbury, said closing the loophole would give rape victims a chance to recover and push their assailants out of their lives. She said that with low conviction rates, some women impregnated against their will end up co-parenting with their assailants.

The proposed legislation would allow women impregnated by rape to terminate the parental right of their assailants using a “clear and convincing” standard of evidence in probate court, rather than the current requirement of a criminal conviction.

The Judiciary Committee has until March 30 to approve the bill.

New York News Connection reports: 
Crumbling infrastructure and rampant underreporting of sewage overflows are endangering public health in New York, according to a new report.

"Tapped Out," released by Environmental Advocates of New York, found huge discrepancies between estimated and reported volumes of raw sewage discharged into state waterways.  Report author Liz Moran said in New York City alone, an estimated 28 billion gallons of raw sewage is discharged into New York Harbor every year. However, she said on the database, the city reported just over half a million gallons over the course of two years.

The state passed the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act in 2012, but the law has yet to be fully implemented.

The public health consequences can be serious. Moran said raw sewage discharges can pollute water with a variety of pathogens, bacteria, heavy metals and nutrients. The report recommended finalizing the rules on reporting overflows, increasing staff at the Department of Environmental Conservation and making major investments in infrastructure. The report is online at

Suffolk County is considering a countywide ban on single-use “carryout” plastic bags provided at checkout by nearly all supermarkets, discount stores and other retailers. A public hearing on the bill, introduced by Legislator William Spencer of Centerport and co-sponsored by North Fork Legislator Al Krupski, is set for March 22 in Hauppauge.

Plastic bags without handles, such as the kind used to bag produce at supermarkets, and those provided by pharmacies for prescription drug purchases, are exempt from the ban.

Retailers could distribute plastic carryout bags thicker than 2.25 mils — considered reusable plastic bags — but would have to charge the consumer a fee of no less than 10 cents per bag. Retailers would retain that fee. According to the bill’s sponsor, retailers currently spend $4 billon per year to give out free single-use bags. 

Monday, March 14 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Scott Schere.)

In the news tonight: Clean Water Advocates Take Their Fight To Hartford; Connecticut unemployment rate is up; targeting a federal tax loophole in New York; and, returning school funds lost in the fiscal crisis.

Clean water advocates are supporting legislation that would eliminate the discount a regional water authority gave to a bottling company. The company, Niagara Bottling, plans to set up shop in Bloomfield. The legislation says that the Metropolitan District Commission, a regional water and sewer agency, can’t charge a bottling company less for water than it charges its residential customers.

At a legislative hearing on the issue Friday, Senator Beth Bye, a West Hartford Democrat, said residents from the Greater Hartford  area were completely left out of the process and didn’t have an opportunity to offer input before Bloomfield struck a deal with Niagara.

Scott Jellison, of the Commission, said the rate they’ve given Niagara is estimated to bring in $3.8 million a year and will reduce the rates for its other customers. He said the rate is not specifically for Niagara and is available to other customers who fit specific criteria.

The Connecticut Department of Labor reported Friday that despite a gain of 900 jobs, the state’s unemployment rate rose slightly in January, from 5.4% to 5.5%.

The department reduced its original job growth projections for 2015 by 14,700 jobs. That means Connecticut has recovered only 73%, or 86,700 of the jobs lost in the last recession.

Five of Connecticut’s 10 major job sectors added jobs in January: the leisure and hospitality sector grew by 2,000 jobs, and gains were recorded in financial activities, construction and manufacturing. But job losses were recorded in the education and health services sector, down 2,300 positions in January. Losses also were recorded in: government; business services; and the trade, transportation and utilities sectors.

The state's chief business lobby, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said the downgraded job growth should spur state officials to immediately begin to reduce the size of government.

The New York Times reports that two New York State Assemblymen have introduced a bill to close the carried interest loophole.  The loophole lets partners at private equity firms and hedge funds pay a greatly reduced federal tax rate on much of their income.

Congress has ignored repeated calls to close the loophole from President Obama and presidential candidates including Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Jeb Bush.  

New York’s proposal would get around congressional inaction by raising state income taxes on private equity and hedge fund partners who live in New York. The increase would be equal to the tax savings they receive from using the loophole at the federal level.  Partners at private-equity firms and hedge funds typically treat a big portion of the fees they charge their clients as a capital gain, so they can pay tax at the rate of 20% instead of the ordinary income rate of up to 39.6%.  

Advocates of the New York bill estimate that closing the loophole would raise $3.7 billion a year in New York, or $535 million in Connecticut.

New York Senate Republicans have called for a restoration of school funding cuts known as the Gap Elimination Adjustment, or GEA.  It’s money school districts say they are still owed since the state cut school funding during the financial crisis in 2009-10 and 2010-11.  The funding was never restored and Governor Cuomo has proposed repaying the $434 million in statewide GEA cuts over two years. 

