Tuesday, May 31, 2016

June 2016

Thursday June 30, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Nadine Dumser.)

In the news tonight: Yale Students set up Connecticut's first community bail fund; deaf Community Rallies to Decry Interpreter Layoffs; the North Shore Helicopter Route set to expire August 6; and, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security releases a report on the alternatives to selling Plum Island to the highest bidder.

Yale students who are setting up Connecticut's first community bail fund met with New Haven residents ​last week to discuss the project. ​

WPKN's Melinda Tuhus reports:   

The students and community members agreed that the current system punishes the poor by keeping them jailed for lack of ability to pay what is often a fairly small bail. That often leads to loss of jobs, housing and custody of children, and to worse outcomes in the criminal justice system than for those who get out on bail before going to court.

Thomas Ullmann, public defender for the New Haven judicial district, attended the meeting and applauded the idea. “Here in CT we have a procedure to get a ten percent cash bond, which would require a lot less money, and then they'd get the money back once the case is disposed of and the person appears in court. Most people appear in court.”

Community activist Barbara Fair said Ullmann's statement that a defendant could pay a recoverable 10% cash bail to a judge, rather than forfeit it to a bail bondsperson, was good news since it means the same dollars could help many more people. She said such a fund is necessary, but added: “For me the bigger work we have to do, besides this bail fund, is to advocate somehow to change policing, where you're arresting people for all these minor crimes, when you can just give them a summons to come to court. So why are we locking everybody up in the first place?”

The Connecticut chapter of the ACLU reports that more than 500 people are being held pre-trial in Connecticut jails with bails of less than $20,000  or 10% of that in cash bail. 

The students have already raised $32,000 and plan to raise more. They are holding more community meetings to get residents' input and hope to launch the fund later this year.​ ​Student organizer Patrick Sullivan said the need is urgent since Gov. Dannel Malloy's proposed legislation to reduce or eliminate cash bail for certain crimes did not pass in the General Assembly this year.

The deaf community wanted to make sure their voices were heard Wednesday when they rallied outside a state office building in Hartford in support of 35 state interpreters who were laid off this week. The 35 interpreters and five clerical workers from the Department of Rehabilitation Services were the latest casualties of the state budget.

The Department of Rehabilitation Services informed the entire group of state employees Tuesday that they were being laid off. It means there's no more public interpretation services available to the deaf and hard of hearing community.

Morag MacDonald is an APRN who relies on interpreter services to do her job and communicate with people who can hear. "I was furious," MacDonald said. "I rely on these services every day." During Wednesday's rally, MacDonald said she has had to hire uncertified interpreters from private providers who have failed to provide the same quality as the state interpreters.

In a medical setting it's important to be able to communicate and that's why she called the U.S. Department of Justice, who referred her to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Governor Dannel P. Malloy's administration tried to downplay the elimination of the services. They said the services the clients receive won't change, they will just be funneled through another agency.

The North Shore Helicopter Route, which requires helicopters flying between New York City and Orient Point to fly one mile offshore at a minimum altitude of 2,500 feet, is set to expire August 6. The route was adopted as a provisional rule, expiring in August 2014 but was extended for another two years. What had been a voluntary over-water North Shore route was made mandatory in 2012.

The rule "permits [helicopter] pilots to deviate from the route and altitude requirements when necessary for safety, weather conditions, or transitioning to or from a destination or point of landing." It was aimed at maximizing use of the route and improving upon decreased noise levels. But complaints about the constant drone of helicopter noise continued unabated. 

North Fork residents and officials are pressing for a mandatory route that keeps pilots over water to a point east of Plum Island, then southwest over Gardiners Bay to their South Fork destination. So far, the Federal Aviation Administration has not been responsive to that request, leaving officials and residents in the dark about whether there will be another extension or the route will be made permanent.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Monday released a report on the alternatives to selling Plum Island to the highest bidder. The 42-page report examines three future options for the island, one of which is the same old option: continuing with the plan for a competitive sale of the island.

The public sale was mandated by the 2008 federal law ordering the closure of the animal disease laboratory there, which will be replaced by a new lab being built in Manhattan, Kansas. The other two possibilities examined are the "retention and reuse of the property" by the Department of Homeland Security and the Property Act Disposition Authority, which gives the federal General Services Administration authority to convey property to other federal agencies or groups that would operate it for public benefit.

The report ends by concluding that the current course being considered, a competitive public sale, "likely would generate the most revenue compared to other alternatives analyzed for the final disposition of the property."

In reaction to this report, Congressman Lee Zeldin said it "makes it clear that selling Plum Island to the highest bidder is the wrong answer for the economy, environment and local community. The DHS report that was just released lists some potential alternatives for the island, but reinforces the need for the Senate to act now to pass my bill to stop the sale of Plum Island." His bill would direct the General Accounting Office to perform a detailed study of the future options for Plum Island if the coalition of agencies and citizen groups working to preserve the island aren't happy with the DHS report. Mr. Zeldin's bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives in May and he said at the time that he expects Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal to take it up in the Senate.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers)

In the news tonight: mixed messages sent over Connecticut's exploration of a mileage tax; New York's First Congressional District Democratic primary ends in virtual dead heat; and New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli looks for BDS links in State pension investments

Connecticut Republican lawmakers were surprised to learn that as a member of the I-95 Corridor Coalition, Connecticut has applied for a federal grant to launch a pilot program for a mileage tax. "If you thought the idea of tolls was unpopular, just wait until you try to tax Connecticut residents for every single mile they drive," Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, said.

The federal grant, which the group applied for last month, would allow Delaware, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Hampshire to recruit 50 volunteers from each of the states to act as test cases. The volunteers would then receive fake invoices for the miles they drove. Judd Everhart, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation, said the agency did apply for the federal grant. However, "we have no intention of moving forward with a mileage-based user fee program."

He said the Department of Transportation has an obligation to understand driver behavior, and applying for a federal grant to study an idea's feasibility is what the department does. "What we are doing, in conjunction with neighboring states, is seeking federal grants so we can be a better department, further understand motorist behavior, and be more efficient and effective in reducing congestion and traffic. That's it," Everhart said.

The idea of a mileage tax was proposed and then quickly panned last summer during a meeting of the Governor's Transportation Finance Panel. But the idea reappeared in January in the Transportation Finance Panel's final report, which included proposals to help pay for Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's $100 billion transportation plan.

The report directs the Department of Transportation to look at designing a volunteer pilot program that potentially could replace the state fuel tax with a "manageable" mileage tax system. Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven said: "Last year Democrat lawmakers promised this idea was not going anywhere. Now almost a year later and it's back on the table." He said the governor's transportation plan is "not realistic" and the mileage tax is not a viable solution to Connecticut's problems.

New York's First Congressional District Democratic primary between David Calone and Anna Throne-Holst for the right to take on Republican Lee Zeldin in the November election has ended in a virtual dead heat.

Unofficial results reported by the Suffolk County Board of Elections Tuesday night show a quarter-point spread between Calone and Throne-Holst in the Democratic primary balloting, making the contest too close to call. Throne-Holst had 5,446 votes to Calone's 5,417 with all 473 election districts reporting, according to the unofficial results posted on the Suffolk Board of Elections website.

However, according to the Board of Elections, 1,665 absentee ballots were mailed out to First Congressional District Democratic voters. How many of those will be returned is still unknown.

Absentee ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday to count in the tally. However, they won't likely be counted for at least a week to 10 days, when a re-canvass of the scanned ballots is undertaken.

Voter turnout in yesterday's primary was less than 8% of the 145,983 registered Democrats in the First Congressional District, according to data published by the N.Y. State Board of Elections.

The Albany Times Union Reports:
New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli has announced that he has directed the New York State Common Retirement Fund to review its portfolio for any companies involved in the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. He said he will take "appropriate steps" if he finds it.

BDS, or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel is a movement in which activists aim to put economic pressure on Israel over that nation's approach toward the Palestinians.

DiNapoli's move comes after Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order instructing state agencies to stop doing business with firms that are involved in BDS activities. And while that is largely a political move, DiNapoli's office maintains they are looking to protect the investments they have in Israeli companies that could be hurt by the BDS movement. DiNapoli, though, has offered support for Cuomo's approach as well.

The New York State Common Retirement Fund has invested approximately $532 million in Israel-based opportunities and has been considering an appropriate response to the BDS movement since DiNapoli's visit to Israel in November 2015.

Tuesday June 28, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN Volunteers Chris Cadra, Melinda Tuhus, and Trace Alford.)

In the news tonight: protesters demonstrate in Hartford over Supreme Court Immigration ruling; minorities underrepresented within the Connecticut State Police; New York U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer calls for increased airplane safety inspections; and, Nassau County Democratic Chairman challenges East Hampton housing ordinance.

Protesters took over a major intersection in Hartford at rush hour Monday to demonstrate their outrage at last week's Supreme Court tie vote that sent one of President Obama's signature immigration programs back to a lower court. That court had already ruled that he overstepped his authority  in creating DAPA, a program that would allow five million undocumented parents of children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents to stay in the country.
WPKN's Melina Tuhus reports.

(chanted) “Down, down with deportation! Up, up with liberation!” 
Two hundred people picketed in front of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement office on Main Street, and several people who were going to risk arrest spoke to the crowd. One was Lucas Codognolla, an undocumented college graduate who lives in Stamford. He said he came to the U.S. from Brazil with his family when he was nine, fleeing poverty and violence. 

“I am sick and tired of living in constant fear that my family will be separated. I'm sick and tired of hearing stories of this building right here and the people in this building  separating families, deporting people -- to their death, sometimes. I'm sick and tired of that.”

Mark Colville runs a house of hospitality for the poor in New Haven. Many of the people who come for food or clothing are undocumented: “I'm here with a sense of outrage at, well, most recently this court decision which once again criminalizes our brothers and sisters, many of whom live in our own communities, and who belong here -- they are part of the fabric of our community -- and to place them under perpetual threat, like this decision does, of deportation, is disgusting.”

Both men were in a group of 30 people who took over Main Street holding a huge banner that read: "No DAPA?  No Deportations." After blocking the street for a half hour, nine of them refused police orders to move and were arrested. They were charged with creating a public disturbance (an infraction) and released on a promise to appear in court this Wednesday, June 29.

State police don’t mirror CT when it comes to Blacks and Hispanics. Nearly 30 years ago Connecticut’s state police signed a legally binding agreement to boost the number of Black and Hispanic troopers to 10% of the force so it would mirror the proportion of minorities in Connecticut's population. The state police met that goal decades ago, but there hasn't been much change since, though minorities now represent about a quarter of the state's population.

