In the news tonight: Bridgeport school board sticks with Teach For America; control of Connecticut legislature is a toss-up; fishing community urging regulators to re-open an abundant black sea bass fishery; and, despite Federal investigation, Governor Cuomo’s favorability and job-approval ratings hold steady
The Bridgeport Board of Education’s Personnel Committee voted last week to recommend a new three-year contract with Teach for America. Teach for America is a non-profit organization that employees recent college graduates to teach in low income areas. Bridgeport’s contract with the organization expires in June. The new one would cost the district about $680,000 over the life of the contract.
Ben Walker, a board member and Greenwich music teacher, said he considers it an insult that people with far less training than he received are allowed by the state of Connecticut to be considered certified.
Cathy Jaeger, the school district’s director of human resources, said the attrition rate for TFA corps members is actually less than it is for new teachers the district hires through normal channels over the course of two years. As of now, Jaeger has 120 vacancies to fill by the fall, and most are in shortage areas. Without TFA, she said, the need for long-term subs would be great.
Once the pact expires in 2019, corps members hired in the last year of the contract would be allowed to complete their second year of service, should the board not renew the deal.
The race for Senate and House seats in Connecticut is garnering its share of national attention. Governing magazine says the Senate races are a projected “toss-up.”
Currently the Democrats hold a 21-15 advantage in seats held. In the House, the Democrats currently hold an 87- 64 advantage over the GOP. The magazine says that, while the House is leaning Democratic, a 12-seat loss for the Democrats is not out of the question. The loss would be enough to flip control to the GOP.
According to the magazine, it is unclear how long Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump’s coattails could be in the upcoming elections. President Barack Obama helped Connecticut Democrats gain a supermajority in both chambers in 2008. Projecting which party will control either chamber is additionally difficult considering a large number of lawmakers are not seeking re-election.
A dwindling North Fork fishing community, faced with the closure of the abundant black sea bass fishery starting Wednesday, is urging state regulators to enact emergency measures to keep it open. As reported by Newsday, fishermen say June is the most productive month for black sea bass, which even regulators admit are teeming in local waters. With limits on other fish at low levels, they have little to turn to to make up the losses.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation isn’t issuing new permits for available fish such as striped bass or fluke. And those who can fish for fluke can only take a daily limit of 70 pounds.
Daniel Rodgers, an attorney for local fishermen, is writing to state officials, including Governor Cuomo, to ask that June be reopened and that the current 50-pound daily quota be converted to a weekly limit of 350 pounds. Fishermen would be allowed to catch the limit in a single day or several days.
A senior DEC official said the June closure and the 50-pound limit were decisions some local fishermen chose when presented with lower federal quotas last year.
As reported by the Westchester Journal News, despite a federal investigation into his office, Governor Andrew Cuomo maintained his favorability and job-approval ratings with New York voters, in a Siena College poll taken last week.
Cuomo's administration has been embroiled in controversy for the past month after U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stepped up a probe into potential bid rigging around Cuomo's economic-development initiatives in upstate New York. One of Cuomo's closest former aides, Joseph Percoco, was paid by firms with business before the state when he left state government to head Cuomo's re-election campaign in 2014.
The poll, however, showed little change in the Democratic governor's standing with voters: Cuomo had a 54% to 40% favorability rating and his job performance rating was 42% positive to 58% negative, both unchanged from a month ago. By a 60% to 30% margin, voters thought Cuomo was "an ethical public official."
The poll was conducted May 22-26 to 825 New York registered voters. It had a margin of error of 3.9 percentage points.
Friday May 27, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)
In tonight’s news: the Connecticut Chief Medical Examiner turns over the responsibility of unclaimed deceased bodies to municipalities; the Connecticut Supreme Court upholds its repeal of the death penalty; Gay-Straight Alliance groups are expanding in North Fork; and, a Rotary event raises money for homeless veterans on Long Island.
Two weeks ago, Connecticut’s Chief Medical Examiner Dr. James Gill warned that his office could lose accreditation due to budget cuts and an increase in overdose deaths. Yesterday, Gill sent a letter to municipalities to tell them that any “unclaimed” dead person will now be their responsibility.
Gill said the bodies of unclaimed decedents will no longer be transported to the medical examiner’s office as a courtesy. Citing state statute, Gill said: “The proper authorities of the town in which the body is lying have the duty ‘to dispose’ of these remains.” Gill suggested municipalities begin working with their local police departments to “transport and store” the remains before his office starts implementing the policy on July 1.
The office has a staff of 50, but Gill said an additional 11 vacancies that could not be filled because of a hiring freeze have compounded the office’s struggles. The office is due to be inspected for accreditation this summer.
The Connecticut Supreme Court declined to reverse a previous decision that the death penalty was unconstitutional for all, including the 11 inmates left on death row after the General Assembly prospectively abolished the practice in 2012. In its 5-2 decision yesterday, the Supreme Court upheld a previous 4-3 decision that will spare 11 men from the possibility of being executed.
In January, the Chief State’s Attorney used an appeal by Russell Peeler, who was convicted on two counts of capital felony in connection with the shooting deaths of Karen Clarke, and her eight-year-old son, Leroy Brown, to make the argument that the men who committed their crimes before 2012 should still be put to death.
The General Assembly prospectively abolished the death penalty in 2012, barring the execution of those convicted of capital offenses after April 25, 2012. At that time there were 11 men on death row. In August, the court found that the 2012 law “creates an impermissible and arbitrary distinction between individuals who committed murders before and after April 25, 2012.”
Mark Rademacher, Peeler’s public defender, said in January that the state has to show the court “why it was clearly wrong” in the previous Eduardo Santiago case when it decided 4-3 to abolish the death penalty for the remaining 11 inmates, including Peeler. The court declined to rehear arguments in Santiago, but allowed prosecutors to try and argue their case, using Peeler.
According to the Suffolk Times, Gay-Straight Alliance groups, or GSAs, are on the rise across North Fork. At Riverhead Middle School, the Gay-Straight Alliance now includes more than a dozen students. Four of the five local high schools also have GSAs. Riverhead, Mattituck and Shoreham-Wading River high schools launched theirs in the past three years. Southold launched its first, about 15 years ago.
GSAs are devoted to creating a safe space for LGBT students and supporters within the school, and to ensuring that all students feel comfortable being themselves among peers. The formation of local groups coincides with a national discussion about LGBT rights, and a trend in schools forming a support system for LGBT youth.
Groups meet regularly to share personal experiences, and discuss how the LGBT community is treated. Realities affecting this community include: feeling invisible; being threatened or injured with a weapon due to sexuality; dating violence; and, according to CDC, members of the LGBT community are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide.
GSAs engage in projects to help schools become more supportive environments, and attend local events and workshops. Southold Superintendent David Gamberg said: “It’s important to give a safe space to all kids.”
Local restaurants, wineries, and breweries strutted their stuff Wednesday at the sold-out “Rotary Uncorked!” event at Martha Clara Vineyards.
Riverhead Rotary president Tom Lennon said: "A portion of the proceeds of the event will be donated to General Needs, a nonprofit organization established in 2008 to assist homeless veterans with basic general needs — items such as underwear, socks, toiletries, towels, footwear and clothing." Four hundred tickets were sold to the annual “Uncorked!” event, where guests sampled foods served by dozens of fine East End restaurants and sip local wines, beers and hard cider.
General Needs founder and president Lonnie Sherman said: "Rotary clubs across Long Island have provided the group with crucial support. From this event alone, we will probably take care of 300 veterans.” Sherman added: “The thing you hear over and over again from the people we help is how the help we provided is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for them.” Many of the veterans — people of all ages — are alone and on their own.
General Needs vice-president Dr. Mitchell Schare said: "The trauma of combat service is long-lasting and makes assimilation back into civilian life very difficult at best."
Thursday May 26, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Nadine Dumser and Thomas Byrne.)
In the news tonight: Connecticut’s motor–voter plan debated; have Connecticut’s green house gas emissions been increasing; plugging New York’s campaign finance loophole; advocates say now is the time for GMO labeling in New York
Four Republican Connecticut lawmakers are critical of a proposed agreement for automatic voter registration. At a Hartford press conference on Wednesday they said the agreement between Secretary of State Denise Merrill and the Department of Motor Vehicles to develop an automatic voter registration for drivers is an “unnecessary and expensive proposition.”
Senator Michael McLachlan said the current system has no new implementation costs. Presently, a DMV employee hands a voter registration card to a driver at the counter, the driver mails it to his or her town. Merrill counters that the current, paper-based system is 23 years old, and would increase wait times at the DMV and cost the public more money for printing, postage, and labor. She said: “A more efficient and cost-effective way is available so we should use it.”