On Long Island, the Half Hollow Hills school board is banking on a full restoration of state education funding to cover its proposed $242 million budget for 2016-17. 

Officials said the district proposal to increase spending by $3 million, or 1.26%, is feasible without busting the 0.18% tax cap or cutting education programs — as long as Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan of East Northport and his colleagues in the Senate deliver on their promises to restore funding. 

Friday, March 11 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Jim Young, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news:  Senate approves new bill that would help Connecticut tackle opioid abuse; State employee layoffs are imminent in Connecticut;
new New York rules against energy overcharges meet opposition; and, Long Island hospitals and clinics awarded over $112 million dollars in grants.

Senate approval of a bill to fight the nation’s opioid epidemic is still likely to leave states like Connecticut on the front lines of the crisis – and to leave them short of all the help they need to prevent the destroyed lives that result from the abuse of pain killers and heroin. But the strong bipartisan support for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015, known as CARA, is considered an important move to halt the growth in the United States of addiction to opioids – and the first step in what many hope is additional support from Washington.

Abuse of heroin and prescription opioids is rising in Connecticut as it has across the country. More than 47,000 overdose deaths occurred in the United States in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and overdose deaths now outnumber deaths from car accidents.

CARA, approved on a 94-1 vote, would authorize the expansion of a number of grant programs states like Connecticut could tap to prevent and treat opioid addiction, and prosecute those who sell heroin and prescription drugs on the black market.

In last Monday's memo to staff, Connecticut's Department of Correction Commissioner Scott Semple wrote: “It is with great unease that I confirm, despite ongoing cost saving efforts, the need for employee layoffs is imminent. Unfortunately, we cannot rely on an anticipated attrition rate to control the budget gap.”

Rudy Demiraj, president of AFSCME Local 387, said: “It’s a reality right now that we’re looking at.” He said it’s his understanding that in the Correction Department alone they are looking at about 600 layoffs.

Laying off possibly thousands wasn’t part of the dialogue at the Capitol until Governor Dannel P. Malloy unveiled his budget, which cut spending 5.75 % and called for “the reduction of the state workforce by more than a thousand employees.” Commissioner Semple also wrote: “The decision to reduce staff through layoffs is far and away the most difficult thing I have had to do as a Commissioner. Unfortunately, the current economic climate of the state is one of the most challenging that we have ever faced.”

The state is facing an estimated $1.2 billion deficit over the next 16 months. Budget analysts expect that to increase after April 15's tax deadline when the state collects about 40% of its revenue.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Public Service Commission have launched new consumer protection rules which guard against overcharges for energy use. In some cases customers are paying as much as $30 a month more than those who have remained with their utility. 

New rules announced February 23 prohibit energy service companies, or ESCO's, from charging more than the same supply unless 30% of the product was from renewable energy. 

Washington D.C.-based National Energy Marketers Association, or NEMA, represents energy service companies which sell gas and electric supply to utility customers. 
NEMA obtained a judge's temporary restraining order against these changes, and appealed to its membership to pool funding for a belabored fight ahead. Association members are being asked to pony up $10,000 each for the fund. 

The state wants the industry to put up a bond of nearly $100 million--to protect customers from overcharges.

Newsday reports:
Long Island hospitals and clinics were awarded over $112 million in grants, as part of a $1.5 billion initiative announced last Friday.  New York’s Delivery System Reform Incentive Program was launched to reduce avoidable hospital use statewide by 25% over five years, by fundamentally restructuring the health care delivery system and reinvesting in Medicaid.

In addition to the grants, public hospitals, also called safety-net hospitals, and community collaborators statewide, could receive almost $6.5 billion from the Program. But, to receive additional funding, organizations must reduce avoidable hospital use among Medicaid recipients over the next three years—by improving access and coordination of patient care, and making capital and infrastructure improvements.

Long Island hospitals will use the grants, in part, to strengthen and expand health information and electronic medical records technology. They will also fund repairs, pay down debt, and build new emergency and diagnostic facilities and doctors’ offices. 

Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, part of NuHealth; and Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, part of Northwell Health, each received over $24 million;  Catholic Health Services of Long Island received nearly $20 million
and Southampton Hospital received $10 million toward building an emergency room and doctors’ offices in East Hampton.

Thursday, March 10   (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Nadine Dumser.)

In the news tonight: a second Schaghticoke Tribal group wants federal recognition and talks gaming; a proposed Connecticut law would penalize large low wage employers; New York Republicans want middle class income tax cuts; and, Suffolk County Water Authority approves 4.2% rate increase. 

The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation of Kent has partnered with MGM casinos and hired the legal help of former Senator Joe Lieberman to try to stop the establishment of a casino in northeastern Connecticut.