As of mid-February, 5% of the 1,124 state police sworn personnel were Black and 5% were Hispanic. There were 57 Blacks and 57 Hispanics on the force. According to the latest U.S. Census figures, 11.5% of Connecticut’s population is Black and 15% is Hispanic.

Fred Abrams, the president of the CT chapter of a non-profit group of law enforcement officers, said the state police have failed to hire more minority officers because of unwillingness to change and a lack of oversight. In the 1987 settlement, the state police did not admit discrimination but signed a consent order that said: “In order to remedy any prior exclusion of minorities in hiring for sworn positions within the Connecticut State Police,” the force would increase the hiring of minorities so that at least 10% of officers were minorities. In addition, a federal judge in 1984 ordered the state police to increase the number of minority officers in special units, such as detective squads and major crimes units.

Colonel Alaric J. Fox, the commander of the Connecticut State Police, declined requests for an interview.

Like the state police, many municipal police departments in Connecticut are also lagging in the hiring of minority officers.

New York U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer wants federal regulators to increase safety and spot inspections at New York airports. This comes after a series of small airplane accidents on Long Island. 

According to the senator, there were just over 2,800 airport inspections in 2006, but just under 750 inspections in 2015. Spot inspections are conducted by the Federal Aviation Agency just before takeoff or after landing and involve a quick inspection of the plane and the paperwork of the pilot.  

A twin-engine plane was badly damaged on June 20 when it crash-landed at Republic Airport. The pilot said the plane’s landing gear and a key part of the warning system failed. It was the eighth plane crash or other aircraft accident on Long Island this year.

Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs said officials in East Hampton Town should not be allowed to determine how many people occupy a house. He is challenging the concept of “family” in a case of alleged overcrowding involving counselors at a day camp. 
Mr. Jacobs is a main shareholder and managing partner in the Hampton Country Day Camp, which owns the house where counselors live for free. East Hampton ordinance enforcement officers said they found 61 code violations during an August 5 inspection.

Town officials are seeking a restraining order to prevent the single-family dwelling from being used as a dormitory for camp counselors. Mr. Jacobs said that because he owns the house and the counselors live there for free, only he should be able to determine how many people live there. He finds the local law unconstitutional.

The defense will argue the meaning of “family” to show there should be no limit placed on how many people can live in the house.
Monday, June 27, 2016 

In the news tonight: amid opioid crisis, substance abuse treatment programs cut in Connecticut; Connecticut’s highways are among the busiest and most congested in the nation; County Legislature ramps up penalties under Suffolk’s social host law; and, Primary Tuesday to decide who challenges New York Congressman Lee Zeldin in November.

On any given day, there are 400 people on the waiting list for the substance abuse treatment and detox programs paid for by Connecticut's Judicial Branch. "At a minimum, the wait is two months," said Stephen Grant, the executive director of the branch's Court Support Services Division. The wait is about to get much longer – and not because of the spike in overdoses throughout the state, but because those programs are being slashed to help close the state's budget deficit.

Long used to divert those who commit low-level offenses from jail and hopefully help them overcome their substance abuse problems, the Judicial Branch last week notified 10 private providers that it could no longer afford 123 of the beds it was paying for in substance-abuse treatment programs – a 40% reduction. In New Haven – where a "health emergency" was declared after 16 people overdosed on Thursday, two of them fatally – there will be 50 fewer beds.

All the cuts are expected to save $4 million of the $77 million the General Assembly and Governor Dannel P. Malloy cut from the Judicial Branch's budget. "The magnitude was just so large that we had to go into programs that are vital. We were left with no alternative," said Grant, who said funding for outpatient treatment also had to be cut.

The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services has also cut funding for substance abuse programs. Those cuts include closing The Southeastern Mental Health Authority’s homeless outreach program, which provides case management and vocational services for people with both housing and mental health or substance abuse problems.

The governor has said his administration will look for ways to replace the beds that are being cut, but no decisions have been made.

Connecticut’s highways are among the busiest and most congested in the nation, according to a new report released by TRIP, a national transportation organization. The report found that Connecticut has the third highest rate of vehicle travel per lane mile.
That means an average lane mile of urban Interstate in Connecticut carried 15,391 vehicles per day in 2014.

Connecticut also has the eighth most congested Interstate highways. At least 60% of Connecticut’s urban Interstate highways experience congestion during peak travel hours. “When you consider that the Interstate system, which was developed in the 1950’s for the purpose of interstate commerce and possible evacuation routes for national emergencies, neither of these functions are now served by our present system,” Jack Condlin, president and CEO of the Stamford Chamber of Commerce, said in a press release. “Connecticut and the northeast are the poster child for congestion.”

The report also found that while 12% of Interstate highways are in poor or mediocre condition nationwide, 14% of Connecticut’s Interstate highways are in poor or mediocre condition. Seven percent of Connecticut’s Interstate bridges are structurally deficient — the fifth highest rate in the nation — and 19% are functionally obsolete.

While there seemed to be support for improving to Connecticut’s transportation system, the General Assembly was unable to approve legislation that would have secured funding. The legislature adjourned before approving a constitutional amendment to ensure that transportation funding continues to go to improving transportation.

Chris Collibee, a spokesman for Governor Malloy, said. “Infrastructure is one of the top issues facing our state — and we have a $100 billion plan to tackle it. This report is yet another reminder of exactly why we must transform our transportation systems and take action.”

The Suffolk County Legislature has increased penalties under the county’s social host law — a law adopted nearly a decade ago that made it a crime for adults to serve alcohol to minors or “knowingly allow” minors to consume alcohol at their homes. Legislators on Tuesday passed a bill that makes it a misdemeanor to violate the social host law. Under the current provisions of the law, adopted in 2007, it’s a criminal violation.

The bill’s sponsors, legislators Tom Cilmi (R-East Islip) and Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), said in a press release the legislation sends “a clear and forceful message that it is illegal for an adult to serve alcohol to someone else’s underage child and that we will prosecute those caught doing so.” They said they hope it will help change “a growing permissive attitude toward underage drinking” which is often a gateway to the use of other drugs such as marijuana and opioids.

Though it was passed “just in time for high school prom and graduation season,” the bill won’t become law until after it’s signed by the county executive and filed with the N.Y. Secretary of State. “The county executive has to hold a public hearing before he can sign it,” said Cilmi’s legislative aide, Maria Barbara. She said the hearing was set for July 5.

Registered Democrats in New York's 1st Congressional District will go to the polls tomorrow to choose a challenger to face incumbent Republican Lee Zeldin this fall.  The Democratic primary pits former Southampton Town supervisor Anna Throne-Holst of Sag Harbor against Dave Calone of East Setauket, an attorney, venture capitalist and former chairman of the Suffolk County Planning Commission.

The two candidates have publicly touted both their endorsements and their skills. “There’s a reason why people like Kirsten Gillibrand and Tim Bishop and Tom DiNapoli support me,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “These are people that everyone recognizes as strong Democrats who have delivered on a progressive agenda and they all support me because they know my track record.” She said she has an “eight-year track record of getting the job done” as Southampton Town supervisor for six years and as a councilwoman for two years.

Mr. Calone said, “Virtually all of the elected Democrats in the 1st Congressional District support me,” pointing out that people like Legislator Bridget Fleming and former Southampton councilwoman Sally Pope are supporting him.

While the opponents have largely agreed on issues raised during campaign debates and forums, they have different backgrounds. Before serving on the Southampton Town Board, Ms. Throne-Holst was executive director of the Bridgehampton Child Care Center. As town supervisor, Ms. Throne-Holst said, she cut spending, reduced debt and upgraded the town’s bond rating, while preserving open space and introducing new energy-efficient building codes.

Mr. Calone is the CEO of Jove Equity Partners, a venture capital firm that helps start technology companies. He said he helped organize a bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, as well as a Long Island Emergency Technology Fund, which helped start nine technology companies on Long Island. “I’ve also been involved in regional issues as chairman of the Suffolk County Planning Commission,” he said.

 Friday June 24, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson and Neil Tolhurst.)

In the news tonight:  local outrage over Supreme Court action on immigration and events in Mexico; Consumer Counsel wants hearings on high-speed internet in Connecticut; Governor Cuomo talks about ethics reform and Federal investigation; New York cracks down on ‘zombie’ houses. 


A Latino group in New Haven had scheduled a protest for Thursday afternoon to denounce the killings of nine teachers in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. But by the time of the protest, they'd added a press conference to denounce the Supreme Court ruling that President Obama's program to allow millions of undocumented immigrants with U.S.-born or legal resident children to stay in the U.S. is unconstitutional. And they made a connection between the two events. 

WPKN's Melinda Tuhus has more:

The 75 mostly Latino people at the rally expressed a combination of desperation and defiance, since millions of parents here without documents who had hoped to stay legally in the U.S. now risk deportation and the destruction of their families.

Joe Foran is a volunteer with Unidad Latina en Accion, the group that called the protest. He denounced the 4-4 Supreme Court decision, which upheld a lower court ruling after 26 states sued President Obama for overstepping his legal authority in issuing an executive order allowing these immigrants to stay.

“It's a disgusting response to that humanitarian crisis, what the Supreme Court did today, turning its back, giving a cold shoulder to all the people who are dying in Latin America.” 

Foran commended Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and Senator Chris Murphy for the stands they took in Congress on gun violence: “But I want to expand that conversation. I want them to take just as strong a stance against the Merida Initiative. What the Merida Initiative does is it siphons guns and money indiscriminately to Mexico for the drug war, and what happens with those guns and money is that innocent people are killed.”

Speakers said there is nothing to do but stand together and fight any attempts at deportation. Even though Obama has taken unilateral steps to address the immigration crisis, he is also called Deporter-in- Chief, as his administration has deported more than two million undocumented people. 


According to the New Haven Register, Connecticut’s Office of Consumer Counsel, or OCC, is asking regulators to open hearings on rules governing the use of utility poles and underground conduits.

The OCC, which represents the interests of ratepayers, wants to entice ultra high-speed internet providers to quickly develop robust broadband networks across Connecticut, by giving them fair and equitable access to the 900,000 utility poles in the state. Owners of the utility poles, the telephone and electric utility companies, receive a monthly fee from other utilities that locate on their poles. State and local officials say the private sector has failed to show the desire to expand broadband. 

The OCC wants the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to standardize rules under the Municipal Gain Statute for broadband networks. The statute requires space be reserved on every utility pole and underground conduit for use by the municipality. Municipalities could use that space for providers to develop their broadband networks. A spokesperson said this would be “a major step toward allowing communities to engage with investors, who would pay for the build out.”


