Friday, September 2, 2016

September 2016

Friday September 30, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: several new laws take effect in Connecticut October 1; with creepy clown sightings on Long Island, Riverhead schools and police are ‘aware and vigilant’; and, Suffolk Bancorp settles shareholder lawsuits, clearing path for vote next month on merger with People’s United.

Eight new Connecticut laws will take effect Saturday, covering a wide range of topics, from domestic violence and human trafficking to bedbugs and gift cards. A new batch of legislation typically becomes law every Oct. 1.

One of the laws prohibits individuals who have been told they are subject to a court-ordered temporary restraining order from possessing firearms or ammunition in the time leading up to their court hearing. The legislation was supported by advocacy groups representing domestic violence victims.

“When an instance of domestic violence rises to the point that a temporary restraining order is needed, we must do everything we can to prevent tragedy,” Gov. Dannel Malloy said in a statement. “Now, Connecticut will take a commonsense step towards strengthening and enhancing our gun violence protection laws.”

Another law taking effect targets human trafficking. Among other provisions, it requires hotels, motels and other lodging operators to keep records of all guest transactions and receipts for at least six months, and to ensure employees are trained on human trafficking issues. It also expands the definition of the crime “enticing a minor” to include minors age 16 or 17 “or someone reasonably believed to be under age 18.”Repeat animal cruelty offenders will face increased penalties starting Saturday, when subsequent offenses of “malicious and intentional animal cruelty” change from a class D to a class C felony in the state. Under state law, a first offense is a class D felony.

Other laws taking effect will: change certain provisions governing foreclosures, small loans and other banking-related statutes; require those selling or issuing gift cards to give the buyer an electronic or paper proof-of-purchase or gift receipt, and require anyone accepting a gift card as payment to give the buyer cash for the remaining balance left after a purchase; and restrict how websites and mobile apps can access and process student data.

Another law specifies a framework for treating bed bug infestations in residential rental properties, including public housing. Among other things, it requires landlords to hire and pay a pest control professional to treat infestations if the landlords can’t successfully treat them themselves.

Finally, a new law will give certain veteran-owned businesses a “price preference” of up to 15% for certain Department of Administrative Services open-market orders or contracts. To qualify, the businesses must have gross revenue of up to $3 million in the most recent fiscal year, and one or more veterans must own at least 51% of the business.

Local schools and police are on alert after several reports of creepy clown sightings across Long Island this week and vague threats on social media toward Long Island schools. Suffolk County Police received two calls about clown sightings Wednesday evening.

A group of people dressed as clowns were reportedly jumping in front of cars in Brentwood, and one person dressed as a clown was spotted in North Babylon. A user on Twitter also reported seeing three men dressed as clowns on Commack Road Wednesday evening. Stu Cameron, chief of Suffolk County Police Department, said the motives of the clowns “could not be determined.”

“The Department reminds the public false reporting and intentional harassment or disturbing of the peace can lead to legal consequences,” Cameron said. He added that anyone engaging in such behavior could be arrested or be issued a violation under New York State penal law.

Friday morning, Principal Charles Regan sent out a recorded phone call to parents of Riverhead High School students, saying that the school is aware of the clown sightings as well as “unspecified threats to schools on Long Island” being made on social media. “At this time there are no credible threats to Riverhead High School. The district security and local police are aware and being vigilant,” Regan said.

Sinister-looking clowns have been appearing in towns across the country since August. Some have even been reportedly brandishing weapons. No weapons were reported in any of the Long Island clown sightings.

Lawsuits seeking to block the sale of Suffolk Bancorp to People’s United have effectively been settled by the parties, clearing the way for an October 13 shareholders’ vote on the proposed merger.

Suffolk Bancorp this week entered into a memorandum of understanding with the plaintiffs in three lawsuits regarding settlement of the litigation now pending in state and federal courts, the company reported in a filing made Wednesday with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission. The memorandum of understanding contemplates a stipulation of settlement, though the stipulation has not yet been signed and would be subject to court approval, according to the filed report.

If the court approves the settlement contemplated by the memorandum, the lawsuits will be dismissed with prejudice, according to the agreement. If the merger agreement is approved by shareholders, the transaction is expected to close late in the fourth quarter this year.

Thursday September 29, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Cherokee nation attorney speaks at Yale University about Standing Rock Sioux anti-pipeline protest;
Connecticut ballot remains unchanged after challenged Independent Party senate bid; rare species could lose habitat on Plum Island should it be developed; and, Huntington Station developer receives tax breaks for hamlet project.

A native attorney spoke at Yale University Tuesday night about the ongoing struggle of the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies to stop a giant oil pipeline threatening their water, and its historic significance.  WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus was there.

Mary Kathryn Nagle is an enrolled member of the Cherokee nation and an attorney with Pipestem Law representing native clients. She spoke to a full house in a campus lecture hall about the legal issues surrounding the fight to stop the Dakota Access pipeline which would cross four states from North Dakota to Illlinois. She cited past U.S. cases that ruled against native Americans, calling them savages and incapable of self-governance.

More than 200 tribes have supported the Standing Rock Sioux and its chairman, David Archambault, Nagle said:
"There have been a lot of tribal nations that historically have been at war with one another at different times and that’s one of the things that’s been incredibly beautiful about this is seeing all these different tribal nations come together and say, Chairman Archambault, we stand with you. What can we do to support, from one nation to another. It’s nation-building, right? It’s really, really powerful."

The Obama administration put a pause on part of the project, pending talks with the tribe’s leadership.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.

Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Richard N. Palmer dismissed an unusual last-ditch appeal Thursday by John R. Price to get on the ballot as the U.S. Senate nominee of the faction-riven Independent Party of Connecticut, sparing state officials a scramble to redo ballots and election software. The dismissal came after a hearing in which Palmer essentially acted as a trial judge because of a quirk in Connecticut law that states questions of ballot access in federal races be resolved by direct appeals to the state Supreme Court.

Presented with competing claims for control of the Independent line on the ballot, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill had declined to list either Price, who was endorsed by a Waterbury faction, or Republican Dan Carter, who was cross-endorsed by a Danbury faction. The law and calendar were both against Price, who was seeking a court order directing Carter to relinquish his claim to the cross-endorsement and Merrill’s office to revise the ballots and software for counting votes.

Military and overseas ballots already have been printed and mailed, and two million copies of Connecticut ballots already are being printed to be delivered next week to municipal officials to meet a deadline for the availability of absentee ballots. The ballots cost 50 cents each. Memory cards already have been programmed for the optical scanners that count votes, an expense of $93,000. With various state House and Senate districts, there are 454 variations of ballots to be used in the state’s 169 cities and towns.

Palmer granted a motion by Carter and a lawyer for the Danbury faction of the Independent Party to dismiss the case. The upshot, according to Patrick Gallahue of the secretary of the state’s office: “The ballot stays as it is, and no one gets the Independent line for U.S. Senate.”

Further development of Plum Island would likely result in a loss of habitat for many rare species living there, according to the first ever four-season biological inventory of the island. The Natural Heritage Program recently released the findings of its four-season study of the island, which concluded that there were at least 13 species of birds and 23 species of plants that warrant conservation concern that breed on the island. The lead scientist of the study will present his findings next month in Greenport.

The sale of Plum Island has raised concerns among conservationists, who have expressed fear that the sale could potentially damage the habitat, which has been so far preserved due to the island being largely undeveloped. A coalition of environmental groups brought a federal lawsuit to block the sale of the island earlier this year.

The suit claims that the General Services Administration (GSA) and Department Of Homeland Security (DHS) violated the National Environmental Policy Act with their recommendation that the entire island be sold. Their recommendation stems from what the plaintiffs claimed at a July press conference to be a “false” interpretation of a 2008 law, which they said directs the sale of only the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, not the entire island. The case was filed in July. The GSA and DHS have until Oct. 14 to answer the complaint.

The report’s summary concluded that while the inventory is extensive, it is not complete. The Natural Heritage Program recommends “additional inventory for native bees, marine mammals and sea turtles, rare plants and marine habitats.”

The presentation will be held at the Peconic Landing Community Center auditorium in Greenport on Thursday, October 20. The presentation will begin at 7:30 p.m.

Newsday reports:
The master developer for Huntington Station on Thursday received preliminary approval for $900,031 in tax breaks over 15 years from the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency for a project slated for the hamlet. The breaks are for the $5.12 million Northridge Project proposed by Plainview-based Renaissance Downtowns at Huntington Station LLC.

Under a 15-year PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes, the developer will pay $55,007 the first year in property taxes, with the benefit decreased by 4% a year, until reaching full taxes of $132,016 in the 15th year, a savings of $660,082. The abatement plan also allows for up to $200,908 in sales tax exemptions and mortgage recording tax exemptions of up to $39,041.

“The reality is I can’t make the numbers work without some type of tax assistance or abatements,” said Ryan Porter, Renaissance Downtowns’ vice president of planning and development. “But there have been little to no taxes paid on this site for the better part of 50 years.” The property is owned by the town and is currently exempt from paying real property taxes.

The Northridge Project is on the northeast corner of Northridge Street and New York Avenue. The three-floor structure will consist of commercial use on the ground level, eight apartments on the second floor and eight apartments on the third floor.

Town Supervisor Frank Petrone said eventually the abatements will be exceeded by other tax revenues and economic development growth. “Also, currently the parcel generates zero in property taxes,” he said. “In the first year alone it’s going to bring in $55,000, that’s a public benefit right there.”

Wednesday September 28, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: lawmakers approve deal to keep helicopter production in Connecticut; protesters occupy office of New Haven Mayor Toni Harp over police brutality; Cuomo campaign will quarantine donations from those charged in complaints; and, advocacy group files complaint over Montauk beach project.

With bipartisan support, a $220 million economic incentive package for Lockheed Martin to continue helicopter production in Connecticut was approved by the Senate 
35-1 and by the House 136-6. The 14-year deal will allow the state to give the defense manufacturer $140 million in grants and $80 million in sales tax offsets.

Senate President Martin Looney (D-New Haven), said there’s a “substantial danger of the loss of employment at Sikorsky” with the phasing out of Blackhawk helicopter production. He said Lockheed Martin, which has fewer ties to Connecticut than Sikorsky, could have chosen to build 200 CH-53K King Stallion Helicopters anywhere in the country or the world, but it decided to stay because of the quality of Connecticut’s workforce and a rich tradition of manufacturing. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration estimated that the deal will inject an estimated $384.4 million a year in tax revenue for a total of $6.54 billion until 2032.