The agreement between the DMV and the Secretary of State begins a two-year process to develop a software system to automatically register voters when they go to the DMV. The agreement is a step by Connecticut to comply with an order by the U S Department of Justice to abide by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
Clean energy advocates say Connecticut’s green house gas emissions or GHG, have been increasing, but the state does not agree.
Acadia Center, a nonprofit clean energy advocacy organization, estimates that Connecticut’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by 4.4% since 2012. They say GHG emissions increased in both 2013 and 2014, the first two-year increase since 2003.
Connecticut’s Global Warming Solutions Act, passed in 2008, set a binding target of reducing GHG emissions to at least 10% below 1990 levels by 2020. But Acadia Center’s analysis also found that the GHG emissions level in 2014 exceeded the 2020 cap by nearly 1.5 million metric tons, or 3.7%.
Daniel Sosland, Acadia Center’s president, says that stronger and faster reductions in GHG emissions are needed through proven effective policies “such as eliminating costly energy waste . . . and increasing our clean energy supply.”
A Department of Energy and Environmental Protection spokesman said DEEP is still analyzing the data used by Acadia to determine the accuracy of the claims concerning the greenhouse gas emissions.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has introduced a package of bills to close a major loophole in New York state's campaign finance laws. The LLC Loophole allows individuals to form multiple limited liability companies, and use each one to give a candidate more than $60,000 in each election cycle.
Jessica Wisneski, legislative and campaigns director with Citizen Action of New York, calls the governor's introduction of bills to finally close that loophole a "really bold move." She said: “Now it's in the hands of the Senate Republican majority to let us know, as voters, whose side they're on." Legislation to close the LLC Loophole has passed the State Assembly several times, but has not yet made it through the Senate.
Republican Senate Majority leader John Flanagan called the governor's move a "red herring" that fails to address deeper problems. But Citizen Action’s Wisneski notes that despite major corruption scandals, reform legislation has been slow in coming. This month the former leaders of both the Assembly and Senate were sentenced to long prison terms on corruption charges.
Wisneski thinks legislators should be nervous about heading into elections this fall, having done nothing to clean up their act.The current legislative session ends in just three weeks.
Consumer advocates were in Albany on Tuesday, urging passage of a bill to require labeling of genetically modified foods before the legislative session ends.
Advocates have maintained that the bill has the support of a majority in the Assembly and is sponsored by almost half of the senators. Alex Beauchamp, northeast region director at Food and Water Watch, said there's no reason lawmakers shouldn't bring the bill up for a vote now.
The food industry has opposed GMO labeling, saying the food is perfectly safe and labeling would only raise costs and confuse consumers. However, polls indicate that more than 90% of Americans want GMO foods to be labeled.
Connecticut and Maine have passed GMO labeling laws, but they only go into effect when neighboring states pass similar laws. Now, Beauchamp said, the pivotal state in the push for labeling laws is Vermont which passed a GMO labeling law that goes into effect this July. According to Beauchamp, the New York bill, like the law in Vermont, would allow producers and retailers to use "GMO" or "genetically engineered" on packaging to meet the labeling requirements.
Wednesday May 25, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Anne Murray.)
In the news tonight: Connecticut’s co-op health insurer is set to turn a profit; a federal audit finds abuse and neglect of the developmentally disabled; advocates rally for a single-payer system in New York; and, the estuary program’s funding is reauthorized.
Leaders of Connecticut’s co-op health insurer say it will turn a profit next year although a dozen cooperatives that started under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have failed.
Ken Lalime, CEO of HealthyCT, said the co-op has endured by strategically adapting to changes in the ACA, and diversifying its portfolio. About a third of its business is insuring individuals, a third is small group policies and a third is large group policies. That diversity, Lalime said, makes HealthyCT less vulnerable to changes impacting the state insurance exchanges.
HealthyCT is funded in part by a federal grant and loan program. It has lost money every year, but Lalime said he expects the co-op to become profitable early in 2017. Despite losses, HealthyCT’s Annual Statement showed it had $92.2 million in cash and invested assets last year, which means it can pay all of its obligations.
Lalime said many of the co-ops that failed suffered from a change in the so-called “risk corridor,” which initially let co-ops recording major losses tap into funds that were a combination of federal dollars and money contributed by the co-ops. But due to changes in the law, co-ops never received the full amount they expected from the government.
The Hartford Courant reports a federal audit found that safeguards for people with developmental disabilities are severely lacking in Connecticut, with private group homes and state officials failing to report or respond to dozens of cases of potential abuse and neglect.
The audit, which analyzed the state's care of 245 developmentally disabled individuals from 2012 through the first half of 2014, found that private group homes frequently failed to report "critical incidents" to state officials, and state officials almost never forwarded those cases for outside investigation. Cases included a man who suffered a broken spine and a woman who repeatedly ingested razor blades and other dangerous objects.
The audit by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was the result of a 2013 Courant probe revealing abuse and neglect in the deaths of 76 developmentally disabled people in group homes run by the state Department of Developmental Services, state-run institutions, nursing homes and hospitals.
DDS, the state agency responsible for protecting individuals with intellectual disabilities, acknowledged serious flaws in the tracking of, and response to, serious injuries of people in its care. Officials said Tuesday that they have been working with federal authorities on a corrective plan.
The Albany Times-Union reports that advocates for a state-level single-payer health care system are ratcheting up their pleas for legislative action to create “Medicare for all” before the session expires June 16. While the Assembly’s passage last year of a bill from Assemblyman Richard Gottfried for the first time in more than 20 years marked progress, passage is unlikely in the Republican-controlled state Senate. Gottfried, the Assembly Health Committee chairman, said at a rally Tuesday that under the bill “Every New Yorker would be entitled to full, complete health coverage.”
In recent years as critics have noted the Affordable Care Act’s stumbles, advocates of a single-payer system point out that their system would be better. State Nurses Association 1st Vice President Marva Wade noted there are “still millions of people who didn’t get healthcare at all.”
Tuesday’s call for a single-payer system wasn’t without its detractors. The New York Health Plan Association chastised single-payer supporters for having a “utopian view of a universal health care system” in a memo in opposition to the legislation.
Tuesday May 24, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)
In the news tonight: Connecticut is losing ground on reducing greenhouse gas emissions; Riverhead and Mattituck to host public hearings Wednesday on controversial dumping plan near Fishers Island; Long Island VA Hospital ER closes; and, four water taps in Riverhead school district exceed lead content standards.
Connecticut News Service reports: The state is in danger of not reaching state-mandated reduction targets as greenhouse gas emissions have instead increased. Connecticut must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 10% below 1990 levels by 2020. But new analysis by the Acadia Center shows the state's total greenhouse gas pollution has increased almost 4.5% since 2012.
Acadia's Climate and Energy Analysis Center director Jamie Howland points out that expanding policies already in place, including investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, could get the state back on track.
Howland cautions against new, fossil fuel-reliant projects, which would lock Connecticut into long-term emission increases. With only three-and-a-half years to achieve emission reduction goals, Howland said it’s crucial the state establishes policies now to meet those standards.
The federal government’s controversial plan to dump dredged materials in the Sound near Fishers Island is the subject of public hearings Wednesday in Riverhead and Mattituck. Such open-water dumping was set to end completely in Long Island Sound this year. But now under a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plan, it would continue for the next three decades.
The plan – finalized in January despite vocal opposition from local officials, environmentalists and residents – renews the designation of four sites in the Long Island Sound as disposal sites.
The site just off Fishers Island in Southold, known as the Eastern Long Island Sound Disposal Site, will be the subject of the public hearings this week. It’s situated about halfway between New York and Connecticut, but officially in Connecticut waters.
Public hearings will be held May 25 at the Suffolk County Community College Culinary Arts Center from 1 to 3 p.m. and at the Mattituck-Laurel Library from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Written comments will be accepted until June 27 and can be submitted online or by email to ELIS@epa.gov.
Newsday reports: Veterans who need medical care on Long Island await the reopening of surgical facilities at the Veteran's Administration hospital at Northport. The 523-bed facility has been without its five operating rooms since they were closed in mid-February because of ventilation-system contamination. Since then, required surgeries have been done at VA hospitals in Manhattan and in the Bronx, or at Stony Brook Hospital, which is not a VA facility.
The hospital’s chief of staff Dr. Mark Kaufman said that since February, 117 veterans have had to reschedule surgeries. Of them, 69 were treated at other facilities, and 48 chose to postpone surgery until Northport becomes available again.