Governor Cuomo and lawmakers have received generally poor reviews for their productivity in the second half of this year's session — especially on the topic of ethics reform.

Cuomo doesn't believe that holding a special legislative session later this year to close a notorious campaign finance loophole or restrict lawmakers' outside income would be productive. Cuomo told the Albany Times-Union on Wednesday: "There's no point to calling them back, because the measures they didn't do, they don't want to do.”  He said a constitutional convention would be required to make the needed changes. 

Cuomo was also asked about the federal investigation into the Buffalo Billion initiative and other upstate development deals. He said: “We have many people in our administration who have been talking to the U.S. Attorney's office.  If there's any way we can be helpful, we will be. If anyone did anything wrong on the Buffalo Billion, we want to find out more than anyone else." Cuomo said he had not been contacted.   


Newsday reports:

A new state law cracking down on banks failing to clean up abandoned properties will bring relief to communities plagued by the "zombie" home epidemic. "Zombie" homes are houses in the foreclosure process vacated by homeowners before banks take title to them.

The law passed with bipartisan support and establishes a statewide registry of abandoned properties and a toll-free number for residents to report them. The law also expedites foreclosure proceedings and creates a consumer bill of rights for foreclosure cases. Additionally, the law allows municipalities and the state Department of Financial Services to seek fines up to $500 per day per property on banks and mortgage servicers that fail to maintain vacant houses.

On Long Island local officials say the law will help stem property value depreciation at neighboring homes.


Thursday June 23, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Thomas Byrne and Nadine Dumser.) 

In the news tonight: Senator Blumenthal calls for rejecting big insurance mergers; medical marijuana program on track; Suffolk Legislature considers public campaign finance, increases college tuition and fees; and, the Suffolk County Water Authority promotes conservation.

Senator Richard Blumenthal is calling for the denial of two proposed insurance company mergers. In a letter Wednesday to a Justice Department’s Antitrust Division official, Blumenthal encouraged the department to deny the mergers of Aetna with Humana and Anthem with Cigna. The U.S. Department of Justice will have the final say on whether either merger violates U.S. antitrust laws. Six other Senate Democrats also signed the letter. 

According to Blumenthal, the Anthem-Cigna merger will make some of Connecticut’s health insurance markets almost 70% more concentrated than they currently are. He said: “As a result, this merger is almost certain to drive up premiums, drive down health care quality, and increase costs for Connecticut’s consumers and businesses.”

Blumenthal said after the Aetna-Prudential merger, premiums rose 7% and health insurance costs to consumers increased by $34 billion. A spokesman for Aetna said they believe the combined company “is in the best interest of consumers.” A spokeswoman for Anthem said: “Together, Anthem and Cigna have limited geographical and product segment overlap.”  

To date, the Anthem-Cigna merger has received regulatory clearance in 12 states. Twenty-eight states have an opportunity to review the merger. Connecticut’s Insurance Commissioner Katharine Wage, a former Cigna employee, has been asked by advocates to recuse herself from reviewing the Anthem-Cigna merger. 

Blumenthal declined to answer questions about Connecticut’s role in the review process. 

The number of patients in Connecticut being treated with medical marijuana has increased rapidly. That is not cause for alarm but a sign that the system for prescribing and dispensing medical marijuana is working properly, according to Michelle Seagull, Consumer Protection Deputy Commissioner. 

Speaking to the Connecticut Bar Association, Ms. Seagull said that up to 11,000 patients are registered today to receive medical marijuana, up from 2000 when Connecticut legalized marijuana for medical treatment in 2014. She said that the law enables truly sick patients to get help from palliative marijuana. But, there are lots of requirements that need to be followed.

Medical marijuana cannot be prescribed for anxiety or pain, but as medicine for serious diseases such as cancer or muscular dystrophy.  Physicians must certify that the potential benefits to the patient from the palliative use of marijuana would likely outweigh the health risks. 

The law was recently amended to allow patients younger than 18 to be prescribed non-smokable marijuana, upon the approval of two doctors, for treatment of severe epilepsy and terminal illnesses.

Here are some measures considered by The Suffolk County Legislature this week as reported by Newsday: 

Good-government advocates praised a proposed public campaign finance referendum for Suffolk County legislators. It would give a 4-to-1 match on donations of up to $150 for candidates who opt in. The bill would also extend legislators’ terms from two to four years. 

Legislators are expected to vote in July whether to put the referendum on the ballot in November. Republican lawmakers were skeptical because the law doesn’t cover countywide races and questioned whether candidates would opt in. The campaign funds would be paid for with video lottery terminal funding from a yet-to-be-opened casino. 

County lawmakers also unanimously passed a $220 million budget for Suffolk County Community College that includes a $200 increase in annual tuition, a 4.4% increase. Other increased fees total about $98 a year. The community college’s budget, a 2.2% increase in spending over the prior year, still has to be passed by school trustees. 

The Suffolk County Water Authority on Thursday announced a three-point plan to promote the conservation of Long Island’s sole source aquifer. 

New York State and Suffolk County officials want to encourage the East End’s biggest water consumers to adopt an odd/even lawn-watering schedule and adjust their watering habits during the spring and summer months. The initiative will also offer residents the opportunity to join the East End Water Wise Club to obtain account credits for the purchase of water-conserving devices.

SCWA Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey W. Szabo noted that the initiative will help to ensure the long-term sustainability of the aquifer system and also help to prevent the need to build additional infrastructure in other East End towns to meet peak demand.

Since 2010, SCWA has committed about $20 million for infrastructure projects on the East End to meet demand caused by huge spikes in water, primarily due to early morning lawn watering during the spring and summer. Those costs will ultimately be paid by all SCWA customers in their water bills.

Wednesday June 22, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles will start sending out late fee notices for vehicles with overdue emissions; the Supreme Court upholds Connecticut’s assault weapons ban; New York’s largest solar energy array may be coming to Long Island; and, officials call for improved mass transit on the East End.

The Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles (or DMV) will start sending out late fee notices this week to customers with overdue emissions tests. The late fee notices stopped last August when the DMV underwent a computer upgrade, which caused numerous problems for the agency. The agency has since ended its contract with the vendor responsible for creating and installing the new computer system.

The first wave of late fee notices will cover about 200,000 vehicles. However, it’s still unclear, according to DMV officials, how many notices should be sent. The DMV said customers will get a bill for each late vehicle, regardless of whether they still own it.  Customers will get a bill if they did not have an emissions test on the vehicle.

DMV officials said they delayed sending the notices until they converted all the information from the old computer system over to the new computer system. The level of confidence in the data, according to the DMV, is greater now than it was several months ago.
Customers are able to pay online, at a branch, or through the mail, starting on Thursday, June 23rd.

From Connecticut News Service:
Connecticut’s ban on assault weapons has survived a challenge in federal courOn Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of a federal court ruling upholding the state ban on the sale of military-style assault rifle and large capacity magazines.

Ron Pinciaro, Executive Director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said he was not surprised by the ruling.  Pinciaro said: “We felt that there was a public safety interest here that superseded what some thought would be unconstitutional in light of the Second Amendment.” Gun owners and firearms dealers had challenged the law, claiming the ban violates a constitutionally guaranteed right to own a gun for self-defense. 

Connecticut’s law was passed in 2013 after a mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school, in which 20 children and six staff members were killed. 

Pinciaro said that state residents have had a strong reaction to the June 12th mass killing in Orlando, and the U.S. Senate’s failure to pass any of four bills to ban the sale of firearms to people on no-fly and terrorist watch lists.

Newsday reports: Two energy companies are proposing to build the largest solar energy array in the state on 350 acres of wooded property beside the shuttered Shoreham nuclear plant on Long Island. The proposal is in response to the Long Island Power Authority’s request for proposals for green energy.  It would produce 72 megawatts — enough to power 13,000 homes, cost 100 million dollars and could be operational by 2020. 

National Grid and NextEra, a Florida-based energy company, have partnered on the joint venture, called LI Solar Generation. They say the site’s size and proximity to a large energy transmission infrastructure make it ideal.  

But the proposal has drawn opposition from local government and civic organizations concerned about destroying a natural environment. Brookhaven Town supervisor Ed Romaine said:  “We are adamantly opposed to this project, and we will not allow any trees to be cut. This is not the place for solar.”  

The companies are offering to fund planting new trees elsewhere.  MaryAnn Johnston, president of the Brookhaven Affiliated Civic Organizations, said:  “We’re not going to trade green for green and the sooner LIPA understands that the better.” But, the company says it received a letter of support for the project from Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Improved rail service on the East End of Long Island will be the topic of a July 8th meeting between town and village officials and representatives from the Long Island Rail Road, according to South Fork Assemblyman Fred Thiele. He made the announcement at a press conference today at which other public officials and candidates for office outlined their visions for long-term transit improvements.

The meeting is scheduled for Riverhead Town Hall and officials are hoping to put together a priority list of things they’d like to see from the LIRR. That list is likely to include a call to restore year-round weekend service on the North Fork, which was cut in 2010 and never restored, and bringing back the rail shuttle service that was used on the South Fork when County Road 39 was being widened, Mr. Thiele said.
But it’s unclear whether the meeting will be open to the public, or whether senior LIRR officials will attend.


Tuesday June 21, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Senator’s effort to toughen gun laws fails Senate vote; Bridgeport launches Zika prevention campaign; New York Legislature passes historic public-defense reform; New York Farm Bureau fights lawsuit calling for unionization of workers.

Four measures, designed to toughen gun ownership laws following the mass murder at an Orlando nightclub, failed to get the necessary three-fifths approval to pass the U.S. Senate Monday. One of the measures that failed to get the necessary 60 votes was Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy’s amendment to close the “gun show loophole” by requiring every gun buyer to undergo a background check and to expand the background check database. 

The vote comes on the heels of the Orlando nightclub massacre where 49 people were killed. The shooter had legally purchased his weapons days before the rampage, despite having been on the terrorist watch list in recent years.

Another failed Democratic measure would have given the Justice Department the power to stop a gun purchase by anyone who has been on federal terrorist watch lists in the past five years.  Two Republican measures also failed: one that would have required that law enforcement be alerted when anyone on the terrorist watch list attempts to buy a weapon from a licensed dealer; and one that would have clarified what it means to be found mentally deficient.

Connecticut Post reports:
With more than a dozen Connecticut residents sickened with the Zika virus, Bridgeport has launched an information campaign. Volunteers canvassed Bridgeport neighborhoods on Monday, handing out informational leaflets on the dangers of such mosquito-borne diseases and how residents can reduce the number of mosquitoes on their property. The city also is working with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station to increase mosquito surveillance.