Lockheed Martin, which purchased Sikorsky in November 2015 for $9 billion, employs 7,855 workers at its Connecticut facilities. In order to receive the full value of the package it will have to increase that number to 8,032 by 2032. The deal, according to the Malloy administration which started talks with the company in June, will invest $744.8 million in the supply chain of small manufacturers. That investment will create approximately 24,601 jobs.

Larry Duncan, vice president of government relations at Lockheed Martin, said he was “elated and grateful for the action taken by the legislature on a strong bipartisan basis.” Malloy is expected to sign the bill in the next couple of days. The Teamsters union will also have to sign off on the deal in a vote scheduled for October 9.

Two dozen protesters occupied the office of New Haven Mayor Toni Harp near the close of business on Tuesday, demanding to meet with her over charges of two cases of police brutality.

WPKN's Melinda Tuhus reports:
The mayor's receptionist said her boss was in a meeting and the protesters did not have an appointment. She threatened to call police to remove them if they didn't leave by 6 p.m.

Activist Barbara Fair, whose daughter is one of those charging the police with abusing her, replied: “What bothers me is that you're acting like we're all of a sudden coming to crash your office. No! We tried to do it civilly, by calling and calling and calling, getting an appointment, waited three weeks, the day of the meeting, cancelled, so now we're angry.”

Mayor Harp eventually came out to talk to the protesters, and said she'd get back to them within three days. They want the three officers involved to be taken off the street until the cases can be settled. They also want a civilian police review board with subpoena powers.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.

The Albany Times-Union reports:
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s re-election campaign has decided to set aside the donations it received from the individuals named in the criminal complaints filed last week by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Preet Bharara and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

“Given the serious nature of the allegations made last week, the campaign contributions given by the defendants will be set aside in a separate account to be made available for any forfeiture recoveries pursued by law enforcement, rather than returning the funds to the defendants,” said a spokesman for the campaign Tuesday evening. “The U.S. Attorney’s office has been made aware of this action.”

The sums in question include $70,000 given by Steven Aiello, CEO of COR Development and $96,500 given by Lou Ciminelli. Both are charged with bribery of former top Cuomo aide Joe Percoco. The account will also warehouse $11,000 given to Cuomo by Joe Nicolla, who was charged with bid-rigging in the state case, which concerns projects connected to SUNY Polytechnic Institute. Only donations from the individuals and their companies are affected. Donations from other employees at the companies will remain in Cuomo’s coffers.

Also, the campaign’s action will not affect donations from relatives of those charged — sums that in the case of Aiello, Ciminelli and Nicolla run to additional hundreds of thousands. Nicolla’s wife, Jessica Nicolla, made a $50,000 donation to Cuomo’s campaign in 2014 using her maiden name and an address in Muncie, Ind., according to state Board of Elections records.
-------------------------------------- reports: 
Defend H20, a water quality advocacy organization has filed a complaint with the federal National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration accusing New York State, East Hampton Town and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of having violated federal policy in approving the sandbag revetment constructed by the Army Corps last year along the beachfront of downtown Montauk. Sections of the revetment were washed out during the Labor Day weekend storm.

Defend H2O also filed a lawsuit last fall attempting to halt the construction of the revetment. It claims that the approvals by the East Hampton Town Board and the state Department of Environmental Conservation violate town regulations and by extension the state Coastal Management Plan and the federal Coastal Zone Management Act. The regulations prohibit shoreline hardening structures,

The complaint asks NOAA administrators to review the town and state's approvals of the revetment and issue directives with regard to how to apply planning guidelines in the future. 

The Army Corps is hosting a public hearing tonight on its billion-dollar Fire Island-to-Montauk coastline management plan. The meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Montauk Playhouse, is meant to focus on the proposal by the Army Corps to bolster Montauk's beach with 150,000 tons of sand every few years, but not to do a broader beach reconstruction project that the Town says the Army Corp had pledged to do.

Tuesday September 27, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut legislators expected to pass $200 million incentive deal to keep Sikorsky helicopter production; Connecticut has baby bust, slow growth and aging population; New York Governor passes consumer-protection bill for gift cards; and, Riverhead Town Board hears most ambitious development plan yet for downtown property.

Connecticut legislators say a senior Lockheed Martin official told them in private meetings Monday that the company needs $200 million in incentives to help offset the $400 million more it would cost to produce CH-53K helicopters at its Sikorsky Aircraft subsidiary in Connecticut rather than in competing states.

The incentive package is expected to pass Wednesday in special session with bipartisan support. Electric Boat, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft and, now, Sikorsky have all committed to expansion in Connecticut. If Lockheed Martin meets goals for hiring, capital investments and purchases from its chain of more than 300 suppliers, the state is promising annual grants and tax breaks of $200 million in incentives over 14 years.

Legislators said the return on that investment is billions to the Connecticut economy in wages and other spending over the life of a deal that runs to 2032.

Sikorsky expects an initial order of nearly 200 CH-53K helicopters from the Navy for use by the Marines.

Connecticut women are having fewer children than those in most other states, its population continues to age and growth lags, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey. In 2015, Connecticut women ranked 49th in fertility with an estimated 41 out of 1,000 women between 15 and 50 giving birth that year. The national average was 51 births per 1,000 women.

Connecticut’s declining birth rate cut across all age groups, but, in a bright spot, was steepest among teens. The low birth rate has impacted school enrollment, and the National Center for Education projects school enrollment to drop steadily until 2025.

Brookings Institution demographer William Frey said Connecticut’s baby bust can be attributed several factors, including the recession, an aging population, and fewer blacks and Hispanics, who tend to have higher birth rates than white women, living in the state.

Frey said a shrinking, older population will force changes in Connecticut. He said, “More people will need health care and other services. Local communities will have to adapt, especially suburbs, because a lot of them were built to serve kids, not older people.”

Albany Times-Union reports:
Governor Cuomo signed legislation Monday instituting new consumer protections for gift cards.The bill increases the minimum time before cards are charged a user fee, puts additional restrictions on those fees, and expands expiration dates of gift cards in order to protect consumers.

Under the new law, the time period in which fees can be charged to unused gift card balances has been increased from 13 to 25 months and any monthly service fees applied after this time must be waived if the consumer uses the gift card within three years of the issue date.

Cuomo said, “No one expects an asterisk when buying a gift card and I’m proud to sign this legislation to help ensure consumers get their money’s worth.”

Developer David Gallo of Georgica Green Ventures last week unveiled his plans for the five-story mixed-use building proposed for the corner of East Main Street and McDermott Avenue in downtown Riverhead. The plans include a 118-unit apartment building with ground-floor shops and restaurants. Gallo said about 25% of the apartments will be rented at market value with the remainder subject to workforce housing income limits.

The 37,000-square-foot site is currently improved with a vacant commercial building on East Main Street and a mixed-use structure on the riverfront, occupied by Peconic Bay Apparel, Owen Swift Antiques, and a rental apartment.

The town architectural review board and the landmarks commission both made suggestions for the facade design, which project architect Stephen Jacobs said have been adopted. But there was concern about the building’s 500-foot facade along McDermott Avenue.

Since the site is located in the downtown urban renewal area, site plan review and approval rests with the town board rather than the planning board. It will be the subject of an upcoming public hearing.

Monday September 26, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut's Medical Marijuana Program Continues to Grow; National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women holds Yale symposium; New York Governor continues to withhold former top aide’s disclosure forms, other material from release;and, Riverhead’s upgraded sewer plant recovers up to a half-million gallons a day for irrigation.

The number of patients in the state of Connecticut receiving medical marijuana treatment keeps growing, now at 13,440, according to Department of Consumer Protection Deputy Commissioner Michelle Seagull. Connecticut legalized medical marijuana for adults in 2012. There are eight operating dispensaries in the state and a ninth, located in Milford, slated to open shortly.

The demand has been so great that one of those dispensaries, Bluepoint Wellness in Branford, recently received permission from a local zoning commission to move into a much bigger space across the street from its current location on East Main Street.
“The program has simply gotten more acceptance,” explained Seagull, “both from the public and from physicians.”

Seagull said at the same time last year there were 7,000 patients enrolled in the medical marijuana program — half the total who are currently being served. Additionally, she said, “at this time last year, we had 360 participating physicians. Now, that number is up to 536.”

In the past legislative session, a bill became law giving children under the age of 18 access to non-smokeable medical marijuana. The new law, which goes into effect on Oct. 1, gives minors with severe epilepsy and terminal illnesses access to marijuana after the approval of two doctors. The new law, Seagull said though, won’t significantly impact the growing number of medical marijuana patients. That’s because, she said, “there are many, many restrictive conditions that will limit the number of young people who have access to the program.”

A national organization for women in the criminal justice system held a symposium at Yale Law School on Friday.

WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus was there:
True to its name, the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls featured two video panels with women still behind bars, and many others now out of prison attending the event in person. Topics included Clemency, Pardons and Compassionate Release, the Realities of Re-entry back to the community, and the impacts of incarceration on family members.

Beatrice Codianni is a co-founder of the organization. She explained why a group such as hers is necessary: “The US, as most people know, has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners. And when it comes to women it’s even worse – it’s 30% of the world’s prisoners. So this is the focus on women who are often ignored in mainstream press, and everything focuses on men.”

Photos of incarcerated women were displayed across the stage, many serving decades or life sentences for non-violent drug offenses. Attendees were urged to contact President Obama to support their calls for executive clemency.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News."

Despite Thursday’s release of a criminal complaint against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s former top aide Joe Percoco, the administration will continue to block the release of Percoco’s disclosure forms from his 2014 return to state service, according to the Albany-Times Union.

In May, the governor’s counsel promised to release the material once the investigation[s] into improper lobbying and conflicts of interest in upstate development projects were complete.

“No documents regarding this process will be released until the investigations are completed in order to respect the integrity of the inquiries,” Cuomo counsel Alphonso David told Politico in May, referring to the material Percoco would have been required to complete upon rejoining the Executive Chamber following the seven months he spent serving as Cuomo’s campaign manager — while also taking “consulting” payments from CHA Consulting and COR Development, according to separate disclosure forms he filed in 2015 with the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

On Monday, Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi responded to a fresh request for the Percoco materials by citing a section of the Public Officers Law dealing with appropriate exemptions to the Freedom Of Information Law. He later said: “The law is clear and hasn’t changed: documents are not released if it will interfere with law enforcement investigations or court proceedings. Further, as we’ve said multiple times, we have pledged full cooperation with the U.S. Attorney’s investigation into this matter.”

