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July 2016

Friday July 29, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson and Mike Merli.)
In tonight’s news: Connecticut Insurance Department to hold public hearings on rate hikes; new Sandy Hook Elementary School will officially open this month; Southampton launches three-pronged energy program; and, The State of New York withholds attendance records.
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Connecticut residents will get a chance next week to tell Insurance Department regulators what they think about the average double-digit rate increases being proposed by three health insurance companies. The largest insurance company in the state, Anthem Health Plans, has asked for an average 26.8% increase for individual health insurance plans marketed both on and off the state’s health insurance exchange. Anthem covers 56,700 people under their plans in Connecticut.

The public will have a chance at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, August 3rd to voice their concerns about Anthem’s proposal. At 9 a.m. Thursday, August 4th, the public will get a chance to weigh in on rate hikes proposed by ConnectiCare Benefits and 1 p.m. that same day on Aetna.

All the rate hearings will be held at the Connecticut Insurance Department, at 153 Market Street, 7th Floor, in Hartford.
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Today, town officials took the media on a preview tour of the new $50 million Sandy Hook Elementary School. More than 390 kids in pre-Kindergarten through the fourth grade will christen the new building at the end of August, when classes begin for the 2016-2017 year. The Newtown School District gave Sandy Hook students and their parents a preview of the new school on Monday.

The new school replaces the old Sandy Hook Elementary School, where twenty students and six adults were killed.
The Sandy Hook students were moved to a nearby school building in Monroe while the old school was torn down and the new school was built with state funds.

Important themes in the new school are connecting canopies, bridges, tree houses, and an inner forest.
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Southampton Town just launched a new program designed to bring together three sustainable energy components to make it easier for residents to reduce their electricity use. The new program, called Tri-Energy, merges two existing programs – Solarize Southampton and Long Island Green Homes energy audits – with a new program called “Peak Power Hour,” designed to provide a social reason to reduce energy consumption on hot days.

At a press conference yesterday afternoon, Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said the first component of Tri-Energy, the home energy audit, is one that many homeowners don’t take the time to take advantage of. The press conference was held near the main entrance of Town Hall, beside the Tri-Energy float the town entered in Southampton’s Fourth of July parade – a shed with solar panels on it.

Neil Lewis of Long Island Green Homes said that homeowners could save between $700 and $1,000 per year by taking advantage of the three programs.

The second piece, Solarize Southampton, was introduced by the town last year. It’s a program designed to offer bulk price discounts to homeowners who sign up for solar panels together. Southampton-based Solar Firm, GreenLogic, has been selected as the supplier for the program for the second year running.

The third component of Tri-Energy is perhaps the most unusual – it’s a form of social club organized around times of peak power demand.
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According to The Times-Union, last Friday its May open-records request was declined by New York State’s affordable housing agency, Homes and Community Renewal, or HCR. HCR said it is unable to provide copies of timesheets showing the work hours of a former employee, due to an ongoing federal probe into Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration.

The former employee, Steven L. Aiello, worked at HCR between 2011 and 2014. He is the son of Syracuse-area developer Steven F. Aiello, whose company, COR Development, is of significant interest in an ongoing probe into several state-funded, upstate development deals. COR has vied for, and won, state affordable housing grants from HCR. The company, its related entities, senior leadership and spouses have given at least $250,000 to Cuomo’s campaign since January 2010.  

HCR Deputy General Counsel Linda Manley wrote: “Given the publicly-disclosed ongoing law enforcement investigation with which we have offered our cooperation, we are unable to comply with your request at this time.” A request for financial disclosure from Joe Percoco, a former Cuomo administration official who listed earnings COR denies paying him, was also declined.

Law states New York government can withhold public records if they are “compiled for law enforcement purposes.”
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Thursday, July 28, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: environmental groups release a New England-wide report on the impact of natural gas leaks on the climate; in prison during Obama’s election, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim is a delegate for Hillary; Hamptons town leaders object to new offshore wind farm plans; and,East Hampton unveils plan for Community Preservation Fund water quality money.

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Several environmental groups released a New England-wide report Wednesday on the devastating impact of natural gas leaks on the climate. They held their press conference in Bridgeport, saying it is the poster child for the problem. 


WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus has more:

The report was a review of the research on the impact of gas leaks, which are mostly methane. Methane is 86 times more damaging than CO2 in its climate impacts in the short term. Claire Miller, with Toxics Action Network, said the new gas plant that PSEG is planning to build in Bridgeport will not reduce climate pollution over the existing coal plant, which the company plans to close a year after the new plant goes on line, although it will reduce ground-level pollution like mercury from burning coal.

Miller said about a dozen new gas plants are in the works across New England: "You know there’s this moment where we are finally going to go down the road and build another whole generation of fossil fuels plants that will set us way back or we actually have to take that leap and begin really building the grid of the future."


She said recent research has shown the amount of methane leaking from gas infrastructure is much higher than previously believed.


Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.

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The latest step on Joseph P. Ganim’s road to political redemption came over breakfast Wednesday at the Democratic National Convention, where Congressman John B. Larson cheerfully introduced him to the Connecticut delegation as “the comeback kid.” Ganim came back from prison in 2010 and political exile in 2015 with his election as mayor of Bridgeport, the office he resigned in 2003 to begin seven years in prison for corruption.


On Wednesday he was one of the mayors who chatted about gun violence. Imprisoned and stripped of his right to vote, Ganim could only watch the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Now, he is a delegate participating in the selection of Hillary Clinton as the Democrats’ choice to be Obama’s successor.


“It does really give you a moment of reflection. It does mean a lot, especially being there with John Larson. We have a great history together, being statewide candidates together. And John’s remained a friend over the years,” Ganim said. 


Ganim was elected mayor in 1991, the year before Bill Clinton took the White House. In 1994, Larson selected Ganim to be his running mate in an ill-fated campaign for governor. 


Ganim’s return to politics last year left the Democratic establishment uneasy. However, Ganim cannot be ignored as the mayor of Connecticut’s largest city, either as a voice on urban issues or as the leader of a Democratic city whose turnout could be crucial to Hillary Clinton’s prospects in Connecticut this fall.

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Two East End town officials who have expressed support for a wind farm 30 miles from the coast of Montauk to power the South Fork say a separate potential wind farm 12 miles off the coast of the South Fork would meet resistance if the state pursues it.


Newsday on Sunday reported that LIPA and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority have identified six “potential” wind energy areas for New York, including one that would stretch across the length of the Hamptons. NYSERDA last week noted that the South Shore wind area was identified only for “analysis purposes,” and it would have to undergo many layers of scrutiny and approval before moving forward.


Still, East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said he has already contacted state officials to express his concerns. Among those concerns, he said, is the potential for 450-foot turbines to mar pristine ocean views, even if they’re 12 miles from the town’s waterfront.


“I am sensitive to the aesthetics of visible wind farms off our shore because the beaches in our community are such an important asset. Anything that might distract from those, I would have a concern with,” Mr. Cantwell said. Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman also expressed concerns. “I’m not against wind power, but they have to do it in a way that doesn’t have visual impacts to a really important scenic resource,” he said.

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This November, the five East End towns are expected to have a proposition on the ballot extending the Community Preservation Fund — CPF —2% real estate transfer tax to 2050, with an amendment that would allow 20% of the money to be used by the towns for water quality projects.


East Hampton Town’s Natural Resources Department has been busy in the past few months putting together a Water Quality Improvement Plan for how they’d like to use the money. Changes to the town code to permit the extension of the CPF tax and the Water Quality Improvement Plan will be the subject of a public hearing at the town board’s August 4 meeting at 6:30 p.m.


East Hampton Natural Resources Director Kim Shaw said at the board’s July 12 work session in Montauk that, if the CPF changes are approved by voters, East Hampton can expect to receive about $4.5 to $4.6 million from the fund annually that can be used for water quality projects — for a total of about $150 million over 30 years. According to state law, the water quality money can be spent on improvements to wastewater treatment, non-point source pollution control and abatement, habitat restoration, and pollution prevention.


Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said that, if the CPF extension is approved by voters in November, no money for water quality will be collected until 2017, and the town likely won’t begin funding projects until even later than that. “But it has to start with community support for the plan, and this law will enable that,” he said.

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Wednesday July 27, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s 2014 re-election yields new GOP campaign complaint; Connecticut's Old State House will lose historical memorabilia — for now; New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says Congressional subpoena transgresses limits on federal power; and more irrigation restrictions announced for Riverhead Water District customers.
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A Republican municipal official filed a complaint Wednesday with the State Elections Enforcement Commission over the Connecticut Democratic Party’s acceptance of free legal representation in defending against a previous GOP complaint.

Trumbull First Selectman Timothy M. Herbst, who was the Republican nominee for state treasurer in 2014, said he based his complaint in part on a CT Mirror story about David S. Golub charging no fee for his defense of the Democrats and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in a case resolved by a record settlement of $325,000. Golub is free to volunteer his time, but state law prohibits a law firm or any other business from donating services.

“It is disingenuous to pretend that no expenses were incurred by Mr. Golub’s firm in the course of his defense of the Connecticut Democrat Party. Governor Malloy and the Connecticut Democrat Party continue to disappoint voters who have entrusted them to play by the rules. I hope the State Elections Enforcement Commission will investigate this matter and continue to hold the party accountable,” Selectman Herbst said. Mr. Golub declined to comment on the complaint or address the question of whether he used his firm’s resources in defending the Democratic Party.

The $325,000 settlement ended a fight over the power of the State Elections Enforcement Commission to subpoena emails and other documents related to how the Democrats came to solicit state contractors for contributions to support the re-election of Governor Malloy.

Currently, a federal grand jury with the power to subpoena documents and compel testimony is investigating whether the Democratic Party or Malloy broke the law in soliciting contributions from state contractors. State contractors are banned from contributing to state campaigns in Connecticut, but they can give to federal campaigns and the federal campaign account of state parties, which are used for get-out-the-vote efforts that support state and federal candidates.
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Connecticut’s Old State House in Hartford, recently closed to the public because of budget cuts, will soon lose the paintings, antiques and other historic memorabilia it has housed for years — for the same reason.

Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Robert Klee, whose agency was ordered to manage the building on a significantly reduced budget, said he hopes eventually to work with private historic preservation groups to expand use of the building located in the center of Hartford’s downtown. But given state government’s ongoing fiscal challenges, Klee made clear nothing is likely to get better in the foreseeable future.

