Tuesday, November 1, 2016

November 2016

Wednesday, November 30, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: this week’s Rain Doesn’t Change Connecticut Drought Watch or Advisory; Connecticut Workers Rally at Capitol to Increase the Minimum Wage; and, Bill to create new zip code for Flanders, Riverside and Northampton passes U.S. House and goes to the Senate.

Tuesday’s heavy rainfall was a welcome sight for Connecticut but it will take many more similar storms to save us from drought conditions, a state official said. Between the rain that fell Tuesday and the additional precipitation today, the state should receive about 1.5 to 2.5 inches of rain, said Douglas Glowacki, emergency management program specialist for the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.

“This rainfall has provided some short-term relief,” Glowacki said. “However it has not ended the drought.” He said many more storms of the same magnitude will be necessary to refill the rivers, reservoirs and groundwater tables.

In October, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state officials asked Connecticut residents to take the lack of rain seriously, saying one of the best ways to combat drought conditions is taking shorter showers, shutting off water while brushing teeth, and doing fewer loads of laundry. Glowacki said the governor’s appeal to residents and businesses to conserve water has “had some beneficial impact,” but added that “it can be difficult to determine the level of benefit in the short-term.”

On Tuesday, Aquarion, which serves the southwestern portion of the state from Bridgeport to Greenwich, urged its customers to cut back on indoor water use by 20%. Aquarion’s reservoirs are between 15% and 60% of capacity.

Connecticut issued its first-ever Drought Watch in October for counties in western and central Connecticut, including Fairfield, Hartford, Litchfield, Middlesex, Tolland and New Haven counties. Those counties are being asked to reduce their use of water by 15%. Windham and New London counties are under a Drought Advisory and being asked to reduce their water usage by 10%. To date, 20 water companies have requested voluntary conservation or imposed mandatory restrictions. A continually updated list of these water companies is available on the Department of Public Health’s website.

More than a 100 fast food, child care, and home care providers huddled under the north portico of the state Capitol in Hartford Tuesday to call on lawmakers to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour. On January 1, 2017 the minimum wage will increase to $10.10 an hour, but fast food workers like Yvonne Rodriguez said that’s still not enough to pay her bills and feed her family. She said if she made $15 an hour she would have $150 left over at the end of the month. “We’re not backing down until the economy works for everyone, not just the people at the top,” Rodriguez said. Rep. Ed Vargas, D-Hartford, the only lawmaker present Tuesday for the Capitol rally, said there is a good chance the legislature can raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. 

A report from Connecticut Voices for Children found that since 2001, private-sector, low-wage jobs in Connecticut have increased by 20%, while private-sector high-wage jobs have decreased by 13%. Vargas said Henry Ford increased wages for his workers when he figured out they couldn’t make enough to purchase a Model-T. “He did it because he realized if you keep on depressing wages, who is going to buy them,” Vargas said. “So in a capitalist society like this people need to have purchasing power.” 

California and New York have both approved $15 minimum wages that will phase in over the next several years. Two years ago Connecticut was the first state in the nation to pass a law increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. 

The union-backed “Fight for $15” rallies in Hartford at the state Capitol and at the McDonald’s on Washington Street were just two of the hundreds of protests nationwide. Fast-food workers walked off their jobs in 340 cities from coast to coast, demanding $15 and union rights, according to an SEIU 32BJ press release, and they were joined by child care and home care providers. Queen Freelove, a home child care provider from New Haven, applauded a decision by the state to continue funding families already receiving a popular child care subsidy. She said it’s a good “short term” solution to the current budget deficiency even if it means some low-income families and teens won’t be able to start receiving the subsidy. 

The wave of strikes and civil disobedience in the Fight for $15 follows an election defined by workers’ frustration with what they believe is a “rigged” economy. A report released Tuesday by the National Employment Law Project, a liberal advocacy organization, shows the Fight for $15 has won nearly $62 billion in raises for working families since that first strike in 2012.

A bill that would create a new zip code for the hamlets of Flanders, Riverside and Northampton in the Town of Southampton passed the United States House of Representatives in a unanimous vote today, according to Congressman Lee Zeldin. The three hamlets currently share the same zip code as the Town of Riverhead, which causes “a number of issues” for local residents, from delay of mail and packages to delayed response time of emergency and medical personnel, Zeldin said.

Zeldin first petitioned the U.S. Postal Service to assign a new zip code for the three hamlets in the southwest corner of Southampton Town. The USPS regional district manager denied the request. Zeldin appealed the denial, but since then, the agency “has been unresponsive,” he said yesterday. Since then, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman, Jason Chaffetz, introduced the bill that passed today. The bill still needs to pass the Senate and then signed by the president to become law.

Residents of the Flanders-Riverside-Northampton communities have been seeking a new zip code for years. The communities are currently within the boundaries of the Riverhead 11901 zip code and that often causes significant confusion. A separate zip code would also help the communities build a separate identity and boost community pride, according to local activists.

Tuesday November 29, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut U.S. Senator Chris Murphy says Mental Health Reform Will Be Part of Lame Duck Session; Connecticut Spending Cap Commission Struggles With Consensus; New York Court of Appeals sides with state in discrimination case; and, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo approves roughly 60 bills and vetoes more than 70.

Connecticut U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said Monday that Congress has reached a tentative deal to move forward with parts of his Mental Health Reform Act, along with a medical innovation bill that will become part of the continuing budget resolution that includes funding for medical research at the National Institutes of Health. This is part of the “21st Century Cures” medical innovation bill. There’s another $1 billion to help states fight opioid abuse.

“This funding represents an urgent investment in closing the treatment gap and ending the overdose crisis,” Daniel Raymond, policy director for the Harm Reduction Coalition, said Monday.  

There would also be substantial amounts of money added to the continuing budget resolution for Vice President Joe Biden’s push for cancer research, Murphy said. In addition, the mental health reform portion of the legislation establishes a new assistant secretary for mental health in the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as a chief medical officer. “This would be a win-win for the addiction and mental health community,” Murphy said on Monday. He also said the most important part of the Mental Health Reform Act will require health insurance companies to start covering more treatments. That, combined with the additional funding for opioid abuse treatments, will give the legislation the necessary bipartisan support it needs to get it to President Barack Obama’s desk. 

The House is expected to take up the legislation as early as Wednesday. The Senate is expected to take it up before the end of December.

Republicans have portrayed the Mental Health Reform Act legislation as their response to an increase in mass shootings, but Murphy has said they are distinct concerns. “Discrimination is still rampant in the healthcare system when it comes to treating people with mental illness,” Murphy has said.  He added, the weakness of the current mental health parity law is stopping millions of Americans from getting the care that they need.

He said that was his main concern in authoring the bill with Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.  “Nearly everyone I talk to knows someone who had been victimized by our nation’s broken mental health system or our country’s heroin epidemic,” Murphy said in a statement. He added that he’s excited to see both parties “putting politics aside” to reach a compromise. 

The 23-member commission that’s working to define a spending cap for the Connecticut General Assembly to adopt next year needs a little more time to complete its work. At what was supposed to be its final meeting Monday, Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, proposed a complete definition of the spending cap for the commission to consider. The commission had been determining whether individual pots of money should fall under the spending cap. The commission, which had a Dec. 1 deadline, also sought to define various aspects of the spending cap.

Voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional spending cap in 1992, but Attorney General George Jepsen opined last year that it has “no current legal effect.” The commission is working on a recommendation to the General Assembly to change that, but political differences over how to get there have stymied attempts to adopt a spending cap for 24 years. Kane objected several times Monday to the “piecemeal” approach the commission was taking to defining various aspects of the cap. “We have said all along these things are intertwined and should be part of one full package,” Kane added.

The cap was suppose to keep state spending increases in line with annual personal income growth or inflation, whichever is larger. Typically, lawmakers have been using personal income growth in their calculations, but income has been fairly stagnant in Connecticut since the 2008 recession. An increase in recent years to the mandatory payment for workers’ retirement benefits has posed problems for those looking to make sure there’s enough money in the state budget to fund education, health care and programs for the poor.

The commission is expected to convene another meeting on Monday, Dec. 5 to discuss Kane’s proposal.

The legislature and governors have approved bypassing or exceeding the cap as it currently exists at least 8 times over the past 24 years.

According to the Albany Times-Union:
A decision by the New York state Court of Appeals has ruled that it is constitutional for police to refuse physical coordination tests to non-English speakers suspected of driving under the influence. The state’s highest court last week invalidated Jose Aviles’ claim that his rights to due process and equal protection were violated when the NYPD arrested him for driving while intoxicated after refusing to give him a coordination test because he didn’t speak English.

The court’s majority decision explained that while the 14th Amendment prohibits discrimination based on ethnicity or national origin, providing translation services to non-English speakers during sobriety tests would be an undue burden on the state. The court also held that the state has a keen interest in ensuring the accuracy of physical coordination tests, and that administering these tests — which are by their nature based on spoken commands — through a translator would diminish this precision.

The high court’s majority opinion likely sets a precedent for future scenarios that involve cases of non-English speakers in DWI cases. It also sets the stage for a broader conversation on the role of language in the realm of equal rights and discrimination.

The Albany Times-Union reports:
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo approved roughly 60 bills late Monday and vetoed more than 70, clearing off his desk 133 bills that were handed up almost two weeks ago. With Cuomo’s actions, only 25 bills passed in 2016 are left to be acted on.

Among the vetoed bills was a provision that would have established tax credits for music and video game production in a similar vein to the state’s film tax credit program. Also vetoed was legislation that would have allowed charities to offer raffle ticket sales online and another bill that would have provided a tax credit of 25%, up to $5,000, for homeowners and business that install geothermal energy systems.

Enacted after two vetoes is legislation that requires the state Department of Environmental Conservation to more painstakingly explain why it feels it is necessary to implement a mute swan management plan to kill off what is considered an invasive species.

Monday, November 28, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer  Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Senators Offer Caution over Trump Infrastructure Proposal; New York Governor signs ticket bot bill – 132 others await action; and, Marine scientists perform necropsy on stranded whale euthanized in Moriches Bay.

Connecticut U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy expressed cautious optimism Monday about President-elect Donald Trump’s proposal to spend $1 trillion on improving America’s roads, bridges, and transportation systems. 

“There is immense potential here because these infrastructure projects are key to our economy,” Senator Richard Blumenthal said standing on an unfinished portion of the Route 2 overpass to downtown Hartford. “The danger is that these projects will be a Trojan horse for tax breaks and giveaways to investors who simply get those tax credits to invest in projects they’re already doing.” He said what’s important is how they get to the trillion. The 10-page plan Trump released a few weeks before the election would offer $167 billion in federal tax credits to private investors who want to back transportation projects. To encourage the investment the proposal says the government would provide a tax credit equal to 82 percent of the equity amount to unleash the $1 trillion worth of infrastructure investment over 10 years. “It’s a fantasy,” Blumenthal said. “It won’t happen.” 

Murphy said Connecticut’s “economic salvation” relies on its ability to move goods in and out of the state. Blumenthal said they need to make sure the projects are new projects that create new jobs and drive the economy forward. He said it’s a concept that has bipartisan support, but Trump will still have to convince the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Trump will also lose Democratic support if he changes how labor is treated. 

Carpenters Local 210 President Glenn Marshall asked Blumenthal and Murphy if they would support Trump’s plan if he signs an executive order banning Davis-Bacon prevailing wage laws for publicly funded construction projects. “Construction jobs are some of the most dangerous jobs,” Marshall said. “These workers deserve to get paid well.” Blumenthal said that’s the “devil in these details.” He said Connecticut’s entire delegation would fight any effort to roll back progress on prevailing wage or collective bargaining laws. 

