Tuesday, February 28, 2017

March 2017

Friday March 31, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Connecticut lawmakers consider banning crumb rubber on playgrounds; New York state will receive a $32.5 million settlement from Volkswagen; and, the Suffolk County Legislature approves $2 million for a sports complex at Suffolk County Community College’s Riverhead campus.

A bill that would prohibit the installation of crumb rubber ground cover on Connecticut’s municipal and public playgrounds was in limbo this afternoon waiting for the remaining members of the Planning and Development Committee to vote for it.

The first vote on the bill, which had already passed the Children’s Committee, was tied early Friday afternoon when lawmakers recessed the Planning and Development Committee.The vote was going to be held open until 5pm.
Senator George Logan (Republican – Ansonia) said he couldn’t support the bill because he thought it was “premature” to ban crumb rubber.

Representative Roland Lemar (Democrat – New Haven) tried to convince Logan, and other skeptics on the committee, that the language in the bill could be modified later, perhaps calling for “a moratorium instead of a ban,” but those who voted against it were not convinced. Earlier in the day, politicians and children’s health advocates held a press conference to lobby for the bill, but it was a 10 year-old from Hamden whose pitch seemed to resonate the loudest.
Connor Garrett urged lawmakers: “Please protect the kids in our community by banning shredded tires on our playgrounds. One day we will be in charge and we need to stay healthy to get there.”

New York will receive $32.5 million as part of a 10-state $157 million settlement with Volkswagen AG and others over use of “defeat device” software that helped vehicles pass emissions tests when they actually were spewing out more emissions than the tests showed.

The settlement, announced yesterday by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, follows last summer’s lawsuit filed by the state, alleging that Volkswagen showed “total disregard for the rule of law” in using the “defeat devices.” According to Schneiderman’s office, Volkswagen AG, Audi AG, Porsche AG, and their American subsidiaries have agreed to shell the money, which will be used to fund environmental and other governmental programs statewide.

Governor Cuomo said that the state of New York is continuing its “unwavering commitment to enforce our state’s strict air quality standards against any company that violates our environmental laws.”

Volkswagen also has agreed to triple the number of electric car models offered by its Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi brands in New York by 2020.


In a last-minute vote on Tuesday evening, the Suffolk County Legislature approved $2 million in additional funding to build a sports and fitness center at Suffolk County Community College’s Eastern Campus. According to Drew Biondo of the College, additional funding was needed—after bids that came in following numerous delays were $4 million dollars higher than estimated.

The resolution was initially voted down, but Democratic Legislator Lou D’Amaro of North Babylon received new information. After he told the presiding officer that the information might change his vote, a revote was ordered. The resolution passed on the second vote; paperwork was immediately sent to the state.

If the money is included in the state budget, the fitness center could be open as soon as next summer. It will be available for use by county residents and local governments, making it the first public athletic and fitness facility of its kind in the five East End towns. It will also be the first indoor Olympic-sized swimming pool open to the public on the East End.
The planned facility also includes a gymnasium that can accommodate a regulation basketball court, two volleyball courts and six badminton courts; plus a running and walking track.

Thursday March 30, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: a rally in support of local activist in New Haven; Bill to Set Age Limitation on Marriage In Connecticut Clears First Hurdle; and, Suffolk County Executive, citing lack of clarity, withdraws bill restricting public assembly

Dozens of people turned out this morning (Thursday) to support a local activist who’s facing charges stemming from what many are calling a police riot on February 4. 

WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus has more:
Norman Clement was tackled, pepper sprayed and threatened with a police dog at the end of a rally condemning Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. His attorney said video of the action clearly shows that Clement was completely non-violent when police targeted him for arrest. Many supporters testified to his passion and dedication to the intersecting movements for social justice, exemplified by his two visits to Standing Rock in North Dakota.

At the end of the rally, he said what happened to him could have happened to anyone there: "I want to encourage every single one of you to not let this deter you in any way, shape or form. Get out in the streets; fight for what you believe in. Come out every single time that somebody else…that something happens to somebody else or fight for somebody else’s rights. That’s the only way we can win."