“I think there is the potential for a future coalition for the Old State House. This a signature building and institution. I want to make sure in the interim that nothing happens to these treasures until we can transition to a new partnership model,” Klee told The Connecticut Mirror.

What that means is that in the coming weeks, a host of memorabilia will be returned to the Connecticut Historical Society, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, the Connecticut State Library and other groups. Several paintings, including a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington in the Senate gallery will go, as will a variety of antique furniture. The Museum of Natural and Other Curiosities that has been maintained by the historical society will be removed as well.

Jody Blankenship, executive director of the Connecticut Historical Society, said: “We certainly think it’s a shame that the public will have no access to the Old State House.”
Blankenship quickly added, though: “We are very sensitive to the budget issues that are going on with the state.”

Blankenship said the historical society already has reached out to Klee’s office and is prepared to discuss any options to partner with the state to preserve the Old State House and expand access to the site. Blankenship added: “The Connecticut Historical Society will be here to help out. We would like to know whatever we can do to assist them.”
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As reported earlier by the Albany Times-Union, Texas Republican Congressman Lamar Smith, who heads the house Science, Space and Technology Committee, took the unprecedented step of subpeonaing New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and his Massachusetts counterpart Maura Healey on their probe of Exxon Mobil.

Attorney General Schneiderman is using the state’s Martin Act to ask whether the company made misstatements or withheld information about issues that could hit their bottom line or their ability to continue tapping oil reserves in future years. While not specifically about climate change, that is a subtext in this story.

Now, Mr. Schneiderman has responded, saying the subpoena by a Congressional committee is — like his own inquiry — unprecedented and it ”transgresses the limits on Federal power,” by making Congressional members the overseers of New York law enforcement. Mr. Schneiderman's response wasn’t unexpected — the bottom line is this could lead to a long and potentially interesting court fight over the limits of federal authority.
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The Riverhead Water District, which last week imposed odd/even-day watering restrictions on businesses and residents is now asking customers to refrain from watering lawns and landscapes between midnight and 8 a.m. The restrictions will remain in place until Labor Day, Town Supervisor Sean Walter said.

Irrigation should also be avoided during the day, both because it’s inefficient and ineffective and because other daytime water demands need to be met. Customers are urged to water only in the early evening hours, up until midnight, Walter said.

The water district is struggling to fill its storage tanks. The tanks are usually filled up during the overnight hours and depleted during the day. Their storage levels have been consistently depleted with daytime use and irrigation systems kicking on at 3 or 4 a.m. prevent the district from refilling them. The district has been pumping more than 18 million gallons a day — at or near its system capacity. It’s pumping “flat-out,” the town supervisor said. 

On Saturday, the town ramped up its pleas for conservation and announced it was cutting the water supply to its largest irrigation consumers — a handful of senior communities and shopping centers that have segregated irrigation-only systems.

A state-wide drought watch has been in effect in New York since July 15.
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Tuesday July 26, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut lawmakers look to speed deportation of undocumented convicts; Stop & Shop stores in Connecticut turn food waste into energy; commercial bluefish season in New York State could come to early end; and, Long Island lawmakers seek to strengthen state bribery law.

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Connecticut lawmakers introduced legislation to expedite the deportation of undocumented immigrants who have committed a violent crime or pose a public safety threat.

The bipartisan legislation—called “Casey’s Law”—would give the State Department authority to revoke visas for countries that have been shown to “systematically” refuse the return of undocumented immigrants verified to be from there. Democratic Senators Richard
Blumenthal and Chris Murphy as well as Republican Texas Senator John Cornyn sponsor the bill. It would require Immigration and Customs Enforcement to send cases to the State Department when countries refuse to accept a deportation, which would trigger a process that could result visa revocations for citizens of those countries.

Blumenthal said visas would be revoked only if a Department of Homeland Security investigation found verifiable evidence that a country wrongfully rejects the deportees. Currently, Homeland Security has deemed 23 countries as uncooperative. Between 2012 and 2015, nearly 8,300 undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions were released from federal custody because their home countries refused to take them back. Blumenthal said the bill “will be tremendously effective in pressuring countries to do the right thing.”

The bill is named for Casey Chadwick, a 25-year-old Norwich resident who was fatally stabbed in 2015 by an undocumented Haitian immigrant. 
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Connecticut Post reports:
Connecticut Stop & Shop stores now convert food waste into energy, thanks to a new facility that’s the first of its kind on the East Coast and the second in the country.

A new green facility in Freetown, Massachusetts opened April 15 and became fully operational a few weeks ago, according to Stop & Shop spokesman Phil Tracey. Stores in Rhode Island, and many in Massachusetts, also participate. The facility converts what otherwise would’ve been trashed into energy and compost through a process called anaerobic digestion. Food is ground up and converted into biogas, which is then fed into a generator to produce energy.

Connecticut has a goal of diverting 60% of its solid waste from landfills by 2024. About 40% of the state’s waste is organics that can be composted. Food waste accounts for about 22% of the state’s waste, or an estimated 520,000 annual tons, according to a 2015 study.

State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection analyst Chris Nelson said plans are afoot to build similar facilities in Connecticut. 
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New York State’s commercial season for Atlantic bluefish could end three months earlier than usual following a pending decision from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA sets a quota each year for East Coast states regarding how many fish can be caught. Its possible decision to end the season early is based [on] Marine Recreation Information Program data, which showed recreational fishers caught a high number of bluefish last year.

In a letter to the NOAA, The Department of Environmental Conservation argued that it finds the data “troubling” and is urging officials to reevaluate the findings. New York Senator Charles Schumer also called on NOAA to reconsider, adding that a decision based on inaccurate and faulty data “could land a devastating blow to our already struggling fishermen.”
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Albany Times-Union reports:
Two Long Island lawmakers proposed a measure to strengthen existing state protections against government bribery. State Senator Todd Kaminsky and Assemblyman Charles Lavine are pushing a bill introduced last week that would create new felonies for giving unlawful benefits worth more than $3,000 to a public official just because that person holds an official position, and for receiving such benefits. This does not include a campaign contribution.

The new bill adds to current statute that allows prosecutors to bring misdemeanor charges. It also follows a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling that narrowed the definition of an "official act" when it pertains to performing a government function for someone in exchange for a benefit. Kaminsky said the idea is to give local and state prosecutors the tools they need to bring the types of white-collar corruption cases that have plagued state government of late.

Unless lawmakers are called back to Albany under extraordinary circumstances, legislation would have to be reintroduced in January at the start of the new 2017-18 two-year legislative session.
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Friday July 22, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: white racial justice group holds action in West Hartford protesting anti-black police violence; Connecticut union launches a television campaign after loss of state jobs; New York state tax collections come up short in first quarter; and, state employees in New York City now offered paid leave for prostate cancer screenings.
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The Hartford Courant reports:
Last night, the Hartford chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice, or SURJ, held a protest in downtown West Hartford. They organized their action as a way of speaking out not just against anti-black police violence, but also the perceived silence of white people on racial justice issues.

As the protest began at the corner of North Main Street and Farmington Avenue, the white protesters gripped their mouths and made no sounds. The words “End White Silence” were written on their hands with marker.  Erica Richmond, a leader in SURJ Hartford, said in a statement: “As white people, we have a particular responsibility to end our complicity in this system that perpetuates and encourages white silence, white supremacy, and white violence. We need to listen to activists of color as they call for Freedom Now.”

The protesters, about 100 in all, marched quietly through West Hartford Center, down through Blue Back Square and onto the police department on Raymond Road. At the police station, the group chanted “Black Lives Matter,” and urged officers to sign a petition disavowing anti-black police violence.
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One Connecticut union launched a television campaign in an effort to get some of their laid-off state employees their jobs back.

SEIU 1199, which represents workers at the Department of Developmental Services, launched a television campaign Wednesday that features a woman with cerebral palsy. 
The woman, whose name is Jenny, uses a computer to communicate and the state employee who was able to customize the device was laid off in May. Jenny’s able to have a voice through an eye recognition computer and in the 30-second ad, she asks Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to bring the state employee who works on the computer back to work.

According to Jennifer Schneider, communications director for SEIU 1199, nearly all workers who specialized in helping disabled clients communicate were laid off. Asked about the commercial at an unrelated event on Wednesday, Governor Malloy said he didn’t have an easy answer except that “we are dealing with a new economic reality in the state.”

Malloy went on to say that he doesn’t “make the union rules as to who gets laid off and what order and that sort of thing.” The union was quick to point out that the governor was the one who sent out the layoff notice, not the union.
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New York State tax collections came up a little short in the first quarter, according to a monthly cash report from State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. The state brought in $19.8 billion, $797.6 million less than previous year’s first quarter. The total is also more than $450 million below the state’s projections.

DiNapoli said: “Personal income tax collections are off to a slower than expected start. The first quarter of the state’s fiscal year ended on a cautionary note." Total receipts were $783.7 million less than the previous year and $831.1 million below projections. The dip is attributed to less personal income tax collection along with a lack of revenue from settlements.

At the end of June, the General Fund held $7.2 billion. Last year, the balance was nearly $4 billion higher. During the three month period, the state spent almost $38 billion, 12.5%  more than in the first quarter of 2015 and $70 million more than expected, due to pension payments of $1.8 billion.

DiNapoli also said: “While it’s early in the year and tax collections may improve going forward, the state should be prepared to take action if revenue remains below estimates.” 
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According to the Times-Union, on Thursday Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law that extends paid leave for prostate cancer exams to state employees in New York City. Previously, only those outside of New York City were offered paid leave.  The new law ensures that all public employees in New York are entitled to up to four hours paid leave each year, to receive prostate cancer exams.

This action is part of a larger effort by Cuomo to strengthen cancer prevention practices in New York. The Governor’s 2016 Breast Cancer Insurance Program offers four hours per year of paid leave for public employees receiving breast cancer screenings. It also expanded mammogram availability and insurance coverage options.

Governor Cuomo said in a statement, “Prostate cancer affects thousands of New Yorkers each year, and early detection is key to mitigating its often devastating effect. I am proud to sign this legislation to help ensure all public employees can access life-saving screenings.” 
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Thursday July  21, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut State Insurance Commissioner Katharine Wade responds to critics; U.S. Justice Dept. sues to block Aetna-Humana, Anthem-Cigna mergers; LIPA postpones decision on wind farm; and Suffolk County Water Authority urges conserve water whenever possible.
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Connecticut State Insurance Commissioner Katharine Wade responded Wednesday to critics who have been calling for her to recuse herself from overseeing the proposed merger of Anthem and Cigna, suggesting they had “grossly mischaracterized” her role in the process. Wade spoke up as the 30-day public comment period ended on a petition asking the Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board for a formal ruling on her potential conflict of interest.