Phillip Moschitta, the center’s director, said he hoped to have the surgical suite operational again by early June, after engineers install temporary air filters in each of the operating rooms to reduce particulate emissions. He said the particle contamination emanated from rusting parts and crumbling concrete in a dedicated ventilation system that serves the surgical suite in the center’s 44-year old main medical facility.
The medical center’s chief engineer Ronald Brattain said temporary filters that are expected to allow the operating rooms to open in June will cost about $32,000, and that a more permanent fix will take longer and cost in the neighborhood of $600,000 to $700,000.
Water tests conducted last month at Riverhead Central School District revealed that four of 250 water taps in school buildings exceeded federal standards for lead content. Further testing indicated the higher lead levels originated from the tap water fixtures and not the water pipes. Following the guidance of the water testing company JC Broderick, the fixtures have been removed and, once replaced, will be retested.
The testing company noted that these anomalies have appeared in about 65% of the school buildings they’ve tested across Suffolk County. Going forward, the school district plans to conduct water tests annually. The water tests encompassed all water taps in the district, including all school buildings, the bus garage, and district office.
Two of the taps that exceeded federal standards for lead content were located in Riverhead Middle School, another in a middle school classroom sink, and another in Roanoke Avenue School.
Monday May 23, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Scott Schere.)
In the news tonight: students air grievances after Bridgeport school shooting; Malloy’s criminal justice initiative raises the age proposal for youth charged with crime; and, Suffolk Health Department septic system proposal examined.
The Connecticut Post reports:
After two days of fights in Bridgeport high schools following the fatal shooting last week of one teen by another, the Wednesday meeting of the Village Initiative Project, became a support session. The Project is a college prep program that draws students to the Margaret Morton Government Center every week.
The event drew more than 100 youths who attend the program, along with VIP graduates, parents and other community members. Teresa Wilson, VIP director said: “Our children are hurting, grieving and there is no outlet for their pain.”
Many of those who crowded into a forum about the swell in youth violence in the city came with questions. Others carried with them admitted anger issues.
Tamera Ancrum, 17, brought scars from having been shot in the leg leaving a party a year ago. Not all of her wounds are physical. She said: “It was a very bad experience, It was like a nightmare to me. It’s what we live in.”
Earlier Wednesday, Fairchild Wheeler School was placed in a “lockdown, lockout’’ after fights broke out among students Destiny Humbert, 16, a junior at Fairchild, said she was involved in one of the fights: “I have anger issues, and I took it out today, I did. ”Tiana Krause, 16, a junior at Fairchild, said that, like everyone else, she ran to see one fight. Krause said: “Instead of being in combat mode, we just got to help heal each other.”
Interim Schools Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz said extra security has been deployed to Fairchild, and to Harding High School, where a student was caught with a loaded gun Friday, and where fights have also been reported. Rabinowitz said: “The school system is a microcosm of the community, I think we need to address the violence in the community.”
Governor Malloy is hoping the legislature gives his criminal justice initiative a second look this week, but as of last Friday there’s been no date scheduled.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, a North Haven Republican, said he has “serious public safety concerns” about the “raise the age” portion of the proposal.
Malloy’s top criminal adviser, Michael P. Lawlor. said a person between the ages of 18 and 20 who is arrested for a crime would need to apply for “youthful offender” status. Lawlor said the prosecutor and a judge would get to decide whether the individual should receive that status based on the crime they committed.
Lawlor said there are some categories of crime that would disqualify a person for youthful offender status, such as a previous conviction or if you’re considered a “serious juvenile offender.”
The Suffolk County Department of Health released a draft of a new Sanitary Code last week. The new code would allow property owners to install “innovative and alternative on-site wastewater treatment systems” that reduce nitrogen discharges to groundwater.
But the health department, which has been studying and testing advanced septic systems for several years, has not approved any such system for use. In Suffolk County an estimated 360,000 homes use conventional private septic systems that do not reduce nitrogen.
There are two concerns according to Suffolk Legislator Al Krupski, a Cutchogue Democrat and Kevin McAllister of Defend H2O, an environmental activist. Krupski told the Suffolk Times he “wants to make sure the code states very clearly that the intention of the new article is not to increase density.”
The county health department will generally allow higher development density where public water and wastewater treatment are available. Kevin McAllister of Defend H20 says the county is not going far enough to seriously address the nitrogen crisis threatening our drinking water supply and water bodies.
The draft code doesn’t set performance standards for the advanced systems other than requiring “a greater reduction in total nitrogen” than conventional on-site systems. But the Health Department says the standard will be set at 19 mg/l. According to McAllister conventional systems have a total nitrogen output of 50 to 60 mg/l, so 19 mg/l is a significant reduction, but existing technology allows for under 10 mg/l.
A draft of the new sanitary code will be the subject of a June 15 public hearing before the Suffolk County Board of Health at its Great River office.
Friday, May 20, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)
In tonight’s news, two Wall Street firms downgrade Connecticut bonds; a Connecticut lawmaker urges paid family leave advocates to keep pushing; a small victory in the fight to save Plum Island; and a bill requiring election of Long Island Power Authority trustees is introduced in the New York State legislature.
Two of the four Wall Street rating agencies lowered Connecticut’s credit rating one notch prior to an upcoming bond sale.
Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings lowered Connecticut’s general obligation bonds from AA to AA-. Moody’s Investors Service and Kroll Bond Ratings affirmed their Aa3 and AA ratings, respectively, but gave the bonds a negative outlook, which means they will be under review for one or two years.
The downgrade, according to S&P Global Ratings credit analyst David Hitchcock, reflects the lack of flexibility in Connecticut’s budget. The rising debt service, pension and other fixed costs are becoming a significant portion of the overall budget and could hamper the state’s ability to make further budget cuts if revenue falls short.
The rating news comes in advance of a $500 million tax exempt general obligation refunding bond sale being offered next week. State Treasurer Denise Nappier said, “With interest rates close to historic lows, this debt refinancing transaction will bring down the State’s debt cost and deliver much needed current and long-term budget savings for our citizens.”
There will be an exclusive order period for retail investors on Monday, May 23, and pricing for institutional investors on Tuesday, May 24.
Those fighting for Connecticut to adopt a paid family leave law, regardless of the size of the company workers are employed by, received blunt advice from a lawmaker yesterday on how to kickstart their initiative.
At a roundtable discussion sponsored by the Connecticut Working Families Party, Representative Robyn Porter (D – New Haven) told a group of activists that: “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.”
Porter told the activists and organizers present that the group must do a “better job of framing and messaging” why family medical leave is a good idea that won’t cost employers money and won’t cost lawmakers votes come election time.
The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated this year that implementing a Paid Family and Medical Leave program would cost anywhere between $13.6 million in 2017 and $18.9 million in 2018 to operate through the Department of Labor. That fiscal note ultimately doomed the bill.
A bill requiring election of Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) trustees was introduced in the State Legislature Wednesday by Sen. Ken LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele. The lawmakers said: “LIPA would be responsible to Long Islanders, not Albany.”
The current LIPA board of trustees — a nine-member appointed board — would be replaced by a board consisting of eight members elected by voters from eight districts having equal population. The ninth member, the chairperson, would be appointed by the governor.
The bill provides transparency and accountability to the public, its sponsors say. The legislation would also restore the oversight functions of the state comptroller and state attorney general over contracts, fiscal, and legal issues. LIPA would be precluded from approving a final rate plan until a public hearing is held in each county of the service area.
The issuance of debt by LIPA would be subject to a mandatory public referendum of residents in the LIPA service area. Also, the Department of Public Service would have actual approval authority over rate increases, rather than only being able to make recommendations to the LIPA board.
Thursday May 19, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Nadine Dumser and Thomas Byrne.)
In the news tonight: Metro-North to Operate Regular Train Service for Friday, May 20; Connecticut’s House speaker Sharkey retiring; Pressure growing on Suffolk County D A to resign; and driver arrested after car hits striking Verizon worker.
For Friday, May 20, Metro-North is operating a regular weekday schedule.
Customers should anticipate some residual delays due to speed restrictions on all four tracks on the Park Avenue Viaduct.
Metro-North is getting back on track after a massive fire that damaged a railroad tressle in Harlem on Tuesday, according to The Connecticut Post.
The railroad was operating at about 75 percent of ridership capacity Thursday.
All lines were running on a Saturday schedule.
Crews have made significant progress on repairs to the railroad's Park Avenue Viaduct that was damaged by Tuesday's four-alarm fire beneath the structure.
Speeds of trains were reduced through the area affected by the fire.
Customers were encouraged to take a subway connection as an alternate service in and out of New York City.
News of Connecticut House speaker Brendan Sharkey’s retirement from politics sent shockwaves through Hamden Democrats Monday according to the New Haven Register. Sharkey’s announcement came as a complete surprise, as many believed he would seek another two-year term.