Trump has said he wants to approve an infrastructure proposal within the first 100 days of his administration. “We won’t be there for him if this is simply a scheme to make Wall Street rich,” Murphy said. Murphy said some of the proposal would seek to establish tolls to pay back private investors for making the initial investment in the project. Murphy and Blumenthal believe public money should play a part in improving infrastructure that’s supposed to benefit the public. Murphy said there should be equal parts public investment and private investment. 

The Albany Times-Union reports:
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday evening signed the so-called ticket bot bill, one of 133 bills that he has until midnight to act on otherwise they will automatically become law. The ticket bot legislation is aimed at cracking down on the unscrupulous practice of using software that allows users to buy up a bloc of tickets, often for resale, more quickly than a single consumer can.

The bill establishes a misdemeanor and new fines for those who use ticket bots to obtain tickets for resale and those who offer for resale any tickets knowingly obtained through the use of such software. “These unscrupulous speculators and their underhanded tactics have manipulated the marketplace and often leave New Yorkers and visitors alike with little choice but to buy tickets on the secondary market at an exorbitant mark-up,” Cuomo said in a statement. “It’s predatory, it’s wrong and, with this legislation, we are taking an important step towards restoring fairness and equity back to this multi-billion dollar industry.”

Of the remaining 132 bills on his desk, a number of them are small-time legislative efforts, though a few are eye-catching. One such bill would establish credits for music and video game production, estimated by sponsors to cost up to $50 million per year.

Newsday reports:
A team of marine scientists performing a necropsy, or animal autopsy, on the humpback whale that was stranded and euthanized in Moriches Bay have found a large hematoma on the animal’s tail, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokeswoman said. The necropsy team found the hematoma during the early stages of the examination Monday morning but have not yet determined whether it “contributed to the cause of death,” NOAA spokeswoman Jennifer Goebel said.

A hematoma is the collection of blood outside the blood vessels and indicates the whale suffered some sort of trauma, according to Goebel. Hematomas are commonly found on whales that have been hit by ships, but Goebel said the team has not found any evidence of a vessel strike.

The whale was first seen stranded on a sandbar November 20 and it remained grounded in the shallow water for four days before it was euthanized by veterinarians. The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation had attempted unsuccessfully to help the animal dislodge itself the day it was found by using a boat to create waves nearby. By the time the whale was assessed last Tuesday, it had suffered significant cardiovascular injury and also exhibited signs of neurological damage, making euthanasia the most humane option, according to Craig Harms, a veterinarian who examined the whale.

Several community members have criticized the decision to euthanize the whale and are upset that more wasn’t done to try and free it. More than 2,400 people have signed an online petition calling on lawmakers to allow local authorities or private citizens to assist federal agencies in future whale strandings. The Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a Long Island-based environmental group, also has urged officials to create a “whale rescue task force” comprised of local agencies.

Friday, November 25, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)
In tonight’s news: Connecticut officials express disappointment in overtime ruling; home-care providers dispute Connecticut electronic verification system; New York State Comptroller approves nearly $9 billion in contracts and payments for October;  and, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman expects more battles with Trump.
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and the state’s largest labor coalition were quick to criticize a Texas judge’s ruling blocking President Obama’s national bid to expand overtime pay protections to more than 4 million Americans. The new rule was scheduled to take effect on December 1 and would have doubled the salary level at which salaried workers must be paid extra for overtime pay, from $23,600 to $47,476.
Siding with business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Texas District Judge Amos L. Mazzant III halted it Tuesday. The Fair Labor Standards Act says that employees can be exempt from overtime if they perform executive, administrative or professional duties, but the rule “creates essentially a de facto salary-only test,” Mazzant wrote in his 20-page ruling.
Joining Malloy in criticizing the judge’s ruling was Lori Pelletier, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO.
According to Courthouse News:
Companies that hire home-care workers in Connecticut claim in court that the state’s implementation of a telephonic and computer-based in-home scheduling, tracking, and billing system threatens their business.
Six home care providers with more than 3,500 employees who provide services to about the same number of residents claim in a lawsuit filed last week that the Connecticut Department of Social Services, the agency responsible for the Medicaid program, has failed to implement internal controls by outsourcing the electronic visit verification system to a third party. Nonparties Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Sandata Technologies LLC hold the contract with the state to handle the verification system.
According to the complaint filed November 16 in Hartford Superior Court, the companies were paid more than $1.7 million to develop and implement the system for Connecticut. The plaintiffs employ personal care attendants, or PCA’s, who provide basic services such as assistance with bathing, dressing, toileting, housecleaning, and cooking to Medicaid recipients in their homes.  The new system will require PCA’s to use a telephone to log their precise time of arrival and the care provided.
The department is requiring the new system to be used starting December 1.
New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli approved roughly $791 million in tax refunds and other tax freeze credits in October, his office said Wednesday, making up a chunk of roughly $9 billion worth of contracts and payments approved that month.
DiNapoli approved $676.7 million for 168,000 personal income tax refunds, $63 million for 165,000 property tax freeze credits and $50.9 million for 16,000 corporate and other refunds. Also approved by the comptroller was $271,000 for a total for legal fees related to investigations of sexual harassment claims in both legislative chambers.
The Senate entered into two contracts worth $121,000 total with Kraus & Zuchlewski for legal counsel related to “U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission matters and investigation of sexual harassment claims.”
The Assembly extended its contract with Rossein Associates for independent investigations of sexual harassment claims. That extension was worth $150,000.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman expects more battles with President-elect Donald Trump over policies pushed by a Republican White House. Schneiderman said: “From protecting consumers, to investigating fraud on Wall Street, to protecting our environment and upholding equal rights for all New Yorkers, I pledge to fight for you on the front lines. If Friday’s victory is any indication, we can — and will — win, no matter how long it takes.”
“In the months ahead, I expect to take on many more fights with a Trump Administration,” to close a note on his recent $25 million settlement resolving the Trump University case he pursued.
Schneiderman’s statement refers to expected fights over policy, including immigration, climate change and consumer protections. On Tuesday afternoon, Schneiderman issued a fraud alert warning immigrants to be aware of potential scammers offering immigration services.
Schneiderman said: “In the past two weeks, we’ve seen intense fear and anxiety in immigrant communities. New York has zero tolerance for anyone who would prey on that fear to defraud immigrants and their families. We will use all the tools at our disposal to bring to justice those who commit fraud against our immigrant communities.”
Thursday November 24, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut State Senate Republican Leader urges bipartisan talks on top issues should begin next week; tuberculosis cases rise in Connecticut and nationally, the first increase in 23 years; and, Legislator Krupski and Agriculture Community React to Court Ruling on Suffolk County Farmland Preservation.

State Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano urged Governor Dannel P. Malloy on Tuesday to begin meeting next week with legislative leaders from both parties to attack Connecticut’s budgetary and economic challengesNoting that Malloy indicated shortly after Election Day that he would reach out soon to both parties, Fasano said state government could miss a chance to improve confidence among businesses and the general public if it waits to begin discussions until the 2017 General Assembly session — which starts January 4.

Connecticut got some bad news earlier this month involving both its finances and its economy. The projected deficit in the next state budget grew from about $1.3 billion to almost $1.5 billion, largely because of declining revenue projections. And the Department of Labor reported last week that the state lost 7,200 jobs in October, and 14,900 positions over the last four months.

“We need to let the people of Connecticut know that we acknowledge these problems and they are our main concern,” Fasano wrote Tuesday in a letter to the Democratic governor. “We have to show to the public that all parties can work together to face these challenges with a united front and give people a reason to give Connecticut a chance. Together, we must send a message to people and businesses who are considering leaving our state that they should stay, because leaders are committed to working together in new ways to improve our economy.”

In response, the governor’s spokeswoman, Kelly Donnelly said: “We appreciate Senator Fasano’s receptiveness to Governor Malloy’s invitation to begin discussions and share ideas regarding how to move forward together.”

Reported cases of tuberculosis jumped 17% in Connecticut from 2014 to 2015, mirroring a national and global trend and prompting federal officials to ask primary care providers to be on the alert for at-risk patients. The state Department of Public Health (DPH) said 70 people, in 29 towns, were reported with active tuberculosis, the contagious form of the disease, in 2015, compared with 60 the year before. About 80% of Connecticut patients were foreign-born, many from Asian countries.

Nationally, tuberculosis cases totaled 9,563 last year, an increase of 157 over 2014. It was the first jump in cases after more than two decades of annual declines, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported. New England had one of the largest regional upswings, federal figures show, with 330 reported cases, a 7.5% increase.

Connecticut and national health officials are unclear on what’s behind the uptick and said more studies are needed. Drug-resistant strains have become a challenge, but that’s largely a problem overseas at this point, they said. About two-thirds of the cases nationally in 2015 were foreign born, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For many years, tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in the U.S. Spread by airborne bacteria; it most often strikes the lungs, but can affect any part of the body. 

Tuberculosis is one of humanity’s oldest killers — traces have been found in the bones and tissues of Egyptian mummies — and it remains one of the world’s most deadly infectious diseases.

This September, the New York State Supreme Court struck down a 2010 Suffolk County law allowing farmers to build more farm buildings on preserved land, and this week, the county has pledged to fight back. In September of 2010, the county adopted a new “hardship exemption,” allowing farmers to get special permits to build barns, equipment storage buildings and greenhouses on up to 25% of a preserved parcel if they can show the county’s farmland commission that the established limit of 10% to 15% would pose a hardship. In November of 2010, the Pine Barrens Society filed suit against the county in New York State Supreme Court, calling for farmers who have sold their development rights but then built on their land to return the money they were paid by the government for the development rights.

Pine Barrens Society Executive Director Richard Amper pointed out when the suit was filed that the county’s farmland preservation program was approved through a public referendum, and allowing development on the preserved land was “a gift of public assets without a public purpose.” 

“The court made it clear that politicians can not alter programs approved by the public at referenda, without a subsequent referenda, asking voters to decide whether or not they approve of the proposed changes,” said Mr. Amper in a statement after Supreme Court Justice Thomas Whelan’s decision in September.

At a press conference Tuesday at the Suffolk County Legislature’s Hauppauge office, County Legislator Al Krupski, food bank representatives, farmers and representatives from the Peconic Land Trust said they had appealed the decision. Mr. Krupski, a farmer, thanked County Executive Steve Bellone and the county attorney’s office for moving forward with the appeal, and said the county will be forming a committee to “lend clarity to the path ahead and to restore integrity to the Suffolk County Farmland Protection Program.” The court’s ruling also came with a permanent injunction prohibiting the county from granting the special permits and hardship exemptions.

Wednesday November 23, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton Says He’s Fundraising for Possible Gubernatorial Run; Connecticut seeks dismissal of suit to make education a U.S. constitutional right; and, Huntington rally takes stand against hate incidents.

It’s not even Thanksgiving 2016 yet and the first candidates for statewide office in 2018 are filing their paperwork with the State Elections Enforcement Commission.Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who has unsuccessfully vied for statewide public office in the past, said there’s little time to waste if he’s going to raise the $250,000 in small contributions he needs to access public financing. Boughton said his goal is the raise the money he needs for public financing by January 2018. He said if he hasn’t secured the $250,000 he needs by the convention in May 2018 then he won’t run. 

In 2014, Boughton suspended his campaign after the convention when he figured that he would not be able to raise the money he needed to receive public financing after losing his running mate for lieutenant governor, Heather Somers. In 2010, Boughton stepped out of the governor’s race to become Republican Tom Foley’s running mate. In a phone interview Tuesday, Boughton said he may release policy papers or comment on issues in 2017, but he’s mainly focused on fundraising. If he reaches the $250,000 threshold he will receive $1.25 million for a primary and more than $6.5 million for a general election, under the current Citizens Election Program. It’s possible the General Assembly may increase the dollar amount or otherwise change the rules of the program in 2017.