A law passed last year would allow the Mashantuket Pequot and the Mohegan tribes to jointly own a casino to compete with an MGM casino being built in Springfield, Massachusetts.  Now a second Schaghticoke group, the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe, is preparing to make a bid for federal recognition, according to a tribal consultant.

The consultant, William Buchanan, said the tribe plans to file a petition for recognition in about 60 days. Recognition would open the door to federal aid and the right to open a casino on tribal land. If approved, recognition would also give the tribe a chance to revive land claims that include the sites of the Kent School and the Bull's Bridge hydroelectric plant. The tribe claims those lands were once part of its state-authorized reservation.

Last year, new recognition rules shut Connecticut's Eastern Pequots, Golden Hill Paugussetts, and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation from reapplying for federal acknowledgment, after previous rejections. Connecticut officials and representatives, including Governor Malloy and Senator Richard Blumenthal lobbied for the new rules.

A bill that would fine large employers who don’t pay their workers at least $15 an hour received a public hearing Tuesday in the Human Services Committee. It would phase in the fine for companies based on the number of employees who weren’t being paid $15 an hour. The fee would be from 10 cents an hour for companies with 500 employees up to $1 per hour for companies with 750 employees.

The legislation will help raise the necessary funds to offset the $486 million the state pays in Medicaid and other benefits to workers unable to live on low wages.

It’s estimated that about 80,000 individuals in Connecticut make the minimum wage, which is currently $9.60 an hour. But opponents of the bill warned lawmakers that if the state implements this law entry level jobs will disappear and companies will move out of the state.

The Albany Times-Union reports:  
State Senate Republicans want to cut middle class income taxes by 25% over the next decade. The proposal will be presented in the majority conference’s joint house budget on Monday.

The GOP’s plan would also increase the tax exemption for retirees' pensions and income -- which hasn't been increased since 1981. It would also expand tax breaks for farms and businesses that file under personal income taxes, as well as eliminate a utility surcharge. 

The GOP says the middle class cut will save $3.5 billion per year in taxes compared to what New Yorkers pay now.

Republican State Senate Majority leader John Flanagan of Long Island knocked a proposal by Assembly Democrats that would cut taxes for the middle class but raise them for the wealthiest New Yorkers. He believes that tax relief can be provided for all residents, regardless of income bracket.

Republicans said they would pay for their plan through limiting state spending and growth in the economy.

The Suffolk County Water Authority has approved a 4.2 % annual rate hike starting April 1, according to Newsday.

The five-member board voted unanimously for the rate increase, which will bring in about $5 million in revenue and increase the bill for a typical homeowner who uses 160,000 gallons annually by about $15 a year — going from $365 to $380. But several board members said the agency should continue working to devise a new rate structure promoting conservation among customers who are the heaviest water users.

The authority board also raised wholesale water rates 5%.

Authority officials say revenue is needed to deal with rising costs, and to replace the authority’s aging infrastructure, which includes 6,000 miles of water mains. The authority is looking to increase its spending on pipe replacement to about $14 million in the 2016 fiscal year.

Wednesday, March 9  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: new legislation could affect the way political parties operate in Connecticut; Governor Dannel Malloy asks party leaders for suggestions on spending cuts; Governor Andrew Cuomo touts Long Island Railroad third track plan; and Feds say Suffolk DA thwarted efforts to investigate Sheriff’s official.

On Monday, the head of Connecticut’s election enforcement agency warned lawmakers that a piece of legislation they are considering would change how political parties operate in Connecticut. The proposed changes come as the State Elections Enforcement Commission is waiting to find out if the court will allow them to move forward with enforcing a subpoena against the Connecticut Democratic Party in connection with spending in Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s 2014 re-election campaign.

Michael Brandi, head of the State Elections Enforcement Agency, said the language defining a party committee was adopted over 20 years ago, and has been working well since then. Brandi added that the language changed slightly three years ago, when the General Assembly changed the amount of money the parties could contribute to clean election candidates.

The legislation currently being considered would change the definition of a party committee. In addition, it would allow parties to create surrogate groups that would be considered “independent themselves…” If this change is adopted then parties and committees will be able to evade contribution limits. This means that a party could set up an independent group that could coordinate with the party committee and spend unlimited amounts of money on clean election candidates.

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy is under pressure to cut millions of dollars in spending from the state’s budget. He proposed layoffs that could affect thousands of state employees. Layoffs and other cuts would be enacted by June 30th, the end of the fiscal year. But with the fiscal year nearly over, Malloy said, the state is “limited in what we can cut.”

Malloy proposed the layoffs in February, as part of his plan to balance the state budget. On Tuesday, he asked Republican and Democratic leaders for help. He sent a letter to them, asking for ideas on how to make more than $200 million in immediate spending cuts, and asking them to respond by Monday, March 14.