At a Monday press conference, city health director Alberta Baptista said it’s crucial to let residents know how to protect themselves against mosquito bites and how to get rid of standing water on their property – prime mosquito breeding ground.  Although most U.S. residents who contracted Zika got it while traveling to other countries, there are concerns that a mosquito possibly linked to Zika — the Asian tiger mosquito — has been spotted in Fairfield and New Haven counties.

Zika can have serious consequences when a woman is infected during pregnancy. It also commonly causes fever, rash, conjunctivitis or other mild symptoms.

New York News Connection reports:
A bill giving the state full responsibility for funding New York's public-defense system passed in the final hours of the New York State legislative session.

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled more than 50 years ago that states must provide a lawyer to criminal defendants who can't afford one, New York turned that responsibility over to the counties, which provided disparate levels of representation.

New York Civil Liberties Union, or NYCLU, chapter coordinator Susan Gottehrer said the bill will provide not only a lawyer, but money for investigators and forensics. The bill also limits the number of cases a public defender can handle at once. The legislation was based on the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the NYCLU, challenging the public-defense systems in five counties.

The NYCLU expects Governor Cuomo to sign the bill into law. Then, responsibility for funding criminal defense services would be transferred from counties to the state over the course of seven years.

Albany Times-Union reports:
The New York Farm Bureau will file a motion to gain intervenor status in a lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union that seeks to secure labor protections for farmworkers. Gaining intervenor status would allow the Bureau to participate in the defense of the suit.

The lawsuit claims that a 1938 state constitutional amendment gives workers of any industry the right to organize. Currently, agricultural workers are exempt from laws that protect union-building.  According to New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton, the lawsuit “circumvents the legislative process and turned to the judicial system to make law.”

Farm owners claim that a poorly timed strike, such as during planting or harvest time, could prove devastating to a year’s crop.

Governor Cuomo has shown his support for the prospect of unionizing. New York Civil Liberties Union senior staff attorney Erin Beth Harrist said: “The governor and state attorney general both agree that the exclusion of farmworkers from the right to organize is a clear and undeniable injustice.”

Monday June 20, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Thomas Byrne.)

In the news tonight:  Governor Rowland loses appeal, will return to prison; Connecticut Ethics Board will review Insurance Commissioner; the New York legislature closed early Saturday morning as a five- point ethics agreement was reached; Suffolk County Legislature will hold hearing on law to disqualify businesses that boycott Israel

A federal appeals court Friday upheld former Governor John Rowland's conviction and 30-month prison sentence.  The conviction was for his role in a scheme to solicit two congressional campaigns to secretly pay him as a political consultant in violation of U.S. campaign finance laws. Rowland, 59, a former state legislator, congressman and governor, has been free on bond while his appeal was considered. 
Rowland maintained that his consulting contract with the husband of congressional candidate Lisa-Wilson Foley was legitimate, not an effort to hide his political work.

In a decision by Judge Susan L. Carney, a three-judge panel unanimously rejected that claim and others. They concluded that evidence at trial showed Rowland twice pitched illegal consulting arrangements to Republican candidates Mark Greenberg in 2010 and Wilson-Foley in 2012. The government said Rowland and Wilson-Foley were motivated to hide his role in the campaign because of the corruption scandal that toppled him from office in 2004. 

An investigation was begun last Thursday by a Connecticut Ethics Advisory board after it received a petition from health care advocacy groups. The groups requested that it look into possible conflicts of interest as the state’s Insurance Commissioner oversees a merger of Anthem and Cigna, two of the largest insurance companies in the country.

The Connecticut Insurance Commissioner, Katherine Wade, is a former vice president for Cigna. Her husband still works for Cigna and she was head of a lobbying group for Connecticut’s insurance groups from 2005 to 2013. 

A recent merger of Aetna and Humana was approved by the Commissioner without a public hearing. Healthcare advocates and state officials have complained for weeks about Wade’s alleged conflicts of interest in overseeing the merger, which would impact 1.5 million state residents.

Francis Padilla, President of Universal Healthcare Foundation of Connecticut, said: “Connecticut deserves nothing short of a robust, transparent, and public-friendly review of insurance mergers.”  A spokeswoman from the Insurance Department said the Commissioner has sought the Ethics Board’s guidance throughout the process and will abide by its guidance.

The Ethics Board will have up to 60 days to draft a ruling and receive comments from interested parties on its website.

The Albany Times-Union reports:  
The New York Legislature concluded its work early Saturday morning. A five-part package on ethics reform agreed on by the Governor and the legislature included broader pension-stripping for corrupt public officials, expanded lobbying laws and tighter controls on so-called “independent expenditure” campaigns.  

Lawmakers put together a multipronged effort to fight heroin and opioid addiction by easing health insurance restrictions on how long an individual can stay in drug treatment and on emergency commitments to hospitals when addicts are in crisis. Patients can now go for 14 days of treatment without prior approval from their health insurance carrier, an increase from seven days.

The impact of a small rule change will affect the Sunday Brunch plans of diners: lawmakers reversed the long-standing ban on serving alcohol before noon on Sunday, but in New York City it's 10 am.

While there's no dollar figure yet attached, lawmakers passed an "enhanced safety net hospital" measure that directs more state money to hospitals where at least half the patients are on Medicaid or are uninsured. Lawmakers passed a bill that, over seven years, shifts payment responsibilities for indigent legal services from counties to the state. This is expected to improve legal representation for the poor. 

The Suffolk County Legislature will hold a hearing on Tuesday in Riverhead on a bill that parallels Governor Andrew Cuomo's anti-BDS executive order issued recently.  Cuomo’s order would disqualify persons or firms that boycott Israel from doing business with New York State.  

The order has been criticized by civil liberties groups as unconstitutional and comparable to the blacklisting of individuals in the 1950s and 60s.  

The Suffolk legislation was introduced by Legislator Steve Stern.  It reads in part: “This   Legislature supports Governor Cuomo’s position on this issue   and   concludes  that  the  County  of  Suffolk  should  amend  its  procurement  law  to  reflect  New  York’s  policy.”

The hearing on the proposed local law is tomorrow, June 21 at 6:30 pm at 300 Center Drive Riverhead.

Friday June 17, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Connecticut posts first job loss of the year in May; tax attorneys in Connecticut foresee municipal tax increases for state businesses; transparency thwarted in New York State review on affordable housing; and, the New York State Senate moves forward with a bill to mandate lead testing for school fountains.

According to preliminary figures released yesterday by the Connecticut state Department of Labor, the state lost 1,400 jobs in May, marking the state’s first job loss in 2016.

Andy Condon, director of the Office of Research, said: “Connecticut’s decline of 1,400 jobs in May follows a very slow month of job growth across the country.” 

Connecticut’s unemployment rate remained steady at 5.7%. The 3,500 job gain reported in April was also revised downward to 3,200. Connecticut has now recovered 78.8% of the nonfarm jobs that were lost during the Great Recession. That means the state needs to add 25,200 jobs to attain a full job recovery.

Don Klepper-Smith, chief economist with DataCore Partners LLC, said year-to-date job growth in Connecticut is only 0.9%, which is less than half the national average of 1.9%. Klepper-Smith expects that Connecticut won’t fully recover until the end of 2017, given the current pace.

According to a Connecticut tax attorney, state businesses should expect to see tax hikes at the municipal level.

Alan Lieberman, partner in tax law at Hartford-based firm Shipman & Goodwin, spoke to business leaders at the Connecticut Business & Industry Association’s recent annual tax forum in Farmington.  Lieberman told the forum that despite raising taxes in the past year, Connecticut lawmakers continue to grapple with a sizeable budget deficit that resulted in cuts to state programs, aid and staff.

Cities and towns have to cope with recent cuts in PILOTs and other funding, and will need to get money somewhere. Lieberman said: “The very likelihood is you’re going to see increases in municipal taxes.” 

According to the Times Union, two years ago an audit found the leadership of New York’s affordable housing agency, Homes and Community Renewal, had distributed lucrative grants to projects that its own staff deemed “infeasible.” The audit said leadership violated agency policy while providing little documentation to explain decisions that led to delays in building much-needed housing. 

Leadership eliminated terms such as ‘infeasible’ from staff’s internal evaluation methods, replacing them with far a less descriptive project rating: 1, 2 or 3. Technically, that eliminates the chance that a project deemed infeasible could be chosen in future. But that change also may have handed the agency’s leadership more discretionary authority over tens of millions of dollars in funds that are in principle competitively bid.

Homes and Community Renewal is an executive agency under the purview of Governor Cuomo’s administration. 

A federal subpoena, focused on upstate development initiatives, was issued to the administration in April. It reportedly named three developers whose portfolios include housing developers ranked lower than others by staff of Homes and Community Renewal. But in several instances Ontario-based Norstar Development, Syracuse-area COR Development and Rochester-based Conifer Realty jumped competitors for funding. All three are campaign contributors to Cuomo. 

New York State Senate is poised to pass a bill that would mandate lead testing for school fountains. Sponsored by GOP Elmira Senator Tom O’Mara, the measure would call for regular water testing and it would allow building aid to be used for that purpose. The measure also references the Flint, Michigan crisis with lead-tainted water.

There’s a companion bill in the Assembly from Binghamton Democrat Donna Lupardo but it’s unclear whether it will pass there. The unanswered question is precisely how schools would pay for remediation if lead is found in their plumbing or water systems. The bill memo says remediation could be covered by building aid, but there’s no dollar figure attached. New York State School Boards Association David Albert said on Tuesday: “The issue is making sure that the schools have the resources to do it properly.”

Thursday June 16, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Nadine Dumser and Thomas Byrne.)

In the news tonight:  Senator Murphy ends filibuster, as GOP agrees to vote on gun control measures; Connecticut agencies should expect cuts in personnel and services in next two years; protesters decry Cuomo executive order against firms that boycott Israel; Newsday and Cablevision sale to European company approved. 

United States Senator Chris Murphy, of Connecticut, ended his filibuster of the U.S. Senate early Thursday morning.  He took the floor yesterday at 11:21am while the Senate was considering an appropriation bill and did not yield the floor until 2:11 am after gaining assurances from Republican leaders that the Senate would vote on gun control measures.

During the nearly 15-hour filibuster, Mr. Murphy spoke impassionedly about the need for gun control, three days after the nation’s worst mass-shooting event in Orlando, Florida. He also referred to the acts of bravery by teachers during the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. Murphy said: “The reason we have an epidemic of gun violence is because we allow people to have guns who shouldn’t be allowed to have them.”

Mr. Murphy and other Senate Democrats want the opportunity to vote on two amendments: one to expand background checks on all private sales of guns and another amendment to ban gun sales to people on the terrorist watch list.