Legislative Council President James Pascarella announced Monday he would seek the Democratic nomination when the Town Committee met today. Democratic Town Committee member Joshua Elliot is also seeking the committee’s endorsement. He was part of a slate of candidates who forced a primary earlier this year for positions representing the 9th District. So it’s likely the party’s nominee will be decided through a primary.
Sharkey said he was proud of his accomplishments over the past 16 years, such as gun safety laws, repealing the death penalty, and saving taxpayer dollars. But he was more proud of things that made real differences in the lives of Hamden families at a local level.
Sharkey’s announcement comes at the close of a contentious budget season that pitted House and Senate Democrats against Governor Malloy. But on Monday, Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, and Senate President Martin M. Looney had only words of praise for Sharkey.
Pressure is growing on Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota to resign
Yesterday, three members of the Suffolk County legislature delivered a letter to Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory asking that the legislature hold public hearings into the alleged corruption in county law enforcement. This follows a news conference last week where Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone demanded that Spota resign.
Several other legislators, both Democratic and Republican, have asked Spota to answer allegations that he failed to prosecute possible criminal activity that was uncovered in wiretaps, according to a report in Long Island’s Newsday. Presiding Officer Gregory said: “We’re trying to build a consensus on what we want to do.” Legislator William Lindsay said: “If Spota won’t appear, I would take the position he should resign.”
Spota’s office declined comment but he has previously denied wrongdoing and has stated that he will not resign.
A driver was arrested after police said he revved his car engine and struck at least one person Thursday morning outside Verizon headquarters in Bohemia. Suffolk County police said no one was injured, but said one person was taken to a local hospital as a precautionary measure.The incident occurred at 7:17 a.m. outside the Verizon building on Knickerbocker Avenue where striking workers were standing.
The Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represent nearly 40,000 installers, customer service employees, repairmen and other service workers in New York, Connecticut, seven other states and Washington DC have been on strike since April 13.
They had been working without a contract since August and the unions have said they’re striking because Verizon wants to freeze pensions, make layoffs easier and rely more on contract workers.
Police said that Thursday morning the driver, in a Mercedes-Benz, “revved his engine and drove into one, then put the car in reverse” — and, attempted to strike another. The driver was charged with one count of reckless endangerment.
The investigation is continuing.
Wednesday May 18, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Nadine Dumser.)
Under threat of a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice, the state Department of Motor Vehicles and the Secretary of State agreed to come up with a plan to automatically register drivers to vote when they go to the DMV.
Under the current program, which according to the federal government violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, a customer is registered to vote only if he or she chooses that option.
A federal investigation found that Connecticut’s Department of Motor Vehicles was failing a majority of the time to offer voters a chance to register when they applied for driver’s licenses or state-issued identification cards.
The DMV and Secretary of the State Denise Merrill agreed Tuesday to come up with an innovative new system that would automatically process the voter registration. The plan will take two years to develop, according to the timeline laid out in the memorandum of understanding.
It is estimated that 400,000 eligible Connecticut citizens will be added to the voter rolls through automatic voter registration.
Connecticut News Service reports:
A leading child-advocacy organization says the budget passed by the Connecticut legislature cuts investment in children and families, undermines transparency and jeopardizes future prosperity.
Ellen Shemitz, executive director of Connecticut Voices for Children, says overall, the cuts to programs that support children and families, more than $230 million, were small compared to some other program areas. But she maintains relying on cuts alone to balance the budget was unnecessary.
Shemitz says: "We live in a state where there are tremendous resources and there's great wealth.” She says legislators can bring in new revenue next year by making adjustments to tax exemptions which total more than $7 billion.
Shemitz says the cuts follow on decades of state disinvestment from schools, family health, child welfare and other services. She is also concerned that the state has fundamentally altered the way it will calculate this and all future budgets.
Rather than starting with the cost of maintaining the same level of services, legislators will only look at what was budgeted in the previous year, as the costs increase.
New York school districts were mostly able to avoid huge tax hikes in their 2016-17 budgets thanks to a large increase in state aid. New York lawmakers are sending an extra $1.4 billion to schools next year according to the Albany Times-Union.
Voters in most school districts in Suffolk County approved budget increases Tuesday that were under the State-mandated 2% increase over the previous year. That limit can be overcome when at least 60% of voters approve the increase. Among the districts were higher budget increases were approved were Amagansett and Bridgehampton.
Voters in the tiny Tuckahoe school district in Southampton Town failed to pass a 2.3 % budget increase which did not get the approval of at least 60% of voters. The budget will be re-voted in a few weeks.
In the Harborfields district in western Suffolk, voters approved a budget that for the first time includes funding for full-day kindergarten.
Tuesday May 17, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)
In the news tonight: bottled water deal in Hartford area raises concerns; Connecticut Senator calls for airlines to drop baggage fees to reduce long security lines; Suffolk County lakes are increasingly tainted by algae; and, Southold Town’s parking ticket amnesty program set for June.
Public News Service reports:
A deal allowing Niagara Bottling to bottle and sell water from the Hartford area's public water supply has some residents up in arms. The company plans to draw up to 1.8 million gallons of water a day from the system.
Valerie Rossetti of Save Our Water Connecticut says the deal gives the company priority over residents, even in a drought. She says: "Our natural resource…is becoming a corporate asset that's being sold off for profiteering by corporations."
Niagara says the plant, at full capacity, would use only 2.3 % of the available water supply while creating what it describes as "120 good-paying jobs." Rossetti says her group thinks the volume of water is huge, adding that bottled water differs from other uses that keep water cycling through the local environment. Niagara also received a $4.1 million tax abatement along with discounts on the water and sewage use.
Legislation that would give residential consumers priority during water-supply emergencies and prohibit commercial bottlers from being charged less for water than local residents pay passed the State Senate this spring, but stalled in the House.
To reduce lengthy lines at airport security checkpoints, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal said America’s airlines need to drop their baggage fees. Citing the recent deadly attack at the Brussels airport, the Senator said the lines waiting to get past the metal detectors “have become the new target of choice for violent extremists.”
Blumenthal and Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts have urged airlines to allow people to check bags for free in order to reduce required inspections by TSA workers. But it doesn’t appear the airlines will go along. Denver-based Frontier Airlines told the senators in a recent letter that it shares concerns regarding lines but doesn’t think dropping baggage fees will help. According to airfarewatchdog.com, airlines generally charge between $20 and $45 for the first checked bag, and more for additional luggage.
Airlines urge customers to sign up for the TSA Pre-Check program that offers an easier way to get through checkpoints.
Blumenthal said if the airlines don’t take action to remove baggage charges, he’d seek legislation to force their hand.
The number of Suffolk County lakes affected by blue green algae has more than tripled in three years, raising concerns about the safety of local swimming holes, environmental activists said Monday. Leaders from the Long Island Clean Water Partnership cited new data from the state Department of Environmental Conservation that they said showed algal blooms are occurring in more Suffolk lakes and lasting longer.
Citizens Campaign for the Environment executive director Adrienne Esposito said the number of contaminated Suffolk County lakes has grown from one in 2012 to 16 last year. She said Suffolk leads New York State in the number of contaminated fresh water lakes. Esposito said: “It’s absolutely alarming.” According to Esposito, algal blooms, caused by untreated sewage discharges, can lead to health issues such as liver failure and neurological defects if ingested.
In recent weeks, Suffolk County and Brookhaven Town officials have proposed separate plans to require or encourage installation of upgraded sewage treatment systems to protect lakes and streams.
Southold Town of Suffolk County will offer an amnesty program for people with unpaid parking tickets issued between January, 2007 and February, 2016. During the month of June, Southold Town Justice Court will grant a 50% reduction in the amount of fines and late penalties. This is only valid if the parking tickets are paid in full.
Between January 2007 and February 2016, the town issued 984 unpaid parking tickets adding up to more than $170,000 in base fines and late penalties.
Officials describe the program as a one-time opportunity to resolve unanswered summonses. After June, the penalties and all appropriate enforcement and collection procedures will resume. Payment for unpaid parking tickets may be made online, by mail or in person at the Southold Town Justice Court office.
Monday, May 16, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Scott Schere.)
In the news tonight: deeply cut Connecticut budget sent to Governor; House leader will call it quits; New York Comptroller has a plan to reform fiscal policy; Peconic River set to produce another fish kill; and, Shinnecocks are protesting Village beach access fees.
The Connecticut House sent a budget with deep spending cuts to the Governor on Friday. Democratic lawmakers said the $19.76 billion budget that closes a nearly $1 billion deficit is unpleasant, but necessary in order to deal with a sluggish economy and lagging revenues. The bill passed 74-70 after more than six hours of debate. Even with the changes, the budget is still expected to run a $1.3 billion deficit next year.