Supporters are calling for the state to drop all charges against Clement. He’s charged with five misdemeanors and is due back in court on April 18.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.

Legislation that would prohibit the issuance of a marriage license to anyone under the age of 18 cleared its first hurdle Wednesday. The legislation was approved on a 32-7 vote of the Judiciary Committee. All seven members voting against the proposal were Republicans.

Marrying that young “can be detrimental to a child’s well-being,” Rep. Michelle Cook (D-Torrington) said during a public hearing held on the proposed legislation. Cook was one of the co-sponsors of the legislation.

The bill has some exceptions, including a teen who is pregnant or if the intended spouse is a member of the Armed Forces and has the written consent of a parent and a probate judge. “Statistics show that when married young, children tend not to finish high school or pursue college,” Cook said. She added that when teens marry young “they are more susceptible to pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases that can compromise their health.” Cook added that the bill “also protects children from being led into human trafficking and forced marriages.”

Laws in 27 states, including Connecticut, do not have a minimum age below which a child cannot marry. Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey are all considering bills this year that would limit child marriage.
Currently, Connecticut’s legal age to marry is 18 but the law allows for exceptions: 16- and 17-year-olds can marry as long as they obtain parental consent. And children 16 and younger can marry if they obtain approval from a probate judge.

During the public hearing on the proposed legislation, advocates for children urged the Judiciary Committee to back the proposal. Janet Walsh, acting director of Women’s Rights for Human Rights Watch, a New York-based organization, testified that she was shocked Connecticut had no age limitations on marriage.

County Executive Steve Bellone’s effort to establish new procedures — and fees — for public assembly permits in Suffolk has been scuttled by objections that the requirements would trample constitutionally protected rights of free speech and assembly. Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory introduced the bill: “A Local Law Establishing A Permit Process For Use Of Police Services For Public Assembly,” at the county executive’s request.

The measure would have required any group holding a “public event” that “requires the use of Suffolk County police officers above and beyond what is required for ordinary and routine police monitoring and patrol” to obtain a permit for the event from the Suffolk County Police Department. The permit application would have been required to be made at least 60 days prior to the event. Permit fees would range from $200 to $1,000, depending about the number of people expected to attend, from 100 people to 5,000 or more. It would apply only to events held within the Suffolk County Police District, which excludes the five East End towns.

A public hearing on the bill was scheduled Tuesday in Hauppauge. Gregory announced before the hearing started that the hearing would be recessed. “We heard from the administration they are going to make changes,” Gregory said. “The intent of this bill was to protect taxpayers from being forced to pay for police services for for-profit events,” Bellone said in a statement last night. The police department requested the legislation so it could more efficiently manage manpower and overtime, officials said.

The language of the bill was so broadly crafted that it appears to apply to political demonstrations, protests and rallies. It does not state that it applies to for-profit events. Nor does it exempt demonstrations, protests or rallies. "The proposed bill does not make clear the spirit and intent of the law, thus the bill is being withdrawn,” Bellone said.

Wednesday March 29, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Liz Becker and Melinda Tuhus)

In the news tonight:  A Fight for Trans Lives march and rally in downtown New Haven; Freedom of Information Act Complaint Explores Use of Social Media by Public Officials in Connecticut; and, Robert Mercer’s North Shore home draws tax demonstrators on Long Island.

A Fight for Trans Lives march and rally on Tuesday marked a day that will live in infamy in that community, as the Supreme Court cancelled its scheduled hearing of an important trans rights case.

WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus has more:
The court had been scheduled to hear on March 28 the appeal of Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old trans boy, who had sued his Virginia high school for denying him access to the boys' restroom. But a change in the Trump administration’s guidance on the issue led the justices to cancel the hearing and remand the case to a lower court.

About a hundred trans folks and their allies gathered on the steps of the Elm Street courthouse to hear several impassioned speakers, including Tony Ferriolo, a transgender man who’s worked with trans youth for decades. They have a high rate of suicide and attempted suicide.