More on Senator Murphy’s filibuster follows on the WPKN Evening Report. 

Ben Barnes, administration budget director to Governor Dannel Malloy, says state agencies should expect steep reductions in discretionary spending for the next two years. In a June 8 memo, Barnes wrote that the 2017 state budget will garner the public support needed to continue providing the most critical public services into the future while keeping state finances stable in the long term.

Although cutting $847 million in spending from the 2017 budget was difficult, Barnes said that 2018 will be even harder due to slower than expected revenue growth.

Barnes said he expects agencies may need to further reduce or eliminate services and personnel.

The Albany Times-Union reports: 
A group of some 200 protestors gathered at the Capitol in Albany Wednesday with signs and banners advocating for their right to participate and support those engaged in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement - or BDS - aimed at Israel.

BDS aims to put economic pressure on Israel to end the country’s occupation of Palestinian land. The campaign was launched by Palestinian non-governmental organizations in 2007.

A petition with 12,000 signatures protesting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order directing state agencies to divest in entities that are participating in the BDS movement against Israel was sent to the governor. 

Activists claimed Cuomo’s order is an attack on their right to participate in social movements. Among the Albany protestors were members of Code Pink, Jewish Voice for Peace, US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Black Lives Matter - Upstate NY and the Green Party of New York. 

Ariel Gold of Code Pink said: “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions is a non-violent tactic that supports Palestinian human rights. It is based on the practice that helped end Apartheid in South Africa, and it is in the tradition of the U.S. civil rights movement including the Montgomery bus boycott.”

The Albany Times-Union reports: 
The state Public Service Commission on Wednesday approved the $17.7 billion purchase of Cablevision Systems Corp. by Altice NV of the Netherlands.

The Federal Communications Commission approved the deal last month that makes Altice the fourth-largest cable TV provider in the United States. The deal also includes the acquisition of Long Island’s Newsday and the News 12 network.

Wednesday June 15, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Melinda Tuhus.)

In the news tonight:  budget cuts force court closings; cyclist rides Connecticut’s most dangerous road; New York Legislature fails to consider ethics reform with two days to go; and recreational fishing for stripers off Montauk gets a boost.

Juvenile courts in Danbury, Torrington and Stamford, and the Courthouse in Willamantic will close by the end of 2016, in part as a result of $77 million in cuts from the Judicial Branch budget.  Juvenile cases usually heard in those locations will be transferred to Bridgeport, Waterbury or New Britain.  Cases heard at the courthouse in Willimantic will be transferred to Putnam or Danielson.

The Connecticut Bar Association said in a statement: “Reducing citizen access to the judicial system by closing courthouses harms everyone, especially the poor…………. access to the courts is a fundamental right, critical to preserving the Rule of Law.”

The Bar Association added: “We will continue our ongoing dialogue with lawmakers to determine whether there is a better way to achieve necessary costs savings, reverse these decisions, and keep open as many courthouses as possible.” Already the Judicial Branch has laid off 300 permanent and temporary employees. It has also cut $14.5 million from programs and services that serve both adult and juvenile offenders and it has laid off the judicial marshals who staff lock-up facilities in New Haven and Hartford.

A bicycling and pedestrian advocate began a 12-day walk across Connecticut on Tuesday from New York to Rhode Island along a major thoroughfare to call for safer infrastructure for non-motorized travelers. 

WPKN's Melinda Tuhus reports:
Ray Rauth is a member of the CT Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board, and he's concerned about the dangers cyclists and walkers face along U.S. 1 -- also known as the Boston Post Road -- which is the deadliest road in Connecticut, according to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. He declined to make any specific proposals for improvement; rather, he said the towns should listen to local advocates.  

“They know what needs to be done, but the town doesn't do it. In some cases the state DOT might be dragging their feet as well. So I think what the town needs to do is listen to the local advocates. And one of the things that they can do to listen to the local advocates if they're really interested, is walk with an advocate down the highway, and look at things.”

Rauth expects to finish his 120-mile walk in 10 to 12 days.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News. 

The Albany Times-Union reports:
Some called it “New York’s Watergate moment,” an opportunity for reforms created by the back-to-back convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and ex-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. 
But with two scheduled days remaining in the New York legislature’s session, major items like ethics reform, along with lesser items such as the expansion of ride-hailing services and the legalization of daily fantasy sports, remained elusive or effectively died barring a last-minute deal. 

Meanwhile, lawmakers approved a flurry of bills pertaining to everything from creating a terrorist registry list to requiring that healthy dogs and cats used as experimental subjects be put up for adoption. 

Among the day's casualties was a measure that would allow companies like Uber and Lyft to operate outside of New York City. The Assembly version of the bill failed to make it out of the Codes Committee, leading Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to say he was unsure if differing positions could be resolved.

As reported by 27east.com:
The U.S. House of Representatives this week unanimously approved a bill that would allow recreational fishing for striped bass in the waters between Montauk Point and Block Island Rhode Island. 

The distance between these points is less than 20 miles, but because there are differing State and Federal regulations in place, fishermen have been prosecuted for striped bass fishing in the so called in-between “transit zone”, which is only about 150 square miles in size.

Fishermen from Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island have long argued that the transit zone waters are really “inshore waters” not subject to Federal regulation. But Fisheries conservationists say the striped bass need continued protection as their population is slumping. 

The bill still requires Senate action and a Presidential signature but first district Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin, who introduced the bill, expects it will be approved. 

Tuesday June 14, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Senate votes not to override Malloy’s veto of $22.5 million in funding; Malloy still waiting for federal watch list access in gun control efforts; New York Senator pushes bill to grant summer camps access to federal sex offender registry; Governor Cuomo taps former Bridgeport mayor as New York Thruway Authority Exec.

On Monday the Connecticut House and Senate met to determine if they would override $22.5 million in funding Governor Malloy vetoed from the state budget. In the end, the House wanted to override the veto; the Senate declined. Senate President Martin Looney, a New Haven Democrat, said overriding the governor’s budget vetoes would be “largely symbolic” because the governor has “significant recession authority” and would continue to use that authority to make cuts.

The governor vetoed $20 million in municipal aid, $1.73 million for the Connecticut Humanities Council, and $775,000 for Federally Qualified Health Centers. In his veto message, the governor said he made the cuts to ensure that the 2017 budget he signed was in balance.

The House and Senate will meet again next Monday to decide if they want to override any of the eight bills the governor vetoed that were passed during the regular session that adjourned May 4. 

Eight months after his request, Governor Malloy is still waiting for access to federal “watch lists” like the no-fly list, so that Connecticut could prohibit people on those lists from purchasing firearms. Malloy spokesman Devon Puglia said on Monday: “The White House counsel’s office is still reviewing the request.”

Malloy proposed the idea in December after the U.S. Senate failed to pass a measure that would have allowed the attorney general to block the sale or transfer of a gun or explosive to a suspected or known terrorist. U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy supported the measure, and spoke about it Monday at a press conference following Sunday’s mass shooting in Orlando that killed 49 people and injured 53 others.

According to news reports, federal agents interviewed the shooter twice in 2013 and he had been temporarily placed on the terrorist watch list. The shooter later legally purchased his firearms. Connecticut civil liberty groups and Second Amendment supporters argue that the watch lists are often wrong. 

Blumenthal said banning the future sale of assault weapons is central to the effort to reduce mass shootings, but it’s not the only thing that needs to be done.

Newsday reports: 
New York Senator Chuck Schumer is urging the Senate to pass a bill that would give summer camps and charities access to a national FBI registry of sex offenders to help screen camp workers.

Schumer appeared on Monday at Coleman Country Day Camp in Freeport where he and camp workers called for lifting FBI restrictions that force camps to pay for background checks. Many camps can’t afford background checks and have to rely on interviews to weed out sex offenders. Schumer said this approach has led to some offenders being hired and putting children at risk.

Schumer cited a 2013 case of Daryl Vonneida in upstate Schuyler County. Vonneida was a Boy Scout leader, church counselor, and soccer and baseball coach who was found guilty on 14 criminal counts after sexually abusing children for more than 40 years. A national background check might have turned up Vonneida’s convictions.

The existing legislation gives law enforcement agencies access to the national registry, and the FBI has resisted broadening access without congressional approval. The lists are already compiled and giving nonprofits access would not require any additional funding.

Albany Times-Union reports: 
Governor Cuomo nominated former Bridgeport, Connecticut mayor and state senator Bill Finch as the Executive Director of the New York State Thruway Authority and Canal Corporation.

On Monday, the Thruway Board appointed Finch as acting director. He now needs Senate confirmation. Finch will play a major role in seeing the new Tappan Zee bridge to completion and in moving the state Canal Corporation, which runs the Erie Canal, from the Thruway to the New York Power Authority. Finch will move to the Capital Region for the job.

Prior to his nomination, Finch served as mayor of Connecticut’s largest city, Bridgeport, from 2007 until 2015. He served as a Connecticut State Senator from 2000 to 2007.

Monday June 13, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Thomas Byrne.) 

In the news tonight: should Insurance Commissioner recuse herself from ruling on Anthem – Cigna merger? Bridgeport’s Second Chance Initiative;  Suffolk Executive drops effort to get vote on water fee; and, federal investigation involving Governor’s aide has Long Island connections. 

Connecticut's Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey has called on Insurance Commissioner Katharine Wade to recuse herself from ruling on Anthem’s merger with Bloomfield-based Cigna.  Cigna was Wade’s last employer before she joined the Malloy administration and Commissioner Wade's husband continues to work for Cigna.

Governor Malloy told reporters he saw no actual or apparent conflict in Wade's playing a pivotal role in reviewing the merger of the two major health insurers. Speaker Sharkey said this was problematic, even if the state ethics office has found no conflict with the state ethics code Wade should recuse herself from further involvement in the Cigna-Anthem merger review. 

Sharkey said: “Perception of a conflict is also an important part of the equation, and most onlookers, including consumer and healthcare advocates, following this issue all have the same perception.” Wade is the leading state regulator on the Anthem-Cigna merger, a $48 billion deal that was announced last year within weeks of the one between Aetna and Humana. The two mergers would shrink the U.S. healthcare insurance market from five major insurers to three.

The Universal Health Care Foundation is circulating an online petition calling for Wade to leave the insurance department.

Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim spoke at a news conference Friday to promote the Second Chance Society Initiative. The Initiative is designed to challenge and encourage local businesses to hire ex-offenders with a past conviction in their background.