State Representative Toni Walker called the final version an austere budget in which there are structural changes across government through reductions in spending down to 2011 levels without raising taxes and without borrowing. Especially hard hit are the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the Department of Children and Families, and the Department of Correction.
The budget also caps state pensions at $125,000 for non-union employees and cuts education funding and other grants to cities and towns. Governor Malloy has said he plans to lay off 2,500 state employees. He’s already given pink slips to 650.
State tax revenues are down, primarily because of reduced payrolls, but taxes from gambling, alcohol, and smoking are up.
The State Senate approved the budget Thursday after its own three-hour debate.
House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, a Hamden Democrat, who oversaw the difficult passage of the state budget Friday, said Sunday he will not seek re-election this fall to a ninth term in the General Assembly.
House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz will be a candidate to succeed him if Democrats retain their majority this fall.
A report by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli calls for changes to the state’s fiscal practices to bring increased transparency and accountability to state finances. The changes include: limiting discretionary lump sum spending, restricting “backdoor spending” by public authorities and imposing a constitutional limit on state debt.
DiNapoli’s reforms focus on four main areas, including spending accountability, adequacy of reserves, appropriate use of debt, and capital planning and prioritization. One proposal includes making the state budget more understandable and transparent.
DiNapoli’s proposal would require disclosure of the overall impact of legislative changes to the budget before adoption, including the cost of new and existing programs. It would create a direct link between the budget and the financial plan.
The Peconic River at Riverhead is in the midst of an algae bloom. Dissolved oxygen levels in the river are creeping downward and the river is packed with large schools of bunker fish.
The same conditions last year set the stage for several fish kills that began on this date, May 16, 2015. The most massive of those fish kills occurred on May 27 last year, when water temperature had increased and dissolved oxygen levels were near zero.
This morning, dissolved oxygen levels were at 5.2 milligrams per liter at the continuous sampling station at the Route105 bridge. The New York State Acute Water Quality Standard for dissolved oxygen is 3 mg/L. The EPA says the fish need concentrations of just over 2 mg/L to survive.
Members of the Shinnecock Nation are rallying tomorrow over a case in Southampton Village Justice Court that may determine the rights of members of the tribe to access the Southampton shoreline without a beach parking sticker.
More than 600 people have signed an online petition stating that this new interpretation of town and village policy “suddenly requires Shinnecock people to pay to access the same waters that have sustained our people since time immemorial, serves as a form of economic discrimination … and is a direct violation of our rights as Indigenous people.”
Friday, May 13 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)
In tonight’s news: there will be a new law to help Connecticut’s bees; the Connecticut state Senate tables a juvenile justice reform bill; the Senate also votes to cancel $1 billion in bonded projects throughout Connecticut; and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone calls on District Attorney Thomas Spota to step down.
According to the Hartford Courant, Connecticut’s General Assembly unanimously approved legislation aimed at helping the state’s bees, butterflies and other pollinators—considered essential to help fertilize commercial crops, flowers and trees. Welcome news because, Connecticut beekeepers reported losing nearly half of their honeybees last season, the twelve months including Summer 2015 through Winter 2016.
Michael Creighton, the state bee inspector, said that Connecticut’s commercial bee losses were “close to 50% … it’s a significant loss,” and higher than the national average of 44 %. Connecticut also has more than three hundred wild bee species. State and national experts call the ongoing loss of honeybees a major concern and unsustainable in the long run.
Extraordinary bee death rates are attributed to a combination of pesticides, disease, and poor nutrition due to loss of habitat. Climate change and rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have also been linked to population decline.
The new measure restricts the use of pesticides containing neonicotinoids. It calls for statewide plans to improve bee health, and orders the Department of Transportation to plant pollinator-friendly vegetation along highways. It was sent to Governor Malloy for his signature late last month.
A bill that would change who is considered a juvenile by the courts and modify the bail system did not get called for a vote yesterday by the Senate. According to Senate President Martin Looney (D–New Haven), it was unclear if the House had the votes.
After finishing up debate on the budget and detailing the amount of borrowing Connecticut will do for infrastructure projects, the Senate decided to call it quits. This is the second time the Senate has tabled discussion of this bill, which Governor Malloy has made a central theme in his second term.
Looney said his members wanted to know for sure the House was going to pass the bill if they were going to subject themselves to a four-hour debate after midnight.
The Senate voted early this morning to rebalance Connecticut’s credit card in the face of shrinking tax revenue, canceling or delaying about $1 billion in financing for a wide array of projects and programs.
Outside of this rebalancing process, the bond package for the 2016-2017 fiscal year also authorizes $382 million in new borrowing for municipal school construction, down significantly from financing for local schools approved in recent years.
The cancellations affect capital projects at public colleges and universities, municipal school districts, economic development programs, social services, housing, recreation and the environment, transportation, and numerous state facilities and information technology systems.
The state had two other major bond cancellations in recent years, pulling back $441.9 million in 2011, and $206.9 million in 2008. The Senate enacted the measure 34-2.
Yesterday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone called for District Attorney Thomas Spota to step down, but the longtime prosecutor refused.
County Executive Bellone said: "Tom Spota, you must resign from this office," following disclosures in Newsday that the office failed to prosecute possible criminal activity uncovered in wiretaps. Bellone also said: "This culture of corruption which perverts this government, which destroys lives, which undermines justice cannot be allowed to continue."
District Attorney Spota said Bellone's comments were based on a "vendetta" because Spota had prosecuted allies of Bellone. Spota said: "I have absolutely no reason why I should resign or be removed from office."
Beeline said: "The Newsday report, I think, gives a real insight into what has been happening here." He was referring to a report in last Friday's Newsday that raised questions about wiretapped conversations dealing with a politically connected attorney. Bellone continued: “You know, I have described what has been happening here as an operation. The report suggests it's more than that: that it's a criminal enterprise, and it must be stopped.”
Spota called the Newsday report fundamentally flawed. He said: "It should be disregarded in its entirety."
Thursday, May 12 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Thomas Byrne and Nadine Dumser.)
In the news tonight: Connecticut’s budget ready for Legislature’s action; New Haven crime is falling; farm workers right to organize in New York is subject of law suit; climate protesters interrupt FERC boss speech; and, environmental group files suit, says Federal energy agency’s powers are unconstitutional.
The $19.7 billion budget set to be considered by the Connecticut state Senate Thursday and House Friday, will eliminate thousands of public employee jobs and substantially reduce future projected deficits, according to the Hartford Courant. The budget has no tax increases and reduces spending for the General Fund for fiscal year 2017 by 4.4%.
The budget compromise devised by Governor Malloy and Democrats trims hundreds of millions of dollars in spending, making reductions in programs across the board, from transportation to public health to schools to economic development.
Business leaders have been particularly critical of the Democrat-controlled General Assembly for past tax increases and unstable leadership in Connecticut. They say this is pushing employers out of the state, pointing to the high-profile move of General Electric to Boston announced earlier this year.
But Republicans and special interest groups have sharply criticized the budget deal, which came after months of inaction and disagreement between the Democratic leadership and Governor Malloy.
The plan reduces transportation spending, a priority for Malloy, by about $33 million. And while overall municipal aid for 2017 is reduced, state aid to municipalities has increased by $109 million since 2015, according to the Governor’s office.
The New Haven Independent reports:
Crime is falling in New Haven in every category and in every neighborhood according to the city’s Police Chief Dean Esserman. New Haven officials announced on Wednesday that since 2011 homicides went from 34 to 15, nonfatal shootings from 133 to 63, and gunshots from 426 to 91 last year.
Officials attribute the dramatic drop in crime to several factors, including the return of police walking beats and a sustained commitment from police, clergy, and social services agencies to identify youths-at-risk and help steer them straight. Despite a last minute $8 million hole in the city budget, Mayor Toni Harp vows to continue hiring police officers. "We're still working to get there," she said.
The Albany Times-Union reports the New York Civil Liberties Union filed suit Tuesday against the state and Governor Andrew Cuomo over the exclusion of farmworkers from a labor law allowing workers to organize. The complaint alleges that Crispin Hernandez was fired from a dairy farm in Lowville, NY, after he and other workers sought assistance in organizing the farm’s employees.
In other industries in the state, it would be unlawful for an employer to intimidate workers, refuse to allow advocates access, or fire workers who simply seek to know and exercise their rights. But state law does not protect the rights of farmworkers such as Mr. Hernandez and his colleagues.
Governor Cuomo called the flaw in the state labor relations act “unacceptable” and in apparent violation of the state Constitution.