The pressure is on because Malloy is under fire, for delaying $141 million in supplemental payments to hospitals. Some fear the delay could be indefinite. House Speaker Brendan Sharkey (D-Hamden), said: “Withholding them is unacceptable.” 

Malloy wrote: “The delay [in paying hospitals] enables us to have a more holistic discussion about how we should collectively react to revenue shortfalls that occurred after our fall meetings.” More information on the layoffs is expected to be announced relatively soon. 

Newsday reports:
Governor Andrew Cuomo says building a third track on the Long Island Rail Road’s Main Line will not require taking any residential properties, as previously announced. But Cuomo said the project could still require building on some existing commercial properties, according to Newsday.

Cuomo made the remarks during a Tuesday meeting of the Long Island Association in Melville to launch a new coalition in support of the $1 billion proposal to construct a third track along a 9.8-mile stretch between Floral Park and Hicksville. 

Supporters of the project say it will improve LIRR service by providing extra track capacity, allowing the railroad to run additional trains making it easier for people to travel to and from jobs on Long Island. 

But Floral Park Mayor Thomas Tweedy said he’s concerned that the project will encounter cost overruns, delays and other complications. He said other, less intrusive projects could address the LIRR’s challenges, including upgrading problematic track switches and installing high-speed signals that would make service more reliable.

Newsday reports:
Federal prosecutors say Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota repeatedly thwarted efforts to investigate the questionable actions of Edward Walsh, the recently retired lieutenant in the Suffolk sheriff’s office who is the Suffolk County Conservative Party leader.

Walsh is charged with theft of government funds and wire fraud for collecting more than $80,000 in pay and overtime pay by allegedly claiming that he was working for the sheriff’s department, while working on party political activities or relaxing at home.

Walsh has denied the federal charges and asserted both that his job for the sheriff had flexible hours and entailed his acting as a liaison with community and political figures and allowed him to make up for time he put in at a later date. Walsh’s attorney, William Wexler, says the charges against his client are politically motivated because Sheriff DeMarco was denied the Conservative Party nomination to run for Congress.

The trial will begin with jury selection next week in Federal Court in Central Islip.

Tuesday, March 8  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut lawmakers debate using student test scores in teacher evaluations; Connecticut ranks second in identity theft complaints; Southampton proposes law to regulate Uber cars; and, New York Senate Democrats lay out budget priorities.

Connecticut teachers urged lawmakers Monday to erase standardized test scores from teacher evaluations.  New Haven Federation of Teachers president David Cicarella said test data from the state’s Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test should not be used to weigh the skills of educators. The Connecticut Education Association and its allies are pressing for a measure that would decouple the test scores from rating teachers.

Windham High School teacher Kathleen Koljian decried the “over-reliance on testing” that ignores the many factors beyond a teacher’s control. She told legislators: “Many teachers in urban districts feel disenfranchised and disadvantaged by the linking of test score to our professional status.”

The Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, however, urged legislators to not consider the idea at least until a state advisory council completes its work toward a new evaluation system.  Connecticut Association of Schools executive director Karissa Niehoff told legislators that until all the information is available, “do not take away the opportunity” to rely in part on test scores.

Connecticut Post reports: 
The state now ranks second in identity theft complaints, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network report. 

Connecticut registered 225 complaints per 100,000 residents in 2015, compared to 84.4 complaints per 100,000 people in 2014. The complaints only included instances of identity theft and not fraud or other forms of consumer complaints. This jump is reflective of a national trend. The FTC registered approximately 490,220 identity theft complaints in 2015, up from 332,647 in 2014.

National Consumers League Executive Director Sally Greenberg said, "Nearly half a million complaints sends a clear message: more needs to be done to protect consumers from identity fraud.” The report noted that 37 percent of identity theft victims had contacted law enforcement. Of those victims, 89 percent said an official report was taken.

Newsday reports:
A Southampton town councilman is calling for Uber—and all limousine and livery companies doing business in town—to comply with local taxi laws.

Councilman Stan Glinka said that because Uber drivers work for a company with no business site in Southampton, drivers are considered working for an unlicensed operation.  Uber pulled out of East Hampton last year when the town required drivers to have a local business address. 

Glinka said the new measure was planned before last month’s alleged shooting spree by an Uber driver in Kalamazoo, Michigan. But, he said, the shooting underscores the need for companies and drivers to be vetted and regulated.

Southampton’s existing town code applies to taxis that solicit fares. Local law does not regulate prearranged trip services offered by Uber and limousine and livery services. Uber spokeswoman Alix Anfang called the measure “an attempt to protect local taxi interests.”

Glinka will propose the law at a public hearing today with a vote expected on March 22.

