Saturday, January 7, 2017

January 2017

Tuesday January 31, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Melinda Tuhus.)

In the news tonight: 530 refugees, more than half from Syria, were resettled in Connecticut last year; a replica solitary confinement prison cell in New Haven offers educational opportunity; and additional North Fork train service coming by the end of 2017.

530 refugees, more than half from Syria, were resettled in Connecticut last year. Last week’s executive order barring refugees has an impact on those already here. Public News Service’s Andrea Sears reports: An organization that resettles refugees in Connecticut says President Trump's order halting the process has impacts beyond those detained on arrival. The executive order, signed late Friday, sparked a weekend of protests as immigrants and refugees with valid visas were detained at airports across the country. The order halts all refugees from entering the U.S. for 120 days and bans any refugees from Syria "until further notice." 

Kelly Hebrank, development specialist for Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, or IRIS, says the order is having a devastating effect on some who already are here. "We do have several who have been waiting for relatives to come, some of them have travel booked," she said. "Someone's brother was expected in two weeks, someone's uncle was expected, and so now they won't be traveling." Last year IRIS resettled 530 refugees in Connecticut, twice as many as any other year, and more than half were from Syria. A four-month hold on allowing refugees to come will mean even longer delays down the line. 

Hebrank points out that the United States already has the toughest refugee vetting process in the world, taking 18 to 24 months to complete. “And every stage of it has an expiration date, so if someone gets almost to the end and is about to complete it, if the first step expired then they go back to the beginning," she explained.  Since 2001, more than 800,000 refugees have resettled in the U.S., including almost 85,000 last year. Hebrank says the refugees resettled in Connecticut have been welcomed into their new communities and are doing well. ”The kids make friends at school really easily," she added. "Adults take English class and get jobs. Refugee resettlement is a tough self-help program but every day we hear great stories about the successes our clients are having."

Several lawsuits challenging the legality of the executive order have been filed in federal courts around the country.

A press conference Monday at New Haven’s main library kicked off a three-week visit of a replica solitary confinement prison cell to the city.

WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus has more:
Called “Inside the Box,” residents are encouraged to sit inside the cell and experience for a few minutes what being in solitary could be like. One of the speakers was Keishar Tucker, who first spent time in solitary as a 17-year-old, though he had not been convicted of any crime:

“It was a horrific experience, the worst place I’ve ever been in. Definitely psychological torture. I still suffer from anxiety attacks. Sometimes I spent weeks and months at a time in solitary confinement, and it’s designed to break you down.”

Organizers hope people who sit in the cell will help educate others and advocate for changes to the law. A dozen events will take place throughout the three weeks, including film screenings, talks and a dance recital. For more information, visit

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News

An effort to increase train service to the East End has come one step closer to fruition, State Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) announced in a press release Monday. Long Island Rail Road representatives met with local elected officials Thursday to discuss transit improvements for the East End, including adding an additional weekend train to Greenport, creating a “Fishermen Train” to promote tourism and increasing the number of weekday departures, the release states. “The goal is to provide the above outlined additional service to the North Fork by the end of 2017,” Mr. Thiele said.

The proposal includes increasing the number of weekend trains to Greenport between April and November from two to three trips. Mr Thiele said it was determined that this additional trip “could be accommodated with existing equipment, if an additional crew is added …The LIRR will review the cost of providing the needed crew and will provide a draft schedule for consideration by the North Fork local governments,” he said. Year-round weekend service on the North Fork was cut in 2010 and never restored.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said in an email he’s pleased with the latest developments to expand local train service because he believes it will promote tourism and ease traffic congestion. “Assemblyman Thiele has been zealous in his advocacy for the East End to bring improved rail service to the residents here,” Mr. Russell said. “He has my deep gratitude for his efforts, as usual.”

A plan to increase train service on the South Fork was also discussed Thursday and Mr. Thiele estimates the new schedule will begin in early 2018. East End representatives and the LIRR are expected to meet again in March to further discuss the proposed train services and to finalize the new schedules.

Monday January 30, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN Volunteers Liz Becker and Melinda Tuhus.)

In the news tonight: less than 29 hours remain to enroll in Obamacare in Connecticut; supporters of Planned Parenthood in Connecticut continue weekly vigil at New Haven clinic; Despite Protests, New York congressman Lee Zeldin Affirms Support for Trump Immigrant Ban; and, LIPA Approves Power From Offshore Wind off Montauk;

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Access Health CT CEO James Wadleigh remind Connecticut residents that the call center and enrollment centers will be open until midnight Tuesday to help customers sign up for coverage before the January 31 deadline. This could be the last year of the Affordable Care Act. Donald Trump and the Republican majority in Congress have begun the process of repealing the healthcare law. 

Wyman warned that if Trump doesn’t do this right, millions could wake up one morning without health insurance. Congressional Republicans were in Philadelphia this weekend talking about how to repeal and replace the law.  The Washington Post reported that leaked audio recordings of the meeting show there is concern about how to have a replacement plan ready in time for repeal. 

An estimated 108,000 individuals have been enrolled in plans in Connecticut with the last two remaining private insurance companies participating in the exchange: Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield and ConnectiCare. The walk-in centers in New Britain and New Haven will be open Tuesday until midnight. Wadleigh said he’s aware that lines are already forming at those locations. He said he guarantees that everyone who enrolls in a plan before midnight Tuesday will have health insurance. The number for the call center is 1-855-805-4325. 

As of now, the health law still stands, and that includes requiring people to have coverage or pay a penalty, unless they qualify for an exemption. The penalty for not having coverage during 2017 is either 2.5 percent of household income or $695 per person (or $347.50 for a child), whichever is higher.

For over a year, supporters of Planned Parenthood in Connecticut have been going toe-to-toe every Saturday with anti-abortion protesters outside the clinic in New Haven. One day after the annual anti-abortion rally in Washington, D.C. on the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, supporters of reproductive rights outnumbered their opponents. 

WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus has more.
Vice President Mike Pence addressed the DC rally – the first time in more than 40 years that a sitting president or vice president has done so – and anti-abortion forces are revved up to see appointments to the Supreme Court they expect will lead to an overturning of Roe v Wade. In New Haven, about two dozen people, both women and men, held signs and banners in favor of reproductive freedom.

IV Staklo is one of the organizers of the weekly vigil. She says her group will work in conjunction with Planned Parenthood around the state: “In order to optimize clinic defense, find out what we can do on the ground here to document any harassment that happens, intervene with any harassment that happens, because, like I said, one of the most dangerous things about the Trump agenda is that there’s a movement behind him, and there’s a lot of people like that who are going to be coming out because they’re emboldened to harass people.”

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News

As refugees, students and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim nations found themselves detained at United States airports over the weekend due to Donald Trump’s executive order banning entry to the United States Friday afternoon, East End Congressman Lee Zeldin held fast in his support for the ban Sunday, while stating that he worked for the release of a Stony Brook University student detained over the weekend at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Mr. Zeldin, who has been a staunch supporter of Mr. Trump throughout his campaign and eventual assent to the presidency, released the following statement today regarding the president’s executive order: “I support the temporary entry restriction from certain nations until the administration, Congress and the American people know with confidence that any individual being granted admission does not pose a threat to our security. As the Executive Order correctly states, “Secretaries of State and Homeland Security may, on a case-by-case basis, and when in the national interest, issue visas or other immigration benefits to nationals of countries for which visas and benefits are otherwise blocked.”

“Additionally, lawful permanent residents and green card holders should not be adversely impacted by this Executive Order,” he added, echoing White House chief of staff Reince Priebus’s assertion Sunday that green card holders would not be subject to the ban, despite the fact that green card holders had been detained at American airports over the weekend. New York U.S. Senator and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer called the executive order “mean-spirited and un-American,” and said Senate Democrats plan to introduce legislation overturning the executive order. 

New York State established a toll-free hotline Sunday to assist anyone who has been detained by federal immigration authorities in New York State at 1.888.769.7243. “As New Yorkers who live in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, we welcome new immigrants as a source of energy and celebrate them as a source of revitalization for our state,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Sunday. “We will ensure New York remains a beacon of hope and opportunity and will work to protect the rights of those seeking refuge in our state.” 

The nine-member Long Island Power Authority Board of Directors unanimously approved the purchase of offshore wind power from the proposed Deepwater ONE site off the coast of Montauk last Wednesday. The proposal by Rhode Island-based Deepwater Wind would be the second and largest offshore wind turbine project in United States waters, with 15 turbines providing 90 megawatts of power to the East End of Long Island. The news comes on the heels of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s commitment in his State of the State address earlier this month to develop up to 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, enough to power 1.25 million homes.

Said Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski in a statement after the LIPA board vote: “This is a big day for clean energy in New York and our nation. Governor Cuomo has set a bold vision for a clean energy future, and this project is a significant step toward making that a reality. The South Fork Wind Farm will be the second offshore wind farm in America, and its largest. There is a huge clean energy resource blowing off of our coastline just over the horizon, and it is time to tap into this unlimited resource to power our communities.” Deepwater Wind is also the developer of a smaller project off the coast of Block Island, the first in the nation, which went online in December 2016.

The new Deepwater ONE project includes 15 six-megawatt turbines and would generate enough energy to power approximately 50,000 homes. Deepwater Wind has enough space at their site 30 miles off of Montauk to install 200 turbines, and received a 30-year lease on the 256-square-acre site in 2013 from the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The $740 million project is being constructed with funding from Deepwater Wind’s equity investors and financiers. The LIPA Board approved a 20-year pay-for-performance Power Purchase Agreement, allowing the utility to only pay for delivered energy without taking construction or operating risk.

Friday January 27, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news:  Connecticut immigrant rights organizations keep pressure on elected officials; New York State lawmakers renew push for animal cruelty law; and Congressman Lee Zeldin tapped to co-chair Congressional Long Island Sound Caucus.

A coalition of immigrant rights advocates is pressing Democratic Governor Dannel P. Malloy, and local elected officials to consider expanding its support for the undocumented population in the state. The local groups represented included Make The Road Connecticut; JUNTA for Progressive Action; the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance; Connecticut Students for a Dream; Center for Popular Democracy; and Unidad Latina en Accion.

This week, President Trump signed two executive orders that directly threaten the undocumented immigrant population, and immigrant rights organizations are asking Connecticut’s elected officials at all levels to take a stand. At a press conference at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal said the executive orders are “unwise and potentially unconstitutional.”

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said he was invited by Blumenthal to talk about the effects these executive orders will have on Hartford.  Bronin said he couldn’t tell for sure, but he noted that there is no definition of sanctuary city in the orders. Hartford, New Haven, and Windham have passed legislation declaring themselves sanctuary cities where law enforcement doesn’t ask about the immigration status of individuals they encounter. In Connecticut, law enforcement and the Department of Corrections doesn’t honor detainer requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (or ICE) unless it’s accompanied by a signed judicial warrant or a person has been convicted of a violent felony. The law has been in place since 2013.

The Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance delivered a letter to Governor Malloy asking him to veto any anti-immigrant legislation; expand the 2013 Trust Act which prohibits law enforcement and the Correction Department from honoring certain immigration detainers; defend current sanctuary cities; and issue a statement affirming Connecticut’s supportive position on sanctuary policies.

Last February, Denise Krohn arrived at her Montgomery County home to find it burglarized and her two dogs slain. Denise is among those pushing for passage this year of stalled legislation that would add a provision to the state’s “Buster’s Law” against severe animal abuse making it a felony to harm an animal in the course of committing another felony crime.