Riverhead’s sewage treatment plant upgrade and the innovative wastewater reuse partnership with the county golf course garnered accolades Friday from a high-ranking federal Environmental Protection Agency official and environmental activists.

The “incredibly innovative” $24 million upgrade and reuse project, completed with financial assistance from federal, state and county governments, is “a model not just for Long Island but for the nation,” EPA regional administrator Judith Enck said Friday at a press conference at Indian Island County Golf Course in Riverhead.

The plant accepts waste by pipeline from properties within the Riverhead Sewer District and by truckload from properties in the towns of Riverhead and Southampton that are served by private septic systems. As a result of the upgrade, it can treat up to 1.5 million gallons of wastewater per day to the technological limit of under 4 milligrams of nitrogen per liter. Using membrane technology and high-dose ultraviolet disinfection, the plant treats for a host of other pathogens, including viruses, as well.

Turning the Riverhead sewage treatment plant into Long Island’s first water resource recovery facility by diverting up to 500,000 gallons per day of treated effluent from the Peconic River to irrigation uses on county- and town-owned land — the Indian Island golf course and the sewer district property itself — will reduce nitrogen-loading by 1.4 tons per year.

Friday September 23, 2016   (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Access Health CT hires new vendor for its call center; new report says Connecticut has second-highest taxpayer burden in the nation; public forum raises awareness for conserving North Fork’s water; and, Riverhead to hold public hearing on a proposed law to authorize piercing the town’s tax levy cap.

Connecticut’s health insurance exchange, Access Health CT, will start enrollment on November 1st with a new call center vendor. Access Health CT hired Faneuil, Inc. to take over as the new call center vendor. Its previous vendor, Maximus, which valued its contract with the exchange at $15 million over three years, will be exiting in a few weeks, according to state officials.

The exchange paid Maximus $1.22 for every minute their representatives spent on the phone with a customer helping them navigate the Affordable Care Act. But James Michel, director of operations for Access Health CT, said that part of the contract has changed. Instead of charging by the minute, Access Health CT will pay Faneuil a fixed amount for every customer who calls. 

Michel said that puts the pressure on Faneuil to be efficient when handling the calls. He also believes that Faneuil will be more effective than Maximus because all of the employees they are hiring are full-time, with full benefits. According to Michel, Faneuil also has better technology than Maximus.
Access Health CT has begun transitioning calls away from Maximus employees, and according to Michel, by next Monday, Faneuil will be handling 100% of the calls. As of today, about 75% of the calls are being handled by Faneuil employees.

According to a new report released this week by a think tank, Connecticut has the second-highest taxpayer burden in the nation. According to Truth in Accounting (or TIA), a Chicago-based non-profit that analyzes government financial reporting, Connecticut’s tax burden – the amount each individual taxpayer would have to pay the state’s treasury for the state to be debt-free – is $49,000.

TIA recently released its annual “Financial State of the States” report, which ranks states based on their financial health according to fiscal year 2015 data. Connecticut’s burden inched up slightly from $48,600 in last year’s report. TIA has dubbed Connecticut a “sinkhole state,” meaning it is among the top five states in the nation with the highest taxpayer burden. 

A new accounting rule now requires state governments to report all pension debt, which TIA says is “a step in the right direction,” but the rule has spurred a large increase in the debt being reported nationwide.

According to Riverhead Local, the town’s board unanimously voted on Tuesday to set a public hearing about a proposed law to authorize piercing the town’s tax levy cap for fiscal year 2017. If the town board adopts the law, it will be legally authorized to exceed the tax levy limitation with its 2017 budget. 

If subsequently, Riverhead adopts a budget that pierces the so-called tax cap, this will be its second time since the state implemented tax levy limitation in 2012. Riverhead pierced the tax levy cap with its budget for the current fiscal year by a 4-to-1 vote last November. 

Supervisor Sean Walter told board members, “quite a few municipalities” are in the same position this year. If the board votes to not exceed the tax levy limit, it will “have to cut a little more than $1.2 million out of the budget.”  Walter said the increases in the town’s health insurance premium “ate up 95%” of the allowed tax levy increase.

Riverhead’s public hearing will be held on October 18 at 7 p.m.  Also on Tuesday, Southold Town Board scheduled a public hearing for October 18, to authorize exceeding its tax levy limit for 2017.

The State Education Department released proposed changes to the Common Core standards and wants public comments by Nov. 4.

For the proposed standards and opportunity to comment, use these web sites:
English Language Arts -
Math -

For the past few years, parents and educators have rallied against the state’s latest system of so-called high-stakes testing, which ties teacher evaluations to the Common Core standards. 

David Gamberg, superintendent for Greenport and Southold school districts, said while he’s pleased to hear the Education Department is seeking public input on changing the standards, he believes more needs to be done. Mr. Gamberg said: “The practices of teachers and the quality of how we engage with students goes well beyond a set of standards.”  

Riverhead school district superintendent Nancy Carney said while she agrees giving the public an opportunity to comment is an important step in the planning process, she’s concerned about a lack of flexibility with assessments for these specific student demographics. She said: “It is still not clear to me how — and when — any changes will be made.” 

Reports for Wednesday, September 21 and Thursday, September 22  are not currently available.

Tuesday September 20, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)

In the news tonight: Moody’s deems Connecticut’s education ruling good for “troubled cities”; Connecticut Health Cabinet considers fining doctors who don’t save enough on patient care; Hashamomuck Cove project draws concerns about sea level rise; three Riverhead hamlets may get own zip code. 

A Wall Street ratings firm said the recent decision in Connecticut’s landmark education lawsuit would “benefit financially troubled cities” and boost sagging bond ratings. 

Moody’s Investors Service reported that the ruling, which said in part that the state should fund lower performing school districts at a higher rate than other schools, is “credit positive for low-income cities with underperforming schools.” Moody’s believes that state money for schools in low-income communities will increase through a reallocation of funds from more affluent municipalities. Or the state could expand the amount it plans to spend on education while maintaining funds for affluent communities.

According to Moody’s, increasing funding is unlikely to improve the financial health of cities such as Bridgeport, New Haven or Hartford. But the funds could alleviate school spending pressure. 

Increasing the overall amount of state aid would put pressure on the state budget. House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said that unless the state picks up the entire cost of public education, municipalities would have to use property tax to foot the remainder.

A consultant hired by Connecticut’s Health Care Cabinet proposed a new payment model in which doctors get financially penalized if they don’t save enough money on patient care. This “downside risk” proposal is an effort to reduce expenses and make sure residents, especially those on Medicaid, get the care needed. Currently, doctors get paid a fee for service and may receive extra if they save money on care.

Consultant Bailit Health told the cabinet last week that according to economic theory, “individuals have a greater response to a risk of loss, than they do to the possibility of reward.”  However, healthcare advocates argue that providers could be incentivized to reduce access to care.

According to Department of Social Services Medicaid services director Kate McEvoy, the proposal breaks a promise that the state would never experiment in this way with Medicaid. She also noted that sending Medicaid reimbursements directly to doctors has been working.

The cabinet will make its recommendations on how to reform the health care payment system to the legislature later this year.

Some Southold Town residents question the worth of a proposed $17.7 million beach re-nourishment project for Hashamomuck Cove if sea levels rise. 

Residents raised several concerns Monday night at a public meeting on the proposed project, which includes creating three berms along the roughly 1.6 miles of coves in the Hashamomuck area and filling them with about 160,000 cubic yards of sand. Erosion and flooding threaten[s] additional properties and roadways, engineers have said. 

The Army Corps of Engineers estimates $32 million worth of property damage over 50 years if the project is not completed. The project must have a non-federal sponsor to pay 35% of construction costs. Town officials said they don’t have the money, which leaves either the state or county.

Because it uses federal money, the plan requires public access points every half-mile. This would create three access points, and each requires at least one parking space. This has some residents concerned about having their property targeted for acquisition.

Public comment period closes September 30.

Congressman Lee Zeldin and House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform chairman Jason Chaffetz held a meeting last week to discuss possibly creating a new zip code for three Southampton Town neighborhoods currently lumped in with Riverhead’s zip code.

While many small East End communities have their own zip code, the hamlets of Flanders, Riverside and Northampton – three economically struggling neighborhoods south of Riverhead – have long struggled with a lack of individual identity. Many residents believe having their own zip code would help provide that identity.

There are also at least 18 identical street names in both hamlets and in Riverhead, which can lead to mail mix-ups.

Zeldin and Chaffetz are working together on the Postal Service Reform Act of 2016, within which Zeldin has inserted language mandating the hamlets be assigned a unique zip code no later than September 30, 2017.

Monday September 19, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Secretary of the State Merrill says Connecticut ‘motor voter’ system hits fast lane; CCJEF attorneys ask Connecticut high court to reject Attorney General appeal, for now; Brookhaven will rebuild a pair of jetties in Mt. Sinai Harbor; and, four more Suffolk mosquito samples test positive for West Nile.

Connecticut registered more voters through the Department of Motor Vehicles in the past month than it did over three previous calendar years, when federal officials complained its “motor voter” system was so ineffectual as to be in violation of a U.S. civil rights law.

The secretary of the state’s office reported Monday the registration of 14,693 new voters through an improved DMV system established under a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. Voters who registered at the DMV numbered 3,323 in 2013; 3,948 in 2014, and 2,703 in 2014.

Under the settlement negotiated by the Justice Department, the secretary of state’s office and the DMV, a voter registration system will be electronically integrated into the licensing system so that every application for a license, renewal or photo ID “shall function as an application to register to vote, unless the customer chooses to opt out.” The streamlined system now prompts customer service agents at the DMV to offer a voter registration form during every transaction. A fully automated system is expected in two years.

The settlement ended an investigation that concluded the state was in violation of the National Voting Rights Act of 1993.

The Connecticut Supreme Court was asked Monday by a coalition of parents, school boards and teachers’ unions to deny the attorney general’s request for an expedited appeal of a lower court ruling that the way the state funds and oversees education is unconstitutional.