Albany Times-Union reports: 
State Senate Democrats are pushing for a state budget that roughly doubles what Governor Cuomo pledges to spend on education next year and enacts stalled ethics reforms.

The Minority Democrats sent a letter today to Cuomo, Senate Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie [HAY-stee] detailing their priorities. Those include a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave, signature items on Cuomo's 2016 agenda, as well as approval of legislation that raises the age of criminal responsibility, the long-stalled DREAM Act, and ethics and campaign finance reforms.

Democrats also proposed a $2 billion increase in aid to schools, which is roughly the amount Cuomo has proposed over the next two budgets.  Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins is again advocating for a seat at the negotiating table. Traditionally, minority conference leaders are not part of budget talks.

She said: "Our members represent eight million people...The more voices of clarity and the more diverse voices when it comes to this kind of a situation with a budget that is this large is critical."

Monday March 7  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Scott Schere.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut health centers funding suspended; MGM Resorts says new Connecticut casino belongs in Fairfield County; the politics of Bridgeport job cuts; and, a family on trial for dumping waste, want Suffolk D.A.'s office investigated.

Connecticut’s hospitals weren’t the only organizations to receive news last week that the state was cutting their funding.  The state’s federally qualified health centers also were told by Budget Director Ben Barnes that their funding was being suspended until the state has “identified the steps needed to address this fiscal year’s budget deficit.” 

A spokesman for Malloy’s office said the centers receive a higher Medicaid reimbursement rate than other healthcare providers. There are 14 centers that were scheduled to receive $3.9 million. Approx-imately 63% of that would come from the federal government. The state’s savings, if it doesn’t release the money, is only $1.5 million.

Dr. Suzanne Lagarde, CEO of the Fair Haven Community Health Center in New Haven, said the cut amounts to 4% of her budget for the year. The money helped cover the cost of the uninsured patients her center sees on an annual basis. The Fair Haven center served 16,000 unique individuals in 2015 and 27% of them were uninsured.

MGM Resorts International is touting the southwest Connecticut area as a likely location for the state’s first commercial casino, according to a report at MGM has broken ground for a resort-style casino in Springfield, Massachusetts.

That has spurred State Sen. Bob Duff and others to get approval for a joint effort between the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes – owners of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, respectively – to build another gambling facility north of Hartford.  
The state last year provided exclusive rights to develop a casino to a new entity formed by the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, which currently operate casinos on tribal lands.  But MGM says a Fairfield county facility would produce more income for the state and provide more jobs than the tribal-owned casino. 

Andrew Doba of Stu Loesser & Co., representing the tribal group, says: “It should surprise exactly no one that an MGM funded study finds that the best place to put a new casino is as far away as possible from MGM in Springfield.”

The Connecticut Post reports:
There was a wholesale layoff of Bridgeport City supervisory employees on Friday as newly re-elected Mayor Joe Ganim began a promised cost-cutting program.  Among the first to go were appointees made by his predecessor Bill Finch.

Ganim has claimed he inherited a $20 million budget deficit from Finch.  Av Harris, Ganim’s communications director said: “We are going through a restructuring, and there are some jobs that are going to be eliminated.  At least 20. There may be more than that.” 

As of late last month, Ganim had eliminated 56 employees in the name of cost savings and restructuring.

Lawyers representing members of the Datre family, on trial facing illegal dumping charges, have requested an “office-wide inquiry” into the Suffolk County district attorney’s office. 

As reported by Newsday, the inquiry would be focused on Christopher McPartland, the district attorney’s public corruption prosecutor, who is currently under federal investigation for corruption. Datre Jr. and his father, Thomas Datre Sr., are among six who were indicted in December 2014 on charges related to the dumping of dirt and debris laced with toxins at four sites.

The sites are Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood; a housing complex built for war veterans in Islandia, and a sensitive wetland in Deer Park in Babylon Town. The Datres’ attorneys have long said they were victims of selective prosecution by the district attorney’s office.

Friday, March 4 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Jim Young, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news:  Connecticut lawmakers hear testimony regarding a new gun bill; Governor Dannel Malloy suspends $141 million in payments promised to state hospitals; Brookhaven scientists mentor youth for the second anniversary of My Brother’s Keeper; and, contamination of a West Islip creek causes concern.

The Connecticut legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee heard testimony Thursday, on a bill that would let law enforcement ask a person to see their permit to carry a firearm, regardless of whether the person was suspected of criminal activity. 

Senator Ed Gomes of Bridgeport said that he worries that the bill could lead to racial profiling and police would use it to stop individuals who may or may not have a gun.  Po Murray, chairwoman of the Newtown Action Alliance, asked: “Why have a permitting process if we’re not going to ask owners to produce it?” Connecticut Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane said the legislation strikes the right balance between protecting the public while considering the rights of the individual carrying the gun.