Wade is overseeing the proposed merger of her former employer, Cigna, with Anthem in what is being described as the largest insurance merger in history. While her husband, Michael Wade, still works for Cigna, Katharine Wade last worked for the insurer in 2013 as vice president of Public Policy, Government Affairs and U.S. Compliance. She also was head of the Connecticut Association of Health Plans, the lobbying group for Connecticut’s insurance companies, from 2005 to 2013.

Wade said that the Office of State Ethics assured her this year that she had no conflict of interest based upon steps that she and her husband had taken. Among those, in February Wade asked the Office of State Ethics whether it was appropriate for her husband to divest Cigna stock as it vested from February 25 through March 5.

An email from the Office of State Ethics advised Wade that her husband could do that as long as she had not used any confidential information gained in her state position to influence her husband’s decision as to whether to divest the stock. But the Office of State Ethics said Wade never sought a formal opinion from them about a potential conflict of interest.

The Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board was expected to meet to set a deadline to rule on the petition, which was filed by Common Cause, a good government advocacy group. More than 37 people submitted public comment, which was posted online by the Office of State Ethics. Most call for Wade to recuse herself from the merger proceeding.
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The U.S. Justice Department filed lawsuits Thursday to block proposed mergers between Aetna and Humana and Anthem and Cigna, and the insurers said they will fight back. "If allowed to proceed, the mergers would fundamentally reshape the health care industry," said U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

Justice Department officials derided one of the reasons the insurers cited in arguing for approval of the mergers – that it would result in efficiencies that would boost revenues and profits.

Connecticut had approved the Aetna-Humana merger, but not acted on the Anthem-Cigna deal yet. On Thursday, the Connecticut Insurance Department said it would halt its review of the deal.  "As a result of the federal antitrust lawsuit, the Connecticut Insurance Department has immediately suspended its review of Anthem’s Form A application," said Connecticut Insurance Department spokeswoman Donna Tommelleo.

In a joint statement, Aetna and Humana said they plan to “vigorously defend" their pending merger in response to the Justice Department lawsuit.”

Connecticut is one of 11 states that joined the DOJ’s lawsuit against the Anthem-Cigna merger plans, but the state did not join eight states that joined the suit to block the Aetna-Humana deal. "We are asking the court today to find this merger in violation of antitrust law and to permanently enjoin it from taking place," said Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen. "Both Anthem and Cigna have a significant presence in Connecticut's healthcare market. According to our analysis, all five of Connecticut's metropolitan markets would be among the 35 markets nationwide that would be negatively impacted by this merger."
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The Long Island Power Authority’s Board of Trustees has delayed its meeting at which the board was expected to approve the purchase of 90 megawatts of electricity from a new offshore wind farm proposed off the coast of Montauk. In a statement issued late Tuesday, LIPA officials said they are postponing the consideration of the offshore wind proposal “to align the proposed Long Island project with the state’s offshore wind master plan and the state’s Clean Energy Standard, both of which are scheduled to be released in the next several weeks.”

LIPA CEO Thomas Falcone jumped the gun on the announcement of the project last week in an interview with the Associated Press. “This is the first in New York, it’s the largest to date, but we’re looking at this and seeing a tremendous offshore wind resource that will be developed and it’s not the last. I think this is a very big step … for New York, but also for the United States,” Mr. Falcone said.

The proposed wind farm would begin with 15 turbines about 30 miles off the shore of Montauk, constructed by the Rhode Island firm Deepwater Wind, which is currently building a wind farm to power Block Island. Deepwater Wind has enough space at their site 30 miles off of Montauk to install 200 turbines.

The company was granted a 30-year lease on the 256-acre site in 2013 from the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

According to LIPA: “The Authority expects to reschedule the meeting after the release of the NYSERDA off-shore wind blueprint. LIPA remains committed to its renewable energy goals and meeting the energy needs of the South Fork.”
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Newsday reports: 
Recent hot weather and lack of rainfall have prompted the Suffolk County Water Authority to ask its customers to conserve water. The utility posted its request on its website Wednesday, urging consumers to “conserve water whenever possible.”

Last Friday, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation issued a drought watch for the state. “There are no statewide mandatory water use restrictions in place under a drought watch, however, local public water suppliers may require such measures depending upon local needs and conditions,” the state agency said.

The Suffolk water agency asked that those using irrigation systems, residential or commercial, adjust from morning watering to evening times. The agency also asked that customers limit other nonessential uses, ranging from the washing of vehicles to hosing down streets, sidewalks and driveways.

​Long Island remained in moderate drought, the U.S. Drought Monitor’s least intensive drought category, as of Thursday morning’s update.
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Wednesday July 20, 2016   (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: third Wall Street firm downgrades Connecticut’s bonds; a “community conversation” on policing and race takes place in West Haven; the Long Island Railroad to restore year-round weekend service to the North Fork; and, Riverhead finishes environmental review on Calverton Enterprise Park plan.
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As of Tuesday, three of the four Wall Street credit rating agencies have downgraded Connecticut’s bonds since May.

Kroll Bond Rating Agency was the latest credit rating agency Tuesday to downgrade Connecticut from AA to AA-. Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings lowered Connecticut’s general obligation bonds from AA to AA- in May. That same month, Moody’s Investors Service affirmed its rating, but gave the state a negative outlook.

Kroll analysts wrote in a report published Tuesday that the “decision to downgrade the State’s General Obligation Bond rating is based on the State’s inability over the last two years to maintain balanced financial operations without significantly reducing its Budget Reserve Fund.” Analysts said the highly progressive income tax structure and its reliance on capital gains taxes expose Connecticut’s revenue base to the performance of the stock market. Kroll pointed out that in 2015 the state drew down its modest Rainy Day Fund from $519.2 million to $406 million and is expected to lower it again to $90.2 million when it closes the books on the 2016 budget in September.

Chris McClure, a spokesman for Governor Dannel P. Malloy said the report reinforces the administration’s message: “The ratings agencies findings demonstrate what we have been saying and continue to say: we are in a new economic reality and we must continue to align state government to that reality,” he said.

State Treasurer Denise Nappier said ,“Kroll’s rating is now in line with those of the other three rating agencies, and it should not significantly affect our $500 million General Obligation bond sale scheduled for August 3. One saving grace is that all four of the State’s credit ratings remain in the high-quality ‘double A’ category.”
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More than a hundred members of the greater New Haven community came out to the University of New Haven in West Haven Tuesday evening for a “community conversation” on policing and race.

WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus was there:
The event was organized by the West Haven Black Coalition and city government, after coalition president Carroll E. Brown called Mayor Ed O’Brien late one night to say the city needed to take a proactive approach to avoid the kind of police violence and counterattacks that have occurred in the country in the past two weeks. She said he jumped on board immediately: "Living here in West Haven, we’ve had some problems. Not to the extent that anybody has shot anybody, and we don’t want it to happen. Sometimes there are copy-catters. We don’t want any copy-catters out there, killing our cops or cops killing our boys. So it was necessary that we have this conversation."

The mayors of West Haven and Milford were joined by the police chiefs from New Haven, Hamden, Orange, Woodbridge, West Haven, and the University of New Haven and Southern CT State University, as well as the state’s attorney representing the region.

The chiefs talked about programs in place to address implicit bias, to de-escalate dangerous situations, and to run Citizens’ police academies and programs for children and youth. New Haven Chief Dean Esserman was applauded when he said if he wants community members to understand his point of view, he first needs to understand theirs. 
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The Long Island Railroad plans to restore year-round weekend service to Greenport as part of an action plan agreed to at last week’s meeting between local officials and Long Island Railroad representatives, State Assemblyman Fred Thiele told RiverheadLOCAL Monday.
The Long Island Railroad will make the recommendation to the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which must approve the service change. Thiele said he expects the MTA to give its approval.

It’s the first to be implemented in a series of measures agreed to by Long Island Railroad president Patrick Nowakowski during a closed-door meeting last week with East End officials at Riverhead Town Hall, Thiele said.

The Long Island Railroad also agreed to immediately begin a short-term planning process with North Fork elected officials utilizing the East End Transportation Council, to provide increased service to the North Fork in addition to the restoration of year-round weekend service, Thiele said.

“This is in my opinion a major change in the way the railroad is looking at the East End, both in short-term and long-term planning. I finally feel we’re truly part of the system and not just the stepchild. It’s a commitment to a planning process that will lead to greater service on both the north and south forks. I’ve been dealing with the railroad a long time. This marks a major shift in how they view the East End,” Thiele said.
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Riverhead Town has completed a five-and-a-half-year environmental review process on a new development plan for its remaining property at the former Grumman facility in Calverton.

The town board adopted a “findings statement” — the last step in the process under the State Environmental Quality Review Act. The next step is the adoption of an updated use plan and zoning code and the completion of the subdivision by the Riverhead Planning Board. The town must also obtain a permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation under the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act. It is also seeking a WSRR boundary line amendment from the DEC.

Riverhead officials say they are currently negotiating with two “serious potential buyers” who have made “significant” offers to buy all or most of the town’s remaining real estate holdings at the site — other than its 93-acre park. Officials so far have declined to publicly identify the prospective buyers or the plans they’ve floated, if any, for the use of the site. Both suitors were brought to the table by Cushman and Wakefield, the real estate brokerage the town hired last year to market the town’s property within the Calverton Enterprise Park.
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Tuesday July 19, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut to spend $300,000 as part of multistate mileage tax study; beachgoers question Connecticut’s lifeguard cuts; Suffolk County DA announces arrests in dismantling heroin, cocaine distribution networks; New York Governor launches "NaturalizeNY" to promote citizenship.

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Connecticut Post reports:

A plan for a $300,000-study on how to charge motorists for miles driven on Connecticut’s highways is fueling speculation of a new mileage tax.

The grant application submitted to federal transportation officials by the Interstate 95 coalition on behalf of Connecticut, New Hampshire, Delaware, Vermont and Pennsylvania seeks $1.5 million in direct funding and the states pledged to contribute $1.5 million for the $3 million pilot program. The application also lays out how a mileage tax would work, demonstrates how tracking devices would transmit driving data to taxing authorities and offers possible per-mile fees.


Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano said this shows the state is serious about pursuing a vehicle miles tax. However, Governor Malloy and state Senate’s majority Democrats deny that. State transportation officials say the pilot is only intended to gain information about a revenue source under discussion in other states.