Instead, attorneys representing the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding are asking that the state first submit its remedies to the problems outlined in the decision of Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher – and whether the judge accepts them as sufficient – before the high court weighs in.

The office of Attorney General George Jepsen’s office filed an appeal Thursday asking the Supreme Court to conclude that Moukawsher embarked on “an uncharted and legally unsupported path” in asserting authority over how the state distributes education aid and sets standards for graduating from high school, serving special-needs students and evaluating teachers.

Jepsen is seeking a direct, expedited review requiring the approval of Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers, saying the time for the state’s highest court to review the ruling is now, not after the 180-day period Moukawsher set for the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the General Assembly to answer his demand for remedies. Justice Rogers has until Thursday to act on Jepsen’s petition.

Brookhaven Town on Monday announced an $8.6 million project to rebuild a pair of deteriorated jetties at the mouth of the Mt. Sinai Harbor, Newsday reports.

Brookhaven will pay $5.6 million to help cover the costs of repairs, which include building a new base and adding rocks, but the town will be aided by a $3 million state grant, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine Romaine announced Monday during a news conference. The yearlong project will start in 2017 so that it won’t interfere with the current boating season.

The protective jetties have collapsed over time with the seaward ends being submerged underwater. The rocks making up the jetties have collapsed, enabling sand to pass through. Town officials fear police and fire vessels along with fishing and lobster boats may crash into the damaged jetties while traveling through a navigational channel that leads to Long Island Sound.

Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said at the press conference that boaters expect to be able to enter and exit the harbor safely. Ralph Davenport, owner of Ralph’s Fishing Station, agreed the harbor has become dangerous for boaters in recent years. “A lot of people are getting stuck. If you’re unfamiliar, you’ll crash,” he said.

With four new mosquito samples testing positive for West Nile virus, the total for the year is up to 136 in Suffolk County, health officials reported today, according to Newsday. The new samples, all Culex pipiens-restuans, were collected from September 5 to September 11 in West Babylon, Lindenhurst, Oakdale and Holtsville.

Fifteen birds and one horse have tested positive for the virus, with no human cases to date, health officials said. Nassau County has reported 18 West Nile positive mosquito samples, with no human cases, so far this year. Last year Suffolk County saw five human West Nile cases and no deaths, with Nassau reporting nine human cases and no deaths.

Some mosquito bites can transmit West Nile to humans, with mosquitoes picking up the virus by feeding on infected birds. Zika virus has not been found in any mosquitoes on Long Island, officials said.

Friday September 16, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Connecticut Republicans make their case in Hartford; a training on youth homelessness in Connecticut examines human trafficking; public forum raises awareness for conserving North Fork’s water; and, the New York State Board of Elections moves closer toward criminal referral disclosure. 

On Wednesday, the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness held a training session in Hamden on youth homelessness.  At the training session, a special focus was given to human trafficking.

Sarah Chess, training and communications coordinator for the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, said: “We really have to think that homeless youth are being forced into (human trafficking) for survival.” Chess added that statistics show that 10% of youth in shelters and 28% of youth on the streets have participated in some kind of survival sex. One step in helping to prevent this, she continued, is for housing providers to recognize the signs and be able to give adequate housing for at-risk youth.

Latoya Lowery of the state Department of Children and Families said her agency has received more than 500 referrals of youth who are potentially being trafficked in Connecticut. The victims range from age 2 to 18 years old. 

Lowery reminded those present for the training that youth younger than 18 cannot be charged with prostitution crimes under state law. Another Connecticut law allows potential cases to be reported without the caller having information about the perpetrator in the case.

Anyone suspecting a child is being trafficked can call the Connecticut Department of Children and Families at (800) 842-2288.

Yesterday, Republicans running for the House of Representatives held a rally on the north steps of the state Capitol in Hartford. Those speaking at the rally asserted that the Republican Party is a more inclusive organization than the Democratic Party.

Emanuela Palmares, 33 of Danbury, is challenging 12-term incumbent Democrat Representative Bob Godfrey.  Palmares identified herself as a single mother raising a child with special needs, a small business owner, and an immigrant from Brazil who worked to obtain her citizenship. Palmares added that the Connecticut Republican Party gives her “the freedom to be all of the above, all at once.”

Dr. William Petit, running against Rep. Betty Boukus (D – Plainville), said that Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign “certainly muddies the water” when he’s knocking on doors and talking to voters.

The Democratic Party currently holds an 87-64 majority over the Republican Party in the House.

According to The Suffolk Times, a public forum held Tuesday night at Southold Town Hall highlighted the importance of keeping North Fork’s freshwater supplies safe.  Legislator Al Krupski, members of Town Board, and representatives from Suffolk County Water Authority spoke to over two dozen attendees. 

Tyrand Fuller, lead hydro-geologist for the water authority, explained that unlike other parts of Long Island, where freshwater aquifers extend deeper underground, North Fork has a series of freshwater aquifer “bubbles” that float closer to the surface.  Since freshwater is less dense, it separates from saltwater below. But, if too much freshwater is drawn from the aquifer, saltwater could seep into public and private wells.

Ways for residents to reduce water usage and lower water bills were suggested, including, installing WaterSense-labeled aerators on faucets.  The Water Authority is offering up to $50 in credits to cover costs of water-efficiency tools like shower heads, faucets or rain sensors. And it plans to install a 2-million gallon storage tank at its Laurel Lake property. 

Water Authority CEO Jeffrey Szabo said: “This isn’t a meeting that happens once. This is an important dialogue.”  Southampton held a similar forum last month, and one is being planned for East End.

Yesterday, the state Board of Elections' commissioners moved toward publicly disclosing more information about criminal referrals of election law violations. Republican Commissioner Gregory Peterson said: “As far as the four commissioners are concerned, I don’t think we’re that far apart at all.”

Board of Elections Chief Enforcement Counsel Risa Sugarman strenuously argued at an August commission meeting against disclosing her independent unit’s recommendations of criminal referrals following its investigations of potential campaign finance infractions. 

Sugarman had said that a policy of publicly disclosing criminal referrals would hurt her unit’s ability to investigate, as witnesses would be less likely to come forward.  She also said releasing the referrals could smear innocent people before they have due process. Democratic co-chairman Douglas Kellner said: “The rules should be that the referrals should be public unless we decide they should be confidential.” 

There are concerns among other commissioners about whether the referrals would be used as political tools. For instance, Commissioner Peterson didn’t want a referral to be used during an election season to “throw something at the wall and make it stick.” Republican co-chairman Peter Kosinski added: “There needs to be a balance between transparency and the effectiveness of the enforcement unit.” 

Thursday September 15, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: protest at New Haven Police Department; nearly 1,500 new cases of lead-poisoned kids in Connecticut; severe drought now in most of Suffolk County; and, Southampton mulls ground-mounted solar panels.

About 50 people gathered on the steps of the New Haven Police Department Tuesday evening to support an African-American mother who said she was assaulted and arrested by two officers last Saturday night when she had done nothing wrong. They want the officers taken off the streets until an investigation is completed.

WPKN's Melinda Tuhus reports:
Holly Tucker said she noticed a police car behind her with no flashing lights or siren going and pulled over when she realized it was following her. One officer said she would just give her a warning for disobeying an officer's signal -- even though she saw none. Tucker began videotaping the encounter, and the situation escalated to the point where both officers present pulled her out of her car and threw her to the ground, injuring both her arms.

Tucker's 13-year-old daughter, Janae Outlaw, was at the protest and described how she felt: "My relationship with my mom is...she's a very loving person, so I have a very great bond with her. She's my best friend. So I started calling my mom's phone over and over and she wasn't answering, so I was kind of worried." After she found out what happened, she added: “I was very, very upset. I started crying."

Tucker was charged with two counts of resisting arrest, one count of interfering, and one of disobeying an officer's signal. She filed a complaint on Sunday. She's due in court on Friday. The police do not comment on ongoing investigations.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.

According to state Department of Public Health, nearly 1,500 children under age six tested positive for lead poisoning, up nine cases from 2013.

Findings from a combined hearing of the legislatures Committees on Children and Public Health Monday determined that these numbers and other statistics may be misleading due to deficiencies in the lead screening efforts in Connecticut. According to C-HIT, in May nearly 60,000 Connecticut children were exposed to lead, and 2,275 were lead-poisoned. These numbers are likely much higher because of significant gaps in state-mandated testing.

Pediatricians and regional lead clinics require that every child receive two blood lead level screenings before turning three, and that children older than three and younger than six who move to Connecticut be screened. However, Krista Veneziano, program coordinator for the DPH said at Monday’s hearing that 53% of children age three and under received the two screenings, one year apart, as required by law. 

Babies and young children are at particular risk of cognitive problems later on due to lead poisoning because they explore and learn through hand-to-mouth activities, and peeling lead paint and dust are commonly found in older low income housing units. The DPH is studying the link between lead poisoning in children and state money spent on special education and child behavioral issues. 

Newsday reports:
Severe drought conditions on Long Island have expanded from central Suffolk to include almost all of the county, as well as southeast Nassau, according to the Thursday update of the U.S. Drought Monitor.

“Severe” is the second of four drought categories, with the fourth, exceptional drought, being the most intense. The only part of Suffolk not under the severe drought designation is a sliver of the northwest part of the county in Huntington town.

Precipitation since March, as of day-end Wednesday, is 10.71 inches below normal at Long Island MacArthur Airport, the Island’s official weather monitoring site, the third driest period since records started being kept in 1984. What’s more, the outlook is not promising for drought-relief over the coming months.

According to the DEC’s website “there are no statewide mandatory water use restrictions in place under a drought watch or warning but residents are strongly encouraged to voluntarily conserve water.”

Southampton Town is considering a new renewable energy proposal that would allow people whose homes are not ideal for solar panels to instead place those solar panels on the ground or on an accessory building on their property.

A proposed code amendment would allow ground-mounted solar energy systems of no more than 5 kW and no more than 4,500 square feet to be exempt from clearing restrictions on residential lots, up to 20% of the property. Roof-mounted panels would also be permitted as an accessory use on permitted buildings on a property, provided they meet height and aesthetic requirements.

The town board has held three public hearings on the proposal and has received generally positive feedback, but tabled a resolution adopting the code change at their Sept. 13 meeting due to some concern about the requirement that the inverters associated with the projects be placed inside structures. The board is drafting an amendment to the proposed code that would address the change, adding language that the preferred location of the inverters would be inside, when feasible.