The National Rifle Association and the Connecticut Citizens’ Defense League believe asking a gun owner to see their permit would be a violation of their 2nd Amendment rights.

The committee has until March 15 to forward the legislation to the House or Senate.

After only paying a portion of what it promised to Connecticut hospitals, Governor Malloy’s administration told them Wednesday it was suspending the rest of the payments due to the state’s declining revenue and an expected $1.2 billion deficit over the next 18 months. 

Malloy’s Budget Director Ben Barnes wrote to hospitals Wednesday saying the state doesn’t intend to pay the inpatient supplemental pool or the small hospital pool of money until it deals with the budget deficit. 

Hospitals were asked as part of the budget to pay $556 million in taxes and they were expected to get $256 million back. Thursday’s news means that the state is cutting their reimbursement by about $141 million.  Jennifer Jackson, CEO of the Connecticut Hospital Association, said these actions “are breaking the healthcare system and increasing costs for patients.” She said more than 3,000 hospital jobs have been lost since 2013. 

Republican legislative leaders also criticized the move.  Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano of North Haven said withholding this money from hospitals could impact access.  Fasano added that: “This ill-advised decision is skirting a core responsibility of government to care for those most in need.”

Newsday reports:
On Wednesday, in collaboration with The College at Old Westbury, Brookhaven National Laboratory commemorated the second anniversary of President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative.  My Brother’s Keeper aims to connect students in disadvantaged areas with science-related mentoring and support networks. 

One hundred sixty-five students from across Long Island and New York City were invited to Brookhaven in Upton, New York. Most were Black or Hispanic.  Students toured laboratories, participated in scientific demonstrations, and had lunch with scientists and engineers at Brookhaven. The event encouraged students to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Steven A. Coleman, a 50-year old engineer who left college, was encouraged by his mentors in the U.S. Navy to pursue natural sciences.  He was hired at Brookhaven in 1991, and later earned a Ph.D. at Stony Brook University. He now manages the radiological control division at Brookhaven. Coleman regularly mentors students interested in science careers. He said: “Even if you fail the first time, you can pick yourself up. There can still be opportunities.”

Jourvonn Skeen, 19, said at the event: “It really pushes you in the right direction, especially coming from an area where you don’t see too many African-Americans in the sciences.” 

Newsday reports:
Concern about a new discovery of carcinogenic sediment found in West Islip has prompted plans for a public forum later this month. The state Department of Environmental Conservation wishes to inform the public of their plans to respond to the findings.

The area in question in a superfund site of the former Dzus Fasteners on Union Blvd. Monitors there have detected a new area of contamination which may be a byproduct of the damaging effects of superstorm Sandy. Dzus began operations in 1937 and later became DFCI Solutions in 2001. The factory site area eventually showed signs of heavy metals and organic compounds in soil and groundwater. 

In the 1990's, there were thousands of cubic yards of soil and sediment removed from the leach fields, including Lake Capri and its source, Willets Creek.

Last week the DEC reclassified the site from "closed" to one that represents "a significant threat to public health", due to the high levels of cadmium found in the Willets Creek floodplain.  Senator Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), criticized the DEC, by saying: "I imagine there are going to be many West Islip residents concerned about this.”

The meeting date and location are said to be forthcoming.

Thursday, March 3 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Nadine Dumser and Neil Tolhurst.)

In the news tonight: Governor Malloy opposes UConn raises; Connecticut mothers lobby for medical marijuana for children with seizures; Long Islanders who opted out of Common Core tests meet to strategize; and heroin antidote will be available at New York pharmacies without a prescription.

Governor Malloy urged the Legislature Wednesday to reject a labor contract granting raises and an increase in hours to 1,900 non-teaching staff at the University of Connecticut.  Malloy said the contract is unaffordable and would set a precedent that would necessitate the elimination of even more jobs. He urged UConn and their Professional Employees Union to return to the bargaining table.

UConn estimated that the contract would cost $56 million over five years but the governor’s budget director and the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis pegged the cost at $94 million.

As a result of that discrepancy, the Senate legislative leadership joined Malloy in rejecting the contract.  They say approval will lead to “massive layoffs and painful tuition increases, forcing talented Connecticut students out of state.”

Connecticut mothers with children suffering from seizures told the legislature’s Public Health Committee to approve medical marijuana use by children under 18 years old.

Susan Meehan's daughter had daily seizures until they discovered cannabis oil and moved to Maine to legally obtain it.  Meehan said: “Cannabis is not toxic, I can’t say the same thing about the 23 drugs my daughter was on before discovering THC-A oil. Now that she’s off all of those medications her health has improved."

Another mother, Linda Lloyd, broke into tears when talking about the fear her son's next seizure may be “the one that won’t stop.”  The only treatment she hasn’t been able to give her son is medical marijuana.  