Citing the adverse working conditions of farmworkers, Manhattan Democrat, State Senator Adriano Espaillat said it’s “a travesty that they don’t have a day off, don’t get paid overtime, and don’t have collective bargaining rights.” In a statement, the New York Farm Bureau said: “The NYCLU’s assertions regarding farmers and their treatment of their employees are erroneous, insulting and disparaging.”
The Albany Times-Union reports:
Climate protesters drove the head of federal energy policy from the stage Wednesday during a conference of power plant owners outside Albany.
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Norman Bay was interrupted by about a half-dozen protesters as he spoke to a meeting of the Independent Power Producers of New York. As the protesters shouted about the risks of man-made climate change and demanded that he answer, Bay was quickly whisked away through a side door.
FERC, the Federal agency, faces lawsuits from gas pipeline opponents in New York and Pennsylvania who claim the agency is a rubber stamp for pipeline projects.
And this month, FERC moved to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. That lawsuit claims the commission is biased toward industry, has staff and commissioners who routinely leave to get jobs in the energy industry, and had never rejected a pipeline proposal. That was the case until FERC rejected an Oregon proposal in March, after the lawsuit was filed.
Delaware Riverkeeper seeks to invalidate a 1986 federal law under which FERC relies on fees collected from energy companies based on natural gas pipeline shipments. The lawsuit seeks to have the funding law declared unconstitutional because it makes the agency biased in favor of pipeline approvals and also because of FERC’s authority to grant eminent domain rights to pipeline companies, and its authority to pre-empt local and state law.
Wednesday, May 11 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Anne Murray.)
In the news tonight: Connecticut homelessness hits a record low; immigrant students in Connecticut to get scholarships; and, the largest commercial property in Montauk is up for sale.
Months after the state earned a federal designation for effectively ending homelessness among veterans; an annual count of the homeless came in at a record low, according to the Hartford Courant.
The count, conducted on Jan. 26 by the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, found 3,902 homeless individuals, the lowest total since statewide counts began in 2007. That’s a 4 % decline over last year and a 13% decline since the count started.
Connecticut is part of the national Zero: 2016 initiative to end veteran homelessness, and the federal government found in February that it achieved that goal by finding housing for all long-term homeless veterans and housing new homeless veterans within 90 days.
The annual count also showed a 20% drop in chronic homelessness in the past year. The chronically homeless make up about 15% of the homeless population.
Up to 100 immigrant students from Connecticut will now be eligible, for the first time, to get part of their education paid for with scholarship money.
TheDreamUS, the nation’s largest scholarship program for DREAMers – immigrant youth who came to the country without documentation – in partnership with the states of Connecticut and Delaware, announced Tuesday that Eastern Connecticut State University will participate in a new scholarship program for DREAMers, who cannot access financial aid.
TheDream.US will provide 100 scholarships of up to $7,250 each to Connecticut DREAMers attending Eastern Connecticut State University. No state funds will be spent on the program. Efforts to pass legislation in the General Assembly to give Connecticut college students access to financial aid regardless of immigration status failed.
In Connecticut, public colleges and universities set aside a portion of tuition revenue, $140 million, to be used as “institutional aid” to assist students with financial need. Undocumented immigrant students say it is unfair that they pay full tuition and contribute towards institutional aid, yet they are not allowed to access institutional aid themselves.
The owners of Gosman’s Dock Restaurant, a 477-seat eatery on Montauk Harbor, have placed 14 acres of developed and vacant land in Montauk on the market for $52.5 million, according to Newsday. The properties include six retail shops, four restaurants, three motels, two plots of vacant land, nearly an acre of beachfront on Block Island Sound and a 330-car parking lot.
Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel Inc., a Manhattan-based commercial real estate appraiser and consultancy that works on the East End, said: “It’s one of the largest commercial transactions of its kind that I can recall.” The Gosman family first bought the dock property in 1950 and its business started off as a chowder stand selling lobster rolls.
Montauk has been trying to balance its growing popularity among trendy visitors with a family-friendly, low-key quality of life. The spread in recent years of young partygoers — whom residents accuse of drunkenness, public urination, bringing unwanted traffic — has sparked a backlash.
Miller said the property would likely attract regional developers and wealthy individuals looking for “trophy investments.”
Tuesday, May 10 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)
In the news tonight: Connecticut saw boost in new business openings in 2015; new federal rules will regulate e-cigarettes same as tobacco; New York Senate Democrats focus on college affordability; and, nail salons in New York to give workers $2 million in unpaid wages.
More businesses opened in Connecticut last year than in the previous year, with small businesses leading the growth, according to state data.The number of new businesses starting in 2015 also outnumbered those that closed, according to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s office, which tracks business starts and stops monthly.
Last year, 28,730 businesses opened, compared to the 28,208 businesses that started in 2014. June 2015 was the biggest month for new business starts, with 2,657 openings. Most of those were limited liability companies, or LLCs, which are small companies typically run by a sole proprietor or partnership.
Over the course of last year, 13,621 businesses closed statewide. The biggest share of business stops came in December with 2,159 businesses closing. And the bulk of those were LLCs.
DataCore Partners economist Donald Klepper-Smith said business starts and stops are a function of the overall business climate, which is “challenging” in Connecticut. Klepper-Smith said the state will be lucky to see business starts break even with business closures this year. He added: “This is an environment in which business confidence has taken a hit in early 2016. We’re just starting to feel the effect of GE’s departure.”
The federal government last week moved to regulate the booming electronic cigarette industry, including banning e-cigarette sales to minors and requiring all tobacco products to undergo government review.
Under the new law, the Food and Drug Administration will regulate the all tobacco products, which now includes e-cigarettes, vaporizers and vape pens because they use a liquid containing nicotine. This new rule implements the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act passed in 2009, which bans sale of all tobacco products to minors, prohibits vending machine sales and outlaws free samples. These laws take effect August 8. Most states, including Connecticut and New York, already prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to those under 18.
Starting May 2018, virtually all e-cigarettes and any new tobacco products will need marketing authorization from the FDA. While the rate of cigarette smoking has declined among adults and youth in the past decade, the use of other tobacco products like e-cigarettes continues to climb.
E-cigarettes consist of a battery, heating element and cartridge containing a liquid with nicotine. When a user inhales from the cartridge, the liquid is heated and a vapor is emitted.
Albany Times-Union reports:
New York State Senate Democrats on Monday unveiled a 15-point plan aimed at lowering student debt and helping with on-time graduation. Included in the plan are tax benefits for employers who offer student loan assistance, expansion of state tuition assistance programs, including assistance for undocumented students, and implementation of student readiness metrics.
The proposal, prepared by the minority Democratic Policy Group, faces an uncertain future in the final six weeks of the legislative session. There are only 26 members of the Democratic Conference, six short of the 32 votes needed to pass legislation in the Senate. SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said in a statement that SUNY looks forward to reviewing the Democrats’ plan and working with the conference.
Senator Daniel Squadron, a Brooklyn Democrat who chairs the Democratic Policy Group, said there is “nothing partisan” about the proposals and the proposals “will save the state money over time by increasing college completion and success.”
New York News Connection reports:
Governor Cuomo announced Monday that the task force investigating wage theft in nail salons across the state has ordered 143 salons to pay $2 million in unpaid wages and damages to 652 employees.
Salons now are required to post a Salon Workers' Bill of Rights and to provide adequate ventilation and safety equipment for employees. These businesses must also purchase bonds or insurance to cover unpaid wages. As of last month, some 4,000 nail salons statewide had secured wage bonds.
Overall, New York State says more than $10 million in recovered wages were returned to workers in the first three months of this year.
Monday, May 9 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Scott Schere.)
In the news tonight: no investigation planned about voting problems in New Haven; one thousand workers march on Yale; teachers union suit over New York’s school tax cap law is dismissed; and Federal, investigation looking at relation between New York Governor’s office and major developers.
The New Haven Independent reports that the city has no idea how many voters were disenfranchised because of a primary day screw-up —but has no plans to find out.
However, Connecticut’s leading elections official argued that the event should prompt a review and a plan for avoiding similar mistakes in the future. Calling the situation obviously unacceptable, Secretary of State Denise Merrill said: “They should be trying to find out what happened and figure out how to avoid a repeat.”
The brouhaha resulted from over a thousand postcards being sent to voters in the city, ordering them to vote at locations at which they were not registered. Allegedly the mistake was made by the company hired to print and mail the postcards. Corrected cards were sent only two days before the election, and many voters claimed they never received the new cards.
Democratic Registrar of Voters Shannel Evans, who was overseeing her first citywide election since taking office in January, said she has no idea of the number of voters who showed up at the wrong polling station, and said she has no plan to try to find out.