Town Chief Building Inspector Mike Benincasa would be charged with determining when inside placement would be feasible. Assistant Town Attorney Kathryn Garvin recommended the amendment be added and the code change be re-noticed for a new public hearing.

Wednesday September 14, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: United Illluminating ratepayers weigh in against a proposed 100 million dollar increase; ConnectiCare will stay on Connecticut health exchange in 2017; New York's Working Families Party touts ‘clean sweep’ in primaries; and seven more mosquito samples test positive for West Nile in Suffolk.

United Illluminating ratepayers came to New Haven’s city hall annex Monday night to weigh in against a proposed $100 million increase the company wants to put in place over the next three years. 

WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus has more:
People said they can’t afford to pay more. The Office of Consumer Counsel opposes the rate increase, estimating it would amount to about $30 per month. The office went further and advocated for a drop of $10 in the $17 fixed charge on consumers’ bills.

Ken Joyner pointed out a problem for lower income customers. He said in his neighborhood almost three quarters of residential units are rentals, where the bills go to landlords. "So they don’t mind paying the increase; they simply pass it on to tenants."

David Desiderato with Connecticut Fund for the Environment, said those who try to lower their bills by conserving energy will not be rewarded if the increase goes through "because the smaller the portion of the bill that is subject to change, that you can actually affect, the greater your ability to be rewarded when you conserve."

UI said it needs the increase to replace poles and wires and make other investments to prevent power outages during major storms.

ConnectiCare, the single-largest insurer on Connecticut’s state health exchange, announced Tuesday it would participate in the exchange in 2017 working with the rate schedule the Insurance Department approved earlier this month.

That decision means two of the four companies that have sold policies through Access Health CT will participate again next year. Anthem also will continue to sell policies through the exchange.

“ConnectiCare is committed to providing access to high-quality healthcare for our 50,000 members on the exchange,” President and CEO Michael Wise wrote in a statement. “After hearing from state officials, providers and beneficiaries about the importance of our plan to Connecticut, we have decided to move forward into 2017 as a plan on the exchange at the rates approved by the department.” The Farmington-based insurer covers about 48,000 customers, or about half of all of those on the exchange.

About three-fourths who buy insurance through the exchange receive subsidies through the federal Affordable Care Act to help offset the cost.

The labor-backed Working Families Party is celebrating last night’s legislative primaries where it competed in Assembly and Senate races ranging from New York City to Long Island to Western New York.

The party, which maintains its own ballot line in the general election and often cross-endorses Democrats but seeks to move the Democratic Party to the left in primaries, is especially crowing about wins in several races where it went against candidates backed by New Yorkers For Independent Action, a deep-pocketed independent expenditure group that backs an education tax credit.

Senator Gustavo Rivera and Assembly members Latrice Walker and Pamela Harris in NYC and Assembly member Phil Ramos on Long Island were WFP-endorsed incumbents who fended off primary challenges. WFP candidates also swept the party’s priority open seat races for the State Assembly. These included: Robert Carroll and Tremaine Wright in NYC, Anthony Eramo on Long Island, and Monica Wallace in Western New York.

Jamaal Bailey also won his primary for an open State Senate seat in the 36th District in the Bronx/Westchester. Yuh-Line Niou recovered from a close April special election loss to win a high-profile, six-way primary race for Sheldon Silver’s former seat in Assembly District 65. Other WFP-endorsed candidates winning primary victories included Senators James Sanders and Toby Ann Stavisky in Queens.

Newsday reports:
With seven new mosquito samples testing positive for West Nile virus, the total for the year is up to 132 in Suffolk County, health officials reported Wednesday.
The new samples, all Culex pipiens-restuans, were collected Aug. 27 to Sept. 4 in Rocky Point, Huntington, Holtsville, Setauket, Dix Hills, Brentwood and Commack.

Fifteen birds and one horse have tested positive for the virus with no human cases to date, health officials said. The virus confirmation in the horse from Manorville “doesn’t indicate an increased human risk” for the virus, officials said, though “the county is conducting surveillance in the area to evaluate the risks.”

Last year Suffolk County saw five human West Nile cases and no deaths, with Nassau reporting nine human cases and no deaths. Some mosquito bites can transmit West Nile to humans, with mosquitoes picking up the virus by feeding on infected birds.

Zika virus has not been found in any mosquitoes on Long Island, officials said.

Tuesday September 13, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)

In the news tonight: municipal lobbying group calls Connecticut’s property tax system “unsustainable”; ConnectiCare may leave state health exchange in 2017; East End coalition campaigns to extend Community Preservation Fund; a New York State medical marijuana producer strikes first union contract.

A report from the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities issued a new report calling the municipal property tax system “unsustainable.” The conference urges state legislators to expand the variety of taxes communities can collect and commit to revenue sharing.

Property tax is the chief revenue source for most municipalities, with state grants coming in second. The money goes toward education, public safety, social services, infrastructure maintenance, and more. Connecticut’s per capita property tax burden in 2014 was $2,522, the third highest among any state.

Cities and towns have long pushed to collect different types of levies, and the conference repeats that recommendation. The report also argues that property tax exemptions take a toll on local budgets and recommends new limits. State lawmakers and Governor Malloy planned to share a portion of sales tax receipts with cities and towns. But they reduced the revenue sharing and cut municipal grants in their effort to close the state’s $1 billion deficit.

The report says: “Connecticut’s towns and cities rely on the property tax to fund the majority of local services. It is basically ‘the only game in town.’”

The question of whether the largest insurer on Connecticut’s health insurance exchange will participate in 2017 fell into legal limbo late Monday afternoon. ConnectiCare Insurance Co. is contesting a Department of Insurance rate decision in court and challenging the matter through the department’s administrative appeal process. The deadline to set exchange participants for 2017 was Monday. Access Health CT announced it would wait temporarily for the insurance department to resolve the rate appeal.

Last week, ConnectiCare charged in its lawsuit that the department did not approve adequate rates for its health exchange plans. The company ultimately asked for a premium increase of 27.1%, and the department approved a 17.4% hike.

ConnectiCare projects $20 million in losses from their exchange plans this year. The company covers about 48,000 customers, or about half of exchange customers. The exchange has already lost two of its four carriers for 2017. If ConnectiCare departs, that would leave Anthem as the only option. 

A new East End coalition called Clean Water and Community Preservation Coalition is reminding voters in advance of the November election to vote on a proposition to extend the land transfer tax that creates the Community Preservation Fund.

The preservation fund was created in 1998, when East End voters approved a referendum to create a two-percent land transfer tax. Money generated from the tax goes toward open space and farmland protection. To date, more than $1.1 billion has been spent in preserving more than 10,000 acres. 

Since the fund is generated by a percentage of real estate transfers, higher priced South Fork housing has generated far more revenue than housing on the North Fork. Nothing in the law prevents one town from allowing fund money to be spent in another. To date, that has never happened.

The November proposition would extend the life of the two-percent tax to 2050. It also would, for the first time, allow the money to be used on water quality projects, such as sewer upgrades, aquatic habitat restoration and pollution prevention.

Albany-Times Union reports:
Vireo Health, one of five medical marijuana producers in New York State, is the first to strike a union contract – with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, UFCW. This ratified union contract is the first in the history of New York State’s new medical cannabis industry.

The agreement covers current and future employees at Vireo’s cultivation and manufacturing facility in Fulton County’s Tryon Technology Park, and at all four of its dispensaries. The contract provides a living wage with guaranteed raises, paid time off, healthcare coverage and retirement benefits.

Vireo Health CEO Ari Hoffnung said wages vary from about $16 to $59 per hour. The business requires a combination of highly educated specialists, green house workers and dispensary clerks.

Hoffnung said: “It is incumbent upon us to lay an economic foundation that will provide employees with the wages and benefits their families deserve and invest in ways that help local economies across New York State prosper.”

Monday September 12, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: reforms help shrink Connecticut prison population to a 20-year low; Connecticut Working Families Party cross-endorses 90 Democrats; New York mandates schools to test water for lead; and, Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Suffolk County designated as a state Superfund site.

Connecticut’s prison population briefly fell below 15,000 inmates this month for the first time in nearly 20 years, a drop Gov. Dannel P. Malloy attributes to the bipartisan passage last year of lowering penalties for drug possession, a reform aimed at reducing incarceration without compromising public safety. “Our prison population is now down nearly 25% from its all-time high of 19,893 inmates in 2008,” Malloy said Friday, marking the drop at an event staged beneath coils of razor wire outside the Hartford Correctional Center. “Connecticut is leading the way nationally in reforming the criminal justice system.”

U.S. crime rates have been falling for years, but Connecticut has outpaced most of the nation in recent years and expects to do so again this fall when the FBI publishes its uniform crime report for 2015. Officials say violent crime dropped another 7% in Connecticut last year after a 9.7% drop in 2014, the fourth biggest drop in the U.S. “Our residents are safer than they have been in two generations,” Malloy said. “Each year, there are fewer and fewer victims of crime, especially — especially — violent crime. The crime rate in Connecticut is now at a 50-year low.”

A key element of the reforms passed in 2015 was the reclassification of most drug possession crimes as misdemeanors. Non-partisan legislative analysts predicted last year that the reclassification would mean 1,120 fewer inmates. Malloy said they called it right: The actual drop was 1,130.

The Connecticut Working Families Party announced Monday the cross-endorsements of 90 Democrats and no Republicans for seats in the General Assembly and Congress, a step that gives the candidates a place on two ballot lines this fall. In addition, the party also endorsed two candidates for state representative who only will appear on the WFP line: Aldon Hynes in the 114th House District, a seat held by House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby; and Anna Duleep in the 142nd House District, a seat held by Rep. Fred Wilms, R-Norwalk.

The Working Families Party is a labor-funded organization founded primarily to keep pressure on Democrats to back an agenda that includes a progressive tax structure, paid sick days, paid family medical leave, retirement security legislation and a $15 minimum wage. The party this year backed a liberal Democrat trying to unseat House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden. Ultimately, Sharkey did not seek re-election rather than run in a primary. The WFP candidate, Joshua Elliott, won a primary for the seat, defeating a party-endorsed candidate.

The full list of WFP endorsements includes 87 candidates for General Assembly, plus U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and four of the five U.S. House members. Only Jim Himes of the 4th District, who did not seek the AFL-CIO endorsement this year, was excluded.