State Department of Transportation commissioner James Redeker said the $300,000 would be spent over multiple years. He said the decision to participate in the pilot was made [before] lawmakers had to slash spending.

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Connecticut Post reports:

Budget cuts to Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environment Protection has severely reduced the presence of lifeguards at state beaches. The DEEP's budget for the current fiscal year was reduced by about $10 million, forcing the agency to trim $1.8 million from the $18 million it spends each year to operate state parks.

Included in those cuts was reduced lifeguard staffing at Connecticut's Shoreline state beaches, including Silver Sands in Milford, from seven days a week to five, covering only the busiest periods. Inland state park beaches with designated swimming areas now have lifeguard coverage three to five days per week. Gubernatorial spokesman Devon Puglia said the DEEP budget cut decisions are “data-driven adjustments to use resources where visitation is highest."


Connecticut state parks have already had two drownings this summer – at Burr Pond in Torrington where no lifeguards were on duty, and at Killingly Pond that is not staffed with lifeguards. There are 23 designated swimming areas at state parks, but only eight of them have lifeguards. 

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The Suffolk County District Attorney’s office announced Monday evening that an East End Drug Task Force investigation led to the arrest of 14 members of cocaine and heroin distribution networks operating across the North and South forks.


The names of those arrested have not yet been released. But the DA’s office announced three of the arrested were Bloods street gang members. Multiple kilograms of cocaine and heroin were also seized.


One dealer purchased a kilo of cocaine weekly in New York City to sell to street dealers who in turn sold cocaine to users, and local members of the Bloods street gang ran the heroin network, according to the announcement. Both distribution networks operated primarily in the towns of Riverhead and Southampton.

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longisland.com reports:
Governor Cuomo recently launched “NaturalizeNY,” the first public-private partnership to encourage and assist eligible immigrants in New York State to become U.S. citizens. 
The initiative provides support through the naturalization process, including free eligibility screenings, naturalization exam preparation and a lottery for naturalization application fee vouchers for low-income citizenship-eligible immigrants.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said: “There are countless hardworking immigrants in New York that dream of becoming American citizens, but for many the process is too costly and difficult to navigate.” But the help offered by NaturalizeNY, he said, “will improve outcomes for individuals and expand their opportunities to make meaningful contributions to our state and nation.”


A 2015 Urban Institute study found, on average, an 8.9% increase in earnings for immigrants who become citizens. Increased earnings lead to higher tax payments and lower reliance on public benefits. The State Office for New Americans in partnership with several private and not-for-profit organizations administers the program. 


Heastie said: “New York should and will remain a progressive leader in ensuring that the American Dream is not out of the reach for anyone.”

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 Monday July 18, 2016   (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)


In the news tonight: lawmakers challenge Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to make do with much less; Connecticut Senate Republicans accuses Insurance Commissioner Katharine Wade of Free Of Information Act violation in Cigna merger; New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli says local government tax cap will remain below 1 percent; and, New York State removes some ‘I ♥ NY’ signs on Long Island after backlash.

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Legislators pressed state environmental officials today to partner with municipalities, civic groups and corporate sponsors to preserve recreation, conservation and protection programs.


But Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commission officials said they already utilize these options. And while they remain open to new budget solutions, staffing and service cuts and closures are likely to worsen before things get better. "We assume the cavalry is not coming," Michael Sullivan, deputy commissioner for environmental quality, told members of the legislature’s Environment Committee during a mid-morning meeting at DEEP headquarters in Hartford. "We’re going to make it through Labor Day as is, and then reassess," Commissioner Rob Klee told legislators.


The department, which faces the heaviest demand for its services between late May and early September, is working with a budget that provides about $10 million less than anticipated for the new fiscal year that began July 1. And Klee said that has translated into:

closures and reduced hours at parks, campgrounds, nature centers and other facilities; lifeguard services at just seven of 23 swimming sites; and the merger of fish hatcheries in Kensington and Burlington.

Staffing reductions also mean slower response times to spills, animal nuisance calls and park and boating incidents, as well as longer processing times for environmental permits and reviews. Parks, campgrounds and nature centers with the heaviest usage were prioritized over less popular sites, said Deputy Commissioner Susan Whalen, who oversees parks and environmental conservation programs.


Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr., D-Branford, co-chair of the Environment Committee, said Connecticut should look to other states as models, adding he believes residents would accept some new environment-related fees if convinced all of the funds would be dedicated to conservation efforts. "We treat these parks and forests almost as a liability," Kennedy said. "These are important economic assets."


Department officials and committee members agreed to continue meeting this summer and fall to discuss options to mitigate the impact of budget cuts.

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Connecticut Senate Republicans asked the state Freedom of Information Commission on Friday to penalize Insurance Commissioner Katharine Wade, saying she and her department withheld documents related to the pending merger of Anthem and Cigna that another agency deemed to be public information. Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, and two other senators said the Insurance Department produced only nine pages of Anthem-Cigna documents in response to their freedom-of-information request, while the Office of State Ethics produced hundreds of pages of documents it had received from the insurance regulators.


Donna Tommelleo, the department spokeswoman, did not explain the discrepancy, other than saying: "The department responds to all FOI requests promptly, professionally and with the guidance of legal counsel."


The documents produced by the Office of State Ethics, which is considering whether Wade's relationship with Cigna constitutes a conflict of interest, included emails Wade wrote from her private account about Anthem-Cigna issues. The use of private emails and the refusal to produce relevant documents are willful violations of state law, the senators wrote.


"In light of the failure to provide nearly 500 pages of what another state agency has deemed to be public records, we are outraged at the Department of Insurance and their attempt to keep the public in the dark regarding a high profile merger that reeks with conflicts," Fasano wrote in a complaint joined by Senators Michael McLachlan of Danbury and Kevin Kelly of Stratford. "Due to what we feel to be a bad faith refusal to provide us with the requested documents, we file this formal notice of appeal to the Commission. "In addition, as we believe this refusal is without reasonable grounds and must be viewed as a bad faith attempt to keep secret the Commissioner’s potential conflicts, we ask that the Commission set an example and take the rare action of imposing civil penalties against Commissioner Wade and her Department."


Wade was employed by Cigna from 1992 to 2013, rising to vice president of government affairs, the company's chief lobbyist. Her husband, Michael T. Wade, still works there as associate chief counsel for litigation. She says she holds no shares of Cigna stock, having divested it in April 2014. Wade has previously said she has no conflict under Connecticut's ethics code, which has no provision relating to the appearance of a conflict.

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Property tax levy growth for local governments will be capped at 0.68% for 2017, decreasing slightly from 2016, when it was 0.73%, according to New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. "In what is becoming the norm, New York’s local governments must cope with extremely limited growth for property taxes to stay within the tax cap. Low inflation has positive effects for consumers, but it also reflects an uncertain economic environment. Local officials have faced growing fixed costs and limited budget options for years, but 2017 will necessitate even tougher financial choices," said DiNapoli. 


The tax cap, which first applied to local governments beginning in 2012, limits tax levy increases to the lesser of the rate of inflation or 2% with some exceptions, including a provision that allows municipalities to override the tax cap. The 2017 fiscal year is the fourth year in a row that local governments have had their levy growth capped at less than 2% and the second year in a row that it has been capped at less than 1%.


By comparison, property tax levy growth for school districts was capped at 0.12%for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

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Tourists may love New York, but the Southold Town Board and local civic leaders haven’t shown much love toward the state’s tourism signs that were posted without warning in Orient last month. 


Following their requests to have the signs removed, three of the four ‘I ♥ NY’ signs on Route 25 near Cross Sound Ferry were recently taken down. The largest sign, which is roughly 12 feet wide by eight feet tall, remains as of Monday afternoon and is expected to be replaced with a smaller version, state officials confirmed. Greg Blower, a spokesperson for state Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), said the senator has been pushing to have all of the signs removed since they popped up across the East End last month.


Similar signs in nearby towns and villages, including East Hampton and Port Jefferson, have reportedly been taken down. "[The signs] just don’t fit with the character of our villages," Mr. Blower said. "At least they’re being somewhat responsive to the elected officials." Town Supervisor Scott Russell has described the signs as "pointless" and said he has been in "regular contact" with Senator LaValle to have the signs removed.

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\Friday July 15, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)

In the news tonight: A new report shows that no Connecticut law was violated when it comes to crumbling foundations; Connecticut advocates call for change to school funding formula; the Suffolk County Historical Society’s museum in Riverhead celebrates its 130th; and, Deepwater Wind project off Montauk expecting LIPA (Long Island Power Authority) contract.

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An investigation into deteriorating foundations affecting hundreds of Connecticut homeowners   - and the impact on their insurance policies – has found that consumer protection laws were not violated, according to state officials.


The state Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) announced this week that a claim under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA) does not seem possible. When DCP became aware last year of crumbling foundations impacting homeowners and affecting their insurance coverage, officials asked the attorney general to investigate whether a legal case was feasible under state law. 


The state’s investigation into the deteriorating foundations is slated to be completed this fall, with a final report on the potential cause of the problem due by January 1st. In the meantime, the companies agreed in May to stop selling materials or products that contain certain aggregate – crushed and sand or gravel – from Becker’s Willington quarry for use in residential concrete foundations statewide until June 2017.

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According to a recent report, Connecticut would have a more accurate sense of how many low-income students attend public schools if it changed how those students are identified and counted. The state currently defines low-income students as those who qualify for free and reduced-price meals at school, but a report by the Connecticut School Finance Project says that likely gives an incomplete picture. The matter is important to individual schools, according to the report, since a school’s number of low-income students is part of the formula used to determine how much state funding it receives.


HUSKY A is the state’s Medicaid program for children up to 19 years old and their caregivers. HUSKY A enrollment is currently not a factor in qualifying children for direct certification for free school meals, but the project says it should be. Direct certification allows students “categorically deemed at risk” to be eligible for free school meals through the National School Lunch Program without having to apply to the program, according to the Connecticut School Finance Project.


The Connecticut School Finance Project is a nonpartisan non-profit founded in 2015 that works to build knowledge about, and identify solutions to fix, the state’s public school funding system.

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The Suffolk County Historical Society's museum in Riverhead is celebrating its 130th anniversary in 2016 and has a new executive director in Victoria Berger, who started earlier this year. Berger said: “We’re kind of like Suffolk County’s own Smithsonian.” 