Those found guilty of committing “Kirby and Quigley’s Law,” named for Krohn’s pups, would face up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.  Buster’s Law already makes it a crime to intentionally kill or severely injure an animal with no justifiable purpose.

The legislation, pushed Thursday by Capital Region state Senators Jim Tedisco and George Amedore and Rotterdam Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, has passed the Senate twice and is nearing a vote from the floor this year. But it has been stuck in the committee process in the Assembly.

For Krohn, pushing through this bill named for her pets has become a personal mission as the burglary of her home and the killing of her dogs has gone unsolved. She said the legislation would give prosecutors the tool needed to go after those who kill a companion animal that is not replaced the same way an item is stolen during a burglary is.

According to Southold Local, Representative Lee Zeldin has been named co-chairperson of the Congressional Long Island Sound Caucus. Representative Rosa DeLauro is co-chair. Zeldin replaces former Representative Steve Israel, who did not seek re-election. 

New York’s First Congressional District encompasses over 55 miles of shoreline, a diverse ecosystem with more than 170 species of fish, over 1200 types of invertebrates, and many different migratory bird species.  It is essential to the everyday economy and livelihood of millions of Long Islanders, and important to local recreation and tourism economies.

Zeldin said he is “dedicated to protecting and preserving the Long Island Sound and other critical waterways and natural treasures in our region. With valuable natural treasures comes a great responsibility to protect them.”  Zeldin pledged to continue fighting against proposals that would hurt water quality and ecosystems, while pushing for recycling and beneficial reuse of dredge material. He reiterated his commitment to stopping the sale of Plum Island.

Group for the East End president Bob DeLuca said:  “Congressman Zeldin has been a strong and effective advocate for the restoration and future protection of Long Island Sound and is dedicated to “improving the health and vitality of this remarkable and fragile estuary.”

Thursday January 26, 2017

In the news tonight: Civil rights icon Diane Nash Speaking Truth to Power Across Generations at Yale; Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy Unveils Plans to Further Combat Opioid Crisis; and, New York Assembly plans bill to parry Trump’s immigration action;

Civil rights icon Diane Nash delivered the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture at Yale's Battell Chapel Wednesday evening. Her subject was "Courage, Conflict and Creative Maladjustment: Speaking Truth to Power Across Generations." 

WPKN's Melinda Tuhus has more:
Nash, who is 77, was a student leader of the Freedom Rides in 1961, which marked one of the most violent chapters of the Southern civil rights struggle. She spoke about that, about the role of women in the civil rights movement, where they were under-appreciated, and about the fundamentals of non-violence, including this one:

“Oppression always requires the cooperation of the oppressed. An oppressive system is a partnership -- something the oppressed and the oppressor do together -- two sides of a coin. If the oppressed withdraw their cooperation and participation from the oppressive system, that system will fall.”

Nash said what kept her and her comrades going was singing to keep their spirits up, knowing they were willing to die for each other, and realizing if they gave up they'd have to continue living under segregation, which they were unwilling to do.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy unveiled a series of new suggested measures today to combat the continuing opioid epidemic in the state, including requiring all prescriptions to be filed electronically in an effort to combat fraud. Malloy said the steps he outlined “will build” on the steps the state has already taken to fight the drug crisis that killed nearly 900 people in the state last year.

The steps Malloy outlined today, include:

—requiring electronic prescriptions: Currently, prescribers can choose whether to prescribe opioid medication electronically or on paper. Malloy said going totally electronic will “reduce the potential for fraud and create a system of trackable data.”

—facilitating in the destruction of medications: Under current law, only the person prescribed medication or their caregivers can dispose of unused medication. Malloy is proposing to expand this ability to home health care agency nurses.

—allowing patients to refuse opioids: Malloy is proposing to allow patients to include in their medical files a form indicating they do not want opioid treatment.

—expand the requirement to provide information about the risk of addiction to adults: Currently, prescribers are only required to share information on the risk of addiction to minors.

—encourage data sharing among state agencies: Malloy is proposing to ease statutory restrictions on data sharing between state agencies.

Malloy’s suggestions for action by this year’s legislature comes on the heels of last May when he signed legislation placing a seven-day cap on opioid prescriptions in an effort to reign in what many called the “over-prescribing” of painkillers. The bill included an exception clause for those receiving long-term prescriptions from their doctors allowing them to exceed the seven-day cap. That legislation also requires first responders to be trained in the use of Narcan and to carry and dispense it. The drug is injected into patients to counter the effects of opioid and heroin overdoses.

“Every city and every town in the country has been touched in some way by substance abuse - and in particular the growing prescription painkiller epidemic,” Malloy said. “Addiction is a disease, and together we can treat and prevent it,” Malloy continued. “Our work on this front will not be finished until our communities and our families are no longer struggling with the grave costs of this illness.”

According to the Albany Times-Union:
The New York Assembly is considering legislation aimed directly at parrying Donald Trump’s new action to begin building a wall between the United States and Mexico and increase deportations of undocumented immigrants.

The Assembly legislation, which was introduced Wednesday, is said to be aimed at prohibiting detention of immigrants based on administratively issued detainer warrants, protect against “unnecessary” inquiries into immigration status, prohibit state and local support for federal registries created based on race, ethnicity, religion or country of origin, ensure people are afforded due process, and provide legal assistance for immigrants.

“Today we see that the ugliest parts of Donald Trump’s campaign were not just rhetoric, but a priority agenda that puts hatred ahead of unity, and we legislators in New York must take swift and resolute action to protect and insulate immigrant families in our state,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Assemblyman Francisco Moya, D-Queens, said in a joint statement.

“While Trump builds a wall, we here in New York must work to build trust between local law enforcement and the people they serve,” Heastie and Moya added. “We must codify the confidentiality of any personal information immigrants provide so that it can never be used against them and we must extend the right to counsel to all immigrants caught in the deportation system.”

Wednesday January 25, 2017

In the news tonight: Trump’s claims of voter fraud an issue for Connecticut’s Merrill; and, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman vows to fight Trump’s sanctuary cities order.

Donald Trump’s repeated and unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud in the popular vote for president promises to complicate the tenure of Connecticut’s Secretary of the State Denise Merrill as president of the National Association of Secretaries of State. It is a non-partisan organization generally ignored by the national press, but its winter meeting next month in Washington, D.C., comes as Trump insists his administration will press for an ill-defined inquiry that apparently will not be based on the legal standard of probable cause. “To react to that is difficult,” Merrill said today as Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, briefed reporters on the potential scope of the inquiry that he says may delve into elections prior to 2016. “You don’t know exactly what you’re reacting to,” Merrill said.

Spicer mischaracterized a 2012 report from the Pew Center on the States to suggest it concluded that many voters cast votes in two states or that votes were cast using names of the dead. The report found that 1.8 million dead voters still were on the rolls, a fact it attributed to the inefficiencies of the voter registration system. The report alleged no fraud, and its author, David Becker, said Tuesday on Twitter: “As I’ve noted before, voting integrity better in this election than ever before. Zero evidence of fraud.”

Connecticut is one of the states that’s joined a consortium organized by Pew to create a common database intended to catch duplicate registrations that are inevitable in a mobile society. (In fact, as CNN reported today, Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and his nominee for Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, were registered in two states.

Without evidence, Trump has blamed his loss of the popular vote on more than three million votes cast by non-citizens. Decades of investigations by state elections officials in Connecticut show that proven fraud is extemely rare, but when it does occur it is most likely to be committed with an absentee ballot in a nursing home or someone’s apartment, not by an imposter at the polls.

According to the Albany Times-Union:
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman vowed late this afternoon to “do everything in my power to fight” an executive order signed by Donald Trump earlier in the day that directs federal officials to withhold funding from so-called sanctuary cities.

“The President lacks the constitutional authority to cut off funding to states and cities simply because they have lawfully acted to protect immigrant families — as described in the legal guidance my office issued last week,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “Local governments seeking to protect their immigrant communities from federal overreach have every right to do so. Building and maintaining trust between local law enforcement and the communities they bravely serve is vital to ensuring public safety. Any attempt to bully local governments into abandoning policies that have proven to keep our cities safe is not only unconstitutional, but threatens the safety of our citizens.”

The attorney general urged Trump to revoke his own order, otherwise Schneiderman will fight back.  The Trump order, among a batch dealing with immigration he signed today, calls on federal officials to identify sanctuary cities — which offer protection for undocumented immigrants — and withhold federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes, from those municipalities. Some of New York’s largest cities have announced themselves as sanctuary cities, including Albany.

Last week, Schneiderman issued legal guidance to New York municipalities that consider themselves sanctuary cities for undocumented immigrants. Included in that guidance is direction that law enforcement does not have to unduly detain or turn over immigrants to federal authorities unless there they are ordered to do so by a court or unless those people may pose an imminent threat.

In a statement, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner said her city does not use city resources to enforce federal anti-immigrant polices. “We do not intend to change this practice and will scrutinize any proposed changes at the federal level thoroughly,” she said. “I pledge we will continue Syracuse’s commitment to our New American residents, building the trust and relationships our neighbors deserve and continue to treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve. Syracuse is now and always will be a city that bids you welcome.”

Tuesday January 24, 2017

In the news tonight: Connecticut legislature’s Appropriations Committee backs deal to stretch out spiking pension costs; Connecticut  Governor Dannel P. Malloy says legislature’s budget-writing committee rejection of DCF plan is a mistake; and, New York State tax credits help fuel four Oscar-nominated films.

The legislature’s Appropriations Committee issued a dual-endorsement Tuesday of a new plan that would allow Connecticut to defer billions of dollars in required contributions to the state employees pension fund until after 2032.  Senators on appropriations committee endorsed it 10-2, while representatives voted 30-10 in favor. The votes represent only an endorsement, not approval, by the committee members.

The agreement can be ratified by default, provided neither the House nor Senate votes to reject it within 30 days of the deal’s submittal to each chamber’s respective clerk. The agreement can be ratified by formal votes of approval from both chambers or it can be rejected by a negative vote from either chamber.

House and Senate leaders have said they expect the deal to be brought up for a vote before their respective members on Feb. 1.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy expressed frustration Tuesday that members of the Connecticut legislature’s budget-writing committee voted not to recommend a plan he says paves the way for the state’s child welfare agency to finally rid itself of federal court supervision. That plan – which commits the state to maintain spending of $800 million annually on the Department of Children and Families – the DCF – even as the state faces major red ink – is expected to be voted on by the General Assembly next week. The Appropriations Committee voted 31 to 7 Monday not to recommend it. The DCF has been overseen by a federal court for more than 25 years because of a lawsuit – the “Juan F.” case – that documented shortcomings in care for abused and neglected children.

Asked if he intends to withdraw the plan given the real possibility it might be rejected by the General Assembly, the Democratic governor told reporters he’s not considering it.
“Nope. No. I think it is important that the courts know what Connecticut wants. I want to get out from court supervision. I want to concentrate on the points that we have not done as well on,” he said.bSaid Malloy of the Appropriations Committee vote: “I think it was a mistake, and no, I am not pulling it.”

Malloy also said: “This idea that we are overfunding DCF when we’ve actually reduced spending in DCF – as well as other parts of state government in tandem – I think is a fallacy. It’s intentionally ignoring what has been accomplished,” But locking in DCF’s $800 million budget – 5% of the state’s operating budget – leaves many legislators uneasy.