The Mayor is proposing a $50,000 budget transfer as seed money officials hope will be matched by the private sector, foundations, state and federal governments. That money will be used to establish an office in city government for Second Chance initiatives, and to hire a coordinator and launch a program that will incentivize private-sector employers to hire ex-offenders. The initiative is specific to Bridgeport and unrelated to the legislation that the General Assembly failed to pass this year.

Ganim himself is an ex-offender. After serving as mayor from 1991 to 2003 he was convicted of 16 charges, including bribery, racketeering, and extortion.  Released in 2010, Ganim successfully made a political comeback in 2015 when he again won election as mayor.

More than a dozen area businesses were at Friday’s news conference and afterward signed the pledge to give people a second chance. More than 40 Bridgeport businesses have already pledged to participate in the program. 

Suffolk County officials have given up on getting state permission to place a referendum on November’s ballot to address water quality and sewer issues in the county. State officials from both parties say there was not enough time between when the plan was announced by the county in late April, and the closing of the state legislature session in mid-June, to address concerns that the money raised would not be raided for other purposes.

The proposed referendum would have asked voters whether to create a water quality protection fee of $1 per 1,000 gallons of water used.  The costs for an average family of four was estimated to be between $73 to $126 per year.  

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has said the money is needed to address a water quality crisis that is being caused by nitrogen leaking into the wetlands and groundwater from homes that are not connected to a sewer.  Local environmental officials expressed frustration with the political process. Richard Amper, with the environmental group Pine Barrens Society, said: “You don’t trade the quality of water over hurt feelings and egos. I’ve never heard such pettiness.” 

The county plans to resubmit the proposed referendum, with more details, to the state next year.

New York’s Public Service Commission has been served with a subpoena as part of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s investigation into upstate development projects, according to Newsday and the Albany Times-Union.  The PSC has put the proposed sale of Cablevision to the European firm Altice on the preliminary agenda for its Wednesday meeting. 

Federal regulators and New York City officials have recently approved the deal, despite concerns from some quarters that Altice’s purchase will burden the company with a debt load that could lead to staff cuts and reductions in customer service. The PSC’s staff last month recommended the deal should be approved with conditions, including a four-year moratorium on job cuts and returning a quarter of expected savings to customers.

Cablevision, which owns Newsday, is principally owned by the Dolan family, which also owns the controlling interest in Madison Square Garden. That firm recently announced it was hiring Joe Percoco, then an aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo, to serve as a senior vice president. Percocco is an apparent focus of Bharara’s Federal investigation.  

June 10, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)   

In tonight’s news: Governor Malloy vetoes bill on business incentive programs;  the Connecticut State Police Union speaks out against eliminating DOT service patrols;  “Collette’s Law aims to curb frivolous lawsuits in New York State; and, a historic schooner headed to Long Island is delayed by heavy winds.

Yesterday, Governor Dannel Malloy vetoed a bill that would give a legislative committee the ability to evaluate the state’s tax incentive program for recruiting and retaining businesses.  Currently, the tax incentives are analyzed every three years by the Department of Economic and Community Development (or DECD), which draws up the incentive deals for the businesses, and the Department of Revenue Services (or DRS).

One of the bill’s main proponents was state Comptroller Kevin Lembo, who recently voted as a member of the Bond Commission against the state giving loans and grants to Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund. In a statement, Lembo called the veto “deeply troubling” and a “terrible loss of transparency.” Lembo said that every year, the state provides hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits to Connecticut businesses.

In his veto message, Governor Malloy called the change in the monitoring of the tax incentive program “unnecessary and unwarranted.” He said the last report on the incentives in 2014 was 169 pages and used modified and updated methodology in its recommendations on how to achieve the maximum benefit from incentives offered. Malloy added that the DECD and DRS have the “subject matter expertise to provide independent actionable analysis.”

The next report is due to the legislature in 2017. Malloy encouraged proponents to work with the two agencies in preparing it.

The Connecticut State Police Union is speaking out about the elimination of funding for a program they say keeps both motorists and police safe. The Connecticut Highway Assistance Motorist Patrol (or CHAMP) is a fleet of 15 specialized vehicles that roam the state’s busiest highways to provide free roadside assistance to help move disabled vehicles out of travel lanes, help a motorist change a tire, provide a jump start and help provide shelter for drivers waiting for a tow.

The program, which was started in 1996 and expanded in 1999, is funded in large part by the Federal Highway Administration, which covers 80% of the cost. The state typically covers the remaining 20%, but the 2017 budget Governor Dannel Malloy signed last week cuts the $641,000 in funding from the Department of Transportation’s budget.

"Collette’s Law" was introduced Wednesday in Albany by Democratic Assemblywoman Maritza Davila.
It would tighten sanctions for abusive lawsuit filers and require them to pay the other party’s legal fees up to $25,000. Assemblywoman Davila said, “It is about protecting people who have been subject to lawsuit abuse." 

Collette McLafferty never imagined that when she agreed to sing in a cover band devoted to the music of Pink, a $75 gig would turn into a $10 million lawsuit. In 2014, the New York City resident and performer was sued for being too old and too unattractive by the band’s co-creator, Charles Bonafonte.

Tom Stebbins, executive director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, said: “She was subject to a lawsuit for $10 million alleging a wide variety of things like deceptive trade practices, but of all of these crazy things, the press decided to say she was too old and too ugly to sing in a Pink cover band.” In addition to the more superficial allegations, Bonafonte’s lawsuit accused McLafferty of fraud.

The two-year battle cost McLafferty over $10,000, and she wants to make sure no one else has to deal with a similarly frivolous lawsuit.

According to Southold Local, the arrival of the historic schooner America in Greenport was delayed by two days of heavy winds in Connecticut. The America is a replica of a boat that made history when it launched the America’s Cup tradition in 1851. 

It was set to arrive late Wednesday night, as part of a tour across the East Coast aimed at sparking excitement about the cup, and engaging and educating the ‘next generation of fans.’

But yesterday, America remained at its moorings in Stonington, Connecticut because, according to an East End Seaport Museum Facebook post: “The winds are holding the boat against the dock.” The post reported winds sustaining 25-plus knots and gusting well over 35 knots.

That forced the cancellation of tours of the schooner and talks with captain and crew, which were scheduled for Thursday in Greenport. Heavy winds continued into the evening, with a small craft advisory in effect. The museum wrote: “Consider this a most maritime reminder that we control a great many things, but wind and sea remain stronger.”

The America set sail in the early Friday morning hours, arriving in Greenport in time for scheduled educational tours with local students earlier today. 

Thursday June 9, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Nadine Dumser.)

In the news tonight:  Connecticut law requires utilities to give more notice before taking down trees around power lines;  a second Schaghticoke tribe makes federal bid, hopes for casino; deadline approaching for insurance increases in New York; and, proposed New York law would alter how school budget tax cap is computed.  

Governor Dannel Malloy has signed into law a bill that requires utilities to give more notice when they plan to take down trees around power lines as reported by The New Haven Register.

Democratic Representative Michael D’Agostino of Hamden proposed the legislation after residents complained about overly aggressive tree trimming and removal programs implemented in the wake of severe storms that left thousands in the dark for as much as a week or more. The main cause of the outages was trees taking down wires.

When residents saw rows of trees being removed or severely trimmed, they protested the work, claiming they didn’t know in advance it would be happening.  D’Agostino said: “It’s going to be good to see that utilities provide more information to towns . . . so that all residents can be aware of those plans and get involved.The bill represents an important step forward in how we deal with the management of tree trimming, pruning, and wood removal issues in our communities … ” 

The Schaghticoke Indian Tribe of Kent filed a petition for federal recognition with the Bureau of Indian Affairs last Friday, a bid it hopes will result in the rights to open a casino in the Danbury area.  The Schaghticoke Indian Tribe and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, whose attempt to gain federal recognition failed, are two separate groups. 

Governor Dannel Malloy and Connecticut’s political leadership have fought for years the efforts by three tribes to win recognition, winning a substantial victory last year when the BIA ruled tribes that have lost their bids in the past could not reapply. That barred the Eastern Pequots of North Stonington, the Golden Hill Paugussetts of Colchester and Trumbull, and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation from making another application.

The Golden Hill Paugussetts were denied recognition in 2004. The Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation were federally recognized in final determinations that were overturned in 2005 after a relentless campaign of opposition by local, state and federal elected officials led by Senator Richard Blumenthal, who was then attorney general. But the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe says it was never denied recognition because a petition filed years ago never moved forward.

The Schaghticoke split occurred in 1986, several years before the tribes made separate applications to the BIA for recognition.

The cost of health insurance in New York is going up, but consumers can have a say on proposed increases according to New York News Connection.

Insurers have asked New York State's Department of Financial Services (or DFS) for increases that average just over 18% for individual plans, and a little less for small group plans. 

According to Heidi Siegfried, project director of New Yorkers for Accessible Health Coverage, those comments can make a difference. Last year the average requested increase was 10.4%.  The state reduced that to 7.1%.  Siegfried says DFS evaluates insurance companies' claims that rising medical costs or a consumer base with more health problems justify requested premium increases. Most proposed increases that are approved by DFS will go into effect on January 1 of next year. 

Comments can be entered online through the DFS website by googling "prior approval comment" and clicking on the DFS link.

The Albany Times-Union reports: 
New York school districts would have an easier time passing budgets and increasing local taxes under tax cap changes included in a bill introduced by the Republican-controlled Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday.  The bill still needs to be introduced by the Democrat-controlled Assembly.

If passed, the bill would enact some of the first significant changes to the tax cap since it became law in 2011. The first would treat all school ballot propositions individually, requiring a simple majority of more than 50 percent for propositions that come in under the cap and a supermajority of 60% for propositions that would boost total spending over the cap.

Such a change would have prevented the Patchogue-Medford district in Long Island from having to put its 2016-17 budget out for a revote this spring. The proposed budget fell within the cap, but failed even after getting 56.7% voter approval because a controversial busing proposition pushed spending over the cap.

Another change would include increases in the tax base calculation [of] any new property improvements that were subject to a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement, or PILOT.  In prior years, PILOTs went ignored. 

Wednesday June 8, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight:  low-income parents in Connecticut will lose access to Medicaid in August; Connecticut’s Health Care Advocate resigns to take State job; farm owners criticize Cuomo’s response to lawsuit over farm workers’ right to organize; New York Lawmakers and educators join to save university funding 

Thousands of low-income parents in Connecticut who will lose access to Medicaid in August need to start planning now, as reported by Connecticut News Service.

On August 1st, lower income eligibility limits for HUSKY A, the state's Medicaid program, will take effect and about 18,000 low-income parents will lose their insurance. 