A Connecticut bill would give minors with severe epilepsy and terminal illnesses access to non-smokeable marijuana, but only with parental consent and the approval of two doctors. It is backed by Senator Terry Gerratana, who co-chairs the committee, Dr. William Zempsky, of the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, and others.

At a meeting in Coram on Wednesday, critics of New York’s Common Core tests discussed ways to free pupils and teachers from the a system they still view as draconian despite concessions already won. 120 people attended the meeting, one of several scheduled on Long Island, according to Newsday.

Jeanette Deutermann of North Bellmore, a parent and former teacher who founded Long Island Opt Out, a grass-roots network, dismissed the modifications made by the state as “tweaks.”  The changes included fewer questions, unlimited time to take the exams and a moratorium on a link to teacher evaluations. 

Last spring, more than 60,000 Long Island students in third through eighth grades joined about 140,000 other pupils around the state to opt out of the exams in the biggest such U.S. boycott. Deutermann said: “When we see real changes in the classroom, then we will opt back in.”  

The boycotts could cost Long Island’s public schools more than $200 million in federal and state financial aid if Washington imposes penalties for low student test-participation rates. But Deutermann said the federal government would have to take action to do so, a prospect Hynes said was unlikely in an election year.

The Albany Times-Union reports: 
Independent pharmacies throughout New York will be able to provide a heroin antidote to customers without a prescription. Improved access to the antidote naloxone, known by the brand Narcan, is a priority of the state’s fight to end opioid abuse, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office.

An arrangement with the Harm Reduction Coalition will allow the nonprofit to issue standing medical orders to 750 independent pharmacies outside New York City, as well as chain pharmacies, allowing pharmacists to dispense the antidote without a prescription. The state Health Department provides funding to the Coalition, and its program serving substance users.

When administered through injection or by nasal spray, naloxone temporarily blocks the effects of opioids, allowing a stricken individual to regain consciousness. Potentially life-threatening opioids include pain medicines as well as heroin.

Wednesday, March 2  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Mike Merli.)

In the news tonight:  Connecticut towns lobby for promised state aid; car dealers oppose Tesla sales in Connecticut; pipe line construction at Indian Point Nuclear plant opposed; and, environmentalist urge feds to stop putting dredged waste into Long Island Sound.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities used their annual lobbying day in Hartford Tuesday to urge legislators to spare them from new mandates and to postpone and reform a new municipal spending cap.

In light of surging state budget deficits, Connecticut municipal leaders are skeptical that their communities will receive the hundreds of millions of dollars in state sales tax receipts owed them over the next three years.

The legislature and Governor Dannel Malloy agreed last June to commit about $220 million in sales tax receipts to cities and towns in 2016-17, around $290 million in 2017-18, and about $350 million in 2018-19. 

The Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association is going on the offensive against the latest legislative effort to allow Tesla Motors to sell their vehicles directly to consumers. 

The legislation car dealers oppose would allow an electric car company like Tesla to open three retail locations in the state.  A similar bill cleared the House of Representatives last year, but stalled in the Senate.

In anticipation of today’s public hearing on the bill, the car retailers and representatives from car manufacturers stood on the north steps of the state Capitol on Tuesday. James Fleming, president of the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association, said the franchise system works, it’s competitive, and it understands the local market.  He said Tesla has yet to make a profit.  Tesla Motors told investors in February that it expects to be profitable in 2016, as sales pick up steam.

Jim Chen, vice president of regulatory affairs and deputy counsel for Tesla, said their business model is straightforward: “We provide consumers with an opportunity to learn about the benefits of electric drive without high pressure sales tactics. We have no independent franchised dealers anywhere in the world, including none in the U.S.”

The New York Times reports: 
The planned expansion of a natural gas pipeline across the Indian Point nuclear power plant’s property is meeting with opposition. The plant, owned by Entergy, is on the Hudson River about 45 miles north of Midtown Manhattan. Elected officials, residents and environmental activists have criticized the project, saying that a rupture of the pipeline could unleash a nuclear catastrophe. 

Federal regulators have already approved the pipeline construction through New York and New England. Work has begun at the Indian Point site, where the existing 26-inch wide pipeline will be replaced with a deeper 42 inches wide pipeline crossing the plant’s property, about 1,200 feet from the Unit 3 reactor.

On Monday, the state plans to notify the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that it will take a hard look at the project in light of a series of problems at the nuclear plant since last May. These include a leak of radioactive material into the ground water.  The state will ask federal regulators to suspend their approval of the pipeline — effectively halting construction — until a study is completed.

A Nuclear Regulatory Commission expert confirmed that both units could safely shut down, even if the pipeline were to rupture and a blast of flame were to come from that line. 