The Republican Party hasn’t won a statewide election in Connecticut since 2006, but the party is hoping the gains made in both the state House and the Senate this year will foreshadow good news for snatching up one of the constitutional offices. Preferably, the governor’s office, which they lost in 2010 to Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, and Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, each have filed paperwork establishing their statewide exploratory committees. Peter Lumaj, the Republican who ran in 2014 for Secretary of the State, has also filed paperwork. It’s unclear if Governor Malloy, who is almost three years into a second term, will seek a third.

Connecticut has asked a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit that aims to make education a right under the U.S. Constitution. “There is no fundamental right to education, whether minimal or otherwise, under the United States Constitution,” Assistant Attorney General Michael K. Skold wrote Monday in his motion to dismiss a case brought by a group of high-profile attorneys in August. In a previous ruling the U.S. Supreme Court “made clear that public education is a sovereign function of the states, and that it implicates a number of complicated policy choices that are for the state legislatures to make,” Skold wrote.

The lawsuit, brought on behalf of seven minority students from Hartford and Bridgeport, attacks Connecticut for its “failing public schools” and long waiting lists for access to charter or magnet schools.

The U.S. Supreme Court 43 years ago ruled 5-4 in the landmark San Antonio v. Rodriguez school-funding case that education was not a federal constitutional right and that the disparate spending on education for students from low-income neighborhoods was not a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. In asking U.S. District Judge Alvin W. Thompson to dismiss the case Monday, the state pointed to that decision.

“The court refused to allow federal courts to interfere with those local decisions under the guise of a “fundamental” right to education that is neither stated nor implied in the Constitution. To do so would upset our nation’s federal structure and improperly insert the federal judiciary into complex problems that federal courts are ill-equipped to resolve,” Skold wrote. Allowing the federal government to get involved “would be an affront to Connecticut’s sovereignty and the important principles of federalism,” he stated.

Attorneys from Students Matter, a nonprofit advocacy group that brought national attention to teacher tenure laws with an unsuccessful lawsuit in California state courts, is well aware of the precedent. But “the time has come for the federal courts to recognize a federal constitutional right to some minimal, adequate level of education,” Attorney Theodore J. Boutrous said the day the lawsuit was filed. The plaintiffs have until Dec. 12 to reply to Connecticut’s motion to dismiss. This case is playing out while the state courts are questioning whether Connecticut is providing an adequate education to students in the most impoverished districts under a provision of the state constitution.

Newsday reports:
Prompted by a rash of hate-related incidents reported on Long Island and elsewhere since Donald Trump was elected president, religious leaders, school officials and local politicians gathered Wednesday at the Tri-Community and Youth Agency center in Huntington Station to denounce them and call for unity.

Suffolk Legislator William Spencer (D-Centerport), said “I want to give us this opportunity to come together to speak to our anxiety, our fears, our concerns that have been spurred by acts, predominantly, or ignorance.  A lot of these things aren’t hard-core hate, but just ignorance.” The legislator said he has received calls from his constituents, friends and colleagues who are alarmed over expressions of hate and intimidation toward religious and racial minorities.

Last week, several swastikas were found inside high schools in Port Washington and Northport. And, KKK fliers were distributed in a parking lot in Patchogue. A swastika was discovered on the wall of a boys bathroom at Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington, and three students found multiple swastikas drawn in the theater storage room at Northport High School. In both incidents, school officials in those districts said they reported them to police.

Both Nassau and Suffolk police departments have said there has been no uptick in bias or hate crimes since the presidential election.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Liz Becker and Melinda Tuhus.)

In the news tonight:
Immigrant Community Calls for Sanctuary State; Farmington Canal Heritage Trail extension in Cheshire;and  New York State presses onward with medical marijuana program expansions.

Last week, college students across the country called on their administrators to pledge their support to undocumented students and faculty, and on Monday more than a hundred marchers were calling on Connecticut state leadership to become a sanctuary state. The Connecticut Immigrants’ Rights Alliances — a statewide coalition of immigrant advocacy groups, law firms, nonprofits, and labor unions — marched down Main Street in Hartford calling on lawmakers to declare Connecticut the first sanctuary state in the country. “The rally on Monday will serve to plant a flag firmly in our soil that says — We’re not going anywhere whether you like it or not,” Renato Muguerza, an organizer of the event, said. 

Rep. Ed Vargas, D-Hartford, who marched on Monday, said he’s never heard of a sanctuary state, “but who knows Connecticut could become the first.” Vargas said he would support a measure making Connecticut a sanctuary state by passing legislation to inform law enforcement not to ask about immigration status. “Most of my colleagues at the legislature are sympathetic to this issue and so is the governor,” Vargas said. Meg Green, a spokeswoman for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the governor supports an “open dialogue about realistic and responsible changes to our federal immigration policy, he does not and will not support deporting our residents to areas where they aren’t going to be safe.”

Connecticut has taken steps to ensure undocumented students are able to access in-state tuition at public universities. It also also created a path that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license in Connecticut. The bill was intended to get more drivers insured to protect the driving public from skyrocketing insurance rates and uninsured drivers. Cities like New Haven and Hartford have gone a step further and have issued city ID cards to undocumented immigrants. The cards, issued in New Haven since 2007, allow residents to access health clinics, libraries, and other services and actions that require identification, such as opening bank accounts. “We are a nation of immigrants and, here in Connecticut, we celebrate the value immigrant families bring to our communities and the contributions they make to our economy,” Green said. 

Organizers of Monday’s march were concerned about president-elect Donald Trump’s statements on the campaign trail that he would call for an immediate halt on an executive order which instituted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which allows immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children to come out of the shadows and pay a fee to receive a temporary work authorization and protection from deportation. 

Tashi Sanchez-Llaury, a student at Southern Connecticut State University, said she’s nervous about what will happen under a Trump presidency. In order to participate in the DACA program, she had to give a lot of information, including information about her undocumented Peruvian parents, to the federal government. Marchers also carried signs for the black community and the LGBTQ community. 

On a mid-November day that felt more like early October, under a brilliant blue sky, the town of Cheshire inaugurated the newest 2.5-mile segment of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, which will eventually retrace the 19th century canal that went from New Haven to Northampton, MA.

WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus was on hand for the ribbon cutting:
“State Transportation Commission Jim Redeker said the trail was made possible in part due to 100 million dollars in the state’s transportation plan for bike and pedestrian projects.

Town Manager Michael Milone welcomed dignitaries and a few dozen cyclists who had ridden to the celebration from both north and south of Cheshire.
"You’ve ridden it; you see how beautiful it is. And the thing that’s most outstanding is all the additional amenities we hadn’t had before. And we’re going to continue to add amenities."

Those include two composting toilets, a parking lot, and several picnic tables scattered along the new section of trail, which connects to the existing trail in Southington. There is a short gap to the south that is yet to be built, which will connect to the rest of the trail in Cheshire, Hamden and New Haven.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.”

The Albany Times-Union Reports:
The New York State Department of Health on Tuesday officially filed amendments and proposed rules for New York’s medical marijuana program that will allow it to authorize nurse practitioners and physician assistants to certify patients. Those expansions are not surprising and conform with proposals DOH issued in August.

The department also said it expects to make a decision by the end of the month regarding the use of medical marijuana for patients suffering from chronic pain. The tweaks were part of the department’s two-year progress report, which was issued in August. Other recommendations that the department says it is continuing to implement include increasing the number of laboratories that are certified to test medical marijuana products and registering five additional organizations that can grow marijuana and produce drugs over two years.

“The first year of New York’s Medical Marijuana Program has been a success,” state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement: “Over 10,500 patients have been certified by more than 740 registered physicians to date. Authorizing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to certify patients will only help to further strengthen the program and improve patient access.” 

The regulation allowing nurse practitioners to certify patients will take effect Nov. 30. The proposed change that would allow physician assistants to certify patients will be subject to a 45-day public comment period that begins Nov. 30. It would take effect when it is filed for adoption after the comment period.

Monday November 21, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: New Haven Rally in Support of Sex Workers; Connecticut plans to increase a consumer rebate for certain electric vehicles; UUP joins condemnation of hate crimes; and, New York State approves the sale of the Fitzpatrick nuclear plant.

A group of people supporting sex workers who were arrested last month in New Haven rallied on Friday outside City Hall to express their demands. 

WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus was there: 
Holding signs with slogans like “No bad women, only bad law,” and “Services – housing, jobs, health care – not jail” activists demanded that the media stop running mug shots of women arrested for prostitution as a way of shaming them.

Criminal reform advocate Beatrice Codianni said the group has already achieved one main goal. “Chief Campbell said they would not conduct any more stings and he agreed there are better ways to handle the situation and arrest should never be the first option. City officials said that we should try to put together some resources and they’re willing to reach out to people who could help – agencies, organizations that could help provide services. I’m taking them at their word and hope I’m not being made a fool of.”

According to the New Haven Independent, acting police chief Anthony Campbell said the department will develop a program that warns women they could be arrested for prostitution but also offers them the means to escape that life if they want to.

Protestors also asked the state’s attorney’s office to drop all pending prostitution charges against the 13 women arrested.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News

Connecticut officials announced Friday that they plan to increase a popular consumer rebate program for the purchase of certain electric vehicle models.

The state will make an additional $2.7 million funding available to continue an initiative that launched in May 2015. The money comes from the state’s merger agreement between Northeast Utilities and NSTAR. The announcement was made at the opening of the Connecticut International Auto Show at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.

More than $2 million has been issued as rebates on the purchase of 960 vehicles, according to5 have been fully battery electric vehicles. The program offers rebates of up to $5,000 for fuel-cell electric vehicles. Klee explained that, coupled with $7,500 rebates from a federal tax incentive, the cars become more affordable.

The Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate Program – known as “CHEAPR” – provides a cash rebate for residents, businesses, and municipalities who purchase or lease a battery electric, fuel cell, or plug-in hybrid vehicle.

The Albany Times-Union reports:
United University Professions, the union that represents professors and other employees at SUNY is the latest to join the cry against hate crimes that seem to be popping up in the wake of the presidential election, including some disturbing incidents on SUNY campuses.

UUP President Fred Kowal issued a statement:
"United University Professions, the nation’s largest higher education union, is taking a strong stand against incidents of harassment, hate and violence on SUNY campuses and college campuses nationwide.

The union’s Executive Board unanimously approved a resolution that “calls upon our campuses, communities, and our nation to come together in vigilant support of inclusion, of pluralism, and of diversity.” The resolution also says “UUP expresses its unequivocal condemnation of hateful expression in any and all forms on SUNY (State University of New York) campuses, our communities and our nation.”

… At least two incidents of hate have occurred on SUNY campuses since November 8. On November 11, a swastika and the word “Trump” were discovered in a residence hall on the campus of SUNY Geneseo. Hate graffiti that read in part, “Isis is calling! Muslims can leave!” with a drawing of a heart next to the word “Trump” was found inside a residence hall at SUNY New Paltz on November 10. Both cases are under investigation by police.

The UUP resolution calls on SUNY’s administration and the SUNY Faculty Senate to join the union to counter any and all expressions of hate."

According to the Albany Times-Union:
Last Thursday, New York State’s Public Service Commission approved the sale of Oswego-area FitzPatrick nuclear power plant. Entergy is selling FitzPatrick to Exelon Corp. for one hundred ten million dollars, if the deal is approved by federal regulators.

PSC says the transaction will help meet New York’s clean energy needs going forward, but the deal is controversial. Critics say it creates a large corporate subsidy. Anti-nuclear activists and other opponents contend that subsidies to keep FitzPatrick open would be better used to help grow renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. Proponents say nuclear can serve as a bridge, until more solar, wind and other renewable resources are developed.