The accredited museum’s collection includes a library with over 20,000 original documents, such as court, town and tax ledgers, genealogical data, deeds, birth certificates or copies of registry information and photographs of places long gone. Berger said: “Our library is a wonderful place for anyone who is conducting research across Suffolk County” 


Currently on exhibit at the museum is “Fullerton’s Long Island: The Lure of the Land,” which includes more than 70 photographs by Hal B. Fullerton from the late 1800s depicting agriculture and recreation on behalf of the Long Island Rail Road. On July 16 at 1 p.m., Stephen Scanniello, curator of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at New York Botanical Gardens, will be on hand to discuss his book, “A Rose by Any Name” as part of the museum’s “Book & Bottle” series.


The museum is on 300 West Main St. in Riverhead.

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According to East End Beacon, Long Island Power Authority is expected to approve a proposal from Deepwater One, the proposed offshore wind farm. LIPA requested proposals from energy providers to help meet peak demand on the South Fork, which struggles with aging electric infrastructure. 


Deepwater Wind proposes to provide LIPA with 90 megawatts of power, generated by 15 wind turbines located in the ocean site 30 miles off the coast of Montauk.  LIPA CEO Thomas Falcone said, “We’re looking at this and seeing a tremendous offshore wind resource. I think this is a very big step.”  


One advantage of wind power off the South Fork is that on hot summer afternoons, when people are using air conditioning, offshore breezes usually pick up. Deepwater Wind’s Jeffrey Grybowski said: “Our project is the best site for offshore wind in the country [and meets] South Fork’s energy demands in a clean and cost-effective way. There’s real momentum for offshore wind in the United States, and Long Islanders are leading the charge.” 


Details of the purchasing agreement have not yet been released.  LIPA will vote on the proposal at its next Board meeting, Wednesday, July 20, at 11:30 a.m. at the utility’s Uniondale headquarters.

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Thursday, July 14, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: MGM stalled in effort to block new Indian casino in Connecticut;

Jonathan Pelto bids for Green Party nomination in Connecticut's 2nd Congresional District; Suffolk County, and the Suffolk Water Authority at odds over collecting unpaid bills; and, New York State will crack down on K2 sales.
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MGM Resorts International's efforts to block the establishment of a third casino run by Connecticut’s gaming tribes has stalled on Capitol Hill, leaving the future of the effort in doubt.


Senator Dean Heller (R-Nev.), tried to amend the Senate National Defense Authorization Act by including a provision that would bar Indian gaming off tribal lands. He also tried to introduce an amendment that would have required the Bureau of Indian Affairs to prepare a report on certain commercial gaming projects sought by tribes.


Connecticut’s senators have blocked both of Heller’s plans. The Nevada senator now says he’s not sure what his next step will be to win approval for legislation that he says “makes sense” for Nevada. Promoted by MGM and supported by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Heller’s efforts are aimed at stopping the construction of a proposed third casino in Connecticut by a joint venture between the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes.


The tribes do not have legislative permission to build a third casino in Connecticut, but have been allowed to seek local support for a casino site. Although a site has not been chosen, MGM believes it would compete with the Las Vegas-based company’s plans to open a gaming facility in Springfield, Mass. The tribes already run casinos – the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort – on tribal lands in Connecticut.


To Connecticut’s U.S. senators, the move by their colleagues is a slap at the state’s  sovereignty. “This is a Connecticut issue that should be decided in Connecticut,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Heller’s plan is “fundamentally misguided.”


I’m hoping he will abandon this effort,” Blumenthal said. The Connecticut senators have been able to block consideration of  Heller’s amendment because that would require “unanimous consent” of all 100 senators. “He will never receive unanimous consent as long as I’m a senator,” Blumenthal said.

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Jonathan Pelto, a former five-term state representative and public education advocate, announced Tuesday he plans to seek the Green Party's nomination for the 2nd District congressional seat.


In his campaign announcement, Pelto said he is not running in opposition to incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, who he said has an “extremely admirable” voting record in Congress. Instead, he said, he is running to encourage higher voter turnout in the district and to promote discussion of taxation and education issues.


Pelto said: ”I’m running for Congress as a Green Party candidate because this year's election is so critical for sustaining the future of our democracy. Uncontested and under-contested elections reinforce apathy, and this year, perhaps more than any other in recent memory, we need every voter to understand what is at stake and participate by voting.”

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Newsday reports that the Suffolk Water Authority, looking to recoup $600,000 a year from those who do not pay their water bills, has gotten state legislation passed to allow the agency to put a lien on those customers’ property tax bills. But county officials, including Suffolk Comptroller John M. Kennedy and County Executive Steve Bellone, are asking Governor Andrew Cuomo to veto the measure, fearing it could add to cash flow problems for the county, which is already facing a $212 million budget shortfall next year.


The county is worried that it would have to front the money to the authority until property owners pay. Kennedy said authority officials never discussed the issue with the county, sought a home rule message from county lawmakers or weighed its impact on its finances. “While the sponsors . . . may have been well-intentioned, I believe this matter required much more analysis, impact and cost assessment before it achieves the full weight of law,” he said.


Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said: “The county executive shares the comptroller’s concerns,” saying the legislation could have “a significant cash flow impact and compound our existing fiscal difficulties . . . Basically, this is an attempt to have Suffolk County become the collection agent for the water authority.”


Water authority officials say the law just extends to the authority a power that the state already gives to local water districts. They maintain there is no intent to have the county front the money to the authority, but only turn over money owed when it is collected from water customers who are delinquent. The measure would allow the county to keep penalties and interest due.

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The Albany Times Union Reports:

Following a police raid Wednesday on five Brooklyn bodegas after a wave of suspected overdoses of synthetic marijuana, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday announced stepped-up enforcement efforts to crack down on the illegal sale of the drug known as K2.

State police will increase their presence at businesses to ensure they are complying with state laws, including emergency regulations put into effect last year to ban the manufacture, sale and distribution of synthetic drugs. And the state Liquor Authority and Gaming Commission will increase their oversight and efforts to revoke store owners’ liquor and lottery licenses if they are found to be illegally peddling K2, a compound intended to mimic marijuana, the Governor said.


Last year’s emergency regulations came in response to a rise in the use of the synthetic drugs statewide. During June and July of 2015, there were 2,300 emergency room visits statewide due to synthetic marijuana, a tenfold increase over the same period last year.


Marketed as legal products such as as incense, herbal mixtures, or potpourri, synthetic cannabinoids typically consist of plant material coated by chemicals intended to mimic THC, the mood-altering ingredient in marijuana.They are sometimes referred to as Spice and other slang names.


==============

Tuesday July 12, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)


In the news tonight: Bridgeport and five other Connecticut cities will get money to fight opioid addiction; Connecticut plans to borrow $2.1 billion this year; New York Board of Regents question state’s short-term funding for struggling schools; and, many Suffolk County veterans don’t see need for new veteran-only parking. 

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Connecticut Post reports: 

Six local health departments, including Bridgeport’s, will each get $90,000 over the next three years to help battle opioid addiction, thanks to a state grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut Department of Public Health Commissioner announced the funding distribution Monday. The other health districts to receive grant money include Hartford, New Haven, North Haven, New London and Waterbury.


According to the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, there were 208 accidental overdose deaths in the first quarter of 2016 — 14 of them in Bridgeport. Bridgeport mayor’s director of communications Av Harris, “With these funds we will be able to treat those who are suffering from addiction and try to prevent more overdose occurrences this year.”

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The Connecticut Bond Commission is poised to borrow $188.6 million for a number of state projects—an amount that concerns Republican lawmakers. In March, Governor Malloy announced he was increasing the amount of borrowing the state planned to do this year, from $2.5 billion to $2.7 billion. Connecticut’s borrowing has steadily increased over the years, from $1.4 billion in 2011, to $2.5 billion in 2015.


Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, a North Haven Republican, said there are needs and wants, and Connecticut has to prioritize. He said: “Far too many of these programs getting bond money are not necessities.” A Malloy spokesperson said Republicans are hypocrites.


The governor has argued that the interest rates on borrowing are good. But, according to Moody’s Investment Services, Connecticut’s overall fiscal health is on shaky ground. 

Moody’s recently placed the state into a “credit negative” category, due to the declining personal income tax receipts.
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Albany Times-Union reports: 

New York school districts can apply later this summer for $75 million worth of grants to transform struggling schools into community schools that provide an array of services to students and families. State lawmakers approved the allocation this spring as part of the 2016-17 state budget. 

However, several state Board of Regents members bemoaned the state's failure to guarantee any sort of long-term funding that would allow schools to sustain the programs beyond one year. Regent Judith Johnson said: "You cannot put a community school in place for one year — knowing what the research says about effectiveness — and start something you can't finish." She implored her fellow Regents to advocate for a recurring funding stream during next year's budget negotiations. 


State education officials said 73 schools across 12 districts are eligible to apply for the new pot of community school funding. The funds must be used for specific projects, including: supplementing district expenditures; designating a community school site coordinator; funding parent engagement and early childhood education programs as well as constructing or renovating school building space to serve as health suites, adult education spaces, guidance suites, resource rooms, remedial rooms, parent/community rooms, and career and technical education classrooms.

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The Suffolk County Legislature unanimously passed a bill designed to create designated parking spots at all county buildings, but some veterans were unaware of the bill or don’t support it. Veteran and Greenport American Legion post commander Craig Richter said: “If I was a veteran with disabilities, I could park in handicapped spots. We don’t need this.”


Legislator Tom Muratore, a Ronkonkoma Republican, said the bill seemed fitting because Suffolk County has the most veterans in New York and is a way to show respect for their sacrifices. Muratore said the Town of Brookhaven enacted a similar measure in 2014, and its success influenced this countywide bill. 


Once signed into law, the bill will be implemented gradually by the public works, veteran affairs, and parks departments. Officials said the spots will only need signs, and the existing budget has the necessary funds. The pending law requires two parking spaces in each of the 110 county parking lots with 30 or more spots to be reserved for veterans, who will receive ID cards to display in windshields.


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Monday, July 11, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: acute drug shortages forcing workarounds in hospitals; New Haven chapter of Black Lives Matter holds rally on the Green Friday night; Black Lives Matter protest draws large crowd to downtown Riverhead Sunday; and,Throne-Holst emerges as victor in New York's First Congressional District Democratic primary. 