It is now up to the leaders of each chamber to decide whether to vote on the plan. If no vote is taken before Feb. 6, the plan that was negotiated and agreed upon by the plaintiffs in the longstanding Juan F. case goes into effect.

The Albany Times-Union reports:
Four Oscar-nominated films, including best picture nominee “Manchester by the Sea,” reaped taxpayer-funded benefits from New York, according to the state’s economic development arm.

Empire State Development – ESD – today congratulated New York State Post-Production Tax Credit Program beneficiaries “Manchester by the Sea,” “Silence,” “Deepwater Horizon” and “Hail, Ceasar!” on earning 10 Oscar nominations. A tenth production filmed in New York, best documentary short subject nominee “Joe’s Violin,” also was lauded for its Academy Award nomination.

ESD could not immediately disclose how much the films received in tax credits from the state. The agency was quick to note, however, that the productions spent more than $15.7 million and generated roughly 100 new jobs statewide. The post-production tax credit program was set up in 2010 and allows productions filmed outside New York to receive a 30% tax credit on certain costs downstate and 35% credit upstate for completing post-production work in New York. The state also offers a 30% credit through its film production credit for movie and TV productions that film in New York.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing an extension of both programs through 2022, with an annual allocation of $420 million.

Monday January 23, 2017

In the news tonight: Connecticut marchers join national protest in rebuke to Trump; Connecticut Lawmakers Reaffirm Their Commitment to Women’s Rights, Ready For Debate; and, worst of nor’easter to start by 7 PM.

Thousands of marchers from Connecticut joined a massive protest the day after Donald Trump took the oath of office, saying they have to protect the environment, health care, women’s rights and a wide range of issues they say are under attack in the new administration.

Jessica Cross of Stafford, a Navy veteran who wore an American flag like a cape to show that the marchers were “true patriots,” was unable to participate in protests in the past. She called the Women’s March “amazing,” especially for its “positive energy.”

As Trump attended a prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral on his first full day in office, a sea of pink-hatted protesters from across the country descended on the nation’s capital, arriving in buses, caravans and packing public transportation to gather near the National Mall. Most carried homemade signs bearing a plethora of messages and mocking Trump’s propensity to tweet, his relationship to Russia and his provocative utterances. “Make America Read Again,” said one sign. Others said, “You Haven’t Seen Nasty,’ “Respect,” “Putin’s Puppet,” and “We Are The Majority.” Dozens more referenced a certain part of a woman’s anatomy that Trump was recorded as saying his celebrity allowed him to “grab.”

Crowding a massive stage near the Capitol, marchers listened for hours to prominent women’s rights activists, including Gloria Steinem and Angela Davis, and celebrities and performers including Madonna, Melissa Etheridge and Scarlett Johansson, who spoke in defense of Planned Parenthood. Organizers of Connecticut’s marchers predicted 4,500 state residents would travel to Washington but the number may have been higher. “Sister marches” were held in dozens of Americans cities, including Hartford and Stamford, and overseas on Saturday. The Connecticut delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives snagged the cavernous House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing room to host a reception where Connecticut marchers could rest and refuel with sandwiches and snacks.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, said she marched with her grandchildren. “It’s really amazing the number of people who are standing up for what they believe in. The people will not be silent.They will not walk away. They are watching what happens,” DeLauro said. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who also marched with his family, said the protest was “amazing,” but “not just for the crush of people, but for the strength of spirit” of the marchers. Blumenthal said that, “in contrast,” Friday’s inauguration was “kind of dark and vapid.”

At least 20 Connecticut lawmakers reaffirmed Connecticut’s commitment to reproductive rights and continued access to health services for women Monday at a Legislative Office Building press conference. Seven female lawmakers said they’ve introduced five bills that will help support women’s rights and access to healthcare that may disappear under a Trump administration. The press conference comes one day after 10,000 gathered in Hartford at the state Capitol to fight for women’s rights and express their emotions about what the Trump administration might mean for women and their families.

One bill would preserve a woman’s constitutional rights to pregnancy-related healthcare. Another would preserve provisions of the Affordable Care Act requiring no cost-sharing for women’s preventative services. Yet another bill would preserve requirements that nursing mothers be provided with a breast pump, and improve protections for nursing mothers in the workplace. Another bill would improve current workplace protections for pregnant women. The last would ensure that individuals are able to seek time-sensitive healthcare related to pregnancy and contraception without delay.

Meanwhile, there were also four bills introduced by male Republican lawmakers that would require parental notification of minors seeking an abortion. Connecticut does not have parental notification requirements, but the state does require that before obtaining an abortion, a minor must receive counseling that includes discussion of the possibility of consulting her parents. Another bill introduced by a Republican lawmaker would require a woman to get an ultrasound before having an abortion. “We will not allow any anti-choice, any anti-women bills to be voted on and passed in the state Senate,” Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said Monday to a round of applause.

Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, said supporting women’s reproductive health has a long history of bipartisan support in Connecticut, which is why the issue doesn’t come up every year. Flexer said the issue of parental notification and requiring ultrasounds is driving Connecticut backward. “We already have laws governing counseling for minors,” Flexer said.

Connecticut law requires all women receiving abortion care at an outpatient clinic to meet with a counselor and sign a consent form before an abortion. Flexer said what a handful of male Republican lawmakers are proposing is not the direction Connecticut is going in terms of “protecting women’s healthcare.” Connecticut is a state that has enacted a declaration in 1990 affirmatively protecting a woman’s right to choose an abortion, so even if Roe v. Wade were overturned, abortion would still be legal in Connecticut.

Newsday reports:
The worst of the nor’easter landing on Long Island Monday is expected to hit about 7 p.m., forecasters said, and bring winds gusting up to 60 mph, heavy rain, and minor to moderate coastal flooding until it gradually diminishes overnight.

The “coastal storm is underway with conditions getting worse through this evening,” the weather service said “Winds from the east and northeast will continue to increase, with gusts of 50-60 mph expected along the coastline,” the service said. And, “rain will pick up in intensity from south to north, and will not abate until well after midnight.”

Trees and power lines will be downed, leading to “numerous power outages,” and difficult driving conditions are expected, especially for those traveling on bridges and elevated roadways, the weather service said. That’s as the Island is expected to see 30 to 40 mph winds from the northeast, gusting up to 60 mph, according to a high wind warning in effect through 1 a.m. Tuesday.

Friday January 20, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut committee moves closer to drafting Raise the Age legislation; Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy reports current CT budget has slim surplus; Civil Service Employees Association President blasts New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2018 budget; and, the New York State Assembly stands by desire to expand millionaires tax.

The Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee yesterday adopted recommendations that set out to implement Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s vision to treat most 18, 19, and 20 year-olds as juveniles and not adults in Connecticut’s criminal justice system. If eventually passed by the full General Assembly, it would make Connecticut the first state in the country to adopt such legislation that treats these “emerging adults” as juveniles.

The report published by the Harvard Kennedy School Program in Criminal Justice didn’t offer any advice on whether the state should move forward with this process of raising the age, but it offered guidelines for the governor and lawmakers if that’s the route they choose to go, according to William H. Carbone, director of The Tow Youth Justice Institute at The University of New Haven.

The report suggested that if lawmakers decide to move in that direction it would be best to phase-in a program to bring 18, 19 and 20 year-olds into the juvenile justice system, just as was done with 16 and 17 year-olds back in 2007.

Connecticut state government’s finances are back in the black — albeit by a razor thin margin — according to new estimates released Friday by Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s administration. The $23.3 million surplus the governor’s budget office projected in its monthly report to Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo is equal to 0.7% of this fiscal year’s General Fund.

Malloy and legislators still face major deficits projected for each of the next two fiscal years. The last forecast from nonpartisan analysts, combined with updated revenue estimates issued last week, means state finances — unless adjusted — are on pace to run $1.42 billion in deficit in 2017-18, and $1.6 billion in the red in 2018-19. Both of those shortfalls represent about 8% of annual operating costs.

The Albany Times-Union reports:
New York’s Civil Service Employees Association President Danny Donohue blasted Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 budget proposal related to the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, the OPWDD.

“The governor’s proposed budget for the OPWDD shows a disregard for existing clients and the state work force trying to care for them. Waiting lists for services continues to grow, with more than 11,000 families waiting for services. Families in need don’t care about a $70 million gondola ride at the state fair, they care about services for their loved ones,” said Donohue.

Union officials say they don’t believe the budget allows for replacing people who retire this year, meaning that direct care workers will face more mandatory overtime. The union has said forcing second shifts on people can go too far, resulting in a tired and potentially mistake-prone work force. More than 4,300 positions have been lost since 2008, forcing nearly a decade of mandatory overtime, with an all-time high of more than 45% of OPWDD employees working overtime.

OPWDD spokesman Scott Sandman said: “Mr.Donohue makes claims that are untrue. Over the past few years, we moved hundreds of people from State OPWDD facilities into community-integrated settings without layoffs to our state direct support staff. Last year we reduced overtime costs by 14 percent. Even with the transition to community-based services and the related changes to staffing needs, our workforce remains stable. In addition, the notion there are 11,000 unsupported people waiting for services is false.”

Thursday January 19, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Final 2016 Connecticut Labor Report Offers Mixed Bag; Connecticut State Comptroller Kevin Lembo Says He Can Save The State ‘Tens of Millions’ of dollars; and New York Toll Evaders risk loss of vehicle registration.

The final 2016 labor report on payroll jobs and unemployment in Connecticut was a mixed bag.  In December, the state lost 1,700 jobs. At the same time Connecticut’s unemployment rate for December continued to fall from 4.7% to 4.4%. That’s a loss of 2,000 jobs in 2016, when compared to 2015.

“Connecticut’s December employment numbers continued the recent trend of mixed signals from the two monthly employment series produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics,” Andy Condon, Director of the Office of Research, said. “While we do not yet have supporting data, a combination of tight labor markets, an aging workforce, increased self-employment and growing out-of-state commuting could explain slowing job growth and rapidly declining unemployment rates.”

Don Klepper-Smith, an economist with DataCore Partners, warned against using the year-over-year figure. He said using an average annual number shows that Connecticut gained 11,600 jobs or 0.7% in 2016. This growth rate of 0.7%is still about two-thirds of Connecticut’s long-term average annual growth rate of 1.1% seen between 1960 and 2015. 

The Connecticut economy has now added 83,800 jobs on a cumulative basis as of December 2016, equating to an average gain of about 1,000 jobs per month. 

Connecticut has only recovered 70% of the jobs lost during the 2008-2010 recession, when compared with Massachusetts, which recovered 313% of jobs lost during the economic downturn.

State Comptroller Kevin Lembo is preparing to issue a request for proposal that he believes will save Connecticut “tens of millions” of dollars in retiree health costs. Lembo said after researching the issue he thinks the state could save money by implementing Medicare Advantage plans.

There are approximately 49,000 Medicare-eligible retirees and dependents covered under the Connecticut state health plan. Under the current system, when retirees become eligible for Medicare they are required to enroll in a Medicare plan. When those Medicare retirees utilize health care, the federal Medicare program pays approximately 80% of costs and the state is responsible for approximately 20% of those costs. The state currently can only estimate at the beginning of each year what health care costs will be. By switching to a Medicare Advantage plan, an insurance carrier would contract with the state and, in the process, guarantee a fixed and predictable annual cost to deliver retiree health benefits, according to Lembo.