The deal calls for up to twelve years of state subsidies to the plant’s new owners, who say, low natural gas prices and other factors make it uneconomical to run without government support. Subsidies are estimated at seven point six billion dollars, to be paid by utility customers statewide, at a cost of about two dollars per month for about twelve years.

Had Entergy not found a buyer, they were planning to close the 850-megawatt plant, which employs hundreds of well-paid unionized workers in a depressed area.


NOTE: The script below was produced, but not broadcast, on Friday.

Friday November 18, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Connecticut plans to increase a consumer rebate for certain electric vehicles; Connecticut reports its October job losses; JCOPE settles with former New York State athletic chair; and, New York State approves the sale of the Fitzpatrick nuclear plant.

Connecticut officials announced today that they plan to increase a popular consumer rebate program for the purchase of certain electric vehicle models. 

The state will make an additional $2.7 million funding available to continue an initiative that launched in May 2015. The money comes from the state’s merger agreement between Northeast Utilities and NSTAR. The announcement was made today at the opening of the Connecticut International Auto Show at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.

More than $2 million has been issued as rebates on the purchase of 960 vehicles, according to Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Robert Klee. Of those, 25% have been fully battery electric vehicles.
The program offers rebates of up to $5,000 for fuel-cell electric vehicles. Klee explained that, coupled with $7,500 rebates from a federal tax incentive, the cars become more affordable.

The Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate Program – known as “CHEAPR” – provides a cash rebate for residents, businesses, and municipalities who purchase or lease a battery electric, fuel cell, or plug-in hybrid vehicle.

According to the Connecticut State Labor Department, Connecticut lost 7,200 jobs in October. Private sector employment declined 4,200 jobs in that month while the public sector saw a loss of 3,000 jobs. September’s job losses also increased further from 5,200 to 6,600.

Despite the sharp decline in payroll jobs, Connecticut’s unemployment rate for October fell 0.03% to 5.1%  which is now 0.03% lower than it was a year ago.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics reached a $2,000 settlement with Thomas Hoover, former chair of the state Athletic Commission, for violating Public Officers Law. Executive Director Seth Agata said: “A public officer may not simply dole out free tickets or special access passes to events to friends and family. Taking advantage of your position as Mr. Hoover did in this case violates the public trust."

Hoover admitted using his official position to obtain benefits for others “that included, but were not limited to,” improperly obtaining official credentials for his son and his son’s friend so that they could get into a boxing match for free.  Hoover resigned in July after serving a little more than a year.

Hoover is the second consecutive Athletic Commission chair to depart under an ethical cloud: His predecessor Melvina Lathan and her staff accepted jewelry and other gifts from promoters, behavior uncovered by the Inspector General’s July 2016 report.

Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott issued the following statement: “The former Athletic Commission Chairman’s use of his government appointment to reward family and friends with free event tickets and inappropriate job opportunities helped illustrate his skewed priorities and the clear dysfunction previously at the Commission’s top levels."

According to the Times-Union, yesterday, New York State’s Public Service Commission approved the sale of Oswego-area FitzPatrick nuclear power plant. Entergy is selling FitzPatrick to Exelon Corp. for $100 million, if the deal is approved by federal regulators. PSC says the transaction will help meet New York’s clean energy needs going forward, but the deal is controversial. Critics say it creates a large corporate subsidy. 

Anti-nuclear activists and other opponents contend that subsidies to keep FitzPatrick open would be better used to help grow renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. Proponents say nuclear can serve as a bridge, until more solar, wind and other renewable resources are developed.

The deal calls for up to 12 years of state subsidies to the plant’s new owners, who say low natural gas prices and other factors make it uneconomical to run without government support. Subsidies are estimated at $7.6 billion to be paid by utility customers statewide, at a cost of about two dollars per month for about 12 years.

Had Entergy not found a buyer, they were planning to close the 850-megawatt plant, which employs hundreds of well-paid unionized workers in a depressed area. 

Thursday November 17, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Democrats Still Hold 79-72 Majority In Connecticut House After Recounts; Connecticut’s Gun Removal Law Likely Prevented Dozens of Suicides; and, Southold Files Complaint with FAA Over North Shore Helicopter Route.

Three recounts in Connecticut House of Representatives races have been completed and in each case the one leading after Election Night on November 8 won the race. In the 103rd District, which includes parts of Cheshire, Wallingford and Southington. Democrat Liz Linehan won by 79 votes, 5,637 to 5,356 for her Republican challenger, Andrew Falvey. Linehan was 54 votes ahead of Falvey after Election Day – and before the recount.

In the 53rd District, which includes Ashford, Tolland, and Willington incumbent Republican Sam Belsito who received 6,385 votes topped Democrat Susan Eastwood, who garnered 6,337 votes. Belsito picked up one more vote after the recount, bringing his margin of victory to 48 votes.

Democrat James Albis retained his 99th District House seat, albeit by a slim 9 votes after a recount. Albis won the seat 5,004 votes to 4,995 for Republican challenger ‘Big’ Steve Tracey.

Under Connecticut law, recounts are required in legislative races if the margin of victory is less than 0.05% of votes cast for that office or less than 20 votes. Overall, Democrats hold a 79-72 majority in the House. The Connecticut State Senate is tied 18 to 18.

According to a study by researchers at Duke, Yale, and the University of Connecticut, dozens of suicides have likely been prevented by a law that allows police to temporarily remove guns from potentially violent or suicidal people. Researchers presented their review of 762 gun-removal cases to the Criminal Justice Policy Advisory Commission Thursday. This review shows that for every 10 to 20 instances of temporary gun seizures, one suicide was prevented. “Ten to 20 gun removals to save one life — is that high or is that low?” Jeffrey Swanson, professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Duke University School of Medicine, said. “That may be for the policy makers to decide. But we’d like to put this information in the hands of the policy makers so they know what’s hanging in the balance of risk and rights when it comes to preventing gun violence.”

Over half of the suicides in the U.S. are completed with guns, and many of those guns are legally obtained. And a “substantial proportion of those at risk for committing violent crimes with guns do not have a record that would prohibit them from purchasing or possessing firearms,” according to the study that will be published in the journal Law and Contemporary Problems. The Connecticut legislation enacted in 1999 allows officials to remove firearms for up to a year from any person a court finds to be at high-risk of violence or self-harm. Since then, Indiana and California have enacted similar risk-based gun removal laws.

Researchers found that during the first eight years the law was on the books it was used fewer than 10 times per year. Since 2007 with the mass showing at Virginia Tech University, gun removal cases increased to about 100 per year and the law resulted in a cumulative total of 762 by the end of 2013. “It’s pretty easy to get a gun these days without going through a background check,” Swanson said. “That’s why this kind of risk-based temporary gun removal could be important”

Although 90% of suicide attempts are survived, the results are almost always fatal for those who use firearms, Swanson said.

Southold Town has filed a formal complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration over that agency’s decision to extend the mandatory north shore helicopter route for four more years. The complaint, known as a “Petition for Rulemaking,” argues that the abrupt decision this past summer to extend the controversial helicopter flight path “deprived Southold and the public of their right to notice and opportunity to be heard,” and violated the direction of a Presidential Executive Order requiring the FAA to consult with Southold lawmakers before extending the route.

Politicians from Southold and Riverhead town, along with state and county legislators from both the North and South Forks, announced the filing of the complaint in a press conference at Southold Town Hall Tuesday morning. The town’s counsel on airport issues, Jim Harmon, said there is no rational basis for continuing the North Shore route if it hasn’t reduced helicopter noise on the North Fork.

The FAA’s North Shore Route, which requires helicopters to travel one mile offshore at a height of at least 2,500 feet over the north shore of Long Island, was greeted with great fanfare when it first became mandatory in 2012, touted by lawmakers as a solution to helicopter noise on Long Island. But the rule only applies between Huntington and Riverhead, after which helicopters cross over the North Fork on their final approach to the East Hampton municipal airport in Wainscott.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said Southold has decided to file this complaint, instead of suing the FAA, because “we expect it to be acted on in Southold’s favor.” While the FAA is required to respond to the complaint, Mr. Harmon said there are no FAA rules that say when they are required to respond.

Wednesday November 16, 2016  (Thanks to WOKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Reports Highlight Connecticut’s Budget Challenges and Fiscal Woes; Connecticut is Searching for Medical Marijuana Researchers; and, Mastic Beach voters go to polls to decide village’s future.

Two fiscal reports released Tuesday offer a sobering glimpse of the budget challenges lawmakers face when they return in January.

The report from the governor’s budget office projects a state budget deficit of $1.3 billion for the next fiscal year. A separate report from the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis indicates that the state’s fixed costs will be 53% of the budget in 2018 based on increased pension benefit costs and increased state bonding.

Republican legislative leaders questioned whether either report captured the full scope of the fiscal problems because the reporting method was changed in May. Tuesday’s reports don’t include information about projections regarding current spending and what that spending would look like with inflation. There were also no surplus or deficit figures for the next three years or municipal spending estimates, which were features in past reports.
Regardless of what the reports include, the information contained shows a dramatic increase in the fixed costs, which will crowd out spending on programs and services for residents.

This year the state will be paying $257.4 million more than it did last year on debt service, $78.4 million more for state employee pensions, $278.3 million more for teacher pensions, $206.3 million more for post-retirement benefits, and $246.7 million more for Medicaid. With revenues down $189.7 million, the state is facing a nearly $1.3 billion deficit in fiscal year 2017, according to estimates. The rise in fixed costs has also contributed to three of the four Wall Street rating agencies downgrading Connecticut’s bonds this summer.

The reports were released after the state Bond Commission meeting, which has now borrowed $2.68 billion this year.

On October 1, 2016, the State Department of Consumer Protection began seeking proposals for research projects that could help strengthen and expand its medical marijuana program in the hope that scientific research improves the medical community’s ability to determine how safe and effective medical marijuana is for treating diseases. So far, two proposals have been submitted, said Leslie O’Brien, legislative program director at the department.

Eligible applicants include hospitals, other health care facilities, higher education institutions, licensed medical marijuana producers and licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. The state legislature recently allowed for in-state research to take place. DCP is looking for projects examining the growth, processing, medical attributes, dosage forms, administration or use of marijuana to treat any medical conditions. 

“The state’s medical marijuana program is not only providing patients suffering from serious diseases, and their doctors, an alternative treatment option, it’s creating good jobs in the state,” DCP Commissioner Jonathan Harris said in a statement. “With this new research program, Connecticut could become the focal point for medical cannabis research and add to the strong biotech base already here.” The medical marijuana program employs 259 people statewide, according to DCP, and any research positions resulting from proposed projects would boost that number. Those interested in conducting research must first apply for project approval by DCP. Once the project is approved, any research program employees who will have access to medical marijuana must apply for a license from the state. That includes anyone purchasing, transporting, testing, administering or storing the marijuana. Once the necessary approvals and licenses are in place, research projects can begin enrolling participants. 

Connecticut legalized medical marijuana for adults with qualifying health problems in 2012 and DCP officials say more than 14,000 patients statewide currently use it. Starting October 1, legislation gave access to non-smokeable medical marijuana to children suffering from terminal illness, epilepsy, cystic fibrosis and other ailments. 

Newsday reports:
Village of Mastic Beach residents have been going to the polls today to decide whether to continue as a municipality or disband and return to the jurisdiction of Brookhaven Town.
The village of approximately 15,000 residents was formed in August 2010, with supporters of incorporation citing concerns about the prevalence of abandoned homes and the need to keep taxes low. In June, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the village’s municipal bonds to noninvestment grade, citing financial instability, overspending by $400,000 on a road project, a declining tax base and operating at a deficit for three straight years.