The conservative Independent Party has emerged in recent years as a counterweight to the WFP, offering its own cross-endorsements to Republicans.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation requiring all school districts to test their water sources for lead. The law, which took effect Wednesday, requires schools serving students in pre-K through fifth grade to collect testing samples from each water source by Sept. 30, according to a press released issued this week by the governor’s office.

Buildings with students in grades 6-12 have until Oct. 31 to collect the water samples, which will be tested by the Department of Health. Districts must then report those findings to their local health departments within one business day. A letter must also be sent to staff and parents within 10 business days explaining those test results. In addition, districts are required to post the water testing findings on their websites within six weeks.

Schools that have performed water testing and remediation since Jan. 1, 2015, aren’t required to retest their water sources by the current deadlines. However, all school districts will now be required to collect samples every five years. Before this legislation, schools in New York State weren’t required to test drinking water for lead. Instead, testing was voluntary and administered by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA states that ingesting lead can be detrimental to both children and adults, although it’s significantly more harmful to children. According to the EPA website, the standard for safe lead levels in water is less than 15 parts per billion.

The Albany Times Union reports:
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration on Monday announced that the Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Suffolk County has been designated as a state Superfund site. The announcement came as state lawmakers began a second joint hearing on statewide water quality issues, with this inquiry being held on Long Island.

The state has identified the U.S. Defense Department as potentially responsible for perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) contamination of groundwater supplies. DEC in July identified the base as a potential Superfund site after firefighting foam containing PFOS was used there in the past. Several of 66 private drinking water well tests have shown contamination, the Cuomo administration said.

The state declared the Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh a Superfund site earlier this summer after similar PFOS contamination was found.

The Cuomo administration also said the state will put up $5 million in funding to support the development of emerging contaminant treatment systems at Stony Brook University’s Center for Clean Water Technology and that the Advanced Oxidative Process will be approved by the state and will be used in a pilot program to treat 1,4 dioxane contamination.


Friday September 9, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)  

In tonight’s news: Connecticut state officials prepare to present federal officials with plans for an at-grade viaduct; Connecticut insurance broker community still shut out of exchange; payroll card protections for low-wage workers now in effect in New York State; and, Suffolk County police department ranked highest-paid county in New York.

Under a plan announced yesterday, the elevated part of Interstate-84 that stretches through downtown Hartford would be lowered from its current elevation, but it won’t be replaced with a tunnel, according to Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Transportation officials. 

Ruling out the option of doing nothing, state officials and residents seem to agree that the best compromise is capping part of the highway, lowering the road itself to grade or slightly below grade, and freeing up 45 acres of land for open space or development. Malloy said there’s no other viable alternative. The highway has to be replaced or it’s “going to fall down.”

Finding a way to create more space by adding a cap to a portion of the two-mile stretch is a bonus, especially for the city of Hartford, which needs more taxable property. Richard Armstrong, the principal engineer for the project, said they’ve talked about continuing to elevate the highway, but decided that it would not be a successful alternative. He said many people in the community would like to see the highway lowered.

That assessment, which would require the rerouting of the train tracks and part of CTfastrak, is being shared with the Federal Highway Administration. The cost of the project is being estimated between $4 and $5 billion and construction wouldn’t start until 2021 or 2022.

Even though Anthem was told it had to resubmit its proposed 2017 insurance rates to the Insurance Department by the close of business September 7, those rates still won’t include commissions for insurance brokers to recommend plans on Connecticut’s insurance exchange.

Neither Anthem nor ConnectiCare, which is challenging the Insurance Department’s decision to set its average on-exchange rate increase at 17.4% in court, included broker commissions in their rate requests. Forty percent of all the business done on Connecticut’s insurance exchange, also known as Access Health CT, came from brokers.

In July, Access Health CT CEO James Wadleigh said the exchange was preparing for a decision by the carriers not to pay broker commissions. Wadleigh had said that if that ended up happening, Access Health CT would need to hire additional staff to help their consumers pick the best plan for their health needs. It is unclear where the money for additional staff would come from in its $34.6 million budget for the 2017 fiscal year.

Yesterday, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo enacted the country’s most comprehensive payroll card protections for low-wage workers, preventing thousands of workers statewide from losing hundreds of dollars a year accessing their hard-earned wages. 

The new regulations will require payroll card companies to provide access to at least one fee-less ATM near where employees live or work, prevent card issuers from receiving kickbacks or financial remuneration for delivering wages via payroll card, and eliminate a host of fees, including those for account maintenance, overdraft and inactivity. Governor Cuomo said: “These tough new standards protect some of our most vulnerable New Yorkers from predatory practices that seek to deny them a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”

An estimated 13,000 businesses in New York State pay approximately 200,000 workers through debit cards that often feature hidden fees for accessing cash or checking balances.  

State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said: “The New York State AFL-CIO raised concerns about prepaid payroll cards years ago as workers were increasingly being paid with the debit cards. The paychecks, particularly of low-wage workers were being severely cut by fees and other concealed costs." 

According to Southold Local, government employees on Long Island are among the highest-paid in the state. Yesterday, nonpartisan non-profit Empire Center released its 2015-2016 “What They Make” report.  As a region, it said Long Island’s average pay for town police departments is over $126,000 per year, higher than the state average of about $95,000. Long Island, especially Nassau County, dominated the top 50 highest paid general county and municipal employees, with 35 on that list.

Suffolk County Police Department ranked highest-paid county police department in New York, and eighth among all county, town and village police departments in the state. Suffolk County ranks fourth-highest in general employee pay. Riverhead has the highest-paid town police department, with Shelter Island second and Southold third. Several village police departments, including Southampton Village, earn even more.

Of general town employees, those in Babylon are paid the most. Southold places sixth and Riverhead, eighth. Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller, highest-paid Town employee, earns over $224,000 a year. 

In Southold, Police Chief Martin Flatley, highest-paid town employee, earns almost $198,000 per year, and highest paid general employee, comptroller John Cushman, earns more than $131,000 a year.

Thursday September 8, 2016   (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: judge orders Connecticut to make sweeping changes to education funding, policies; Brookhaven Town, Suffolk police break up homeless camp; and, Bill imposing 5-cent fee on carryout bags passes Suffolk County Legislature.

The lawsuit brought by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice In Education Funding more than a decade ago has resulted yesterday in a 90-page decision with more than 1,000 findings of fact. In his decision, Hartford Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher said: “Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty to provide adequate public school opportunities,” and has 180 days to devise a new funding formula for public education.

Even though Moukawsher laid out several deadlines for the state to meet to come up with a funding formula: new high school graduation requirements; a definition of elementary education; a new teacher evaluation system that ties teacher performance more closely to student achievement; and a special education funding formula; he was careful not to dictate how the state goes about coming up with the new formulas and definitions. However, “without a court order, a plan adopted today can be ignored tomorrow,” Moukawsher said. “That’s what happened with the Educational Cost Sharing formula.”

Moukawsher said the ECS formula, which was intended to be used to distribute state aid to all 169 cities and towns in Connecticut, was largely abandoned by the legislature in 2013. In lieu of the formula, the state has been allocating a set dollar amount to each town over the past few years, Moukawsher said. Instead of imposing his own funding formula, Moukawsher said he will review the state’s proposed remedy in 180 days. That means the state will be required to come up with a formula in the middle of the 2017 legislative session.

He said a formula “must apply educationally based principles to allocate funds in light of the special circumstances of the state’s poorest communities. An approach that allows rich towns to raid money desperately needed by poor towns makes a mockery of the state’s constitutional duty to provide adequate educational opportunities to all students.”

Moukawsher said the state must also define elementary and secondary education. “A spending scheme really can’t be said to be aimed at elementary and secondary school education when the state doesn’t even enforce a coherent idea of what these words mean,” Moukawsher said. He went onto describe state education policies as “befuddled and misdirected.” He said the state has largely been graduating high school students without actually educating them, adding that 70 percent of community college students don’t have basic literacy and numeracy skills, yet they still graduated from Connecticut high schools.

Newsday reports:
In response to reports of drugs and prostitution, Brookhaven officials and Suffolk police removed dozens of tents Thursday from a homeless camp in Middle Island. Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said at least 50 people had been living in the camp deep in the woods off Middle Country Road. Police and town workers arrived early Thursday to begin removing “a couple of tons” of material such as blankets, mattresses and debris, he said.

Romaine described the scene as disgusting and one of the largest homeless camps he's seen. “This is no way to house these people,” he said, adding he would ask the county Department of Social Services to locate camp residents and find housing for them. Romaine said the camp’s residents had fled before authorities arrived and no arrests were made. A Brookhaven spokesman said the camp was partly located on undeveloped property owned by the town. The rest of the property is privately owned.

Gail Lynch-Bailey, president of the Middle Island Civic Association, said homeless camps had appeared sporadically on Middle Country Road during the past two years. The camp reappeared in June, near the town-owned Mott House and a county social services office, she said. “You really hope that as a society we could help these people and not have them living in the woods,” Lynch-Bailey said. “The answer is trying to get people help.”

Suffolk County consumers who take their purchases home in single-use bags will have to pay a nickel apiece for the privilege beginning in January 2018. The County Legislature passed legislation Wednesday night requiring the 5-cent-per-bag fee. The new law will apply to all bags, both plastic and paper, used to carry goods from a “covered store” — defined to include nearly all retail establishments.

The “covered store” definition does not include food service establishments, except those located inside grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience stores or food marts.
The definition of “carryout bag” excludes bags without handles used to carry items to the point of sale within a store or to keep food items from coming into contact with other items — such as the plastic film bags used to bag produce or packages of meat.

The law requires covered stores to charge a minimum fee of 5 cents for each carryout bag provided to any customer. The fees must be separately itemized on the customer’s receipt. All fees collected by a covered store under this local law shall be retained by the store. Stores that violate the law are subject to a civil fine of $500 per violation.

“I’m elated,” said the bill’s sponsor, Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), after the 13-4 vote. “My hope is this will reduce plastic bags, to keep our waterways clean and keep our natural beauty.” County Executive Steve Bellone plans to sign the measure, a spokesman said.

Wednesday September 7, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: fiscal warning clouds on horizon, but for now Connecticut’s 2017 budget is balanced; ConnectiCare sues regulators over rejection of rate hike, threatens to leave exchange; New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announces probe into EpiPen price hike; and, Suffolk ‘Lock It!’ campaign urges locking cars to curb thefts.