“The mission continues: do better work for less cost. Where health care is concerned, cost and quality are not at odds. A switch to a Medicare Advantage plan will not only save state costs, but actually improve the quality and efficiency of care for state retirees. The data, the research and the actuaries have demonstrated the benefits of using a Medicare Advantage plan: drops in emergency room use, drops in inpatient days, drops in readmission rates – all while increasing medication adherence, preventive screening rates and all of the usual benefits of actively managing care for a population,” Lembo said.

The request for proposal to implement the program will be issued on Friday, but full implementation is still subject to approval by labor and management.

The Albany Times-Union reports that, as of Wednesday, repeat toll evaders who use New York toll roads, bridges and tunnels must pay up or they’ll lose their vehicle registrations.

The New York state Department of Motor Vehicles is now authorized to suspend a motorist’s registration if he or she has skipped out on paying three or more toll violations within a five year period. Drivers of commercial vehicles who fail to pay $200 or more in tolls in five years also will be subject to the crackdown. “Toll evaders flaunt the law and do so on the backs of hard working New Yorkers who play by the rules,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “This action provides new tools to ensure these scofflaws pay their fair share, as well as support new automatic tolling initiatives that will decrease congestion and modernize New York’s transportation system.”

Under the regulation, tolling authorities will send motorists notifications of each toll violation. If the motorist doesn’t pay up after three violations, the state DMV will be able to step in to take action. Vehicle owners may request a DMV hearing to dispute their potential registration suspension.

Cuomo has also proposed, in his executive budget, a statutory change that would allow the DMV to enter into agreements with other states and Canadian provinces to apply the new toll violation regulation to drivers from those jurisdictions.

Wednesday January 18, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut State Revenues Tick Upward, but Trends are Still Lagging; Physicians Board Certifies 4 More Conditions Qualify For Medical Marijuana in Connecticut; and, New York Assembly, sending a message to Republicans, passes two reproductive rights bills.

According to the Offices of Fiscal Analysis and the governor’s budget team, Connecticut’s revenues have increased over the past two months and are exceeding projections, and the economy is slowly regaining confidence. In November, revenues were projected to fall short of estimates, but as of Tuesday they were revised upward by a net gain of $56.7 million, which could help erase 2017 budget deficit, which was pegged at $41.6 million by state Comptroller Kevin Lembo on January 3. 

The largest adjustment for the 2017 budget was in the corporation business tax, which saw an $80 million increase. Additionally, the state last week received $31.5 million from a legal settlement with Moody’s Investors Service over its rating of mortgage-backed securities in the lead-up to the 2008 recession, and another $5 million came in from real estate conveyance taxes. Those increases are offset by a decrease of $30.4 million in sales and use taxes, $15 million in income taxes, $10 million in special revenue, and $4.4 million in federal grants. 

In October, the state received a $120 million legal settlement from RBS Securities Inc., a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland. The 2017 budget already estimated the state would receive $40 million in legal settlements this fiscal year, so that means it has about $111 million more than anticipated to help balance the 2017 budget. 

The good news doesn’t completely erase the budget deficit Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will be asked to resolve when he gives his budget address February 8. However, it makes it a little easier. According to the numbers, the $1.5 billion budget deficit projected for 2018 was reduced by about $31 million.

The State Board of Physicians last week recommended adding four new debilitating conditions to Connecticut’s growing medical marijuana program. The same board rejected adding three other conditions for various reasons. The board voted to add muscular dystrophy to the medical marijuana program. It also voted to add neuropathic pain and/or spasticity associated with fibromyalgia, severe rheumatoid arthritis and post herpetic neuralgia also known as shingles to the list of 22 conditions already approved for medical marijuana prescriptions.

The panel rejected adding atopic dermatitis, osteoarthritis and severe COPD/emphysema to the list. The reasoning, in general, was that there wasn’t enough evidence that medical marijuana was the only or the best medicinal treatment for those conditions. “Today’s hearing (and recommendations) will be the first step we take in considering these new conditions as additions to the program. Our program is one of the most secure in the country, and we take the process by which conditions are added very seriously,” said Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan A. Harris. When the board recommends that a condition be added and the commissioner agrees, the addition then goes through the formal regulation process, which includes a period for public comment and review by the legislative Regulations Review Committee.

There are currently 15,115 medical marijuana patients, 593 physicians registered to certify patients, 22 conditions approved for adults, and six conditions approved for patients under the age of 18. There are nine dispensaries licensed to dispense medical marijuana across the state. 

There are also proposed bills in this legislative session to legalize recreational marijuana, which was recently done in nearby Massachusetts. Proponents says the state is in need of the tax dollars legalization would bring in.

The Albany Times- Union reports:
Backed by a large number of his Democratic conference and advocates, New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Tuesday afternoon warned of “a slow and steady erosion” of reproductive rights as he announced that the chamber would pass two measures designed to protect abortion availability and enhance access to contraception — issues that are once again back in the news as Republicans take control of the gears of government in Washington, D.C., and Donald Trump prepares to name a Supreme Court justice who could play a role in undoing four decades of uneasy consensus on the right to abortion.

The chamber passed the latest version of the Reproductive Health Act, which codifies the protections of the high court’s Roe v. Wade decisions in state law, Tuesday evening by a 96-46 vote. Members then passed the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, which would require all health insurers provide cost-free contraceptive coverage as a part of their insurance policies, later Tuesday night by a similarly wide margin. The second bill was introduced by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

“Over the years, we’ve heard it all — that this doesn’t need to be in state law; we’ve heard that the Roe v. Wade decision isn’t going anywhere, but still this conference has pushed a vote. We saw the warning signs of an agenda that is committed to turning back the hands of progress,” said Heastie.

Under the CCCA, insurance companies would have to provide cost-free coverage for at least one type of all FDA-approved contraceptives, including emergency contraception such as morning-after pills. The bill would also apply to voluntary sterilization procedures for both men and women, and would prohibit insurance companies from unduly delaying contraceptive coverage. Both measures face almost certain inaction in the Republican-led state Senate.

Said Heastie when asked about the fact that the Senate has blockaded the measure every year: “Hope springs eternal. You know, Republican women vote too.”

Tuesday January 17, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN Volunteers Liz Becker and Melinda Tuhus.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Democrats Seek to Make Good on Campaign Promises; New Haven gathering honors Martin Luther King while continuing the fight for good jobs in the city; New York Governor Andrew Guomo says 2020 rumors are flattering but untrue; and, NOAA to discuss Moriches Bay whale stranding and future plans.

Trying to make good on their campaign promises, House Democrats unveiled a package of 10 bills last week that they said will help improve Connecticut’s economic climate.  The legislative package includes a bill that would remove the technical high school system from the Department of Education and make it an independent agency. 

Democratic lawmakers were upset last year when Governor Dannel P. Malloy asked the Education Department to show him what a 10% cut would mean for the agency. Education Commissioner Dianne Wentzell said she would have to close two vocational-technical high schools to find $16.3 million in savings. House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said the 17 vocational-technical high schools should not be under the control of the state Board of Education because their needs are different than traditional public schools. It’s still unknown whether Malloy would propose closing the schools as part of the budget he will unveil on February 8. 

Another bill would establish a tax credit against the personal income tax for individuals who graduate from college and agree to stay and work in Connecticut, and another would exempt Social Security benefits from the personal income tax. There is also a bill that would create a small business hotline in the Office of Small Business Affairs. 

Exempting Social Security benefits from the income tax is estimated to cost the state $47 million. That’s on top of an estimated $1.5 billion budget deficit.  It’s unclear whether spending cuts alone will resolve the problem, and Malloy has not ruled out tax increases, but has said that’s not his starting point.

Hundreds of New Haveners gathered at a historic church in Wooster Square to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and pledge to continuing the fight for good jobs in the city. 

WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus was there:
Interspersed with rousing songs, speakers from a coalition of Yale unions and community organizations highlighted the three things they are focused on: access to good jobs for New Haven residents; job security that protects them going forward; and a union vote without intimidation for Local 33, the union of graduate student employees at Yale. 

They announced great progress on the first two issues, as one woman told how getting a full-time job with benefits at Yale had “changed the trajectory and quality of my life.” The main focus was on pushing the Yale administration to allow a union vote for graduate teaching assistants, who have been struggling for union recognition for at least 30 years. Several votes over the years have shown a majority of them favor unionization. 

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News

The Albany Times-Union reports:
Gov. Andrew Cuomo reiterated on Sunday that rumors about his interest in seeking the White House in 2020 are untrue, though “flattering,” and he’ll seek the governor’s office again when he is up for re-election in 2018. “I hope that I am blessed by the people of this state with a chance to continue to serve. We have a lot of good things going on right now and I want to make sure that we finish what we started. So, that’s the only plan that I have now, but the rumor is flattering, even if not true,” the governor said in a recent interview.

Cuomo has stuck to that line whenever he’s been asked about his future plans in recent months. But he continues to be discussed as one of the contenders on the short bench of Democrats ripe to challenge Republican President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office Friday. The governor has kept up rhetorical challenges to the president-elect of late, using his State of the State rollout tour last week to position himself as a progressive beacon at a time when Republicans control the White House and Congress.

A December Quinnipiac poll showed that New Yorkers are on board with Cuomo battling with Trump, but from New York, not the campaign trail.

A meeting will be held next month to discuss the November stranding of a humpback whale in Moriches Bay and plans for a new collaboration between agencies responding to strandings in the region, officials announced.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries staff are expected to present an analysis of the stranding of a 29.5-foot-long juvenile humpback whale in Moriches Bay, according to a news release from NOAA. The whale was first spotted Nov. 20 and was euthanized four days later after attempts to dislodge the animal from a sandbar were unsuccessful.

NOAA officials will also discuss “lessons learned by the agency and its partners,” as well as plans for a “new collaboration to respond to marine mammal strandings on Long Island,” according to the release.

The meeting will be held Feb. 7 from 4 to 6 p.m. at Brookhaven Town Hall in Farmingville and is open to the public.

Monday January 16, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN Volunteers Melinda Tuhus and Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: The Greater New Haven Peace Council commemorates Martin Luther King, Jr. in front of New Haven City Hall; Hundreds Rally in Hartford to Save the Affordable Care Act; East Enders Take to the Street Over Health Care Repeal; and, ‘Living on the Edge’ talk to focus on what rising sea level means for coastal communities;

The Greater New Haven Peace Council commemorated the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Friday by holding a group reading of his memorable speech, Beyond Vietnam, in front of New Haven City Hall.

WPKN's Melina Tuhus has more:
The speech was given at Riverside Church in Manhattan on April 4, 1967 -- exactly one year before his assassination. It was very controversial, generating criticism even among some of his supporters because he chose to go beyond focusing on civil rights to criticizing the U.S. war in Vietnam. King linked the violence against people of color in the US with the violence the U.S. perpetrated abroad. 

“I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and dealt death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken.”

The speech calls out the famous triple evils of racism, militarism and unbridled consumption. The Peace Council handed out flyers asking people to contact their U.S. senators and member of Congress asking them to cut war spending and fund human needs.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News

Young and old braved the chilly temperatures Sunday to rally against Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  According to state Capitol Police more than 500 people rallied on the north steps of the state Capitol in Hartford with members of Connecticut’s Congressional delegation to voice their support for Obamacare.

Republicans took a significant first step in repealing the ACA last week when both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives voted to approve a budget resolution that would lead to the 2010 law’s dismantling.  U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, played a major role in helping organize similar rallies with Democrats in Congress across the country Sunday, and he has been pushing his party to mobilize millions of Americans to help convince Republican lawmakers not to repeal the law, which has helped 20 million Americans obtain insurance coverage.