In April, the board voted on a tax-neutral $3.89 million budget, against the advice of Mayor Maura Spery who argued for a 125% spending increase that she said would support services. Staff layoffs were announced in May. Hoping to turn around village finances, trustees Joseph Johnson and Anne Snyder supported efforts to raise $100,000 in revenue by imposing franchise fees on local businesses, but none were collected. They also sought to raise money through aggressive code enforcement on homeowners. The village deficit, projected in June at $400,000, is at $11,000 now.

Last week, before a gathering of village residents at William Floyd High School, an Albany-based consulting group hired by the municipality said village taxes could rise by up to 208% if Mastic Beach residents choose to remain incorporated and provided a basic level of services. Supporters of the village characterized that potential increase as inaccurate. The group, which also said the village could spend $2 million on road improvements next year, based its conclusion after a review of village finances, audits and interviews with officials.

If residents vote to unincorporate, Mastic Beach would become the first Long Island village since Pine Valley - a tiny village opposite downtown Riverhead - in 1991 to disband.

Tuesday November 15, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Next budget will be very lean, without major tax hikes, says Connecticut Governor; and Pay Raise Commission ends, no raises for New York lawmakers.

Despite debt costs that are surging at unprecedented rates, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Tuesday his proposal for the next state budget probably will not call for any major tax hikes. With state finances currently on pace to run about $1.5 billion in deficit next fiscal year, Malloy’s plan is expected to recommend deep cuts to spending not fixed by contract. The Democratic  did not rule out small tax hikes, but also said he was considering tax incentives to spur business growth. “If you’re asking ‘Am I leading with the expectation that we’re going to raise a lot of additional dollars, then the answer is ‘no,’” the governor said. But he noted that: “There are tax changes that I’d like to see that are beneficial to the business climate of the state.”

Malloy, who spoke with Capitol reporters after a State Bond Commission meeting, warned that Connecticut faces “gigantic challenges” as it tries to compensate for surging debt costs — most caused by seven decades of inadequate saving for public-sector retirement benefits. And “it will require adjustments to be made in other parts of the budget.” Reports detailing all of those surging debt costs — from the administration and from the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis — are due to lawmakers by the close of business today. Those surging debt costs, coupled with new projections showing revenues aren’t growing as quickly as state officials had hoped, are one of the major factors behind a projected hole in state finances of about 8 percent in the next fiscal year.

Malloy, who approved tax hikes worth more than $1.8 billion in 2011 and more than $650 million in 2015, said he believes his predecessors deserve most of the blame for those. “Over the course of my administration, we’ve had to pay the bills of other administrations, and that continues to drive our expenditures,” the governor said. “I don’t believe people understand that a lack of paying the bills as they should have been paid (in decades past) has led to the current difficulties the state of Connecticut is living with.”

Connecticut saved nothing between 1939 and 1981 for pensions promised to public school teachers. And even after it began saving for this benefit, the state did not regularly save the full amount necessary until 2008. Similarly, state employees’ pensions were established in 1939 and nothing was saved until 1971. No significant savings effort began until the mid-1980s, and that was undercut by a deal with unions in 1995 that allowed Connecticut to defer significant funding. The state undid that deal and went back to full savings in the 2012-13 fiscal year.

The Albany Times-Union reports:
The special commission set up last year to recommend possible raises for New York lawmakers has said “no” meaning that, short of going into special session and enacting an increase separately from the commission — and getting Gov. Andrew Cuomo to go along — lawmakers will get no raise next year. Instead, they will continue to collect their $79,500 base salaries, plus stipends for additional duties. They haven’t had a raise since 1999. 

“We believe the opinion of the public is entirely relevant,” Fran Reiter, one of three gubernatorial appointees to the commission said, referring to public input they got from New Yorkers who don’t believe lawmakers should get more. She also repeated her contention, which has been shared by the governor, that lawmakers should have come before the panel and testified as to why they should get a pay increase.

Also echoing Cuomo’s thoughts, Reiter said lawmakers would have a chance at a raise if they agreed to extensive ethics reforms including sharp limits or reductions on outside income. “I’d like to give them that opportunity,” Reiter said shortly before the seven-member panel, with one member absent, essentially foreclosed the idea of a raise. “But I come back to this obstinancy which I don’t understand,” she said, referring to legislative resistance to outside income limits.

The decision still leaves lawmakers the option, which they’ve always had, of returning in a special session to pass a pay hike themselves, although this would require the governor’s approval and they have long avoided that for fear of an electoral backlash by voters.

Monday November 14, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: East Haven Representative Holds onto Seat Following Recount; Suffolk County Legislature restores cuts, approves $2.9 billion budget
for 2017; and, Bunker Die In Droves Monday at Shinnecock Locks.

East Haven Democrat James Albis retained his 99th District House seat by nine votes after a four-hour recount on Saturday.  Albis, who has been a legislator since 2011, won the seat with 5,004 votes to 4,995 for Republican challenger Steve Tracey. Before the recount, Albis had a 14-vote margin over Tracey. After the recount, Albis’ vote total remained the same, but Tracey picked up 5 votes from his original total – going from 4,990 he recorded on Nov. 8 to the 4,995 total. “I felt good about the recount,” said Albis. “The machines are very accurate. It’s a good and fair process.” Tracey said: “I felt I ran a positive campaign, and frankly should have won. I almost did.’’

East Haven polled strongly for Republican Donald Trump, who garnered 54.25% of the presidential vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 42.86%, while statewide, Clinton won Connecticut, garnering 54.59% of the vote to Trump’s 40.89%. “Trump won the town by close to 1,500 votes,” Albis said. “I knew going in I would be in for a tough race because he had such strong support here.’’ Albis also said he felt proud that he survived the “Trump wave” in East Haven.

There were about three dozen volunteers who helped conduct the East Haven recount, which saw every single ballot cast recounted - some by machine and those that were most difficult to read, by hand. Under Connecticut law, recounts are required in legislative races if the margin of victory is less than 0.05% of votes cast for that office or less than 20 votes.

Two other recounts for state House seats still need to be completed. These are for the 53rd District and also for the 103rd District. The deadline for any recounts resulting from the November 8 election is November 16.

The Suffolk County Legislature Wednesday voted 11-7 for a $2.9-billion county budget that eliminates proposed cuts, restores services and increases sales tax revenue projections for 2016 and 2017.

Legislator Al Krupski joined with Republicans in opposing the amendments to County Executive Steve Bellone’s proposed budget. Krupski said in an interview the county must address the budget’s $135 million structural deficit. The adopted budget, with the amendments, “relies too heavily on borrowing,” the North Fork legislator said.

The amendments were advanced by the bipartisan budget working group. They restored the Public Health Nursing Bureau and the Tobacco Education and Control Program. In addition, income eligibility for day care was restored at the 2016 level of 125% for a family of four earning $30,375 annually, rather than 100% earning $24,300 annually – as proposed – to be more inclusive of those needing day care services. 

Included in the omnibus bill is an increase in 2016 sales tax revenue from 0.85% to 1.16%, which equates to $4 million in 2016 and $4 million in 2017, and an increase in police district property taxes of $500,000, reflecting an increase of 3.986%. The bill also reduces property taxes in the Southwest Sewer District by 3%.

Legislators increased funding for overtime in the sheriff’s department by $2.4 million, increased revenue from the motor vehicle registration surcharge, which will generate an additional $2 million, and increased an administrative fee on moving violations from $30 to $60. They also built in anticipated savings of $4.1 million based on a new request for proposals issued for the 2017 Employee Medical Health Plan. The amendments will now head to Bellone’s desk for approval or veto.

In the early hours of Monday morning, a massive die-off of the bait fish menhaden, known locally as bunker, was underway in the waters of the Shinnecock Canal just south of the locks in Hampton Bays, a strange sight for an area not prone to fish kills, at a time of year fish kills are unlikely to occur.

By mid-morning, a crowd had gathered on the Montauk Highway bridge over the canal, after the locks opened at 9:30 a.m., washing the fish out into Shinnecock Bay on the outgoing tide. At 11 a.m., Felix Set of Hampton Bays had been watching the dead fish float by for about an hour. As he looked down into the swirling, fast-running tide filled with fish, he said: “It’s crazy. It’s too much. They opened the gates and they came out with the tide.”

Mr. Set said he was suspicious of the green tint to the water, and wondered if pollution had caused the die-off, but Peconic Baykeeper Sean O’Neill, who was also looking down into the swirling water from the top of the bridge, said that this time of year, most bunker are migrating out to the open ocean, and they were likely backed into the locks by predatory bluefish and striped bass overnight, aided by the strong tide of the super-moon, which is at its closest to the earth tonight as it has been in 69 years. While packed in at the locks, they likely ran out of oxygen to breathe and were asphyxiated, he said. “They had nowhere to go with this man-made system. I would really doubt it was anything other than the confluence of the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Scientists from the nearby Stony Brook Southampton Marine Station had sampled the water to see if there were any water quality factors amiss. Local officials are working with commercial fishermen on a plan to clean up the dead fish strewn along the banks of the canal.

Friday November 11, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Connecticut lawmakers elect their legislative leaders for the next two years; Connecticut state revenues drop, creating challenges for the next two-year budget; Representative Lee Zeldin scores a big re-election victory in Suffolk County; and, Governor Cuomo discusses infrastructure with President-elect Trump.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle returned to Connecticut’s state Capitol yesterday to elect their legislative leaders for the next two years. The only one who faced a challenge was House Minority Leader Themis Klarides (R – Derby). Representative Tim Ackert (R – Coventry) mounted an unsuccessful challenge to Klarides in a closed-door caucus Thursday evening.

Republicans have credited Klarides with boosting their ranks by picking up eight seats in Tuesday’s election cutting the Democratic majority from 87-64 to 79-72. Ackert said she won “handily.” Klarides was the first female to take the reins of the House Republican caucus two years ago. She is the only female leader of all four caucuses. Klarides said Republicans picked up seats Tuesday because the “state of Connecticut is angry. They’re angry and they are sick and tired of their elected officials saying one thing and doing another.”

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano and Deputy Senate Minority Leader Kevin Witkos were also returned by the caucus to their leadership positions. The Senate Democratic caucus unanimously re-elected New Haven Senator Martin Looney to president and Senator Bob Huff to deputy minority leader.

The House Democratic caucus elected Hartford Representative Matt Ritter to majority leader and plan to elevate House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz (D – Berlin) to House Speaker in January. Aresimowicz has served the past four years as majority leader and was first elected to the General Assembly in 2004. In a statement yesterday, Governor Dannel Malloy congratulated the legislative leaders and said he looks forward to meeting with them in the days ahead to begin discussions.

Connecticut state revenues are down $49.3 million over last month, but there’s no reason to hit the panic button just yet. The bad news comes in 2018, 2019, and 2020. The revenue picture presented by the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis and Office of Policy and Management Thursday will make Governor Malloy’s task of putting together a two-year budget over the next few months even more difficult.

For 2017, the good news is that sales and use taxes are up by about $218.7 million and the healthcare provider tax is up $18 million. The bad news is that federal grants are down $28.6 million and the income tax is down $69.5 million. 

The trend of declining personal income continues into the future too. Income tax projections were reduced by $144 million in 2018, $212 million in 2019, and $273 million in 2020, respectively, to reflect lower growth assumptions and policies built into the 2017 budget.

According to Southold Local, Representative Lee Zeldin won a decisive victory in the First Congressional District Tuesday, based on unofficial results published by the Suffolk County Board of Elections.  Zeldin polled 59% of the vote to challenger Anna Throne-Holst’s 41%, with 463 out of 473 election districts reporting.

Voters in the five East End towns approved the extension of the 2-percent real estate transfer tax by an overwhelming majority. The ballot proposition extending the Community Preservation Fund through 2050 and allowing the expenditure of up to 20% of CPF revenues on water quality projects won approval with 78% of the vote, 40,301 to 11,207.