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Connecticut Health Investigative Team reports:

In hospitals across Connecticut and nationwide, workarounds to compensate for medication shortages are daily routines for treating patients - and health experts say it’s not about to change any time soon. Some acute-care drugs in short supply nationally are antibiotics, antipsychotics, intravenous saline, and morphine, according to the most recent shortage list from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In Connecticut, hospital officials say they are turning to alternative drugs, rationing supplies, or seeking new suppliers to work around the shortages. At St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, Dr. C. Steven Wolf, chief of emergency medicine, said doctors most recently have been dealing with shortages of dextrose, used to treat dehydration and low blood sugar, as well as intravenous saline and other basic medications.


Bridgeport and Greenwich hospitals are facing shortages of antibiotics, anesthetics used in surgeries; and IV bags and saline solutions, according to Stacy Vaeth, director of corporate pharmacy services for the hospitals. That is on top of ongoing shortages of various cancer drugs, she said. Hospitals sometimes go months without the medications. A recent study of drug shortages led by Yale University found that the median duration of shortages was 210 days overall, and 242 days for acute-care drugs.


Health experts say that drug shortages have not improved in recent years, despite a law enacted in 2012 that gives the FDA broader authority and regulatory powers to react to drug shortages. The FDA, which tracks shortages, listed 58 medications as being in short supply as of July 8, but that number has topped 200 at times. The Yale study, which used data from the University of Utah’s Drug Information Service from 2001 to 2014, found the number of drug shortages since the federal act passed has declined, but that shortages remain, more than half involving acute-care drugs, used to treat critically ill patients. Drug shortages have more than tripled in the past decade, the study said.


The situation has become so urgent that Connecticut U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, who helped craft the FDA Safety and Innovation Act, said a much deeper examination is needed of all pharmaceutical companies reporting shortages. In recent years, he has questioned whether drug distributors are hoarding certain medications in order to create shortages, increase prices, and make more money. “There have to be subpoenas, investigations and document production, so that the potential antitrust violation is explored and documented, if it exists,” he said. “Hospitals cannot forever triage. There are real health threats.”

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The New Haven chapter of Black Lives Matter held a rally on the Green Friday night to honor the lives of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and call for an end to cops killing African Americans. It was less than 24 hours after five police officers were killed by a sniper in Dallas, who also wounded seven officers and two civilians. Several hundred people attended. 


WPKN's Melinda Tuhus was there:

Many people addressed the crowd of black and white protesters. One was Andrew Fain, an African American combat veteran, like the Dallas shooter. While he called for an end to police violence against members of the black community, in an interview later, he had this to say about the police.

“One thing I will say is this. What happened in Dallas is tragic. I don't believe that anybody -- cops, civilians -- should be killed. I send my condolences to those police officers. They took an oath to serve and protect. And what I don't want to happen is the BLM movement get misconstrued that we're anti-cops.”


He called for meetings between the community and cops to learn why police often feel more comfortable drawing their guns on black residents than white residents.

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Demonstrators took to the streets of downtown Riverhead Sunday to protest against the deaths of black men at the hands of police across the country. Waving hand-painted signs in the air, they shouted chants of “Black Lives Matter,” “Stop killing us,” “No justice, no peace,” and “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” At times the crowd shouted, “All lives matter” and “Blue lives matter” — the two refrains often used to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement.


Initially about 110 people lined both sides of Peconic Avenue beginning shortly after 12 noon. Their numbers swelled as the afternoon went on. Dozens of passing motorists honked their horns in support of the demonstrators. The crowd eventually marched down East Main Street to Riverhead Town Hall and then back again to the Peconic River parking lot where the demonstration began. The demonstration lasted a total of about three hours and ended without incident.


While Southampton Town Police had a visible presence on the south side of the river, Riverhead Town Police were largely invisible, keeping watch from the outskirts of the peaceful protest. “I’m really pleased with the turnout. It’s more than I expected it to be and it’s truly a multiracial crowd,” said organizer Vanessa Vascez-Corleone.


People of all ages, races and ethnicity turned out: children, teens, parents with babies in strollers, senior citizens — blacks, whites, Hispanics and Asians. “This is all about standing together as one, standing up to say this killing has got to stop. We have to stop the racism in the justice system,” Vascez-Corleone said. “We need to stand up in Riverhead and in every community across the country.”

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Anna Throne-Holst has won the Democratic nomination for Congress.


The former Southampton town supervisor bested her primary election rival Dave Calone by 319 votes, according to Suffolk County Board of Elections Commissioner Anita Katz. Her 29-vote margin expanded when the absentee ballots were counted last week. “I am deeply grateful to all who placed their trust and support in me, and I am truly humbled by the privilege it has been to get to know, share the concerns, and my message with so many,” Throne-Holst said in a written statement. 


“I want to congratulate Dave Calone on a spirited race, and I share in the respect and support he garnered in the district, as demonstrated by the very close margin and the strength of his candidacy,” she said.


Throne-Holst now turns her attention to the Nov. 8 general election, in which she looks to unseat freshman Republican Lee Zeldin. “I look forward to working together with Democrats across the district to take back this important seat. Lee Zeldin has shown in every way how out of step and wrong he is not only for Long Island, but for the country,” Throne Holst said.


Calone threw his support behind his former rival in that effort: “We cannot continue being represented by Congressman Lee Zeldin, one of Donald Trump’s loudest advocates in Washington,” he said as he urged people across eastern Long Island to join him in supporting Throne-Holst.


The Zeldin for Congress campaign issued a statement that said the incumbent “accomplished more in his first 18 months than his predecessor did in 12 years,” referring to Democrat Tim Bishop, whom Zeldin upset in 2014. “Despite the shameful narrative that the Democrats have been desperately attempting to deceive voters into playing along with, First Congressional District voters are smart enough to sort fact from fiction and reject all of the false, negative and partisan attacks on our Congressman being spun up by the Democrats,” the Zeldin campaign said.

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Friday July 8, 2016   (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Melinda Tuhus, Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)


In tonight’s news: fifteen percent of Connecticut Husky parents get insurance with one month to go; protestors rally in Hartford over the police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile; Newsday will remain under Cablevision's founding family on Long Island; and, the New York State Assembly will hold water quality hearings.
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Connecticut state officials announced yesterday that about 15 percent of the low-income parents who were about to lose their temporary insurance in July will continue to receive coverage.

Last year, because of budget cuts, the state said it was kicking 17,688 low-income parents off of the Husky A health insurance plan. They were then provided with a year of temporary insurance coverage, called TMA, or temporary medical assistance.
As the deadline for the end of that temporary insurance approaches, Access Health CT officials said this week that 2,134 of those parents have enrolled in private insurance plans or a different Medicaid plan.

Of the 2,134 adults who enrolled in coverage, 635 people have enrolled with a private insurance company and 1,499 have enrolled in a new Medicaid plan.
Access Health CT, which has already sent letters and postcards to those impacted, will begin calling individuals who haven’t signed up for a new plan over the next two weeks. It has also expanded the hours of its enrollment fairs for the month of July.
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About 100 protesters took to the streets of Hartford Thursday evening to protest the two most recent killings of black men by white police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota, just hours before 11 police officers in Dallas were shot and five killed.

WPKN's Melinda Tuhus was there:
The group was a mix of whites and African Americans. As they chanted on the sidewalk by Main Street, outdoor educator Justin McGlamery, who is white, said he came to protest the never-ending killings of black people by cops and racist practices. As for what needs to happen, he said: “More generally I think white people need to stand up and speak to other white people about systemic racism. I think as a country we need to examine ourselves -- each and every one of us -- about just being good people, for one another and for ourselves.”

Later, a young woman who declined to give her name was crying as the group rallied outside police headquarters: “Why don't they care about us? Why can't we live? I'm afraid to have kids...they can't grow up like this.”

After briefly taking over Main Street, the group continued to rally on the sidewalk, to the horn honks of support from many passing motorists.

The New Haven Black Lives Matter chapter announced a rally on the Green Friday evening at 7:30.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.
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Newsday is back in the hands of Cablevision’s founding family, in a deal announced yesterday. According to Southold Local, Newsday is back in the hands of the Dolan family—the founders of Cablevision, who have owned Long Island’s only daily newspaper since 2008.

Less than a month ago, Newsday was sold as part of its parent company, Cablevision, to Altice, a Netherlands-based media company. Altice’s $17.7 billion acquisition of Cablevision Systems Corp. included Newsday and News 12.  Cablevision had acquired Newsday in 2008.

Yesterday, an entity led by Patrick Dolan acquired 75% of Newsday Media Group from Altice. Patrick Dolan has been president of News 12 Networks since 2002 and is now also the president of Newsday Media Group. Altice retains a 25% stake in the newspaper. As part of the agreement, Altice’s Optimum Online customers will still have access to Newsday.com and the Newsday smartphone apps.

Charles Dolan, founder of Cablevision, will also hold a “small financial interest” in Newsday and serve on its board of directors. In a press release, Patrick Dolan said: “My father and I, together with our Altice partners, are deeply committed to preserving the state-of-the-art journalism that Newsday has consistently provided and that has served Long Islanders so well.”
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The Assembly’s Democratic leadership has reversed course on holding water quality hearings. Wednesday afternoon, Speaker Carl Heastie, Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Steve Englebright and Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried said hearings will be held in early September in Albany and Suffolk County examining “water contamination situations in various communities across New York State.”

Heastie said: “Recent reports of water contamination in municipalities across the state have highlighted the need for a thorough review of measures to ensure clean and healthy water in our communities. Ensuring a safe water supply for our children and families is a top priority for us.” Heastie’s willingness on this issue might have been diminished somewhat by the Governor’s statement on Tuesday implying that the Assembly was willing to place children in peril by refusing to follow his lead on daycare regulations, which Cuomo instead chose to enact by executive action.

Cuomo said: “I’m not going to allow children to be abused because of political reasons,” referring to the Assembly’s failure to take up his daycare bill in the closing weeks of the legislative session. This debate is the latest episode in Cuomo’s ongoing feud with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is most closely allied with the Assembly majority.
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Thursday July 7, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Attorney concerned about Anthem-Cigna deal, may move to block it; Connecticut’s judicial marshals drop labor complaint over police guards at CT courts; proposed casino site in Islandia hotel faces opposition at public hearing; and, BDS supporters demonstrate in New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s neighborhood.

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Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said he has concerns a proposed Anthem-Cigna merger would result in decreased competition and higher premiums and will make a decision as early as two weeks from now on whether to try to block it in Connecticut. “Our state's health insurance market is already concentrated,” Jepsen said in a statement. “Further concentration could lead to an unacceptable accumulation of market power, which arguably could lead to higher prices and negative effects on quality of care through reduced products, service and innovation.”