According to U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, the Connecticut delegation in the House has voted 60 times against Republican efforts to repeal the ACA. He said the delegation has defended the 2010 law for years, but they no longer have President Barack Obama in the White House to veto those repeal efforts.

While many Democrats are dismayed and angry at the current situation, Courtney said he believes they can stop this repeal effort from moving forward, and mobilizing will make a difference.

About three dozen residents from both the North and South forks gathered on Montauk Highway near Stony Brook Southampton Sunday afternoon to raise concerns about the expected repeal of the Affordable Care Act. The rally was part of a national day of action on affordable health care called by Democratic congressional leaders in honor of the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The event was organized by numerous progressive East End organizations under the loose umbrella of a group called East End Resistors organized by Joyce Roper of East Quogue. “We’re basically organizing each other. It’s a networking group for all organizations on the East End, and a source for getting involved ...There are so many people on the East End, from all over, who share our views. We need to come together,” said Ms. Roper.

Canio’s Books co-owner Kathryn Szoka also urged attendees to join the Progressive East End Reformers, a group that grew out of Bernie East End Supporters, who worked for Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. The rally was followed by a writing workshop and author talk on literary political action at the college. Ms. Szoka said PEER, along with its parent group, New York Progressive Action Network, is working at the state level for a universal health care bill.

The crowd included many progressive activists and health care professionals from throughout the East End. Angela DeVito of Jamesport, a public health expert who studied toxicology in industrial settings and ran for Riverhead Town Supervisor in 2013, said that “if you don’t have a nation that has good health, you’ve lost your nation. You’ve lost its people. Without health, we can’t be a nation that acts. It should be a fundamental right that’s not left to a laissez-faire corporate system. No one’s health care should be for sale.”

The physical and ecological implications of climate change to the local region will be the subject of a talk by coastal scientist Kevin McAllister, Friday, January 27. at the Jamesport Meeting House. “Living on the Edge” is the first in a 2017 speaker series sponsored by the North Fork Environmental Council.

McAllister, founder and president of the advocacy group DefendH2O, will talk about the projected changes in sea level, how it impacts local communities, and the appropriate responses to ensure that beaches, wetlands and other natural resources remain sustainable.

McAllister holds undergraduate degrees in natural resources conservation and marine biology, as well as a master’s degree in coastal zone management. His professional experience spans 30 years, working in government, consultancy and the non-profit sectors of environmental protection.

The talk is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 27. Jamesport Meeting House is located at 1590 Main Road, Jamesport.

Friday, January 13, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Melinda Tuhus, Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.

In tonight’s news: Connecticut immigrants and supporters will rally in the nation’s capital tomorrow; Governor Dannel P. Malloy will reluctantly attend Trump’s inauguration; New York Shoulders Huge Debt for Public Authorities; and, Governor Cuomo has made two proposals with the hope of changing roadway behavior to save lives.

Buses are rolling today from Connecticut, heading to an immigrants rights rally in Washington, D.C.  

WPKN's Melinda Tuhus has the story:
Luis Luna works with the Bridgeport-based, Make The Road Connecticut, which promotes rights and community involvement for immigrants. He says busloads of immigrants and their supporters will be among the crowd.

Luna says since Trump’s immigrant-bashing was key to his election victory, pro-immigrant groups want to make a lot of noise before he takes office.  “So we are going to Washington because we want to show the upcoming President that we are organized, that we are a very strong movement at the national level, that locally we are getting organized, and that we are here to stay, and that we are here to fight.”

The rally will take place on Saturday at the National Mall.
Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy, a Democratic supporter of Hillary Clinton, said today that, “after much consideration,” he has decided to attend the inauguration of President-elect Donald J. Trump, where Malloy will be seated with other governors. Speaking about the decision, Malloy said:  “President-Elect Trump was not the preferred candidate of either myself or the majority of Connecticut voters. His conduct during this transition has not assuaged my grave concern that he intends to fundamentally lead this nation in the wrong direction.”

Since Trump’s victory, there has been a steady stream of celebrities who have declined invitations to perform or attend the inauguration.  Republican governors opposed to Trump, such as Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Larry Hogan of Maryland and John Kasich of Ohio, have come under extra scrutiny.

Baker refused to attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, as did the host governor, Kasich. Baker, Hogan, and Kasich say they intend to attend the inauguration.

According to Albany Times-Union, a report released yesterday by New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office reveals that public authorities, including the MTA, the Power Authority, and Roswell Park Cancer Institute, have accumulated $267 billion in debt.  That adds up to roughly $13,487 for every state resident.

DiNapoli’s report says nearly twelve hundred public authorities operate in New York, and the state is increasingly relying on authorities to borrow on its behalf, as a backdoor source of revenue for its budget.  That circumvents the state Constitutional provision barring the issuance of general obligation debt without voter approval.  

“Backdoor borrowing” accounts for 22% of total public authority debt.  Empire State Development Corp., the Dormitory Authority of New York, and the Thruway Authority, combined represent over 90% of outstanding public authority debt issued for state purposes. 

DiNapoli stated: “New York’s public authorities operate outside traditional checks and balances that apply to state agencies. Some entities are repeatedly used in a way that circumvents borrowing limits and oversight. New York is shouldering a huge debt load issued by public entities operating in the shadows that voters never approved.”  His legislative agenda for 2017 includes several measures to improve oversights and transparency at authorities. 

Governor Cuomo has made two proposals aimed at changing roadway behavior to cut down on highway fatalities.  

Joe Morrissey of The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles said: "One legislative proposal will prohibit hand held use of a mobile phone or personal electronic device – regardless of whether a driver is stopped at a light or traveling in stop-and-go traffic, but not when stopped at the side of or off the roadway." Use of a handheld electronic device or GPS affixed to the surface of the vehicle would not be prohibited. The other proposal would prohibit use of devices by any driver under the age of 18.

Currently, talking with the phone in hand, texting, playing Candy Crush, etc. is illegal while the car in motion. Violations include fines and license violation points. Use of portable electronic devices, defined as including hand-held cellphones, is already prohibited when commercial vehicles are stopped because of a traffic signal or traffic jam.

The state has added texting zones along major highways to encourage drivers to pull off the road completely to fiddle with phones or other electronic devices.

Thursday January 12, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Legislators Question Shielding the Department of Children and Families from Budget Squeeze; Connecticut Governor Dannell P.  Malloy Vows To Help Residents With Crumbling Foundations; and, U.S. Drought Monitor upgrades Suffolk Drought Status.

Connecticut Legislators are growing increasingly concerned with Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s push to lock in an $800 million budget for the Department of Children and Families, while promising to slash spending elsewhere. The DCF has been under court oversight for more than two decades as the result of a federal lawsuit. The proposed plan would overhaul what the state agency is required to do before it can exit court supervision. It would also reduce caseloads for social workers, increase spending by $6.4 million for mental health and substance-abuse programs, and shield DCF from budget cuts. In return, the agreement would end court oversight of areas the state has proven are no longer systemic problems at the agency. 

There is concern that the agreement would rob the legislature of its ability to make necessary reforms or divert money away from failing programs or approaches. The agreement also requires funding specific private programs and agencies that provide services to youths under DCF supervision.

The legislature’s non-partisan fiscal experts report that about $10 billion of the state’s current $18 billion budget is already fixed and is largely immune from cuts when deficits arise, and the governor has said he wants the state to rely heavily on funding cuts to close that shortfall. Chris McClure, a spokesman for the governor’s budget office, said it is important that the legislature let the agreement move forward because the agency is woefully underfunded.

Many legislators remain undecided, even as the Feb. 1 vote in the Senate looms. If the legislature does not vote to reject the deal before February 3, it goes into effect.

While good news has been hard to come by for eastern Connecticut homeowners with crumbling foundations, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday that he hasn’t given up on finding a solution. A state investigation found that the mineral pyrrhotite used in a concrete aggregate to pour the foundations is the source of the problem. However, it’s still unknown how many homes may be crumbling as a result of this mineral.

A Capitol Region Council of Governments study released in September found that as many as 19,121 homes in 24 towns could be plagued with deteriorating foundations that were poured between the 1980s and 2011. Homeowners have been hesitant to come forward because the problem means their home is worthless and many don’t have the $150,000 to $200,000 it would take to replace the foundation. Repairing it is not an option.

Malloy asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency in October to establish an office to conduct a preliminary damage assessment of 34,130 at-risk homes. He said the issue is “potentially catastrophic,” and “could easily cost anywhere between $100 million and $1 billion to fully remediate.” Connecticut’s original FEMA request was denied by the agency in November.

Malloy told a group of small town officials Wednesday that he’s working on coming up with a program to test homes. He said once the scope of the problem is known then the state can try again to get help from FEMA. “The foundations have a problem because of a naturally occurring event,” Malloy said. “How is that naturally occurring event any different than a tornado or a hurricane or something else? … I will come forward with a testing program,” Malloy vowed Wednesday.

Newsday reports that as of an update issued Thursday, eastern Suffolk County is now considered to be in the moderate drought category, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. That’s the second least intense of five categories. Much of Suffolk was deemed to be in severe drought as of July 26 of last year, with most of the rest of Long Island following suit in mid-September, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center based at Cornell University.

As of day-end Wednesday, the month of January was a bit ahead of the curve, registering 2.01 inches of precipitation — including melted snow — at Long Island MacArthur Airport. That’s with 1.32 inches considered normal for the first 11 days of the month, said Jessica Spaccio, climatologist with the regional center. That’s on the heels of 2016, which ranks as the second driest year on record at the airport, Spaccio said. In all, 34.99 inches were recorded for the year, slightly above the 34.41 inches that arrived in 1985.

The call on drought conditions can be based on a number of factors, including precipitation, soil moisture, and groundwater levels. Still, Spaccio said that more precipitation is needed to avoid returning to a more serious drought situation in spring.

Wednesday January 11, 2017    (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy Offers Little Comfort On Budget To Small Towns; and New York Govenor Andrew Cuomo proposes decriminalization of marijuana possession;

Governor Dannel P. Malloy told local elected officials that he would trade the state’s $1.5 billion budget deficit for their budget woes and cash balances any day of the week.
“You think you’ve got problems? I’ll give you $1.5 billion worth of problems if you want them,” Malloy joked during his opening remarks at the annual Connecticut Council of Small Towns meeting Wednesday in Rocky Hill.

The governor hinted last week during his state-of-the-state speech that municipalities, which receive $5.1 billion in state spending, won’t be spared cuts this year. However, he offered few specifics to the group Wednesday. He did, however, point out the obvious — that Connecticut is very reliant upon property taxes and he told the group that represents 139 small communities that they will like his budget when it comes to mandate relief. Malloy also said the state is going to play a larger role in supporting the larger cities and in holding people to a “different accountability scale.” Malloy said he also plans to release information about how much each community receives from the state.

He said state support for local municipal government is 22% of overall state expenditures. At the same time, Malloy said he doesn’t know what the two-year budget he will present to the legislature on Feb. 8 will look like. “If everyone wants state government to be smaller and less expensive then everyone has to play a role,” Malloy said. “What role that means anyone plays is open for the legislative process, I suppose.”

Municipal leaders from cities and towns of all sizes have complained about a recently established state spending cap on municipal budgets. In order to receive about $250 million from the state through a revenue sharing program, municipalities can’t increase their budgets by more than 2.5% per year. Communities that exceed that amount will have their share of the funding reduced. The penalty for exceeding the cap is a reduction in the revenue sharing grant of 50 cents for every dollar the municipality spends over the cap.