State Comptroller Kevin Lembo said last Thursday that the 2017 state budget is currently in line with projections, but there are some fiscal warning clouds still on the horizon. At the moment income tax withholding is on pace to meet budget targets, but Lembo said more data is necessary. “The biggest source of revenue volatility is in quarterly income tax filings. Those workers have earnings closely tied to Wall Street and in turn, their tax payments are subject to the ebb and flow of the stock market. We will have a more complete revenue picture once quarterly payments owed September 1 have been accounted for,” Lembo said.

Aside from revenue, the General Assembly told Governor. Dannel P. Malloy it has to find an additional $186.8 million in savings. Late last month, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes admitted that achieving those savings will be a challenge. “While that target is not at a historically high level, it follows successive fiscal years of significant cost cutting with each year’s target becoming more challenging to achieve,” Lembo pointed out.

As far as the economic recovery is concerned, Lembo noted that Connecticut continues to recover jobs lost in the Great Recession, however Lembo noted: “We remain on a relatively slow path to recovery. The state is adding back jobs, but has yet to achieve the type of wage growth required to jumpstart the economy.”

However, it’s too soon to draw conclusions about this data. “Increased growth throughout the economy and diligent monitoring of state expenses will be required to maintain a balanced budget moving forward,” Lembo said.

In response to the Connecticut Insurance Department’s decision to deny a 27.1% rate increase for ConnectiCare Insurance Company’s on-exchange plans, the company is suing the state and threatening to leave Connecticut’s insurance exchange. In court documents, filed last week in New Britain Superior Court, ConnectiCare claims regulators misapplied the law when it refused to approve its revised rate request for its on-exchange plans.

The company originally requested a 14.3% rate hike, but on Aug. 23 revised it to 27.1%. At the end of last week, regulators approved a range of rate increases from 15.4% and 24.8%, with an average of 17.4%. The company’s on-exchange plans cover 47,597 people. Regulators also denied ConnectiCare’s 42.7% proposed rate increase for its off-exchange plans that cover 37,142 individuals. The company has been told to resubmit its calculations for its off-exchange plans.

The complaint focuses solely on the rejection of its revised rate request for its on-exchange plans. It makes no mention of the denial of its off-exchange rates. If ConnectiCare exits the exchange, Anthem, another company that had its rates hike requests for both its on and off-exchange plans denied by the Insurance Department, would be the lone carrier left.

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says his office has commenced an investigation into Mylan Pharmaceuticals Inc., the maker of EpiPens. A statement from the AG’s office said its “preliminary review … revealed that Mylan Pharmaceuticals may have inserted potentially anticompetitive terms into its EpiPen sales contracts with numerous local school systems.” Mylan’s EpiPen, an epinephrine autoinjector, is utilized to counteract a severe allergic reaction. It’s the leading product of its kind in the U.S.

Since Mylan acquired the patent in 2007, the price of a two-pack of the injectors has gone from $100 to more than $600. Congress is also interested in the price hike, which has been defended by Mylan’s CEO Heather Bresch.

“No child’s life should be put at risk because a parent, school, or healthcare provider cannot afford a simple, life-saving device because of a drug-maker’s anti-competitive practices. If Mylan engaged in anti-competitive business practices, or violated antitrust laws with the intent and effect of limiting lower cost competition, we will hold them accountable. Allergy sufferers have enough concerns to worry about—the availability of life-saving medical treatment should not be one of them. I will bring the full resources of my office to this critical investigation,” Schneiderman said in a statement.

Newsday reports:
Suffolk County police have launched a program urging residents to lock their car doors to discourage thefts. The “Lock It!” campaign was announced Tuesday by Police Commissioner Timothy Sini and Nick Amarr, president of Suffolk County Crime Stoppers.

The campaign includes public service announcements on radio and television through September, and officials said many malls and shopping centers plan to display “Lock It!” posters in an effort to drive down crime. We’re raising awareness,” Sini said Tuesday. “We don’t want people to be victimized in Suffolk County.”

Sini said that while the number of reported larcenies are down — 2015, in fact, had the lowest number in 10 years — crime-mapping programs have shown outbreaks often occur in clusters, typically a mall parking lot or a block. Such vehicle break-ins can be “crimes of opportunity,” undertaken by “people acting out of desperation” and, as such, often the perpetrators are petty criminals or people who have drug addiction, he said.

In these cases, a perpetrator might target a block or a parking lot and simply try vehicle door handles. If the door is unlocked, Sini said, a suspect will rifle through the vehicle to steal loose change or other valuables. But, he said, if the door is locked, often such perpetrators will move on to the next vehicle — instead of breaking a window to gain entry.

Tuesday September 6, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Trace Alford and Chris Cadra.)

In the news tonight: new report shows increase in Connecticut’s low-wage jobs pose challenges; technology in Connecticut schools spared budget cuts; weather station proposed for North Fork; for disabled New York voters, strength in numbers brings political clout. 

A new report from Connecticut Voices for Children found that low-wage jobs increased, high-wage jobs decreased, and unemployment among minorities remained high even though the Great Recession ended seven years ago. The report concludes that those changes in the state economy pose challenges for low-wage workers and the state’s economy.

Unemployment has returned to pre-recession levels for white- and college-educated workers, while jobs for workers of color and those without a college education have not.
Because workers of color are overrepresented in the low-wage industries that have driven the state’s job recovery, racial and ethnic wage gaps have widened, according to the report. According to the latest data, minorities’ median hourly wages are between $7.25 and $8 lower than whites.

Connecticut Voices for Children recommends that lawmakers look at a number of steps to bridge the gap and provide relief to working families, including tax credits, increasing state minimum wage to $15 an hour, and restoring funding for childcare subsidies.

From the devices students work on to the way teachers present material, record grades and keep parents informed, almost everything in Connecticut schools is done on computers. For much of the state, a one computer to one student ratio is close to becoming the norm.

While budgets are being cut in other places, funds spent on technology, equipment, staff and training hold steady or increase, according to a review of many local school budgets for 2016-17.  A 2015 national study found spending on educational technology continues to rise for equipment, support and teacher training. 

In Connecticut, two waves of state grants totaling $34.9 million provided districts to increase the supply of computers and Internet bandwidth. The upgrades were necessary to administer the state standardized test, which is computerized.

Bridgeport will spend close to $2 million on technology from its operating budget. According to the district’s finance director Marlene Siegel, an additional $705,000 will be spent from several state and competitive grants. 

The North Fork may receive state-of-the-art weather technology. The weather station, proposed for Pindar Vineyards in Peconic, would be part of the University at Albany’s Mesonet System, a series of 125 weather stations across the state. According to National Weather Service program leader Tim Morrin, these stations collect weather data to send to local, state and federal emergency planners.

The proposed weather station would feature a 33-foot steel tower equipped with weather instruments, and be fully powered by a solar-charged battery cabinet, according to the proposal. The Mesonet System can also benefit agriculture. It has the ability to offer spraying recommendations, irrigation scheduling and calculating soil temperature.

A Southold building department representative said they need to determine if the planning department needs to be involved before the project can proceed. There’s no estimated timeline. Governor Cuomo announced construction approval for the Mesonet System in July 2015.

A report published last month by Rutgers University found the number of eligible voters with a disability is on the rise in New York and nationwide.  In New York, a projected 1.9 million eligible voters have a disability, or 14% of all voters. Study co-author Lisa Schur said: "People with disabilities have been called a sleeping giant or a sleeping tiger. Especially if there is a close election, the disability vote can make a difference."

The report found people with disabilities and those without disabilities show little difference in terms of partisanship, but those with disabilities pay more attention to certain issues, perhaps making them more likely to vote for a candidate who would better address their needs. In particular, research found that people with disabilities tend to say government should play a greater role in both job creation and health care.

Voter turnout for eligible disabled Americans is likely to continue rising, and with it more political clout.  Study co-author Doublas Kruse said:  "We'll potentially see a large number of voters with disabilities and that will certainly increase the likelihood that politicians are going to be paying attention to disability issues." 

Monday September 5, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Libertarian Party qualifies for presidential ballot in Connecticut; Connecticut health insurance rates to rise sharply in 2017; as post-tropical cyclone Hermine meanders, storm surge and erosion remain biggest threat to East End; and, Clemente Park cleanup topic of New York Department of Environmental Conservation meeting set for September 15.

Connecticut today officially became the 48th state where the Libertarian Party has qualified to place a presidential candidate on the ballot. The secretary of the state’s office announced it had accepted 8,923 signatures to clear the 7,500-signature threshold necessary for the party to qualify for the ballot.

The Libertarian nominee is Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of New Mexico, however the signatures were gathered using the name of a placeholder, Carla Howell of Massachusetts, the party’s political director. By using a placeholder, the party was able to start collecting signatures before Johnson became its nominee in May. State law allows the party to swap Johnson for Howell on the ballot. Rhode Island and Kentucky are the two states yet to certify Libertarians for the ballot. The party says it expects to be on the ballot in all 50 states.

Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee, qualified for the Connecticut ballot last week. The Green Party says Stein has qualified in 40 states and has hopes for seven others through a mix of petitions and litigation.

Johnson and Stein are not expected to join Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald J. Trump in the presidential debates. To be invited, they must be supported by 15 percent of voters in five particular national polls, something that has not yet occurred.

Most Connecticut health insurance plans sold through individual and small group markets will undergo steep rate hikes next year, although in some cases, the prices will not go up by as much as carriers had sought. The state Insurance Department approved 13 health policy rate hikes Friday that far outstripped increases in recent years, averaging nearly 25% for individuals and 13% for small groups.

The department also rejected three requests for major rate hikes — two from Anthem Health Plans and one from ConnectiCare Insurance Co. — directing the carriers to recalculate final rates. Nearly all of the rates for other plans will increase by double-digit percentages, including hikes ranging from 15 to 24 percent for ConnectiCare policies sold through Access Health CT, the state's health insurance exchange. Those policies alone currently cover 47,597 people.

All of Friday’s rulings involved a total of 17 rate filings from 12 companies selling individual and small group plans to together cover approximately 300,000 people in Connecticut.

The insurance department cited several factors for the steep rise in rates, which outpace increases it allowed in recent years. Those factors include medical inflation, the expiration of federal premium stabilization payments made to insurers over the last three years as part of the Affordable Care Act, and higher than expected medical costs amongst those insured.