Environmental activists from New York City and Westchester County have gathered 30,000 signatures on a petition demanding that Governor Cuomo stop the project and study the risks.  Mr. Cuomo has demanded that federal regulators not relicense Indian Point, whose licenses expired in 2013 and 2015. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering their renewal. 

As reported by Newsday: 
Residents, environmentalists and officials have condemned a federal dredging plan that calls for the continued dumping of millions of cubic yards of sand and sediment into Long Island Sound over the next three decades.  Harbors and ports need to be dredged to allow passenger liners and cargo ships to pass safely. Since the 1980s, dredged spoils have been dumped at four sites in the Sound.

At a hearing held Tuesday at the Port Jefferson library by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, about two dozen people urged federal officials to stop putting dredged waste into the open water.  Critics said the dredged waste — which can contain mercury, lead and pesticides — is bad for marine life.  But EPA officials said that before dredged waste is dumped into Long Island Sound, it is tested to make sure it isn’t toxic. Toxic waste is taken to landfills.

The Army Corps of Engineers says alternatives to dumping, such as using dredged material to restore wetlands and cap landfills, are too expensive.

The public has until March 25 to submit comments to the EPA, which will consider them, then establish rules for the final adoption of the plan on May 10. 

Tuesday, March 1  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)

In the news tonight: NRA fights proposed change to Connecticut’s open-carry laws; Connecticut pediatric group backs proposal allowing medical marijuana for minors with certain serious conditions; undocumented immigrants in New York can get professional licenses, sparking blowback; and, Riverhead finalizes its contract with Cablevision.

The National Rifle Association is fighting a proposed change to Connecticut’s gun laws that would make it easier for law enforcement officials to ask to see the permits of those carrying guns in public. Representative Stephen Dargan, a West Haven Democrat, authored the bill and said he wanted to modify Connecticut’s open-carry law after police officers in his district and in Bridgeport encountered resistance from individuals when they were asked to show their permits.

Current law requires those carrying weapons in public must also carry their gun permits, and allows law enforcement to ask to see those permits if there is “reasonable suspicion” of criminal conduct. Under the new bill, that phrase would be eliminated. The bill would also allow officers to ask for permits of those they suspect of carrying a weapon. 

NRA spokesman Catherine Mortensen said that would infringe on the right to carry a concealed weapon in the state.  Dargan said he wrote his bill to be “as broad as possible right now,” but is open to compromise. 

A hearing is scheduled for Thursday. 

A proposal to allow minors with certain medical conditions to use marijuana for palliative purposes now has the backing of onetime opponents: pediatricians.

The Connecticut Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics fought to stop a similar measure last year, but now plans to advocate for this year’s scaled-back proposal, which would allow access to non-smokable forms of marijuana to minors with one of six debilitating or terminal conditions. The bill, developed by the state Department of Consumer Protection after discussions with the pediatricians’ group, faces opposition from those who say more research is needed.

Connecticut is one of 23 states – in addition to Washington, D.C., and Guam – that allow for "comprehensive" medical marijuana programs, but the only one of those that does not allow access for minors, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.  Minors would need permission from a parent, their primary care provider and a physician who specializes in the patient’s condition.

The legislature's Public Health Committee will hold a hearing on the bill Wednesday.

Albany Times-Union reports: 
The New York State Board of Regents voted to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain teacher certifications and professional licenses, prompting some blowback among Republican lawmakers. The board’s move appears to be aimed at so-called “Dreamers,” who were brought to the U.S. as children by undocumented parents and have remained. 

And GOP lawmakers are protesting: Long Island Assemblyman Dean Murray contended that it was potentially edging out citizens who are seeking highly prized teaching jobs.  Hudson Valley’s Steve Katz noted that New York often requires people like military spouses to retake courses for licensure in some fields, which potentially puts them at a disadvantage to Dreamers who have grown up in the state.  He said: “It is unconscionable for this state to allow individuals who illegally came to this country to be in classrooms teaching our children.”

A new franchise agreement negotiated between Riverhead and Cablevision includes public Wi-Fi on the downtown riverfront, online uploads of town board meetings and continued senior discounts on Cablevision services and installations. The 10-year agreement would give Cablevision exclusive rights to install and maintain new and existing utility poles and equipment on town property and along town roads.

A key factor to negotiations was the continuation of the town’s 15-percent discount for senior residents. The discount applies to both Cablevision’s services and equipment installations and upgrades. Riverhead had been without a contract for three years because town officials wanted to extend the discount.

The agreement also includes a $100,000 grant for Riverhead to use on public access channel costs and technology and equipment upgrades.  Under the agreement, recordings of town board meetings would be streamed online for the first time. Meeting recordings currently are only shown on the town’s public access channel.

A public hearing on the agreement is scheduled for April 5 at the town hall.