Following about $50 million in mid-year budget cuts late last month, Betsy Gara, executive director of COST, said the state needs to give municipalities the tools they need to mitigate the cuts. “Although everyone agrees that unfunded mandates drive up local budgets and property tax burdens, meaningful mandate relief measures have languished in the legislature,” Gara said. “Despite this, each year the legislature considers and adopts new mandates on towns and cities, without providing adequate funding to support implementation.” Vernon Mayor Daniel Champagne asked the governor to help cities and towns by getting rid of some of the mandates. “I think on the mandate front you’ll be happy with the budget,” Malloy told him.

The Albany Time-Union reports:
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing decriminalizing possession of marijuana as part of his 2017 State of the State plans, a proposal that was not revealed until his full agenda was published online Wednesday evening. The governor’s 383-page State of the State book did not go into nitty gritty details on the plan, but it does reveal that the proposal is aimed at affecting individual users, not dealers. The governor bills this as a criminal justice issue aimed at reducing the number of nonviolent offenders in the system. According to Cuomo’s office, in 2016 nearly 90 percent of marijuana violations were for possession, not sale.

“This measure reflects the national trend and dramatic shift in public opinion,” the book states. “Whereas other states have sought the full legalization of marijuana, this legislative change will specifically affect individual users and not reduce penalties on those who illegally supply and sell marijuana.” This is not the first time Cuomo has proposed decriminalizing marijuana. In 2012, he proposed decriminalizing possession while maintaining that smoking marijuana would remain illegal. Under state law, possessing up to 25 grams (less than an ounce) of pot is a violation if the marijuana is not in public. But someone caught on the street would be slapped with a misdemeanor.

The governor’s previous proposal to decriminalize possession of up to 25 grams was a number lampooned by Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” which showed that that amount of marijuana would fill half of a large soda cup.

State lawmakers have been rather averse to full legalization of marijuana. But times are changing nationally. Notably, voters in New York neighbor Massachusetts approved legalization by referendum in November, though Bay State lawmakers have moved to delay the opening of retail shops. In all, eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use of marijuana. New York already has established a medical marijuana program with Cuomo’s stamp of approval. The program is among the most tightly regulated in the country and does not allow for smokeable forms of the drug.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN Volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Electric Boat says boost in sub building means boost in Connecticut jobs; A New Report Warns of the Dangers of Energy Sprawl in Connecticut; New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announces proposal for $2 billion to protect drinking water; and, Suffolk drafting law to help farmers sidestep court ruling.

Increased federal spending on submarine building this year will lead to the hiring of 1,350 employees in Connecticut by Electric Boat in 2017, for a net gain of 800 jobs, the company said Monday. Some of the new employees will be taking the place of those retiring or leaving for another reason, but the Electric Boat workforce will grow, both in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

General Dynamics Electric Boat has about 14,500 employees at its shipyards in Connecticut and Rhode Island now. But the company said more workers are needed to build two Virginia-class submarines this year, as well as work on the “Virginia Payload Module,” a plan to lengthen the boats to add four large-diameter payload tubes, each capable of storing and launching up to seven Tomahawk cruise missiles. The new hires also will work on the design and initial construction of the new Columbia-class submarine.

The Navy last week moved forward on the Columbia-class, a nuclear ballistic submarine designed to replace aging Ohio-class subs. Electric Boat spokesman Dan Barrett said the new jobs would be in engineering, design, shipyard trades, and support. The hiring projections were released at a legislative breakfast hosted by company President Jeffrey S. Geiger in Groton.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who attended the breakfast, said “the sustained growth in hiring at Electric Boat is continuing to significantly boost the economy of our region and the entire state.” Courtney also said the increased hiring would boost business at “a statewide network of nearly 500 small parts suppliers and precision manufacturing firms that are growing along with the company.” Connecticut’s senators, who also have worked to secure funding for the Virginia-class and Columbia-class programs, also hailed Electric Boat’s expansion plans.

A new report both documents and warns about the surge in proposals to use farmland and forest for the construction of large solar electricity-generating facilities in Connecticut. The Council on Environmental Quality published a draft report aimed at finding ways to stimulate solar energy facilities in Connecticut in places other than farms and forests, such as brownfields, industrial and other disturbed and previously developed areas.

“As a state working hard toward a sustainable economy, we should not be pitting solar energy against agriculture and forests,” CEQ Council Chairman Susan Merrow said. Karl Wagener, CEQ executive director, said there has been a “surge in utility-scale solar energy facilities,” as a result of state laws encouraging renewable energy. He further stated that the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection selects projects based on cost, which leads developers to propose the facilities on farmland and forest to avoid the costs and uncertainties of building on brownfields or other previously-developed properties.

The report asks the question: “Could Connecticut identify non-conservation state properties that might be suitable for solar photovoltaic facilities and lease them to bidders?” The report recommends creating an inventory of potential lands in order to conserve private forests and farmland, and to examine their costs versus potential benefits of development for renewable energy resources.

The report is on the CEQ’s website at The public is encouraged to submit ideas and comments until January 18. The Council expects to discuss the report further at its January 25 meeting. 

Proposed legislation that would provide $2 billion in funding to protect drinking water in New York, including support for advanced wastewater treatment systems, was announced yesterday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The Clean Water Infrastructure Act would provide the capital dollars needed to upgrade municipal drinking water systems, improve municipal wastewater systems, and protect drinking water at its source, Cuomo said in a press release. The act would provide funding for the installation of advanced wastewater treatment systems, including those to address nitrogen loading on Long Island.

It would also provide funding for upgrading aging wastewater treatment plants to increase capacity and improve resiliency and connecting existing homes in densely populated communities to sewer systems or installing advanced public on-site septic systems. The act would also implement the recommendations of Source Water Protection Plans funded by the Environmental Protection Fund beginning in 2017-2018.

Funding would also be directed toward conserving open spaces and building green infrastructure, such as constructed wetlands, to capture runoff and filter contaminants. It would also increase the state Superfund to expedite the cleanup of hazardous waste that may impact sources of drinking water. The legislation must first gain passage in both the State Senate and Assembly before the governor can sign the measure into law.

Jeff Rottkamp, a farmer in Baiting Hollow, had been preparing to join Suffolk County’s farmland preservation program. But those plans changed in September, when a New York State Supreme Court judge deemed development on protected farmland illegal. The county’s program, which was the first of its kind when it was established in 1974, offers property owners money in exchange for a legally binding agreement stating the land won’t be developed. Mr. Rottkamp decided against participating in the program because he believes the latest ruling would prevent him from building structures he may need for operations, like a farm stand, greenhouse and storage buildings. “With the rules and restrictions people have put on farmers and agriculture, I’m uncertain as to where we’re going to be in the future,” said Mr. Rottkamp, whose family has been farming on Long Island since the 1840s.

Now, with the county in the midst of appealing Justice Thomas Whelan’s decision, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is proposing a law that would sidestep the ruling. If approved, the legislation would allow farmers to build farm stands and other related structures on preserved land without permits. North Fork Legislator Al Krupski, who co-sponsored Mr. Bellone’s bill said in an interview that the need for structures has changed as the agricultural industry has progressed. “We’ve got almost 400 years of recorded history of agriculture here and it keeps changing,” said Mr. Krupski, who is also a farmer. Having permission to build structures on preserved land is essential for the continued operation of farms, he said, adding that the farmland preservation program is in danger if farmers don’t feel confident they’ll be able to continue to farm.

Long Island Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper said in an interview that Mr. Bellone’s proposed law will “backfire” and that the current farmland preservation legislation can only be changed by voters at a public referendum. “If the county is genuinely eager to allow farmers to do something that’s not permitted today on [preserved] farmland, all they need to do is go back and ask the voters if it’s okay to change it,” Mr. Amper said.

The county’s next step is to hold a public hearing February 7 to discuss the bill,
said Mr Krupski.

Monday January 9, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN Volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Governor does not rule out tax increases; Silver Lining in Connecticut’s Unemployment Numbers; and, Suffolk County Sheriff seeks advisory board volunteers.

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy refused to rule out tax increases in an interview in his office with Capitol reporters Friday. Malloy, who will be negotiating a budget with fewer Democrats than in past years, said “everything has to be on the table” if lawmakers expect to be able to reduce the budget deficit. Malloy said he’s not “leading with taxes” even though he’s not taking them off the table. Pressed on what that means and why it shouldn’t be perceived by the public as a warning to brace themselves for tax increases, Malloy said he understands the desire of the media “to have absolutes,” but he’s not going to “play that game.” He said he has “serious work to do” and “there was not a word in my address about increased taxes.” 

In 2014, Malloy campaigned on the promise he wouldn’t increase taxes, but in 2015 he ended up adopting tax increases proposed by Democratic lawmakers. The burden of those tax increases fell largely on the business community and a few months later General Electric announced it was moving its headquarters to Boston. Joe Brennan, president and CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said all the business community wants is “predictability and stability.” He said he’s taking Malloy at his word that it’s how he plans to proceed this year in terms of closing the budget gap.

Malloy won’t look to finalize his budget proposal for another four weeks, which gives him an opportunity to look at how tax revenues are performing on January 15. He said he hasn’t decided yet to ask lawmakers for more time. But balancing the approximately $20 billion budget will be a little tougher this year with an evenly divided Senate for the first time since 1893 and a House in which Democrats hold a slim six-seat majority over Republicans.

Malloy maintained that he’s willing to work with the General Assembly and he said he was being realistic during his state-of-the-state speech last week when he said what he proposes in February likely will be changed by the legislature by May. He said when they negotiate the budget he’s going to be having “spending-driven” discussions and not “revenue-driven” discussions. Part of those spending discussions will involve municipal aid, which accounts for $5.1 billion of the state’s budget, and state employee compensation. However, he said he remains optimistic. “I think we can accomplish a lot because we need to accomplish a lot,” Malloy said.

Eric Rosengren, president and CEO of Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, told business leaders that a lot of the New England labor market is “too tight,” which is pushing wages and prices up, and that Connecticut’s inability to employ its workforce at the same level as its neighboring New England states may be a blessing in disguise. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine all have unemployment rates that are lower than Connecticut’s 4.7% unemployment rate. 

He said businesses will have to figure out how to get people to move to those states when the market is that tight. Ryan Sweet, director of real-time economics at Moody’s Analytics, said that means businesses may locate to Connecticut in order to find the talent they need to expand. He said it’s a “good thing” that Connecticut’s labor market isn’t as tight as the rest of New England. 

Joe Brennan, president and CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said he’s hearing more positive stories than he’s heard in a long time. The aerospace and the shipbuilding industry are thriving, but Brennan said he’s beginning to hear about successes and growth in other businesses. Businesses are beginning to invest more in their talent or the machinery, he added. He said the legislature is beginning to focus on what business groups have been focused on for quite a while and that’s “economic competitiveness.” 

But the governor, who never served in the legislature, admitted it can be tough to negotiate a budget deal that spends less and allows for a reduction of the state workforce. “It doesn’t pay off in short-term popularity,” Malloy said. “I understand where I am in the polls.” A poll last June showed Malloy had a 24% approval rating. 

Malloy will release his budget in February.

Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco is seeking new members for the Sheriff’s Office Citizens Advisory Board. The board was established in January 2014 as a way to enhance communication and improve collaboration with residents. It is part of DeMarco’s overall policy of “citizen engagement” to promote ethical and responsive government representation. In addition to the advisory board, the sheriff hosts two other boards – the Youth Re-entry Task Force and a Veterans Re-entry Task Force.

“Each one of these initiatives engages the public on important policy matters and gives us a network of individuals with diverse backgrounds and expertise to help us innovate and think outside the box when seeking solutions to problems,” DeMarco said.  “Preserving public trust in law enforcement and giving the people we serve a true stake in government are the overriding reasons we emphasize citizen engagement at the Sheriff’s Office.”

Those interested in volunteering to serve on the Sheriff’s Office Citizens Advisory Board are asked to submit their resumes to the Sheriff’s Office by February 1, 2017. The Board meets approximately three or four times per year.

Friday August 6, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)

In the news tonight: AAA ends DMV services in New Haven and Fairfield Counties; Raise The Age advocates return to the New York State Capitol in Albany; and, Governor Cuomo proposes doubling of childcare tax credit benefits.

Drivers in New Haven and Fairfield Counties, Connecticut no longer have the option of using their local AAA offices to renew their driver licenses as an alternative to long lines at Department of Motor Vehicle (or DMV) branch officesThe motor club has eight offices in Branford, Danbury, Fairfield, Hamden, Milford, Norwalk, Stamford, and Waterbury. Those offices are no longer doing license renewals for either members or non-members.

The DMV said it could not reach an agreement with the AAA franchise serving Fairfield and New Haven Counties to continue licensing and ID card renewal services after December 31, 2016. The agency had been in talks with this franchise after it notified the DMV it would stop serving the general public and would serve members only beginning in 2017. The impasse was announced by DMV Commissioner Michael Bzydra.

The franchise, known as AAA Northeast, provided DMV licensing and ID card renewal services to the entire general public, but had sought to offer them only to its paying members beginning in January. The franchise started in 2001 offering these services to the general public.

The remainder of Connecticut is served by AAA Club Alliance, with local headquarters in West Hartford, and, according to General Manager Karen Christiana, it will continue to provide services to all members of the general public throughout its eight offices around the state (Avon, Cromwell, Enfield, Manchester, Old Saybrook, Plainville, Waterford, and West Hartford).

According to the Albany Times-Union, dozens of religious leaders converged on Albany Wednesday at a ‘Raise the Age’ demonstration, pressing for legislation to raise the age at which youth are charged as adults in New York.  Supporters pointed to statistics showing the initiative would reduce the likelihood of youth being re-arrested, and make communities safer. 

Criminal justice system reform advocates have been pushing the initiative for several years, with Governor Cuomo’s help, to prevent many 16 and 17 year-old youths from being treated as adults in the criminal justice system. Under the proposal, those charged with non-violent crimes would go to family rather than criminal court. Sixteen and seventeen year-olds would also be allowed to call parents if arrested, said Pierce.

Rabbi Angela W. Buchdahl said: “I have a 16 year-old son. Understandably, he can’t watch R-rated movies or drive in New York City without an adult accompanying him. Yet outrageously, it is legal in New York for him to get arrested without parental notification and processed through the adult criminal justice system.” 

Many attendees were confident that Cuomo would put a Raise the Age measure in his budget proposal, putting the focus on the Senate for possible passage.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing a new tax credit to help families cover the cost of childcare, the third piece of his upcoming State of the State address. The proposal would increase existing benefits for families earning between $50,000 and $150,000 annually, affecting an estimated 201,857 taxpayers. Under Cuomo’s proposed plan, an Enhanced Middle Class Child Care Tax Credit would supplement existing benefits. 

Cuomo’s office estimates the average benefit for families earning between $50,000 and $150,000 would double from $169 to $376 and the program cost would be $42 million.
Cuomo said: “Far too many parents have to sacrifice working to build their family’s financial future because affordable, high quality daycare is financially out of reach … This newly enhanced credit will make it easier for more New Yorkers to be able to secure day care for their children and able to enter or stay in the work force with peace of mind." 

With this proposal, we will be helping to build a stronger, better New York that truly lives up to its motto: Excelsior.”
This week, Cuomo has rolled out two central pieces to his plans, including a free state college tuition program and a $10 billion modernization of JFK International Airport.

Thursday January 5, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Senator Eric Coleman and Senator Rob Kane resign from Connecticut Senate before start of session; Connecticut Governor Asks Labor to Continue to Help Solve Budget Deficit; and. Brookhaven Town Supervisor wants billboards on county roads removed.

Connecticut Senators Eric Coleman (D-Bloomfield), and Rob Kane (R-Watertown), submitted their resignations to the Secretary of the State’s office Wednesday, minutes before the 10 a.m. start of the legislative session. Coleman, who has served in both the House and the Senate since 1983, submitted his letter with just nine minutes to spare. Coleman said he only reached the decision that morning after consulting with his wife. “We all reached the conclusion that as much as I enjoy serving in the Connecticut state legislature that now is probably an appropriate time for me to step away,” Coleman said. Coleman is expected to go through the Judicial Selection Commission process before his name could be submitted to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy for consideration.

Malloy said: “During 11 years in the House and 22 years in the Senate, Eric Coleman has been a relentless advocate for his constituents and his city. As a legislator, he earned the trust and confidence of his colleagues for more than three decades in the General Assembly. The people of Connecticut can be grateful for his efforts in reducing crime, reforming criminal justice system, and restoring trust in our system. We all would be well advised to look to the example of Sen. Coleman’s demeanor, passion and attention to detail.”

Supreme Court Justice Peter Zarella resigned from the bench last month to join the law firm of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter. Malloy was surprised by Zarella’s decision, which came three years before the mandatory retirement age of 70, and has not nominated a replacement. The governor has not made any decisions on judicial appointments, including vacancies on the lower court bench, at this time. Kane will join the office of the Auditors of Public Accounts, which is a legislative agency whose primary mission is to conduct audits of all state agencies. The office is under the direction of two state auditors appointed by the state legislature. The post is considered a plum assignment with a starting salary of $150,000 a year.

The resignations of both a Democrat and a Republican Senator mean the Senate will remain divided, 17-17, until special elections are held in each of their districts. The district represented by Coleman, which includes Bloomfield, and parts of both Hartford and Windsor, is thought to be a safe Democratic seat. The one Kane represents, which includes Bethlehem, Bridgewater, Middlebury, Oxford, Seymour, Southbury, Roxbury, Washington, Watertown and Woodbury, is thought to be a safe Republican seat.

Last month, Governor Dannell P. Molloy was able to reach an agreement with the state employee unions to make changes to the pension fund without changing the benefits state employees receive. However, in his speech on Wednesday, he indicated that he would like to continue to work with labor leaders “to find solutions for bringing employee costs in line with our economic reality. These talks have been frank and direct so far, and I’m appreciative that state workers are taking part in them.”

Labor officials said they are still talking with the Malloy administration, but being at the table doesn’t mean they plan on opening their 2011 contract and renegotiating their health and pension benefits. Lori Pelletier, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, said Malloy talked about having workers and taxpayers give back, but she said he never spoke about tax fairness.

A statement on the unions’ website said the state needs to take a broader and more comprehensive approach. Over the past two years, they have ratified two separate agreements sacrificing wages and benefits. Democratic legislative leaders are calling on the unions to help resolve the state’s budget deficit, and senators from both parties have encouraged the governor and the unions ton continue their discussions. 

Malloy will give his budget address in February, but if his speech Wednesday was a road map, then it’s certain labor and progressive Democrats aren’t going to like it.

According to Newsday:
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine is urging Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone to remove commercial billboards that are on county-owned roads throughout the town. “They are unnecessary and they distract drivers,” Romaine said of what he characterized as more than 20 commercial billboards in Brookhaven that sit on county-owned property. Since 2004, Brookhaven has not permitted commercial billboards on town roads.

In a December 22 letter to Bellone and the Suffolk County Legislature, Romaine wrote: “I would ask that Suffolk County follow in the town’s footsteps and adopt legislation that would phase out billboards along county roads.” Suffolk County officials said they haven’t seen the billboards. “We’re in receipt of the letter and will do an appropriate investigation and, if warranted, create legislation,” to remove the billboards, Suffolk County spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said in an interview. She said while erecting commercial billboards on county property isn’t allowed, civic organizations and community organization occasionally work with the county’s public works department to erect billboards “for informational purposes,” such as welcome signs.

The intent of section 57A of the Brookhaven Town Code was to create a more visually aesthetic community and maintain the rural and suburban character of the town “by limiting and ultimately eliminating certain kinds of commercial signage defined in this chapter as billboard,” the code reads.

In his letter to Bellone and the legislature, Romaine said: “I hope you agree that billboards are not only distracting to drivers but simultaneously deteriorate the visually appealing character of our communities. “Thus, I would urge the Suffolk County Legislature … to adopt legislation requiring amortization and the eventual removal of the billboards located on county highways. Doing so will ensure the safety of our residents and aesthetic integrity of our county.”

Wednesday January 4, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy warns of need for concessions, smaller government, new aid formulas; Connecticut’s municipalities watching grant cut as harbinger of things to come; and, New York state launches special unit to enforce minimum wage increases, educate workers and employers;

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy set the stage in his 2017 State of the State address today for a protracted and difficult debate on how to further shrink state government, extract more concessions from unions on pension and health benefits, and better focus a smaller pool of state aid for education on the school systems most in need. After recently negotiating significant changes to how the state will pay down its unfunded pension liability, Malloy alerted a half-dozen labor leaders before the speech that he will be seeking unspecified concessions that he says must be part of “a responsible and balanced solution to our budget problem.”

“These changes can and should be reached respectfully, and at the bargaining table,” Malloy told a joint session of the General Assembly. “Our state must honor its legal obligation to our public servants and state retirees, while at the same time keeping our promises to Connecticut taxpayers.” In his seventh speech marking the opening of a General Assembly session, the Democratic governor abandoned his usual practice of pitching new initiatives, instead emphasizing concessions, the size of government and local aid as three broad areas he sees dominating a session certain to hinge once again on the struggle to the balance the budget in a state not fully recovered from the Great Recession of 2008.

“The state provides a total of $5.1 billion in municipal assistance.  That’s more than one fifth of our overall budget this year, making it our biggest single expense – not state employee pensions, not Medicaid, not debt service, not salary and benefits of our employees; town aid accounts for the largest portion of our state budget,” he said. “It simply would not be fair for us to talk about continued state agency reductions, or talk about the need for labor concessions, without talking about new ways to provide town aid.”

The speech is a prelude to the budget the Governor will submit in February to a General Assembly much changed by the 2016 elections, when Republicans gained three seats in the Senate and eight in the House, largely by running against the Democratic governor, the Democratic majority, the state’s economy and its chronic fiscal pains.

Connecticut’s municipal leaders are watching closely to see how swiftly, if at all, lawmakers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy release $30 million in promised-yet-withheld capital improvement funds for cities and towns once the new legislative session gets underway. For the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and the Council of Small Towns, millions of dollars’ worth of planned improvements to roads, bridges, sidewalks, municipal facilities, and various local economic development projects will not receive State funding they were promised.

Through the Local Capital Improvement Program (LoCIP), Connecticut reimburses communities for a portion of these projects’ costs, using a pool of borrowed funds established many years ago. But since 2004, legislatures and governors have been adding annually to the pool of funds, while sometimes drawing larger amounts out to pay for local projects.