Weather forecasters have become fond of the word “meander” in their description of the movements of the post-tropical cyclone Hermine as it dances to its own tune over the Atlantic Ocean.

The latest forecast says Hermine’s center, located about 230 miles southeast of Montauk, is moving toward the northwest around 6 mph and a turn toward the north with decreasing forward speed is expected over the next day or two. 0n the forecast track, the center of Hermine will meander slowly offshore of the New England coast through Tuesday. 

A tropical storm warning remains in effect for Suffolk county and southeastern Connecticut. Sustained tropical storm force winds are expected in these areas. Tropical storm force gusts are possible across the remainder of Long Island and Coastal Connecticut.

Minor to locally moderate coastal flooding is possible around the times of high tide into the middle of the week. The main threat is along the southern and eastern bays of Long Island. Hazardous seas, dangerously rough surf, and a life threatening rip current risk can also be expected through the middle of the week. Significant beach erosion is likely on the Atlantic coast.

A few heavy showers are possible late Monday into Tuesday across eastern Suffolk and southeast Connecticut. However no flooding is expected from these showers.

Newsday reports:
A meeting to discuss the cleanup efforts and future safety of Brentwood’s Roberto Clemente Park — where 39,000 tons of contaminated construction and demolition debris was dumped in 2014 — will be held by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, the DEC, on Thursday, September 15 at 7 p.m. at the Health, Sports and Education Center lecture hall at the M.J. Grant Campus of Suffolk Community College in Brentwood.

The recently DEC-approved Site Management and Restoration Plan includes details on the restoration of the soccer field, a groundwater monitoring plan, a gas monitoring plan, and a description of deed covenants and restrictions.

Materials dumped at Clemente Park — the hamlet’s largest public park — tested positive for the presence of asbestos, elevated levels of organic compounds, metals, pesticides and PCBs. Sampling taken at the park during the cleanup showed that all the illegally placed material had been removed, the DEC said. “The approval finalizes the completed cleanup at the public park and ensures the environmental safety of the park for the foreseeable future,” the agency announced in a news release Friday.

A question-and-answer period will be a part of the meeting where DEC leaders will field inquiries from residents, but the plans for the redevelopment or any new amenities at the park will not be discussed. Clemente Park has been closed since April 2014, when Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota launched a probe into dumping there.

Six men and four companies were indicted on Dec. 8, 2014, in what prosecutors have called a scheme to dump illegally at four Suffolk sites to avoid paying costly tipping fees to properly dispose of the contaminated materials trucked in from sites across New York City.

Friday September 2, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: U.S. Senator Chris Murphy walks across Connecticut; two Connecticut retailers agree to stop selling liquor below the state minimum; New York State says goodbye to the tampon tax; and New York State United Teachers employees on verge of strike.

This week, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy is walking the entire state of Connecticut. He started on Monday, from Voluntown – near the Rhode Island border – and, if all goes to plan, will end on Saturday, 128 miles later, in Greenwich, near the New York line. At the end of each day’s walk, Murphy has held a town forum in whichever town he has found himself in.  On Monday that was Norwich. On Tuesday, Chester. On Wednesday, East Haven.

Murphy pointed out that while no other senator has walked Connecticut in recent memory, “this has been done before by other senators, in other states.” The senator also said he did not have a contingency plan for bad weather, when and if it hits along the way, though he noted he brought a raincoat with him.

Explaining what inspired the walk, Murphy said: “Since I’ve been elected to Congress, I’ve been trying to find new ways to keep in touch with the people who sent me to Washington, and this is just another way that I can get some new ideas to bring back to Congress while also getting some great exercise…”

The rebellion against Connecticut’s liquor pricing regulations ended before the holiday weekend when both retailers, who had been openly disobeying the law, agreed to stop selling below the state-mandated minimum.

The first retailer, Total Wine & More, agreed to stop selling liquor below the state minimum at its four retail locations and paid a $37,500 fine, according to the Department of Consumer Protection. The agency’s investigation into BevMart, the second retailer, is still ongoing. In the meantime, the state Department of Consumer Protection said BevMart agreed to stop selling its liquor below the state minimum at its 11 locations. Carroll Hughes, president of the statewide association of package stores, said he is pleased with the swift action.

Earlier this week, Governor Malloy said he believes the current law to be illegal, though he was not going to get involved in the agency’s investigation.

On Thursday, the state sales tax on feminine hygiene products such as tampons became history. Supporters of this tax law change say feminine hygiene products are “an undeniable necessity.” State Sen. Sue Serino said: “There are many issues that simply transcend politics and a unanimous vote in both houses tells you that this is certainly one of them … Moving this legislation forward is a win for consumers and it’s a win for women who have largely shouldered the burden of the tax for generations.”

Governor Cuomo said: “Repealing this regressive and unfair tax on women is a matter of social and economic justice.” Cuomo’s office advised New Yorkers that they are eligible for a refund if they believe they are charged a tax on those products. 

To obtain a refund, consumers must submit a Form AU-11 and the receipt to the state Tax Department. Retailers with questions about the exemption can contact the Tax Department between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at 518-485-1159.

According to Albany Times-Union, employees of New York State United Teachers, the state’s largest teachers union, were preparing for a strike as early as Thursday morning. The underlying labor dispute does not involve the public school teachers United represents: it is between United’s top management and the unions representing its approximately 500 administrative staff members.

According to several sources, the Professional Staff Association, United’s major union, has prepared picket signs and brought in a “strike manager” to oversee potential work stoppage and associated tactics. 

The unrest stems from pension cuts that management says are needed to avoid insolvency in the long-term.  Earlier this summer, United management said in a letter to local union leaders that because retirees are living longer, pension fund investment returns are sluggish, and the cost of health care benefits is rising, cuts are necessitated going forward. At that time, the Staff Association President said they realize changes are needed, but members objected to combining that discussion with this week’s discussion of their contract, scheduled to expire at the end of August. 

The Public Employees Federation, the union representing white-collar state workers, showed support for the staff union, saying they won’t cross any picket lines.

Thursday, September 1, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut voters to have at least one minor party alternative; officials say more needs to be done to combat opioid epidemic; New York to allow medical marijuana home deliveries; and, new storm preparedness website debuts for Long Islanders.

Jill Stein, the presidential nominee of the Green Party, qualified Thursday for the ballot in Connecticut, while the state remains one of four yet to certify petitions collected on behalf of the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson. The Libertarian Party says Johnson is on track qualify for the ballot in all 50 states. The Green Party says Stein has qualified in 40 states and has hopes for seven others through a mix of petitions and litigation.

In Connecticut, the office of Secretary of the State Denise Merrill announced  the validation of signatures from at least 7,500 voters, the threshold for a minor party. The Libertarian petitions still were being checked.

Johnson seems to be the only minor-party candidate with even a slim chance of clearing 15% in presidential polling, a qualification for joining Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald J. Trump at their first debate on Sept. 26. Johnson and Stein need to reach 15% in five polls: ABC-Washington Post, CBS-New York Times, CNN-Opinion Research Corporation, Fox News, and NBC-Wall Street Journal.

Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico, has reached double digits, but he has averaged 7.6% in polls tracked by Real Clear Politics. Stein, a physician from Massachusetts, has averaged 3.2%.

Connecticut will get $1 million from the Obama administration to help curb opioid abuse. It’s part of an $11 million grant to 11 states to expand access to medication-assisted treatment services for people with opioid use disorder. But Connecticut officials say the funds are a drop in the bucket and won’t help with the immediate problem — access to an opioid reversal drug for those trying to kick the habit.

In Connecticut, between 2009 and 2014, over 2,000 opiate-involved overdoses occurred. Those were spread out through all but 17 of Connecticut’s 169 cities and towns. There were 697 accidental and undetermined opiate-involved overdose deaths in the state in 2015, of which 639 involved Connecticut residents, according to data from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

As part of International Overdose Awareness Day, state officials and lawmakers gathered to raise awareness of the crisis, to remember those who lost their lives, and to promote access to the life-saving reversal drug Naloxone, also known by its brand name, Narcan.

Connecticut has made great strides in fighting the epidemic over the past few years, including distribution of Naloxone by pharmacists, but “while so much good has happened it’s pretty fragmented,” Shawn Lang, deputy director of AIDS Connecticut, said Wednesday. Lang said Naloxone should be more widely available because it simply saves lives without any side effects. However, accessing these opioid reversal drugs is not getting easier based on the pricing of the products.The price has doubled and in some cases tripled and it’s hindered the ability of first responders to maintain a supply of Naloxone.

A home delivery service will be created for patients as part of New York’s expanded medical marijuana program, according to an announcement by the state Department of Health. The change, one of nine that will be implemented, comes on the heels of a recent health department report that recommended the program’s expansion.The medical marijuana program was signed into law two years ago and the report was mandated at that time.

Additional changes include authorizing nurse practitioners to certify patients for the program, expanding the financial hardship waiver for patients and caregivers who apply for registration, and modifying the state’s data management system to make it more user-friendly for certified patients and caregivers, according to the health department.

“New York’s medical marijuana program has rapidly progressed, certifying more than 7,000 patients across the state and registering more than 675 physicians in just the first seven months,” health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a press release. “We are constantly evaluating the program to make it more effective for patients and practitioners, and we believe that the implementation of these recommendations will do just that.”

Newsday reports:
With a tropical storm looming as a potential threat to Long Island, local groups unveiled a new website Thursday to help residents prepare for disasters and keep them informed during and after the emergencies as well. is the result of a partnership between PSEG Long Island and the United Way of Long Island, which showed off the site during a news conference at its offices in Deer Park on the first day of September, which is National Preparedness Month.

The site “compiles, in one place, all of the tools needed to stay safe,” the groups said. The site has guides to types of disasters; educational videos for children; links to a page about power outages; and an interactive quiz that lets people know whether they are well-informed about disaster preparedness and response.

County Executives Steve Bellone of Suffolk and Edward Mangano of Nassau attended the news conference. The county executives said their emergency response teams were monitoring Tropical Storm Hermine, which on Thursday was taking aim at Florida.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement that state workers were also monitoring the storm, and he had ordered state agencies to be prepared. What this storm might ultimately mean for Long Island and the long Labor Day weekend is far less clear. “It is a little early to say what the specific impacts will be for the mid-Atlantic and northeastern states,” the National Hurricane Center said in statement Thursday.