The mergers would shrink the nation's five biggest health insurers to three. In an interview, Jepsen said he’s concerned on the impact the consolidation would have in Connecticut and on Connecticut state employees who have retired and live outside the state. “While my antitrust investigation is not yet complete, and I have made no final decision on whether to challenge this merger in court, I am concerned that it could provide no discernible benefit to consumers while significantly altering the landscape for the provision of healthcare in the future,” he said. “My decision will be guided by the evidence and the law, and Connecticut residents should rest assured that ensuring a competitive healthcare market is among my highest priorities.”

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Connecticut’s judicial marshals dropped their labor complaint Thursday against the Judicial Branch, a move prompted by court officials’ decision to stop using state police to secure urban courthouses. But the head of the marshals’ bargaining unit, Joseph Gaetano, also warned that the group would continue to challenge the use of troopers last month through the union grievance process. “We continue to urge the Judicial Branch to make staffing choices that make the most cost-effective use of trained staff to keep our courthouses safe,” Gaetano said. “If we believe Connecticut’s courthouses need armed public safety staff, we urge the branch to recall laid-off marshals, who know the buildings and the personnel, and give them the tools they need to do the job.”

A branch spokeswoman declined to comment Thursday on the union’s statement and its decision to withdraw the labor complaint.


The dispute centered on two recent developments: the branch’s decision to lay off 101 marshals as part of a larger cost-cutting effort after facing more than $77 million in reductions this fiscal year ordered by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the General Assembly.

And the hiring of state police troopers to enhance security for two weeks outside of courthouses in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury.

Judicial Branch officials insisted the two matters were not linked, but the union has challenged that assertion.

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After spending three years trying unsuccessfully to build a mini-casino in Medford, Suffolk OTB officials thought they had found a friendlier new home for the betting parlor in Islandia.
But most residents of the village and some neighboring communities who attended a hearing Tuesday in Islandia Village Hall said they didn’t want the casino at the Islandia Marriott Long Island hotel. The casino’s fate rests with the Islandia village board, which plans to vote  on a special permit to add the betting parlor to the hotel.

OTB officials at the hearing heard many of the same arguments raised by Medford residents who had fought the casino plan there: that the facility could bring crime, traffic and prostitution to the village. Delaware North, the Buffalo entertainment giant developing the betting parlor for OTB, plans to buy the Islandia Marriott and lease space for the casino to OTB.


Islandia Mayor Allan M. Dorman said during the hearing, which lasted nearly three hours, that revenue from the casino’s 1,000 video lottery terminals and OTB simulcast facility would help the village cut property taxes for its residents. Residents of nearby communities such as Ronkonkoma and Central Islip joined Islandia residents in opposing the casino. Some Islandia residents favor the casino, saying it will bring jobs and help cut their taxes.

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The fallout over Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order directing state agencies to stop doing business with organizations involved in the BDS, or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, is continuing.

A diverse group of about 150 New Yorkers, organized by the Freedom to Boycott NYS Coalition, protested in front of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Westchester County residence, calling on him to rescind his recent executive order against the grassroots boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights.


Legal organizations like the New York Civil Liberties Union and Palestine Legal have stated that Governor Cuomo’s executive order threatens the Constitutional rights of all New Yorkers to engage in boycotts and other economic acts of conscience in support of human rights and social justice struggles.


The protesters marched from the Mount Kisco train station to Cuomo’s residence, holding signs saying: “We will continue to boycott for justice until Israel ends the brutal military occupation of Palestine,” and “Right to Boycott,” and chanting “Andrew Cuomo, what a shame, playing Joe McCarthy’s game.”


Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi responded to the the protests saying that: “New York has a long and storied history of peaceful protest and political activism. The BDS movement, however, is anything but these things. It is an exclusively anti-Israel, anti-peace campaign designed to punish Israel economically. There is a clear, legal distinction between political speech and blatantly discriminatory conduct. New York will not permit its own investment activity to further the BDS campaign in any way. This state stands shoulder to shoulder with Israel and fellow states across the nation in condemning this patently prejudiced campaign.”


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Wednesday July 6, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)


In the news tonight: Connecticut deems insurance co-op, HealthyCT, financially unstable; U.S. Senate poised to quash Connecticut’s GMO food labeling law; MTA to roll out mobile ticketing on Ronkonkoma line during week of August 22; and, Suffolk County Sheriff warns beware of scammers posing as IRS agents.

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About 40,000 people will lose their health insurance in the coming months as a result of a state evaluation that has deemed the financial health of Connecticut’s nonprofit health care co-op unstable. The co-op, HealthyCT, was issued an order of supervision from the state's Insurance Department Tuesday after it became clear a new federal requirement for the provider to pay $13.4 million would leave its finances in disarray. 


The order prevents the co-op from issuing any new insurance policies – a measure designed to protect consumers. Co-op CEO Kenneth Lalime said existing health insurance plans will remain in effect until the dates they were originally set to expire.

This leaves just two providers on the state's health-care insurance exchange, Access Health CT, in the coming years: United Healthcare announced in April it would leave the exchange after this year; plans from Anthem and ConnectiCare remain available to consumers.

"This is not an action that we take lightly but did so in order to immediately protect the company's 40,000 policyholders in Connecticut and make certain that their claims will be paid under the terms of their policies and for the duration of those policies," said insurance Commissioner Katharine L. Wade.

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The U.S. Senate is expected to move with a bill that would pre-empt Connecticut’s genetically modified food labeling law, replacing it with a national food safety standard considered to be much weaker and with significant exemptions.


Last week the Senate held a procedural vote – approved 68-29 – on the contentious issue of labeling genetically modified organisms in food, or GMOs. Its sponsors, Senators Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Debbie Stabenow, (D-Mich.) call the legislation a compromise.


The Roberts-Stabenow bill would create a mandatory labeling regime for food made with genetically modified organisms. Food makers would be required to either print a text message on the package disclosing whether a product contains GMO ingredients, or print a QR code or an Internet link directing customers to GMO information not on the package.


Food safety advocates, who say they were caught off guard by the Senate’s action, have dubbed the bill the “Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act.” They oppose the bill because it exempts many ingredients made from genetically modified sources -- oil made from genetically engineered soy, for example -- including most sugars, starches and purified proteins. The beef, pork, poultry and egg industries also successfully lobbied for an exemption. They opposed having their products labeled as containing GMOs when livestock has consumed genetically modified feed.


The compromise was fashioned after Senate Republicans in March failed to advance their own bill pre-empting state law and creating a voluntary national GMO label. Last year, the House passed a similar voluntary labeling bill.


The Roberts-Stabenow bill would prohibit states like Connecticut and Vermont, from imposing their own food labeling requirements. “This bill is not a GMO-labeling bill. It's anything but,” said Tara Cook-Littman of Fairfield, a food blogger who founded GMO Free CT. “It’s a bill that the industry has planted.”


More than 1,000 agribusinesses and food companies signed a letter in support of the bill. It was expected to easily clear a procedural hurdle today and win final passage by the end of the week. Connecticut Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy are in the minority who oppose the bill.

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Long Island Railroad and Metro-North customers will be able to buy tickets with a free app on their mobile phones by the end of this summer. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday that the rollout of the MTA’s mobile ticketing program, which had been scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, had been accelerated.


MTA eTix will allow Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad customers to purchase train tickets anytime, anywhere with their mobile devices. With the new app, users will be able to check schedules, see service status and purchase tickets without waiting in line. The app also offers account management tools, giving railroad customers the ability to secure refunds for unused mobile tickets, request duplicate receipts and manage profile info such as password and linked credit card numbers.


MTA eTix made first debut on the LIRR’s Port Washington Branch and Metro-North’s Hudson Line today. It will be available for all lines on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North during the week of August 22.

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Newsday reports:

Scammers posing as Internal Revenue Service agents have recently been attempting to dupe local residents into forking over money that they don’t really owe, authorities say.
The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office received three calls last Thursday morning telling of callers who had demanded money and who said that, if it wasn’t sent, county sheriffs would be coming along to make arrests. In response, the sheriff’s office has issued a news release to warn the public, citing an IRS public alert that shared advice for anyone receiving such unsolicited, fraudulent calls.

Scam callers try to get the victim to send cash, often through wire transfer or prepaid debit cards, and can take a bullying tone, threatening arrest or deportation if the money isn’t sent. Scammers also may leave “urgent” messages through “robo” phone calls or phishing email, to get the victim to respond. Also, they may have done research needed to come across as more official sounding, using a person’s name, address or other personal information. That and altering caller-ID numbers so it appears the call is coming from a legitimate agency.


The best practice when receiving such calls — when you don’t owe taxes or suspect that you might — is to hang up right away without giving any information, the IRS alert says.

Also, you could report the call to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, calling 800-366-4484 or using its online “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” link.

Tuesday July 5, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)

In the news tonight: new study in Connecticut shows Taser use higher on minorities; Roughly 13,000 Connecticut residents losing Medicaid still need new coverage; New York bill would expand disclosure for nonprofit donors to lobbying groups; Suffolk County pilot program will cultivate trendy edible sea greens in East End bays.

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A report by Central Connecticut State University shows that police were more likely to use Tasers in incidents involving minorities. Officials warned it is too soon to draw any conclusions from the data.  Analysts looked at all 610 incidents involving Tasers by 79 different police departments in the state during 2015. 

The university’s Institute for Municipal & Regional Policy specialist Ken Barone told Criminal Justice Policy Advisory Commission last week that 10 police departments accounted for more than half of the stun gun use. Hartford reported 51 cases. New Haven and Bridgeport reported fewer than 20 cases each. Some police departments reported an incident every time an officer drew a Taser while other departments reported every time a Taser was actually shot. Out of the 610 incidents reported, 419 people were tased.


ACLU of Connecticut interim director David McGuire said: “Unfortunately, this report makes it clear that Connecticut has work to do to make sure that police use Tasers fairly, justly, and wisely." The ACLU of Connecticut has sent Freedom of Information requests seeking full Taser use-of-force reports from all police departments that reported Taser incidents in 2015.

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Access Health CT, the state’s health insurance exchange, announced last week that only about 15% of low-income parents set to lose their state-sponsored Medicaid coverage at the end of July have new insurance plans.


Officials said 2,134 out of the estimated 14,000 affected parents and caregivers have enrolled in a different state-sponsored Medicaid plan or a new plan through the exchange.

That means 13,811 parents will lose their HUSKY A coverage when eligibility levels become more stringent on August 1. Currently, parents making less than 201% of the poverty level are eligible for coverage. The new eligibility threshold drops it to 155%.