But while the current budget was enacted in May, and the fiscal year began July 1, state government notified local officials on Dec. 29 — halfway into the fiscal year and with the busy spring construction season still ahead — that LoCIP funding essentially had dried up. Unless the fund is replenished by issuing more bonds, cities and towns will receive about $30 million less than planned. Local leaders will be at the Capitol this week urging restoration of the LoCIP funds, Coventry Town Manager, John Elsesser said. 

Chris McClure, spokesman for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget office, said the administration sent out word “as soon as we were able to accurately predict the full use of the authorized funds for this fiscal year.” None of the four legislative caucuses yet has announced how it would resolve the problem, either by recommending additional borrowing or by canceling the state’s pledge to fund the projects. Leaders of the House and Senate Republican caucuses said state government, even in tough fiscal times, owes communities certainty about the state aid they can expect.

A special enforcement and outreach unit has been launched in New York to ensure compliance with the state’s minimum wage law, which rose to $10 per hour for most workers on Long Island Dec. 31. Legislation signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year phases in a $15 minimum wage across the state over a five-year period. The increase in minimum wage will impact 2.3 million New Yorkers – about a quarter of the total workforce — including more than 350,000 workers on Long Island, according to the governor’s office.

“With the first increase in the minimum wage now in effect, this new enforcement unit will ensure that workers are being paid what they earned, and employers who flaunt the law will be held accountable,” Cuomo said in a press release announcing the enforcement and outreach unit. “I urge any minimum wage worker who does not receive their increase to call the Department of Labor Hotline (1-888-4-NYSDOL) to ensure they receive a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.”

The state also launched a web tool to help people determine what the minimum wage is: the wage is affected by location, type of employment and type of employer. The enforcement and outreach unit, which will include staff from multiple state agencies, will will educate both workers and businesses on specific requirements included under the new minimum wage rates, the governor said.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: an abundance of issues for Conneticut lawmakers to address in 2017; West Haven Lawmaker Resigns To Take State Job; and, Crowd Reminds Congressman Zeldin’s Office of the Breadth of  New York’s First District Opinions.

Connecticut’s 2017 legislative session is scheduled to start Wednesday with hundreds of campaign promises at stake and a General Assembly split by just seven seats in the House and a tie-breaking lieutenant governor in the Senate. The budget is in deficit by $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion and will be a focal point for lawmakers who don’t want to raise taxes or cut state services further.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will deliver his state-of-the-state address at noon Wednesday and has repeatedly warned state employee unions that more layoffs will be necessary if they are unable to renegotiate the health and pension benefit package that doesn’t expire until 2022. The unions were recently able to reach an agreement with the administration over changes to the pension fund. However, none of those changes would affect the benefits state employees receive as part of the agreement they inked with Malloy in 2011. Lawmakers can raise the new pension package for a vote. But if they don’t, it will automatically go into effect 30 days after the start of the session on Jan. 4.

There are also several pressing policy discussions ahead. Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven, pre-filed legislation calling for the legalization and taxation of marijuana. Looney’s legislation suggests that revenue from marijuana sales should go to the general fund. While the makeup of the General Assembly has changed, Democratic lawmakers, who hold a slight majority, also raised a proposal for a paid family and medical leave system. Some lawmakers will also seek to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. The Low-Wage Worker Advisory Board made the recommendation last year in their report.

Exempting Social Security from the state income tax seems to be an issue that has bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. The proposal would cause the state to lose $47 million in revenue, which means lawmakers will have to find another source of revenue or cut spending by that amount. Other revenue proposals the legislature may consider include efforts to improve the state’s business climate by stimulating new business investments that will in turn increase tax revenue without increasing the tax rates. Malloy has hinted that he will include some of those proposals in his budget, which he won’t release until February.

The Democrats’ slim majority in Connecticut’s House of Representatives grew slimmer today when Rep. Stephen D. Dargan, D-West Haven, handed in a resignation letter, a precursor to accepting an appointment to the state Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy intends to nominate Dargan, the long-serving co-chair of the legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee, to a $92,500-a-year position on the board, filling the vacancy left by the resignation of Kenneth Ireland.

The House Democratic majority will shrink to 78-72, meaning the defection of three Democrats on any partisan vote would result in a 75-75 tie, at least until a special election is held to fill the vacancy.

A crowd of about 60 East End residents gathered in front of Congressman Lee Zeldin’s Riverhead office in the rain Tuesday morning to share their concerns about the policies of President-elect Donald Trump and about the direction of the new Congress, which begins work today. The group, which coalesced on the North Fork among activists including Greenport mother Kathryn Casey Quigley and also included numerous South Fork participants, shared their concerns about health care, immigration reform, marriage equality, climate change and other issues before the federal government in the new year.

“We are here, not as disgruntled voters, nor extremists nor sore losers. We are here as concerned constituents…We are here on the first day that Congress reconvenes to remind Mr.Zeldin that he does not have a mandate,” said Ms. Quigley at the opening of a press conference at which several North Fork residents shared their concerns about national issues. “While he may have been reelected, he holds a seat that has been held by both Democrats and Republicans over the years. … we are here and we will continue to be here asking to be heard, and we hope the congressman will listen, remember us, and act with all his constituents’ interests, concerns and stories in mind.” Anne Trimble, who owns Trimble’s Nursery in Cutchogue, said she is concerned about the new administration both as a gay business owner and as someone who employs many immigrants from Latin America and all over the world.

While Mr. Zeldin is in Washington being sworn in for his second term in office, his District Director, Mark Wooley, invited the crowd upstairs to the office, took about a half an hour of questions, and asked attendees to turn in forms with their constituent concerns. The group also handed in a stack of letters to Mr. Wooley. “Is Lee Zeldin going to fight like hell to protect climate change agreements we’ve already made and to fight aggressively to reverse climate change?” asked Francesca Rheannon of WPKN’s Sustainable East End, who added that some climate models put sea level rise on Long Island at six feet in the next 100 years.

“He’s made it known that, despite what others might have thought or said, he’s very much aware of the fact that there is climate change,” said Mr. Wooley, who added that there’s some debate as to which models for sea level rise are most accurate. “Climate change is something that is very much on our agenda this term, as it was last term,” he added.Mr. Wooley told attendees they would continue to be welcome at the district office, and at Mr. Zeldin’s mobile office hours in the district throughout the upcoming year.

Monday January 2, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN Volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Task Force Recommends Improving Access to Civil Legal Counsel in Connecticut; Connecticut Lawmakers to Revisit Ride-Sharing Regulations; and, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoes indigent legal services bill.

A task force charged with improving access to legal assistance for the Connecticut’s poorer residents has come up with recommendations to address the problem – and some suggestions on how to pay for their initiatives. The Task Force To Improve Access to Legal Counsel in Civil Matters found that “many Connecticut residents cannot afford the legal assistance they need to protect essential human needs or face other barriers to accessing available legal services.”

Low-income residents accused of committing a crime are able to receive the assistance of a public defender, but they are generally without access to legal services for civil matters, which include restraining orders, child custody cases and evictions. State assistance with legal services for lower income residents are often limited due to financial constraints caused by recent budget cuts. In 2016 the General Assembly significantly cut the Judicial Branch’s budget, and law-makers are facing another $1.5 billion budget deficit over the next two fiscal years, which will make sparing any branch of government difficult.

The task force was made up of judges, lawyers, state politicians, educators, law enforcement officials and those who work in support services departments. Prior studies and reports, within the state and without, have proposed numerous thoughtful and nuanced recommendations, but they have not resulted in sufficient change.

The Connecticut Bar Association was supportive of the task force’s recommendations. “The recommendations offer a series of steps that can be taken immediately to help civil litigants most at risk of being denied adequate legal assistance,” Connecticut Bar Association President Monte Frank said. “The focus on restraining orders, child custody and evictions targets the state’s most vulnerable citizens.”

It’s been almost two years since the Department of Transportation commissioned a report that made recommendations about how the state should regulate ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. The study conducted by the Institute for Regional and Municipal Policy at Central Connecticut State University, suggested that the state could treat the companies and their drivers more like taxi and livery services. It was a suggestion that caused some concern for the companies trying to employ a new social business model.

Uber has been servicing Connecticut since April 2014, starting first in Fairfield and New Haven counties and has since expanded its operation to Hartford and New London counties. Lyft, another ride-sharing company, suspended its services in Connecticut in 2015, but seems to be active again in the state based on its website. Uber and Lyft are both app-based transportation network companies that allow a person to request a ride with his or her phone. Drivers use their own cars to pick up people and drive them to their destinations.

One month following Uber’s launch in Connecticut, 15 state cab and livery companies filed suit against Uber and Lyft to block them from doing business in the state. The taxi companies contend the ride-sharing companies’ services skirt state and federal regulations of the industry. “There is nothing unfair or illegal about what Uber does,” the company said in its motion to dismiss the 2014 federal lawsuit. “This lawsuit is merely an attempt by Plaintiffs to use the courts to beat back a legitimate business, which provides a useful service to consumers frustrated with outdated transportation options, so that Plaintiffs can cling to the status quo.”

U.S. District Judge Alvin Thompson agreed with Uber and dismissed the complaint on May 24, 2016. Lawmakers will ultimately get to decide whether they should regulate these ride-sharing services and to what extent. Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, said lawmakers will be getting back to the issue during the 2017 legislative session. A bill that would have tightened regulations for ride-sharing services passed the House in 2015, but stalled in the Senate until time ran out. The 2015 bill would have tightened background checks for drivers and would have established insurance coverage requirements that don’t currently exist.

Scanlon, who uses Uber, said he believes there should be better consumer protections for the passengers who are riding in these vehicles. He said currently the background checks done by the ride-sharing companies don’t include moving violations, such as drunk driving or speeding. It also doesn’t check for prior convictions including theft, sexual offenses, or fraud. Scanlon said he expects the Transportation Committee to have another lively debate on the issue again this year . Regulation of self-driving cars is also likely to be included in that debate.

The Albany Times-Union reports:
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed legislation late Saturday that would have shifted the cost of expensive legal services for the poor from counties to the state in the coming years.

Cuomo wrote in his veto message the legislation ultimately would require that the state spend more than $800 million per year to fully reimburse counties for all expenses associated with non-criminal legal defense work, including legal services in family and surrogate court. “This bill would do little more than transfer to the taxpayers of this state an entirely new obligation to pay for any and all existing expenses related to general defense legal work, far beyond legal representation of indigent criminal defendants,” Cuomo wrote.nCurrently, the state pays roughly 10% of the 2010 spending levels for indigent legal services for each county.

The legislation called for the state to assume control of indigent legal services costs by 2023, with the state assuming 25% of costs starting April 1, which is the beginning of the next fiscal year. The governor proposed modifications to the bill that he contended would have led to state funding for costs associated with extending reforms statewide, with fiscal oversight through the state Division of Budget. “Unfortunately, the Legislature did not adopt those modifications, highlighting a basic and fundamental misunderstanding within the Legislature as to the true, intended purposed of this bill,” he wrote. “The Legislature framed this bill as ‘indigent defense’ bill. It is not. This bill is nothing more than a backdoor attempt to shift costs from the counties to the state taxpayers under the guise of indigent defense. Politics and confusion should not drive policy, and certainly not an issue of this importance.”

The governor pledged to introduce a plan in the coming months aimed at ensuring “that counsel at arraignment, caseload standard reform, and quality improvements are extended throughout the state, with appropriate tools to ensure accountability and results.”