Incumbent state legislators Ken LaValle (with 67%), Anthony Palumbo (with 68%) and Fred Thiele (with 62%) cruised to re-election.

In Riverhead, voters soundly rejected a proposition to extend the town supervisor’s term to four years: 65%-35%.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo discussed infrastructure during a phone conversation with President-Elect Donald Trump. Cuomo had been fiercely critical of Republican Trump in the lead up to Tuesday’s election, calling him “un-New York” over the weekend. But Cuomo indicated his Wednesday conversation with Trump was cordial. Cuomo said: “We had a good conversation, he is a New Yorker, we talked about issues for New York and building that we’re doing, the infrastructure, how we’re doing it."

In his sixth year as governor, Cuomo has placed serious focus on high-priced mega-projects that include developing a new Penn Station, revamping LaGuardia Airport and continuing to construct a new Tappan Zee Bridge. Cuomo said: “We were talking about the need for infrastructure, the need to get it done differently so that it’s actually on time, on budget." 

The governor said a Trump White House would be a bonus not only for New York, but other states in the Northeast: Trump’s New York roots help him understand the challenges that face the Northeast. 

As Hillary Clinton did in her concession speech, Cuomo also sought to reassure Democrats that a Trump victory is not and should not be the end for various progressive pushes, especially on social issues.

Thursday November 10, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Will Connecticut Pull the Weeds Growing at the Massachusetts Border? Long Island Environmentalists applaud landslide victory for CPF extension; and Riverhead Town Planning Board sets hearing to discuss EPCAL subdivision.

Voters in the state of Massachusetts on Tuesday legalized recreational marijuana beginning in 2018. The move is expected to fuel debate on whether Connecticut will soon follow. The Massachusetts ballot measure was approved by 53% to 47%, with about 97% of the vote counted. California, Maine and Nevada also legalized recreational marijuana. A legalization effort failed in Arizona.

Two weeks ago, a New Haven state representative said a neighboring state’s ballot question on legalizing recreational marijuana means it’s time for Connecticut to get moving on the same initiative. New Haven Democratic State Representative, Juan Candelaria, who has unsuccessfully lobbied for recreational marijuana legislation in Connecticut in the past, said he is confident that the outcome will be different in 2017. Candelaria said the fact that voters in nearby Massachusetts have joined a growing list of states to legalize recreational marijuana is fueling his sense of urgency because the first legal, recreational pot sale is not expected to occur until January 2018 at the earliest. “We have a fiscal crisis in the state of Connecticut,” Candelaria said. “Do we want to see tax money that we so desperately need leaving our state and being spent in Massachusetts? No, we don’t.”
A Quinnipiac University Poll conducted in March 2015 found 63% of voters support legalization.

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who successfully pushed for decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana in 2011 and legalizing the medical use of marijuana in 2012, hasn’t supported legalizing recreational use in the past, stating it was “not my priority.” Candelaria said: “Connecticut could generate about $50 million in the first year of operation; $100 million-plus in the second year.” State Representative, Toni Walker, said some of the revenues from taxation would go to drug awareness education and efforts to curb abuse of opiates, alcohol and other harmful substances.

The number of patients in the state of Connecticut receiving medical marijuana treatment keeps growing. On October 1, a law giving children under the age of 18 access to non-smokeable medical marijuana with the approval of two doctors went into effect.

Long Island environmentalists are thanking voters for their overwhelming approval of the Community Preservation Fund, a proposition that was approved Tuesday by wide margins in each of the five East End towns. Residents approved the proposal to extend the life of the voter-approved 2-percent real estate transfer tax from its current 2030 expiration date to 2050.

Money raised through the tax goes into the CPF and can be used to purchase open space or farmland development rights. Towns will now be able to use up to 20% of the money raised to immediately fund water-quality improvement projects. The CPF extension is expected to raise $700 million for such initiatives.

Polls show that 75% of voters in Riverhead, 80% in Southold and 70% in Shelter Island voted in favor of the CPF extension, according to a press release issued Wednesday by the Clean Water & Community Preservation Committee. Additionally, the committee stated, the proposition was approved by 80% of voters in Southampton and and 78% in East Hampton.

“I am very happy to see that Riverhead residents continue to support our rich heritage of agriculture and the preservation of our natural resources by voting for the extension of the Community Preservation Fund,” Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said in a statement. “This is not only a win for our environment, it’s a win for our economy.” Shelter Island Supervisor Jim Dougherty echoed those sentiments: “I am delighted that my fellow Shelter Islanders once again rose to the occasion and approved this critically important initiative to assist in the all-important task of ensuring adequate amounts of high-quality water on our island for generations to come,” he said.

The Riverhead Town Planning Board has scheduled a December 1 public hearing to discuss a proposed 50-lot subdivision plan for Enterprise Park at Calverton.The plan would allow 300 housing units and 500,000 square feet of retail for supporting industrial uses at EPCAL. Frank Isler, an attorney representing the town on EPCAL issues, told the Planning Board last Thursday that the state Department of Environmental Conservation also needs to sign off on the proposal before the subdivision plan can move forward.

The DEC requires permits under New York State’s Endangered Species Act and Wild Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act in order to allow development along the Peconic River and within the habitats of endangered or threatened species. At EPCAL, these include the short-eared owl and eastern tiger salamander. Permits also require a mitigation plan to offset the loss of habitat, Mr. Isler said.

Supervisor Sean Walter announced last month that the town had reached a tentative agreement to sell 633 acres at EPCAL to Suffolk County Industrial for $46 million. If those plans fall through, Mr. Walter has said New Jersey company Lincoln Equities Group remains interested in buying the land. The Town Board will need to conduct a public hearing in which the buyer must prove he or she has the money and means to purchase and develop at EPCAL.

If the entire property is purchased, the buyer is responsible for building all infrastructure, Mr. Isler said. Mr. Walter said those costs could amount to around $50 million. If individual lots are sold instead, the town will be responsible for providing infrastructure on unsold lots, Mr. Isler added. Mr. Walter said he’s hopeful the subdivision application process will be completed by early 2017.

Wednesday November 9, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Clinton Carries Connecticut but Not the Nation Amid Voter Angst; Connecticut Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney says Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman preserves Democratic majority in 18-18 Senate; and, New York Republican Lee Zeldin re-elected in 1st Congressional district.

While Connecticut voters backed Hillary Clinton in a losing effort against Donald J. Trump Tuesday, one of the most contentious presidential races in modern history polarized residents on both sides of the debate. Clinton won Connecticut’s seven electoral votes by a comfortable margin, but the Democratic nominee underperformed in many crucial battleground states compared with her party’s performance in 2012.

Connecticut voters turned out in numbers expected to approach 75%, but many reflected national polls showing they weren’t excited about either presidential contender, and – in some cases – repulsed by both. Dianne Grenier of Andover stated that she didn’t feel good about Clinton or Trump. So she did what she figures a lot of people did: “Hold your nose and fill in the dot.” She decided to vote for the first female president, despite her misgivings about Clinton. Nick Lestini of Plainville, an unaffiliated voter, said he made up his mind while thinking about his son, who serves in the military. “I don’t trust her (Clinton) to have his best interests at heart,” he said, explaining his support for Trump.

Candidates for federal and state offices also felt the voters’ angst when it came to the battle for the presidency. In 20 years in politics, Lorraine Marchetti was never asked who she was voting for. Until this year. “This time I’ve been asked repeatedly,” said Marchetti, a Glastonbury Republican who challenged state Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester.
2nd District Congressman Joe Courtney, a Vernon Democrat, said the contentious presidential race had left plenty of his constituents somewhat dejected about politics in general. “It’s also about jobs and the economy,” Courtney said. “People just feel insecure.”

The New York Times/CBS poll released last week reported more than eight out of 10 voters nationally said the race for president left them feeling repulsed, not excited. Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, who was not up for re-election Tuesday, had a read on voters’ moods that was similar to Courtney’s. “The big question was would people’s disgust with the tone of the election turn into apathy or action?” Murphy said. Murphy’s impression was that the answer to that is action – in Connecticut and other states where he’s recently campaigned – New Hampshire, Ohio and Florida.
elected in 1st Congressional district.

Senate President pro tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said Wednesday that Democrats will retain a working majority in an evenly divided Senate next year through an alliance with Democratic Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who can break ties as the presiding officer. “It will be an effective Democratic majority, because she becomes our 19th vote,” Looney said.

At a victorious post-election press conference, Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, pushed back at Looney’s assertion, saying his staff still was exploring the ramifications of governing with the first evenly divided chamber since 1893, when a smaller Senate had a 12-12 tie for a single term. “There is no longer a majority party in the state Senate,” Fasano said, surrounded by his caucus. “We are now a chamber of equals. The old way of doing things is gone – is gone. We need a brand-new playbook. We need brand-new rules. This is uncharted territory, but what is clear is the Republican state Senate is equal to the Democrat state Senate. We have equal voice, equal power and equal policy making.”

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who consulted with Looney by phone Wednesday morning, told reporters he had called the leaders of the four caucuses to talk about a cooperative approach. “Connecticut can show the country that we can continue to make progress, even when we feel divided,” Malloy said. “We can demonstrate that it is possible to fight hard throughout a tough election, and then get back to work on behalf of our constituents.”

Wyman said she stood ready to break a tie vote on one of the Senate’s first orders of business in January: The re-election of Looney as president pro tem, the top leader of the Senate. Democrats appeared to win a 79-72 majority in the House, but Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said at least one recount was possible. Until the death of one member last summer, Democrats had held an 87-64 advantage.
elected in 1st Congressional district.

Rep. Lee Zeldin won a decisive victory in the First Congressional District Tuesday, according to unofficial results published by the Suffolk County Board of Elections. Zeldin polled 59% of the vote to challenger Anna Throne-Holst’s 41%, with 463 out of 473 election districts reporting.

Voters in the five East End towns approved the extension of the 2-percent real estate transfer tax by an overwhelming majority. The ballot proposition extending Community Preservation Fund through 2050 and allowing the expenditure of up to 20% of CPF revenues on water quality projects won approval with 78% of the vote, 40,301 to 11,207.

Incumbent state legislators Ken LaValle (with 67%), Anthony Palumbo (with 68%) and Fred Thiele (with 62%) cruised to re-election.

In Riverhead, voters soundly rejected a proposition to extend the town supervisor’s term to four years: 65% to 35%.

Tuesday November 8, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Smooth Start to Voting in Connecticut, but Long Lines Form in Some Communities; Federal Court rules East Hampton can’t impose restrictions on noisy aircraft; and, New York State could lose highway funds if tourism signs stay up.
elected in 1st Congressional district.

Lines at New Haven City Hall to take advantage of Connecticut’s first-ever presidential Election Day Registration (EDR) began at a steady pace early this morning. Longer lines at polling locations started to form mid-morning and ballots at a Hartford polling place had the wrong state representative candidates listed. 

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s office expressed concern that some cities and towns, including New Haven, were not prepared for the number of voters looking to register on Election Day.  “Secretary Merrill has directed staff to work directly with the New Haven registrar’s office to help them be as ready as possible for Election Day. The office expects them to be prepared.” Because of Merrill’s concern, New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, added her own staff, plus Corporate Counsel staff, to assist with EDR responsibilities. “Mayor Harp has done this (added staff) ahead of time to try and help — absent any authority to actually administer the election process,” said mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer. At Rawson Elementary School in Hartford, the ballots incorrectly listed Rep. Brandon McGee, instead of Rep. Doug McCrory. McGee’s district is further north and includes part of Windsor. “The electorate is uneasy, but they seem determined to vote,” Merrill said Tuesday after casting her ballot at the Hartford Seminary. 