Officials have sent letters and postcards to those affected and will start making calls July 11 to those who still have not made the transition.

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Albany Times-Union reports: 

Charities that donate to New York State’s lobbying nonprofits may be subject to sweeping new disclosure requirements. Nonprofits, ranging from charter school supporters and unions to environmental interests and good-government organizations, may have to disclose much more about their financial supporters. 

Under a 2011 New York ethics law, charitable tax-exempt nonprofits are not required to report their donors, even if the organizations have financially supported lobbying efforts meant to influence state government. The proposed bill appears to require any charitable organization making a donation over $2,500 to a substantial New York lobbying campaign to publicly disclose the donors.


Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders said the bill prevents charitable organizations from corrupting the political process and utilizing funds not intended for political purposes. The governor is expected to sign the bill, passed by lawmakers earlier this month. The bill could have a chilling effect on fundraising for charitable organizations whose donors feel more comfortable giving anonymously.

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Sea greens like nori, kelp, and algae are trending as a new source of nutrition, and Suffolk County is investigating the feasibility of growing kelp for market production. North Fork Legislator Al Krupski cosponsored a bill last year authorizing such a pilot program.  In June, the county got the go-ahead it needed from the State Legislature, which passed legislation allowing certain state-owned underwater lands to be used for the pilot program. The governor is expected to sign the bill.


Krupski said thanks to that measure, seaweed cultivation will soon come to Gardiners and Peconic bays and Cornell Cooperative Extension will conduct the pilot program.  Krupski said once established, a sustainable seaweed aquaculture industry could play an important role in the marine environment by removing excess nutrients, especially dissolved nitrogen, while creating new sustainable green jobs.


Suffolk County appropriated $80,750 to fund the pilot project, representing one-half its cost. Cornell Cooperative Extension will provide matching funds.

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Monday, July 4, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Comptroller Kevin Lembo sees a few 'bright spots' among fiscal woes; Connecticut Legislators fear budget cuts taking their toll on CT's parks; Islandia Marriot proposed as new site for Suffolk OTB casino; and, paving plans for Riverhead get $85,000 boost from 'Pave NY'

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While confirming that state government's finances have slipped yet again, Connecticut Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo also said Friday that a few "bright spots" show Connecticut's economy might not be done growing.


As the state entered a new fiscal year Friday, Lembo certified a $315.8 million deficit in the the outgoing budget — a shortfall that worsened largely because of further slippage in state income and sales tax receipts. The deficit for the 2015-16 fiscal year, which is $56.7 million worse than projected one month ago, potentially could leave Connecticut with only about $90 million in its emergency reserve – a level equal to about 0.5% of annual operating costs. Lembo, who recommends a reserve of 15%, will not formally close the books on 2015-16 until the end of September.


Despite the likelihood of Connecticut's finishing in the red for the second fiscal year in a row — and further slippage in two important tax revenue sources — "it's also important to look at everything together," the comptroller said. And while the state economy as a whole continues to recover at a slow rate, the housing market and housing spending offer positive signs.

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A coalition of state legislators fear that budget cuts are taking their toll on Connecticut's parks. But the Senate chairwoman of the legislature's Sportsmen's Caucus, Sen. Cathy Osten, (D-Sprague) conceded she's uncertain how much can be done to fix the situation, given state government's ongoing fiscal woes.


At a minimum, lawmakers are seeking assurances that basic safety and sanitation standards are being maintained, including at parks facing closure. The state administrator responsible for park oversight has said that, while the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is prepared to work with legislators this summer, park closures and reduced services there — to some degree — are unavoidable.


In trying to close a nearly $1 billion hole in 2016-17 finances without raising taxes, Governor Dannel P. Malloy and the legislature ordered cuts in most state agencies last month when they adopted a $19.76 billion overall state budget for the new fiscal year.

The $63.9 million budget for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is down 3.3%  from the outgoing fiscal year, but is 10.5% less than DEEP was slated to receive in the preliminary 2016-17 budget adopted 12 months ago.

Faced with those cutbacks, the department announced that after the July 4 weekend — traditionally its busiest of the year — it would close its three least-used campgrounds: Devils Hopyard in East Saddam; Salt Rock in the Baltic section of Sprague; and Greens Falls in Votuntown. All other state parks and forest campgrounds will close after Labor Day with the exception of campgrounds at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison and Rocky Neck State Park in East Lyme, which close after the Columbus Day weekend.


The department also announced reductions in: lifeguard services at beaches; park lawn mowing and other maintenance; and operating hours at park museums and nature centers.

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Newsday reports:

The Village of Islandia is holding a public hearing on Tuesday, July 5, 2016, regarding building an OTB VLT casino at the Marriott Hotel. The Islandia site chosen by Suffolk County Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. (OTB) officials for a mini-casino with up to 1,000 video slot machines is not likely to generate as much opposition as a previous location in Medford, due to fewer nearby homes and greater support from Village of Islandia officials.

Suffolk OTB is proposing a plan in which Delaware North, the Buffalo entertainment conglomerate developing the casino, will buy and operate the Islandia Marriott hotel and lease space for the betting parlor to OTB. OTB dropped the Medford proposal earlier this year due to opposition from residents and what they said was "obstructionist behavior" by Brookhaven Town officials.


Suffolk lawmakers said the Islandia site appears to have several advantages over the Medford location. For example, the hotel is on a commercial strip, and most Islandia residents live south of the Expressway, while the hotel is on the north side. Said Legislator Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue), who represents Medford and had opposed placing the casino there,  "I think in a lot of ways that it suits what they're trying to accomplish. I'm not going to say it's the right place, but it's certainly a better place than Medford."

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Some of the cost of planned paving work on Riverhead's town roads this summer will be reimbursed by New York State under the $100 million "Pave NY" grant program announced this week by Governor Andrew Cuomo. Riverhead is slated to receive $84,922 through the initiative, which is providing funding to 1,600 municipalities statewide. Suffolk County towns and villages will collectively see nearly $3.5 million in funding, according to documents released by the governor's office Tuesday.


Riverhead Highway Superintendent George Woodson told Town Board members he must spend the money first then submit an application for reimbursement. He plans seek reimbursement for the cost of repaving Maple and East avenues from Second Street to the railroad tracks as well as Third Street. "I'd like to do it as quickly as possible, since it can take time to get reimbursed," Woodson said. He has asked the board to approve a budget transfer, moving the funds from the highway department's fund balance to its operating fund to cover the cost.

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.Friday July 1, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson and Mike Merli.)
In tonight’s news: Federal judge throws out MGM lawsuit that opposed Tribes’ Third Casino Plans; Connecticut State officials express concern about supply of opioid reversal drug; the New York State Industries for the Disabled bats back at audit that found faulty oversight; and, Zika virus added to list of mosquito-borne viruses under surveillance by the New York State Department of Health.
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In a move that may help Connecticut’s two federally recognized Indian tribes build a new casino between Hartford and the Massachusetts border, a federal district judge dismissed a legal challenge to the proposal brought by MGM Resorts International.

The gambling company, which is constructing a nearly $1 billion casino just across the state border in Springfield, Massachusetts, sought to block the joint plan in Connecticut by charging that the state conspired with the tribes to keep out potential competitors.

U.S. District Judge Alvin W. Thompson ruled that MGM failed to “adequately allege an injury” from a law enacted last year that allows the state’s two Indian tribes to form a special business entity and negotiate casino development with a town.
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A bill recently signed into law by Governor Dannel Malloy places a seven-day cap on opioid prescriptions in an effort to rein in what many called the “overprescribing” of painkillers. The legislation also requires first responders to be trained in the use of Naloxone, or Narcan, and to carry and dispense it. The drug is injected into patients to counter the effects of opioid and heroin overdoses. However, there isn’t enough of the drug to go around.

In New Haven, the Drug Enforcement Administration (or the DEA) and New Haven Police Department are investigating the drug overdoses of 17 individuals that occurred in New Haven on June 23rd. Three of the victims died, and four of the victims remain hospitalized.
The investigation has revealed that many or all of the victims believed the substance they were consuming was cocaine. However, based in part on DEA laboratory testing, it appears that the ingested substance was an opioid, and not cocaine. 700 doses of Narcan were sent to New Haven, followed by 2,000 more.

According to Dr. Raul Pino, the commissioner of the Department of Public Health, “some of these individuals required multiple doses, which is not normal. It usually takes just one dose per user.  Shawn M. Lang, deputy director of AIDS Connecticut and a longtime advocate for greater access to Narcan, said there needs to be a much broader system to acquire Nalaxone.
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According to the Times-Union, yesterday the New York State Department of Health said it has identified 324 cases of the Zika virus statewide. In all cases, the virus was not transmitted by a mosquito bite in New York.  Typically Zika virus is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito, but DOH said these cases are all travel-associated, with either the infected person or their sexual partner traveling to areas with active Zika transmission.


The department reported 22 pregnant women with laboratory evidence of possible Zika infection. More than 6,000 human specimens had been tested as of Tuesday.DOH conducts seasonal surveillance for a list of mosquito-borne viruses that pose a risk to human health, including West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus. Zika virus is now on the list.


New York’s mosquito surveillance and testing program has been in effect since the 1970s, making it one of the most mature, robust and reliable in the nation. DOH Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement: “Mosquito-borne diseases are a major public health threat. The program is especially important this year as we work aggressively to protect New Yorkers from Zika and minimize the impact of this devastating disease.”

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According to the Times-Union, not-for-profit New York State Industries for the Disabled, or NYSID, accuses state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office of “many inaccurate and incomplete findings” in an audit released Wednesday.  NYSID sent a 17-page response to the audit of its ‘Preferred Source’ contracting program. It says DiNapoli’s office failed to examine and review the entire scope of NYSID’s program, and “makes no attempt to put into context the role of corporate partnerships within NYSID’s program.”

NYSID complains the Comptroller’s office was in effect cherry-picking contracts for its audit, to give the appearance of more widespread deficiencies in NYSID’s oversight. It says corporate partners, a special concern in the audit, accounted for only 14% of the jobs created over the three years examined.

DiNapoli’s office finds that the State Education Department “has provided only minimal oversight” of NYSID. In an email, a spokesperson said: “We stand by our audit’s findings.”
NYSID’s core mission is to provide employment opportunities for New Yorkers with significant disabilities. It is assigned by the state education commissioner with connecting state agencies with nonprofits—including those with for-profit corporate partners—that hire people in categories including the disabled and veterans.
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