More than 1,000 UNITE HERE Local 34 clerical and technical workers, community and union allies marched from downtown to the Yale Medical School at 333 Cedar St last Thursday evening.
As reported by the New Haven Independent, at 333 Cedar Street they rallied in the face of an announcement that an unspecified number of layoffs are coming at the medical group practice. Union leaders and medical staff argued that the university is not cutting the jobs to run a smaller operation, but rather to hire non-unionized workers through Yale New Haven-Hospital at a cheaper rate.
University representatives said that anticipated layoffs at the School of Medicine are not related to hires at the hospital. Instead, they grow out of a need to do more work with less money.
University spokesperson Tom Conroy said Yale Medical Group relies on two sources of revenue: money from payers, including Medicaid and income from a shared services agreement with Yale-New Haven Hospital.
Medicaid cut payments to the Hospital by $160 million and $1.8 million to Yale Medical Group.
The state Appellate Division’s Third Department has upheld a lower court’s decision to dismiss a suit brought in 2013 by the New York State United Teachers union against the 2011 law that created the state’s flexible 2% tax cap. The Union and other plaintiffs claimed the law was unconstitutional and damaging to the public education system.
The court’s opinion, issued Thursday, knocked down the lawsuit’s equal protection claims, which argued that the tax cap results in woeful inequality of resources for schools. The court noted that the state is required to provide “the opportunity of a sound basic education,” not the same level of services for every school district.
The opinion states: “The differences in the services offered by various school districts … result from a permissible consequence of local control over schools” and don’t violate equal-protection guarantees.
The court also knocked down an argument by the plaintiffs, who claimed that the supermajority voting requirement for districts that want to override the tax cap was unduly burdensome.
Teacher’s union spokesman Carl Korn said that while the union was still reviewing the decision, the plaintiffs are very likely to take the case to the state Court of Appeals.
The Albany Times-Union reports:
A federal subpoena received by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration in late April seeks information about any actions taken by Executive Chamber officials that might have benefited several major developers in New York State.
The companies include realty and development firms in the Rochester and Syracuse areas and Norstar Development, based in Ontario, Canada, that has significant operations in Buffalo. While each of the companies is engaged in a wide range of projects with state and local governments, all three are involved in the development of affordable housing — an industry that is among the governor’s most generous supporters.
The three developers among the subjects of the subpoena all have received lucrative affordable housing grants or tax breaks from the state’s affordable housing agency,
No one has been charged with wrongdoing in the ongoing investigation, launched by U.S. Attorney for New York, Preet Bharara.
The Cuomo administration acknowledged that the investigation had raised questions of “improper lobbying and undisclosed conflicts of interest” related to upstate development deals. The administration has launched its own probe, which will be conducted by an outside investigator.
Friday, May 6, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Melinda Tuhus, Nadine Dumser, Gretchen Swanson, and Mike Merli.)
In tonight’s news: juvenile justice reforms in Connecticut; layoffs hit Connecticut’s judicial branch; climate change discussed throughout Connecticut; an,d a Suffolk County committee stalls a bill that calls for looking into Long Island becoming its own state.
According to the Connecticut Mirror, Governor Dannel P. Malloy is expected to sign into law a new bill that is part of a tidal wave of change for the state’s juvenile justice system.
On Wednesday, the bill received final unanimous approval of House and Senate. It aims to sever the so-called school-to-prison pipeline, and overhaul how youth are handled in the juvenile justice system. The bill focuses on education. For example, under current law, some expelled students are not entitled to an alternative education program; this bill requires they enroll in one. Among other points, it shifts responsibility for addressing behavioral issues away from courts, and to the community.
To gain passage, the bill was stripped of anything with a price tag, but requires new reporting. Programs that handle youth will be tracked for outcomes, to see if they have reduced recidivism, so the state can direct funding to successful ones.
In line with his plan to close the state’s juvenile prison, Governor Malloy introduced a bill to redefine who is a juvenile. Next week, legislative leaders will vote on his bill to divert people aged 18 to 20 from the adult court system and instead, treat them as juveniles.
On Thursday, the Connecticut Judicial Branch served an additional 113 layoff notices to employees, totaling 239 to date. More layoffs are expected, but the actual number won’t be determined until after the General Assembly adopts a budget for the upcoming 2016-17 fiscal year.
Although Governor Dannel P. Malloy wanted to cut almost $58 million from the $385.3 million designated for court wages in his attempts to solve a budget shortfall, House and Senate Democratic caucuses recommended a $35.1 million cut.
Among the workers who received layoff notices were clinical and case management coordinators, family relations counselors, probation officers, and specialists who provide assessments used in connection with bail determinations, arraignments, community placements, and supervised release.
Meetings were held around the state of Connecticut Thursday night so residents could learn about measures being proposed by the Governor's Commission on Climate Change and make their own proposals.
WPKN's Melinda Tuhus was at the gathering in New Haven at Yale University's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies:
“About 40 people attended the meeting, which featured three presentations live-streamed from Hartford. A handout included 33 proposals to reduce climate change emissions, including several to increase energy efficiency and renewables like solar, on-shore and off-shore wind, and geothermal power. It also more controversially includes big hydro from Quebec and an increase in the state's already large nuclear power generation.
“Then those present split into two groups to discuss what else should be included. Two suggestions were a carbon tax that does not fall disproportionally on low-income residents, and a campaign to reduce Nutmeggers' meat consumption, since animal agriculture generates a lot of greenhouse gases.
“Finally, city officials announced they are updating New Haven's 12-year-old Sustainability Plan, with input from community members.”
Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.
A bill in the state legislature would establish a bi-county commission in Nassau and Suffolk counties to study the feasibility of establishing the state of Long Island, which would be comprised of Nassau and Suffolk counties.
The bill states that Nassau and Suffolk counties combined are geographically larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware, and its population of 2.8 million people is larger than that of 17 states.
It is sponsored by state Senator Ken LaValle of Port Jefferson and state Assemblyman Fred Thiele of Sag Harbor. The bill was introduced in January in both houses of the state legislature and is currently in the local governmental subcommittees of the state senate.
On Wednesday, the Suffolk County legislature’s Government Operations, Personnel, Housing and Information Technology Committee tabled a resolution requesting the state to approve the bill.
Thursday, May 5 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)
The Journal News of Westchester reports:
A panel of commissioners for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruled Wednesday that Federal safety regulators used the wrong data to analyze the potential economic impacts of a severe accident at the Indian Point nuclear power plant. The ruling, which reversed an earlier finding, will force the NRC to conduct a fresh analysis of the costs of a devastating accident and cleanup at the nuclear power plant in Buchanan, 24 miles north of New York City.
The decision was hailed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose office is spearheading the state’s challenge to Indian Point’s efforts to renew federal licenses for its two reactors. Schneiderman estimates that some 1.5 million workers would be needed in to take part in decontamination efforts in the event of a nuclear mishap, with cleanup costs surging as high as $1 trillion. He claims the NRC staff “systematically undercounted the costs and impacts associated with severe reactor accidents at the Indian Point plant.”
In a statement, Indian Point’s owner, Entergy, said: “None of the mitigation alternatives evaluated in the … analysis are measures the agency has deemed necessary for safety. They are supplemental to mitigation capabilities NRC safety regulations already require.”
Wednesday, May 4 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Anne Murray.)
In the news tonight: a bill to tackle opioid abuse is passed in Connecticut; a Bridgeport man sues the city over three mistaken identity arrests; a North Fork group discusses the deer crisis with a Suffolk legislative committee; and, the former assembly speaker gets a 12-year prison sentence.
A bill aimed at tackling the epidemic of opioid abuse won passage in the Senate Tuesday night and Governor Dannel Malloy plans to sign it.
The bill would limit initial opioid prescriptions for acute medical conditions to a seven-day supply while subsequent prescriptions for adults could be for longer; however, minors would always be limited to a maximum supply of seven days. Medical practitioners could exceed the limit it in cases of acute pain, or to treat chronic pain or cancer and palliative care, but practitioners will have to document the patient’s condition in the medical record and show that an alternative was not appropriate.
Last year, 723 people died from accidental drug overdoses in Connecticut and more than 60% involved opioids.
The bill received unanimous support in both the House and Senate.
A Bridgeport man was arrested three times and jailed after he was mistaken for a man with the same name sought by Texas police, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court against the city and the Police Department. Pedro Martinez claims the city of Bridgeport and several officers violated his civil rights.
An investigator for the state attorney's office determined that Martinez's fingerprints did not match the wanted person, and after being held in custody for a few days Martinez was ordered released by a judge. City officials did not comment on the lawsuit.