Contrary to previous predictions, voter turnout was not depressed. In fact, voters in several communities were waiting in lines due to large turnout. When EDR registration began promptly at 6 a.m., there was already a line outside the New Haven Registrars’ office, but it was moving quickly and people were in good spirits as they waited a few minutes to register — and cast their ballots. According to news reports, there have been long lines everywhere in the country. 

Secretary Merrill said: “In many ways, this is a year of firsts. It is the first presidential election in which we’ve had Election Day registration, online voter registration, and the introduction of the online results reporting system. We hope that all these services will benefit the voters of Connecticut.”

The East Hampton Town Board’s effort to restrict helicopters and other so-called “noisy” aircraft into and out of its airport was dealt a serious blow by a federal appeals court on Friday. The U.S. Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit) in Manhattan, voted 3-0 on Friday to reverse the lower court’s decision, and said the town had no right to impose the restrictions.

After years of aviation noise complaints from East End residents caused by commuter flights from Manhattan, East Hampton’s board passed legislation in April 2015 imposing a complete shut down of flights into or out of the airport from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., and banned choppers and the noisy aircraft from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m. It also passed a town law limiting noisy aircraft to a single landing and takeoff each week during the summer season. Since then the issue has been the subject of several lawsuits. Businesses associated with the aviation industry and a helicopter pilot organization sued on restraint of trade arguments and that the town had superseded federal authority on aviation.

Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr.(I-Sag Harbor), who represents the South Fork and Shelter Island said in a statement: “I respectfully disagree with the decision of the Court. The Town of East Hampton is the owner of the airport. Like all property owners they have a responsibility to insure that their property is not used in a way that is injurious to the public health and safety of its residents. That is what the Town of East Hampton did with the enactment of its local laws.”

Kathleen Cunningham, co-chair of the East Hampton-based Quiet Skies Coalition, said, “I’m stunned, to be honest. I never imagined that the right to home rule could be so undermined by the federal government. We’ll have to go back to the drawing board to begin working on real solutions to the environmental challenges this airport causes.”
Newsday reports:
Federal officials said they may cut the state’s funding for highway and bridge projects if hundreds of controversial blue “I Love NY” signs promoting local tourism are not removed from local roadways.

The signs violate federal and state laws and are unsafe because they are filled with too much information and distract drivers, Federal Highway Administration officials said. State officials contend that the signs are lawful, follow the specifications for such signage and are a valuable tool in generating tourism revenue for New York. They said they have no plans to end the program.

“There are many issues with these signs, but the primary problem is that they do not regulate, warn or guide traffic as all highway signs must,” Doug Hecox, a spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration, said Friday. “However, the most recent installation of inappropriate signs by the State elevates our concerns that the State has failed to provide a plan of corrective action. If the State fails to comply with the law, the penalty could include withholding federal funds.”

The agency didn’t say how much federal funding is in jeopardy.

Monday November 7, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: If You’re Still Not Registered to Vote in Connecticut,  You Can Do It On Election Day but plan ahead; Connecticut Clinton and Trump Supporters Head to Battleground States; and, EPA Approves Long Island Sound Dredge Dumping Site; Fred Thiele Urges New York State Legal Action in response.

Connecticut doesn’t allow early voting, but this is the first presidential contest in which voters who forgot to register will still be able to register and vote on Tuesday. But there are a few things those planning to register and vote on Election Day need to know to avoid long lines and any confusion at the polls. 

Each municipality, requires voters seeking election day registration to go to a central location designated by their city or town. Staff at that location will look up the voter's name in the Central Voter Registration System and see where they were previously registered to vote. Then they will make up to two phone calls to the voter's previous city or town to make sure the person didn’t vote in that location.

Melissa Russell, president of the Registrars of Voters Association said there was a record number of registrations prior to Nov. 1, so she’s hoping almost everyone hoping to vote has already registered. More than 2.1 million voters have registered to vote, which is greater than the number of registered voters in 2008. For those who still have to register on Tuesday, Russell recommends an early start in finding out where the voter needs to go to register prior to going to their polling location. Voters also have to have proof of residency and identification.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday that it will monitor the polls in 67 jurisdictions, including East Hartford, West Hartford, Hartford, Middletown, Farmington, New Britain, and Newington.

About 50 Connecticut Democrats boarded a school bus Sunday in Windsor and headed to Lebanon, New Hampshire in an attempt to support Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. It’s the third week they’ve organized trips to the Granite State where three recent polls show the race tightening. New Hampshire has three fewer electoral college votes than Connecticut, but it’s thought to be a swing state because of the independent nature of its voters.

Ben Proto, Trump’s Connecticut campaign organizer, said they’ve been sending supporters to New Hampshire to knock on doors for the past two months. He said Democrats are about two months too late in sending their supporters. “It’s a very close race and people want to go there,” Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said. “We have a lot of assets in the field in Connecticut to make sure our vote turns out across the state.” The sentiment was echoed by others who were boarding the bus. Some said knocking on doors in November beats watching television news about the race.

But Connecticut Democrats and Republicans are not only focused on New Hampshire. They have both been making phone calls to other swing states like Pennsylvania, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Florida. West Hartford’s Joe Visconti, who is working for the Trump campaign, led a group of eight Connecticut residents to Virginia this weekend to knock on doors in that battleground state. He said the Trump campaign had enough volunteers headed to New Hampshire and Virginia is a place where people have been quiet about their support for Trump. Visconti said the support for Trump is everywhere. 

A Roanoke College poll released Friday had Clinton with a seven-point lead over Trump in Virginia with a 45%-38% split. The poll found 9% of voters are still undecided. “Few people thought this race would tighten to this degree, but this campaign has had more twists and turns than switchbacks on a steep mountain road,” said Harry Wilson, director of the Roanoke College Institute for Policy and Opinion Research.

The U.S. EPA has issued a final rule to designate one Eastern Long Island Sound Dredged Material Disposal Site to receive dredged sediment from ports and harbors in Connecticut and New York.The newly designated Eastern Long Island Sound Disposal Site is immediately to the west of the current New London Disposal Site, in Connecticut state waters, and the EPA says it plans to close the existing New London Disposal Site on Dec. 23, 2016. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had written to President Barack Obama in August threatening legal action against the EPA over the proposed dumping of dredge spoils in the eastern Long Island Sound, despite the fact that the site is in Connecticut waters.

In announcing the EPA’s final rule Friday afternoon, Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office, said, “EPA’s decision to establish the Eastern Long Island Sound Disposal Site incorporates protections and restrictions on use similar to those established for the Central and Western Long Island Sound Dredged Material Disposal Sites earlier this year. Our decision is based on sound science, reflects extensive public input, and strikes an appropriate balance between the need for dredging to maintain safe navigation and protecting the significant natural resources of Long Island Sound. The site protections and restrictions we included in the final rule are intended to help meet the goal of reducing or eliminating dredged material disposal in the open waters of Long Island Sound.”

But State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, who signed on to the governor’s August letter, isn’t happy with the EPA’s determination. “While the EPA has attempted to convince the public that it is mitigating the impacts of this polluting practice, the truth is that the EPA decision is just more of the same,” said Mr. Thiele in a statement Monday. “While we continue to see a decline in overall water quality, the EPA is countenancing the continued pollution of one of our most precious resources.”

In the August letter signed by more than 30 federal, state and local elected officials, Governor Cuomo provided notice to President Obama and EPA officials that the state “will take all necessary steps to challenge the rule and stop it from being implemented.” Mr. Thiele urged the Governor to take legal action to stop the EPA.

Friday November 4, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Connecticut Sentencing Commission holds public hearing; House Democrats pitch changes to Connecticut’s clean election law; New York state environmental group makes no endorsement for First Congressional District race; and, a Manhattan judge upholds New York’s ballot selfie ban.

Yesterday, speaker after speaker implored the Connecticut Sentencing Commission to reform the state’s criminal justice and sentencing policies. 

One testimony came from a former inmate, Yale Law School graduate, and current public defender, who called the current system “a complete farce.” Reginald Dwayne Betts told members of the Sentencing Commission that  “You cannot hide behind your robes as a judge and essentially – essentially – make decisions time and time again that are not just biased, but are systematically racist. It happens every single day.”

The Connecticut Sentencing Commission was established under Public Act 10-129 to review on an ongoing basis the criminal justice system and sentencing policies.

Many spoke yesterday, including testimonies from Suzanne Bates, policy director for the Yankee Institute; and David McGuire, interim Executive Director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Connecticut.

With less than a week left in the campaign, House Democratic leadership said they want to change Connecticut’s clean election law in a way that would create a challenge to Citizens United. Republican legislative leaders called the move hypocritical and desperate.

House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz (D – Berlin) said they will introduce legislation next year that will extend donor disclosure beyond the top five to all donors above a certain threshold. That threshold has yet to be determined. 

They also want to re-establish a trigger that would allow a clean election candidate to receive additional state grant money if they were the target of an independent expenditure. The trigger provision for clean election candidates was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 when it found they violated the First Amendment. Connecticut had trigger provisions in its law back in 2010, but the law was rewritten a year later in order to comply with the court ruling.

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides (R – Derby) said her colleagues on the other side of the aisle are “feeling panicked” because, depending on how long they’ve been in office, they are going to have to answer for at least one of the two largest tax hikes in the state’s history. As for campaign finance reform, Klarides said she is in favor of more transparency.

The New York League of Conservation Voters has decided against making an endorsement in the First Congressional District race this year.

The NY-1 contest was left off the environmental group’s list of candidate endorsements released on October 3. Asked about the omission, communications director Jordan Levine wrote in an email: “We have not endorsed in this race yet because we are holding a candidate forum between Congressman Zeldin and Anna Throne-Holst on October 18th in Riverhead.”

The New York League of Conservation Voters also chose not to make an endorsement in the Second Assembly District, where Republican Anthony Palumbo is seeking re-election. His Democratic opponent is not actively campaigning. The organization endorsed State Senator Ken Lavalle (Republican – Port Jefferson) and Assemblyman Fred Thiele (Independent – Sag Harbor). NY-1 is the only congressional race on Long Island where neither candidate got the New York League of Conservation Voters’ endorsement.

The New York League of Conservation Voters is a statewide environmental advocacy group that endorses candidates who “demonstrate a strong willingness and capacity to advance” the organization’s pro-environment agenda, according to its website.

A Manhattan federal judge has ruled that New York’s ban on ballot selfies may remain in place on Election Day, despite the protest of some voters who say snapping a photo of their completed ballot is their constitutional right. Judge P. Kevin Castel wrote in his 16-page ruling that state law barring voters from showing their ballots after they have been completed can stand because an 11th-hour change in protocol could wreak havoc at polling sites.

Three New York City voters filed suit a week ago against, among others, the state and city boards of election, claiming that state election law, first established to prevent vote buying, stifles First Amendment rights if they can’t tout their political support of candidates by posing with their ballots. They sought an injunction that would have allowed them to take selfies without repercussion.

Despite Castel’s decision, state law still does not ban all photography inside the voting booth or polling places. Voters can take selfies with a blank ballot or inside the booth without the ballot visible. Though his clients won’t be able to take selfies with their completed ballots next week, attorney Leo Glickman vowed that Castel’s decision is not the end of their legal fight.

A pair of state lawmakers (Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal and Senator Brad Hoylman, both of Manhattan) have vowed to introduce legislation next year that would legalize ballot selfies.

Thursday November 3, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: personal income is growing in Connecticut, but at a much slower pace;
New York Attorney General negotiates deal to extend heroin antidote discount; and, sand mine owners block Suffolk County Health Department access to Bridgehampton site;

According to new data from the Pew Charitable Trust’s “Fiscal 50” interactive database, personal income in Connecticut increased by 1.3% over the past year, a growth rate that ranks the state 32nd in the nation. Other states saw personal income grow by an average rate of 2% a year over the past year, according to the database.