According to Ellen Andrews, executive director of the Connecticut Health Policy Project, some will simply need to reapply; others may need to buy health insurance through Access Health CT, the state marketplace, but that can be very expensive. Andrews says: "So many of them will likely become uninsured and it's important for people to prepare for that, to know that it's coming and know what their options are."

Children will not lose their coverage with the new income limits, but parents should call Access Health CT to explore their options for maintaining their health insurance. Andrews says right now a 25-year-old parent, with one child, who earns $28,000 a year is eligible for HUSKY A insurance, but after August 1 that parent may have to buy insurance through the marketplace. "The lowest cost premium they'll have is $124.16 per month," she says. She says out of pocket expenses with that medical plan could be as much as $1,800 a year.

Connecticut Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri resigned Friday and will be starting a new job this week in Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman’s office where she will coordinate “statewide healthcare initiatives.”  Veltri has been the state’s Healthcare Advocate for the past five years.   

The Office of the Healthcare Advocate is an independent agency that helps consumers when they have disputes with their health insurance company. They also educate people about their health care rights and serve as a watchdog over Connecticut’s healthcare marketplace. 

Veltri also served as the vice chair of Access Health CT’s board of directors, which administers the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplace.  As the state’s Healthcare Advocate, Veltri oversaw a staff of 28 people who worked on behalf of insurance consumers. Veltri and her staff are paid through an Insurance Department fund, monies for which are provided through assessments on insurance companies.

Veltri will receive a $25,000 increase by making the move to Wyman’s office where her new salary will be $150,000, also to be paid through the Insurance Department fund. 

Farm groups are pleading with Governor Cuomo to defend himself (and by extension them) in a lawsuit over farmworkers’ rights filed last month, according to the Albany Times-Union. Farmers fear it could have far-reaching negative consequences for their businesses. 

The suit asks that farm workers be allowed to unionize. This would be done by removing the exemption for farm workers protections from the State's Labor Relations Act. The lawsuit was filed by the New York Civil Liberties union on behalf of a North Country dairy worker. Cuomo said his administration would not go to court to defend what he called “an unacceptable flaw in the state labor relations act”.

In a letter to the Governor, the farm groups said he was abandoning farm families. The letter cites efforts by the farming community and Cuomo to cut down on red tape and to pump up new agriculture-related industries as areas of past cooperation. 

The farmers argue many farmworkers enjoy benefits which can include complimentary housing and utilities, skills training, participating in retirement plans, and even earning equity in the farm business.

Led by New York Senate and Assembly higher education committee leaders, Ken LaValle and Deborah Glick, a group of SUNY and CUNY students, professors and their unions are making a last-minute push to extend a “maintenance of effort” law that will expire at the end of this month.  It’s last-minute, because the measure was not included in the 2016-17 budget.  A maintenance of effort agreement would ensure the state maintains certain levels of funding for the state and city universities. 

Students have paid $300 annual tuition increases for the last five years as part of a broad plan to stabilize the schools’ finances. The MOE, as it’s called, would help pay for upcoming staff raises laid out in contracts, as well as unpredictable costs such as utility expenses without having to make cuts in programs offered to students. A similar bill was passed last year but it was vetoed.

Earlier in the year, following a loud backlash, Governor Cuomo reversed a proposal to lower the state’s share of CUNY funding.  He said the state would pay its full $1.6 billion amount but only if he could hire an efficiency expert to look at ways to cut the City University’s bureaucracy. 

Tuesday June 7, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Melinda Tuhus.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut needs more young farmers; New Haven residents sound off on proposed garage for train commuters; A Long Island high school takes gender-neutral stance on graduation gowns; and Raise the Age New York advocates plan “sleep-in” at State Capitol.

State transportation officials held a public hearing last night at Gateway Community College, a few blocks from New Haven's Union Station, to hear the community's feedback on a proposed new 1,000-car garage to ease parking woes for train commuters. 

WPKN's Melinda Tuhus has more:
The seven-story garage would replace a surface lot with room for 260 cars. The views expressed about a garage that prioritizes motorists over cyclists and pedestrians and includes no other economic development were almost all negative.

Several speakers said the city's Hill to Downtown planning project promotes walkability, while the parking garage design promotes single-occupancy vehicle use, which is polluting and endangers cyclists and pedestrians. Helen Martin Dawson, who lives in a low-income neighborhood a few blocks from the station, said she and her neighbors are already surrounded by parking lots and garages, making the air very unhealthy.

“We really don't need any more garages. We need something to make the air better than what the quality of the air is now.” She added that nearby residents would like to have more input into the project design. 

The 45-day comment period ends June 20. Several city officials said they hoped to work with the DOT to improve the project, which is budgeted for $40 to 60 million in state funds and scheduled for construction from fall of 2017 to late 2018.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.

The number of young farmers in Connecticut has risen, but many more are still needed as many of the state’s farmers approach retirement age. WTNH-TV reported on the agricultural outlook.

The state has close to 6,000 farms employing nearly 30,000 people. With the average age of a Connecticut farmer almost 60, there is a drastic need for more young farmers. Thankfully, the message is getting out. The fastest growing part of UConn is the School of Agriculture.  27-year-old Seth Bahler is part-owner of Oakridge, the largest diary farm in Connecticut. He said the state and federal government have to help by creating opportunities and by not creating “too many restrictions because we’re creating food for all the people in the country.”

Farmers from across the state met with four of Connecticut’s US Congressmen Monday to discuss the challenges of new pests and plant diseases and the need for more agribusiness education. The good news for farmers is that the U.S. Senate passed a bill that will provide funding for more agriculture education in Connecticut and other farming states. Farmers also heard from the Deputy U.S. Agriculture Secretary about help with crop insurance and assistance for veterans interested in farming.

Newsday reports: 
The ceremonial dress for the Paul D. Schreiber High School Class of 2016 will be the same for young men and young women. The Port Washington school has taken a gender-neutral approach in the interest of equality for transgender grads, who now won’t have to choose between blue gowns for males or white for females. District spokeswoman Deirdre Gilligan said the change was made official last month at the request of a student. 

With this official change, the Long Island high school joins a national trend of policy revisions on transgender rights. Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition executive director Juli Grey-Owens said: “Anything that stops basic discrimination is a positive step.” The school’s graduation ceremony is June 23.

Albany Times-Union reports: 
Advocates for raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 in New York plan to remain at the State Capitol until the end of the legislative session June 16 as part of an extended “sleep-in.”

Almost 250 clergy also signed a letter addressed to Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie calling on them to raise the age. The letter says: “Too many are being swept up into the adult criminal justice system and getting trapped in a cycle of poverty and crime.” The letter also calls for more age-appropriate interventions based on rehabilitation.  

New York and North Carolina are the only states where 16- and 17-year-olds are automatically tried as adults.

Monday June 6, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: health insurers seek sharply higher rates in Connecticut; single payer health system bill passed in the New York state assembly; New York legislators weigh bill to remove the statute of limitations on child sex abuse in the Catholic Church; and Suffolk law will require dry-cleaners to say what chemicals they use.  

Some of Connecticut’s major health insurers are seeking rate increases far beyond medical inflation.  According to filings made public Monday, insurers are asking for an average increase of 26.8% for the individual plans offered by the state’s biggest insurer, Anthem Health Plans. 

Insurance Commissioner Katharine Wade has scheduled public hearings in August on the rate increases sought by Anthem, Aetna and ConnectiCare. They are three of the 14 insurers seeking increases on 18 individual and small employer plans providing coverage to over 330 thousand people in the state.

The filings come as the insurance industry, Wade and her department, are under intense scrutiny as health insurers are undergoing a period of controversial consolidation, with Anthem seeking a merger with Bloomfield-based Cigna and Hartford-based Aetna seeking a merger with Humana. Connecticut drew fire from consumer advocates when it recently joined 13 other states in signing off on the Aetna-Humana deal. 

Matthew Katz, chief executive of the Connecticut State Medical Society, recently predicted that if the two proposed mergers are approved by state regulators and the Justice Department, about 64% of the Connecticut health insurance market would be controlled by one company, Anthem-Cigna.

A bill to provide health-care coverage to every New Yorker passed in the state Assembly by an overwhelming majority last week.  Although the bill has the support of 20 Senators, it is unlikely to come to a vote in the Senate before the Legislature closes this month. 

The New York Health Act would provide complete health care without deductibles, co-pays or provider networks. Assembly Health Committee chair Dick Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat, lead sponsor of the bill, said the publicly funded system could save New Yorkers $45 billion a year.

Health-care costs continue to rise despite the federal Affordable Care Act, and almost two million New Yorkers still lack health insurance. New York's health-insurance plans are asking the state for a 17% rate increase for next year.

Dr. Oliver Fein, who chairs the New York Metro Chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, told New York News Connection that profits and administrative costs of the private insurance industry now consume from 20- 30% of every health-care dollar. Fein said eliminating the costs of private insurance would make it possible to extend coverage to those who now have no insurance.

A battle is underway in Albany over a bill to remove the statute of limitations on child sex abuse in the Catholic Church, according to the New York Daily News. The legislative session ends this week, and if legislators don't act affirmatively, the existing deadline for victims to file criminal or civil charges against abusers will continue to be their 23rd birthday.One of the proposed provisions would allow filing of claims retroactively.

The Catholic Church argues that the bill would leave an open-ended liability for it, but not extend the protection to the private sector. The state Catholic Conference, headed by Timothy Cardinal Dolan, has spent $2.1 million between 2007 and 2015 lobbying against the decade-old reform effort, as well as other measures.

As the legislative deadline looms next week, Assemblywoman Margaret Markey remained hopeful a bill will get passed. Her aides expect to meet with representatives for Governor Cuomo and the state Senate this week to craft an acceptable bill.

The Suffolk County Legislature passed a bill Thursday that would require dry cleaners to post signs in their stores detailing what chemicals they use to clean clothes. Advocates said it would let customers see which methods are “greener” for the environment. 

Under the bill, the Department of Health Services will create a website of “various solvents and processes” used throughout the county and detail their potential dangers. Two signs would be posted in each dry cleaner, using a color-coded classification system to show consumers what chemicals were being used.

The bill focuses on a common chemical used in dry cleaners: per-chloro-ethylene, otherwise known as “perc.” According to the legislation, perc is a “hazardous chemical considered to be a probable human carcinogen by the federal government.”

Friday June 3, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: the Connecticut’s Speaker of the House bids farewell; labor unions rally outside Democratic Party fundraiser in Hartford; LGBT groups push for malpractice reform in New York State; and the Suffolk County legislature appropriates funds for reconstruction of the Riverside traffic circle.