Martinez was arrested on two prior occasions by Bridgeport police on the Texas warrant but was released because he did not have the same identifying tattoos as indicated on the warrant alert, the lawsuit states. But Officer Mark Martocchio arrested Martinez again on Aug. 21, 2015.
The suit claims Martinez told several officers in the booking area at the Police Department that he had never been to Texas; however, the officers refused to check his fingerprints with the fingerprints of the wanted person.
Representatives of the North Fork Deer Management Alliance gave a presentation Monday at the first Suffolk County legislative committee meeting held at the Riverhead County Center in more than a decade.
Hazel Kahan and Amy Dries discussed the scope of the deer problem on the North Fork with members of the legislature’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee.
The alliance has been speaking to community and civic organizations to spread the word about “the seven biggest myths about deer” — and to garner support for the idea of hunting as the most effective and humane way of dealing with the deer crisis on the North Fork.
Committee members asked questions about the effectiveness of alternative management techniques, including four-posters and sterilization, that didn’t include culling the herd. But Kahan said after extensive research the organization concluded that herd reduction is the only feasible management method that can make a lasting difference, but it cannot be managed by recreational hunting alone.
Studies done by Cornell University show that 66% of the population would have to be removed each year in order to reduce the herd to a sustainable level.
Newsday reports that disgraced ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was sentenced to 12 years in prison for corruption Tuesday.
The sentence given by Manhattan U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni climaxed an astounding fall from the pinnacle of state government that Silver occupied for 20 years. Silver was convicted in December for aiding an asbestos doctor with grants to research mesothelioma and two developers with legislation in return for their help in funneling $4 million in law firm referral fees to him, and for money laundering.
The case — along with the conviction of former Senate leader Dean Skelos, was a capstone of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s crusade against Albany corruption.
Caproni ordered Silver to pay a $1.75 million fine, forfeit $5.3 million and ordered him to report to prison by July 1. Silver’s lawyers said they planned to appeal.
Tuesday, May 3 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)
In the news tonight: Connecticut Senate tables Second Chance bill with its bail system changes; a bill to stabilize revenues in nuclear industry passes Connecticut Senate; New York seeks federal approval to offer Medicaid to prisoners nearing release; man found responsible for illegal dumping on Central Islip lot will help in its cleanup.
The Connecticut Senate delayed debate Tuesday morning on a bill that would increase the age of youth treated as juveniles and make changes to the bail bond system. The legislation, dubbed Second Chance 2.0 by Governor Malloy, would allow 18-,19-, and 20-year-olds to have their cases heard in juvenile court.
But the changes to the bail bond system took center stage when reality TV show star Beth Chapman, wife of Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman, came to lobby against the bill. Under the proposed bill, judges couldn’t set a money bail for anyone charged with a misdemeanor, with a few exceptions. Judges could impose a cash bond on individuals who pose an immediate threat to the health or well-being of another person.
Malloy has said far too many people sit in jail because they can’t post a $20,000 bond, which requires them to pay between $250 and $2,000. A more controversial part of the bill expected to be eliminated would have allowed defendants to pay a 10% cash bond to the court instead of bail bondsmen.
A bill broadening the regulatory role of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, or DEEP, unanimously passed the Connecticut Senate and will go before the House. This follows a national campaign by the nuclear industry to stabilize prices in a volatile energy market and in reaction to nuclear plants that have closed prematurely due to cheap natural gas prices.
If the DEEP commissioner deems it necessary, the Millstone Nuclear Power Station could partially bypass daily auctions setting wholesale prices, and sell up to half its power under long-term contracts.
Senator Paul Doyle, a Wethersfield Democrat and co-chair of the Energy and Technology Committee said: “It’s not a subsidy. It’s an open and competitive process.” Millstone would bid against other electricity generating facilities, including New England's other remaining nuclear plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire.
The bill was never subjected to a public hearing, nor available for review until shortly before debate.
Millstone, the largest power plant in New England, produces about half Connecticut's electricity and 97 percent of its carbon-free energy.
Albany Times-Union reports:
Governor Cuomo announced Friday that New York will seek federal approval to provide Medicaid coverage to inmates with serious physical and mental health conditions prior to their release.
Federal health officials recently urged states to improve Medicaid enrollment for newly released inmates by starting their application process earlier. If approved for the federal waiver, New York would use Medicaid funds to pay for medical services and coordination within 30 days before an inmate’s release.
Cuomo said: “It makes little sense to send them back into the community with our fingers crossed that they will be able to find the help they need.”
The state expects to save money through the program, as continued medical care will keep former inmates healthier and out of hospitals. One in 70 formerly incarcerated individuals is hospitalized within a week of release, and one in 12 is hospitalized within 90 days, according to the governor’s office.
A full cleanup of contaminated construction and demolition debris dumped on a Central Islip property three years ago is set to start next week. The work is a part of a plea deal struck between prosecutors and Thomas Datre Jr., who pleaded guilty to four counts of endangering the public health, safety or the environment. The state Department of Environmental Conservation has approved the remediation plan at the 1-acre lot on Islip Avenue.
State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho has deferred sentences for Datre Jr. and Islandia Recycling’s Christopher Grabe – who pleaded guilty to two felonies connected with his role in the dumping – until the two prove they act “in good faith” by helping clean the Islip Avenue site and a sensitive wetlands area in Deer Park as well as helping to fix up Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood, where the two admitted dumping materials.
Three other defendants named in the dumping indictment have cases pending.
Monday, May 2 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Scott Schere.)
In tonight’s news: a retirement fund for Connecticut’s workers; May Day in New Haven; Manhattan U.S. Attorney probes Cuomo confidants over development projects; and, project aims to help with open space and farmland preservation in Riverhead.
Legislation passed Sunday by the Connecticut legislature would establish a quasi-public state-wide retirement program. Employees of all businesses with six or more workers would be covered, but they can opt out if they choose.
Proponents of the legislation say that there are over 600,000 Connecticut residents without any retirement aside from Social Security.
Three per cent of an employee’s salary would go into the plan. Contributions to the plan through a Roth IRA are taxable, since the state can’t afford to give up an estimated $10 million in revenue. The legislation will be modified through another piece of legislation, requested by the Governor, that will deal with how vendors are selected to run the program.
More than a hundred people marched through downtown New Haven on Sunday in the annual immigrants’ rights action.
WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus was there:
"The chants heard as the group walked down Chapel Street called for free education and free health care for all, as well as immigrants’ labor rights.
"Yale senior Sebi Medina-Tayac is a member of the Piscataway Nation and a member of Unidad Latina en Accion, which sponsored the march. He said the group wanted to bring attention especially to immigrant labor in New Haven, which is concentrated in construction and food service: “We’re able to create a vision for workers’ rights and freedom for all people, predicated not on an older approach to, like, lefty labor movements, but rather show the labor movement as something that’s diverse, changing, global and inclusive of people from all backgrounds regardless of citizen status or the color of their skin.”
"Marchers stopped to chant in front of restaurants that they say have mistreated their workers. They say that Atticus restaurant fired a long-time worker who spoke out against a pay cut, and hired a union-busting firm to thwart the mostly immigrant workers’ attempt to unionize. The owner, Charlie Negarro, was not available and a manager said their policy was not to comment on the charges.
"Negarro has a reputation as a community leader, and just the day before he had donated bread from his bakery to cyclists at the Rock to Rock bike ride. But he also stirred controversy several years ago when he put a policy in place at Atticus that barred workers from speaking Spanish in the dining area.
The protesters said they’ll be back."
Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.
The New York Daily News reports:
A former top aide and several others close to Governor Cuomo are being investigated by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office for potential improper lobbying and undisclosed conflicts of interest.
The probe involves an upstate power plant and an economic development program in Buffalo. A key target of the investigation is Joseph Percoco, who until recently was Cuomo's executive deputy secretary, [and] is a close personal friend of the Governor. Also implicated is Alain Kaloyeros, the politically-connected head of a state university high-tech research center.
Sources say those under investigation may have deceived state employees involved in the projects and defrauded the state.
The Peconic Land Trust will be partnering with the Town of Riverhead to assist with preservation and protection strategies for open space and farmland.
The Land Trust was awarded a $30,000 grant from the N.Y. State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Land Trust Alliance to support the project, The grant will underwrite the Land Trust’s review of the town’s community preservation plan and its transfer of development rights program.
In its release, the Land Trust said:“There are hundreds of acres of unprotected working farmland in Riverhead, as well as natural habitat including woodland and wetlands. But Riverhead is strategically positioning itself for significant development of commercial and industrial complexes.”
The project will seek to develop strategies that will leverage private funds to jump start the town’s preservation efforts.