Connecticut also had one of the slowest personal income growth rates since the most recent recession began, according to Pew. Between the final quarter of 2007 and second quarter of this year, the state saw personal income grow an average of 0.9% a year. The only states with smaller average annual income growth since 2007 were Nevada (0.5%) and Illinois (0.8%). Alabama and Maine had the same 0.9% growth as Connecticut. “This is basically an economy that’s moving in a very sluggish fashion,” Don Klepper-Smith, economist at DataCore Partners, said of Connecticut’s growth trend. With such a “negligible” increase in consumer spending power, state residents likely don’t feel as though Connecticut is in an economic recovery, he said.

Typically, recovery after a recession includes wage growth that makes people feel like they are bringing home more money, but that hasn’t been the case this time in Connecticut, he said. Personal income is a closely watched economic indicator. Among other things, according to Pew, federal officials use it in allocating money to states for programs like Medicaid, and states use it to predict tax revenue when planning budgets and estimate public services that will be needed.

In Connecticut and elsewhere, a looming development in the pipeline — rising health insurance premiums — has the potential to derail any income growth and recovery that’s taken place, said Klepper-Smith. This could lead to a “policy-induced recession.” Consumers are bracing for much higher health insurance premiums in 2017. In Connecticut, two of the four insurance carriers that were on the health insurance exchange created by the Affordable Care Act have left it, and price tags for plans both on and off the exchange will carry double-digit percentage increases for next year.

“The Affordable Care Act, in its present form, has the potential to tip the scales toward recession in 2017,” Klepper-Smith said. “Many households are on the margin right now, making ends meet.”

New York State agencies and municipalities will continue to get a discounted price for a heroin antidote through a deal cut by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office, the Albany Times-Union reports.

The attorney general has negotiated an extension of a discount with naloxone maker Amphastar Pharmaceuticals through January 2018. Under the deal, Amphastar will provide state agencies and municipalities with a $6 rebate per dose, a discount off the retail price of about 20%. More than 200 state municipalities have saved $1.6 million on 278,000 syringes of naloxone since the original deal with Amphastar went into effect in February 2015, according to the attorney general’s office.

Naloxone reverses the effects of an overdose of heroin or other opioid, including prescription painkillers like oxycontin and hydrocodone. New York state has been grappling with an epidemic of heroin and opioid abuse.

The rebate is available to all public entities, including the state Health Department, county governments, and the drug treatment centers and harm reduction programs they fund.

Newsday reports:
A sand mining operation in Bridgehampton is not allowing the Suffolk County Health Department access to its grounds to test for on-site water contamination. According to a spokeswoman from the Suffolk County Health Department, department officials have hit a standstill in gaining access to the 50-acre Sand Land site, which is in one of nine state-designated Special Groundwater Protection Areas on Long Island.

Residents near the site and environmental groups have previously expressed concerns that materials processed on the site could potentially contaminate groundwater in surrounding communities.

According to department spokeswoman Grace Kelly-McGovern, officials have attempted to go onto the site but have been turned away by the site’s owners, Wainscott Sand & Gravel. “Whatever agreement was intact, they rescinded on,” Kelly-McGovern said Thursday. Health department officials have since referred the matter to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, Kelly-McGovern said, adding that the county “will take whatever steps they need to take to get on the property and test the water.”

In April, the state Supreme Court upheld a 2012 ruling by Southampton Town’s Zoning Board of Appeals that prohibits Wainscott Sand & Gravel from processing yard waste and construction debris at the Bridgehampton site.


Wednesday November 2, 2016 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Record Number of Voters Register in Connecticut, Officials Say They Are Prepared; Connecticut Continues To Rely Too Heavily On Property Tax To Fund Education, says Connecticut Conference of Municipalities; and Ex-Suffolk County police chief James Burke gets 46 months in prison.

In 2010, Bridgeport ran out of ballots and in 2014 Hartford voters at some polling places were unable to vote first thing in the morning because the official check list was unavailable.

“The same bad thing never happens twice quite the same way,” Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said Wednesday. She said there are bound to be problems at the polls on Nov. 8, but “I think we have done everything we can to make sure people are ready for this.” The sheer number of voter registrations over the last month has been “astonishing,” Merrill said, but it remains to be seen if the increase in voter registration results in an increase in voter turnout. As of Wednesday, an all-time record of 2,139,870 voters had registered to vote. That’s more than 2,104,989 registered in 2008, when President Barack Obama was running for his first term. In 2008, 78% of registered voters cast a ballot and in 2012, the last presidential election, voter turnout was 74%.

Merrill said this year’s participation could surpass turnout in 2008, but this election has been so unusual that it’s hard to make a prediction. This is the first year Connecticut has Election Day Registration, so if you forgot to register you will be able to register on Election Day at a central location in a city of a town.

“Do not go to the polls to register to vote, you will be turned away,” Melissa Russell, president of the Registrar of Voters Association, said. She recommended calling a city or town to find out where Election Day Registration is happening. She also recommended going early because if you’re not registered by 8 p.m. when the polls close, you won’t be able to vote. Those who are registered to vote and are in line at 8 p.m. will be allowed to vote.

As far as photo ID is concerned, Connecticut requires proof of residency, which can be a photo ID or drivers license, but can also be a utility bill or some other proof of residency. Russell said voters can check to make sure they are registered by visiting myvote.ct.gov They can also use that website to locate their polling place.

A new Connecticut Conference of Municipalities report shows the state is more reliant than ever on property taxes to fund public education. The report found the cost for public education is now greater than $11.5 billion, or $900 million more than in 2013.

Additionally, the report shows that local property taxpayers paid in 2015 almost $6 billion for the cost of public education, $500 million more than in 2013. The report further states that local property taxpayers pay about 60 percent of Connecticut’s nearly $2 billion in special education costs — up from $1.8 billion in 2013.

The report’s narrative states that a 1999 task force found that “the State should budget and appropriate funds biennially to demonstrate progress toward equal (50-50) state and local spending for education.”

The report also notes that the state education funding formula is currently underfunded by more than $600 million. That funding formula was the subject of a recent court order from Judge Thomas Moukawsher, who in September ruled that the state’s method for distributing education aid is unconstitutional. He ordered the General Assembly to come up with a plan for distributing billions in state education aid, a new teacher evaluation system, new high school graduation requirements, and a special education funding formula. He gave lawmakers 180 days to take action.

Newsday reports:
Former Suffolk police chief James Burke was sentenced to 46 months in prison Wednesday for beating a man who stole a duffle bag from his police-issued vehicle and then masterminding a cover-up of the crime. The sentence matches the exact number of months Burke served as the highest ranking uniformed officer as chief of department.

Burke acted “as a dictator” in orchestrating a lengthy cover-up that “affected a whole police department,” U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler said. He corrupted a system, not on one act, but for three years, Wexler said.

Burke, 52, of Smithtown, had faced a sentence of between 41 and 51 months in prison under terms of a plea deal. He pleaded guilty in February to obstruction of justice and violating the victim’s civil rights. Addressing the judge Wednesday at federal court in Central Islip, Burke called his actions “a calamitous misdeed” and apologized to the victim, Christopher Loeb, and his own family, “particularly my mother.”

Burke, who served as chief of department from January 2012 until his resignation in November 2015, also apologized “to the subordinates that I engaged in these acts with.”
“This was, among other things, a misguided and wrongful attempt to protect them and myself,” he said. “I apologize to my colleagues who I deceived in the wake of this incident.” Burke, wearing tan prison attire, also apologized to “the citizens of Suffolk County” and “to the men and women of the Suffolk County Police Department.”

Tuesday November 1, 2016  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: State Officials Issue Drought Watch For Most Counties in Connecticut;
Hospitals ask feds to declare Connecticut Medicaid rates and hospital tax illegal; and, Prosecutors recommend 51-month jail sentence for 
former Suffolk County police chief James Burke.

At a press conference held at the rain-starved Shuttle Meadow Reservoir in New Britain last week, Governor Dannel P. Malloy said, in response to the decision made by the Connecticut Interagency Drought Workgroup to issue the state’s first-ever Drought Watch:  “After three years of precipitation shortfalls, we are moving to a Drought Watch and it would be extremely helpful if residents could be mindful of their water consumption and take sensible steps to help stretch our water supply.”

Some of the best ways to combat drought conditions are taking shorter showers, shutting off water while brushing teeth, and doing fewer loads of laundry. The Drought Watch applies to counties in western and central Connecticut, including Fairfield, Hartford, Litchfield, Middlesex, New Haven, and Torrington counties. 

The Interagency Drought Workgroup is asking residents, businesses, and local governments in these counties to voluntarily reduce their water use by around 15%. 

The previously announced Drought Advisory that went into effect statewide in June will remain for New London and Windham counties, where residents, businesses, and local governments are asked to reduce usage by around 10 percent.

Citing a host of job and program cuts and funding levels that threaten hospital viability and patients’ access to care, Connecticut hospitals have asked the federal government to declare that the state is violating federal law by paying inadequate rates for treating Medicaid patients and imposing a $556 million tax on the industry.
The petition to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services,filed Tuesday, is part of a two-pronged challenge to Connecticut’s fiscal policies toward hospitals. 

On Tuesday, the Connecticut Hospital Association and 20 hospitals also moved their state-level challenge to the hospital tax to Superior Court. They previously appealed the tax through administrative channels, but their claim that the tax is illegal was denied by two state agency heads last month. “Connecticut’s Medicaid payment system has degraded to a point where provider payments are no longer sufficient to assure efficiency, economy, quality of care, and adequate access to care for Medicaid beneficiaries,” violating federal law, says the petition, signed by the Connecticut Hospital Association and the heads of 21 hospitals.

The petition says hospitals have laid off 1,390 workers and eliminated more than 1,700 open positions since 2013. It says many hospitals are now considering eliminating programs – and are assessing their ability to meet bond covenants.

Chris McClure, a spokesman for the Malloy administration, said it was not surprising that the hospital association was availing itself of legal remedies. “Nevertheless, we are confident the state will prevail as the legislated measure is legally and properly implemented,” he said.

Newsday reports:
In a scathing rebuttal to former Suffolk County police chief James Burke’s argument that he should not get any jail time, federal prosecutors filed a memorandum late Monday arguing that he should get the maximum under the terms of a plea bargain — 51 months in jail.

Burke’s request for leniency in a court filing on Friday and the prosecutors’ response comes shortly before he is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday. Burke has pleaded guilty to beating in 2012 a Smithtown man, Christopher Loeb, who stole a duffel bag from the chief’s departmental SUV, and then masterminding a cover up of his actions. Burke in his plea for leniency made two main arguments: that there were “unique family circumstances” because he was the primary caregiver of his mother, Frances, with whom he lives and who is seriously ill with cancer, and that his criminal actions were aberrant behavior in an “extraordinary career history” in law enforcement.

In their response, Eastern District prosecutors Lara Treinis Gatz and John Durham noted that Burke’s two brothers are able to care for his mother and have been doing so. The prosecutors wrote, “In all criminal cases, family members of incarcerated people suffer. It is an unintended and sad consequence of incarceration. It is also one of the risks a defendant assumes when he commits a crime.” As to Burke’s claim that his conduct in the Loeb case was an unusual, unprofessional act, the prosecutors strongly disagreed. “Contrary to the defendant’s assertion, this is not the first time he violated the public trust and abused his authority as a member of the SCPD,” the prosecutors wrote.

The obstruction in the Loeb case “continued for almost three years” and included working out false statements with some officers to minimize Burke’s actions and intimidating others to get them to go along with the obstruction, the prosecutors said.