The Connecticut State House of Representatives took a few minutes during yesterday’s special session to say goodbye to its leader. 

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey (D – Hamden) announced in May that he would not be seeking re-election, ending his four-year tenure as leader of Connecticut’s House. Yesterday, the staff surprised him with a video tribute. The video featured current and past legislators roasting Sharkey and sharing fond memories over the backdrop of an ocean where sharks would occasionally swim past.

House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz (D–Berlin), who has announced his intention to succeed Sharkey as Speaker told Sharkey: “You handled things that would have made others walk away or just cry.”

Sharkey, 54, told his fellow legislators that he appreciated their kind words. He added that their position was rewarding, but a challenging one. Sharkey said: “It’s a very difficult job to ensure as Speaker the balance of fairness for everyone in the chamber.”

Scores of state workers carrying signs and chanting “no layoffs” held a rally yesterday outside the Connecticut Democratic Party’s annual fundraising dinner. The Connecticut AFL-CIO, Council 4 AFSCME union members, and their allies with D.U.E. Justice – A Coalition for Democracy, Unity, and Equality – and others rallied, sang, chanted, and encouraged passing drivers to honk their car horns in support outside the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.

Speaking on the state’s current budget situation, Connecticut AFL-CIO President Lori Pelletier said: “It is a bad budget for the people who have been laid off, for those who will be laid off, for the middle class, bad for communities, bad for everyone.”

Tickets for yesterday’s dinner started at $185 per plate. The event is the party’s largest fundraising event of the year and usually raises more than $200,000. 

On Wednesday, The Gay & Lesbian Independent Democrats joined a coalition—representing patients, workers, consumers and public interests—seeking medical malpractice reform in New York. 

Together with support from Senate GOP Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, a total of thirty-five local, regional and statewide organizations have now signed a letter to Governor Cuomo and Legislature, proposing a Date of Discovery rule. 

New York is one of six states without such a rule. Existing law unfairly penalizes victims who find out they have been harmed after the window for filing a lawsuit has already closed. 

The proposed legislation is named for Brooklyn mother Lavern Wilkinson. Lavern was not told the results of an x-ray revealing lung cancer for more than two years. By the time she discovered that error, the cancer had spread and was no longer treatable. Tragically, Lavern passed away in 2013.

Lavern and her family were left with no legal rights and without proper access to justice, because instead of basing claims on the date the patient discovers an error, current law limits victims to a period of two-and-half years from the day the error was made to take legal action.  Lavern’s Law seeks to close that loophole. 

Suffolk County legislators voted 16-1 on Wednesday to appropriate $4 million for the reconstruction of the Riverside traffic circle. The project will enlarge and modernize the traffic circle to a two-lane rotary and also improve access points. This will aid traffic flow in the congested area near the county office complex and Riverhead’s Main Street business district. 

Flanders Riverside Northampton Community Association president Vince Taldone said: “This is the start of the Riverside revitalization project and something people will see right away… Not only is it a wonderful thing for today’s residents and visitors but it’s also a sign of what’s to come for Riverside. I’m thrilled and can’t wait to see the first of the bulldozers.”

The new rotary's completion is incorporated into revitalization plans for Riverside that were set in motion by the Town of Southampton with its new zoning for the area and grant applications to help fund the revitalization effort.

Thursday June 2, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Thomas Byrne and Nadine Dumser.)

In the news tonight: ex-staffer for Connecticut Republican Senate candidate alleges sexual harassment; United Illuminating wants to up rates over the next three years; a proposed clean energy bill would make New York State a leader against climate change; Long Island residents voice concerns over proposed North Lindenhurst substation.

A former staffer for Republican U.S. Senate candidate August Wolf, of Stamford, filed a lawsuit Wednesday accusing Wolf, the campaign, and campaign manager of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment.

In the suit, consultant Samantha Menh listed more than a dozen examples of "sexually harassing conduct," including sexually explicit comments, derogatory comments toward homosexuals, and unwanted sexual advances. Menh also claimed that the campaign engaged in fundraising improprieties.

By law, candidates are allowed to receive $2,700 from individuals for each phase of the election – the convention, primary, and general - and these funds must remain separate. Menh alleges that Wolf contributed money to his campaign to cover up the use of funds meant for the primary account, thus overspending the funds set aside for the convention account by $40,000. Menh also asserted that the campaign violated election law by failing to have a witness monitor signature collection while gathering the more than 8,000 signatures Wolf needs to get on the primary ballot.

Wolf said the allegations were baseless.

Connecticut Post reports:
United Illuminating, the major electric supplier for 328,000 customers in New Haven, Bridgeport and Naugatuck Valley region, announced on Wednesday that it plans to request a three-year, $141 million rate increase. The company, a subsidiary of Avangrid, will ask to raise customer rates by $46 million in 2017, $52 million in 2018, and $43 million in 2019. Customers would pay about 5 percent more, or about $9 per month on a bill of $162.

Avangrid president of Connecticut and Massachusetts operations John Prete said that UI spent $92 million in 2014 and 2015 to replace older equipment and trim trees in attempt to reduce outages. Prete said: “This new rate plan will help us maintain the safe, reliable service that our customers have come to expect from us.” If approved later this year by the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, the new rates would take effect next January. 

The rate hike would be on the delivery charge, the portion of the bill that covers getting electricity to the customer. The generation charge that covers cost of energy is set by the public utility regulators twice a year.

New York News Connection reports:
Hundreds of labor, community and environmental leaders gathered in Albany Wednesday, urging legislators to pass the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act. The bill would turn Governor Cuomo’s executive orders on climate change into law.

New York Renews interim campaign director Paul Getsos said the act would make an 80% reduction in the state's carbon emissions a legally enforceable mandate, putting the state on track to achieve 100% of its energy from clean, renewable sources by 2050. 

If passed by the State Assembly, Getsos said, the act would put the state of New York at the forefront of national efforts to reduce the effects of global climate change. Also, he said, making carbon-reduction goals a matter of law would make it more difficult for a future governor to roll back the goals established by Cuomo's executive orders. 

Details of the bill are online at assembly.state.ny.us.

Newsday reports: 
Residents in the Long Island hamlet of North Lindenhurst are upset over PSEG’s plans to build an electrical substation near their homes. PSEG Long Island spokesman Jeff Weir said the substation, which takes in high voltage and reduces it to a lower distribution voltage, is needed in order to provide reliable electrical service to the area.

Francis Orlando of the North Lindenhurst Civic Association said she and other members felt blindsided by the electrical utility’s plans. She said: “We just got very annoyed about the way it was handled.”

Residents who live near the proposed site, a 200 by 200 vacant lot, worry about possible health risks and falling property values. Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer said the town has proposed alternate sites to PSEG, but the town has no jurisdiction over the utility.

Wednesday June 1, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Newtown gets new grants for trauma team; Malloy’s revised criminal justice legislation likely to pass; Dowling College on Long Island shuts down; and, Suffolk County begins attack on mosquitoes.

The Connecticut Post reports:
After the 2012 slaying of 26 first-graders and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown received a Department of Justice grant to fund a trauma team. That grant ran out in March. The federally-funded recovery experts had helped 900 people get trauma treatment, and were helping as many as 50 people each month who were dropping in for the first time for help.

Now Newtown has received a three-year grant to hire two additional full-time specialists in its new Center for Support and Wellness, bringing staffing to the same strength as the federal trauma team that left in March. The grant of $585,000 from the Federal Victims of Crime Act fund, will be shared by the town with two non-profits.

The groups are the Resiliency Center of Newtown, which does outreach and provides free trauma assistance and referral, and Embrace Hope, which provides free equine-assisted therapy to people affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy.

Governor Malloy revised his criminal justice reform package late Tuesday afternoon making it more likely to pass. Malloy’s Second Chance 2.0 legislation would eliminate bail bonds for nonviolent misdemeanor offenders and allow 18-to-20-year-olds to be tried as juveniles.

Last week, Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano told Malloy that if he agreed to drop the changes to the juvenile court system, he could get the legislation passed. Malloy spoke with Democratic leadership over the weekend and agreed to pursue only the bail reform portion of the legislation. 

Malloy said: “On a typical day there are approximately 350 prisoners in our state’s jails who are charged only with a non-violent misdemeanor, but who are too poor to post even a small bond. The vast majority of these defendants will spend a month or two waiting for their cases to be resolved in court and will then be released directly from court.” Malloy said reforming the bail system will allow the closure of another Connecticut prison. 

A spokesman for House leader Brendan Sharkey said Tuesday they would caucus the legislation to see what the status is. 

Dowling College, the 48-year-old liberal arts school in Oakdale on Long Island, will cease operations Friday afternoon after failed efforts to grow enrollment and find a suitable academic partner to stabilize the debt-ridden institution.

The college’s president, Albert Inserra, announced the decision in a statement released Tuesday.  Inserra said: “The college made every effort to form a suitable academic affiliation so that we could keep the college open.”

The college was more than $54 million in debt. 

College officials now are responsible for implementing a “teach-out” plan to ensure students transition to other colleges and universities. Molloy College, a private college in Rockville Centre, is working to assist Dowling students. 

Dowling was opened in 1968 on the grounds of the former Vanderbilt estate in Oakdale. The college offered degrees with schools in arts and sciences, education, aviation and business. 

It had 1,784 undergraduate and 670 graduate students in 2015, a drop of nearly 50 percent from its 4,500 students in 2009. The most recent cost to attend Dowling — including tuition, room and board and fees — ranged from $40,000 to $44,000 per academic year.

Suffolk County residents were possibly awakened by helicopter noise this morning as a day-long effort began to spray salt marshes in an effort to eradicate mosquitos. Newsday reports low flying helicopters were scheduled to liftoff at 5 am continuing until 8pm to target mosquito larvae, according to county health officials.

The pesticides VectoBac 12AS and Altosid liquid larvicide concentrates were to be sprayed, over marsh areas. The chemicals are diluted with water prior to spraying.

County officials said residents don’t need to take precautions, as any human exposure is unlikely, and the pesticide has “no significant human toxicity.” However, the EPA Office of Pesticides programs advises VectoBac 12AS larvicide is harmful if absorbed through the skin and causes moderate eye irritation. 

Spraying was to be conducted in areas of the towns of Babylon, Islip, Brookhaven, Southampton, East Hampton, Riverhead and Southold.

Some mosquitoes’ bites can transmit West Nile virus to people. Much interest this year is focused on mosquitoes found on the Island related to the type that transmits the Zika virus. To help, residents are asked to remove standing water, which is where the insects reproduce. That could include in cans, buckets and other containers, as well as old tires, tarps, pool covers and children’s toys.