"So for all the trans youth around this country who are feeling alone and not loved, today we send you love and remind you that you are not alone. Today we promise you that we will not stop fighting for your rights. Today and every day we hold you close to our hearts, and today we leave our fear behind. Thank you, thank you. (cheers)"

After the rally, the group marched around downtown with banners flying.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.

The Freedom of Information Commission is close to deciding whether a former top banking official violated Connecticut’s open record laws when he deleted social media posts about the Otoe-Missouria Tribal Nation. Bruce H. Adams, former chief counsel for the state Department of Banking and, at one time acting commissioner, and now Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman’s legal counsel, “admittedly deleted social media posts after the Department received a Freedom of Information Act request for those documents,” Jeffrey J. White, lawyer for the Otoe-Missouria Nation, said in a memo this week. “The social media posts are public records, and the failure to provide them to the complainant is a direct violation of the Freedom of Information Act,” White said.

The posts on Twitter and Facebook came at the same time as the Banking Department was feuding with the tribe over its lending practices. 

The Attorney General’s Office, which is defending Adams against the allegations, said the complaint should be dismissed because they were Adams’ personal views and not the official views of the Banking Department.  More briefs are due to the Freedom of Information Commission office by April 7. A hearing officer will issue a proposed final decision, possibly as soon as May.

Newsday reports:
About 20 demonstrators gathered Tuesday outside the North Shore estate of hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, decrying his funding of conservative causes and calling on the state and federal governments to raise taxes on the wealthy.

Holding a sign that read “Mercer Pay Your Taxes” in front of the Head of the Harbor home’s owl statutes, protesters from New York Communities for Change and a local anti-war group said they wanted the state to pass a “millionaire’s tax” and close what they called a loophole on high volume stock trades.

“Young people are moving out of the state. Poverty is at its highest level since 1959. Taxes are too high, while people who are richer don’t pay their fair share,” said Tamar Paoli, 25, an Elmont resident who works in marketing. Mercer could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Bill McNulty, 82 of East Setauket, a member of the North Country Peace Group, said Mercer “played a major role in bringing about the election of Donald Trump. We saw the corrosive and contaminating effect of dark money on politics.”

More than a dozen police officers from Suffolk County and Head of the Harbor closed off one lane of the road in front of the house to accommodate protesters. The demonstration, in pouring rain, lasted about half an hour. It was the second protest against Mercer in the past week.  On Friday, about 60 people protested outside the East Setauket company Renaissance Technologies, where Mercer serves as co-CEO.

Recent news reports describe Mercer as a quiet but formidable presence behind Trump’s election victory and the shaping of his cabinet. Mercer and his daughter Rebekah reportedly were key in getting Trump last summer to hire Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway as top campaign aides. Bannon and Conway are credited with helping Trump to his upset victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Mercer has given millions of dollars to political action committees that back Trump and his policies. According to media reports, Mercer also has been a major investor in the conservative news website Breitbart, which Bannon used to run.

Monday, March 27, 2017.(Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson and Mike Merli.)

In the news tonight: Advocates Try Again to Extend the Time Victims Have to Report Sexual Abuse in Connecticut; Connecticut Public Offers Broad Support For Making Police Complaint Process More Transparent; and, Push is on for New York Single-Payer Health Plan.

A proposal to extend the amount of time adult victims of a sexual assault have to report the crime was the subject of an emotional Judiciary Committee public hearing last week. 
Victims, and advocates for victims, told committee members at the hearing Friday that the additional time is needed because it sometimes takes years for victims to find the courage to come forward.

Some, such as the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, argued there should be no time limit to report sexual assaults, noting that more than 20 states across the country already have laws in place either allowing victims 10 years or more to report crimes, and some, no time period whatsoever.

“This bill proposes increasing the criminal statute of limitations for sexual assault crimes in Connecticut from five to 10 years,” Liza Andrews, director of policy and communications for the coalition testified. “While this is clear improvement, without completely eliminating the criminal statute of limitations, victims in Connecticut will still be left behind.”

Extending the statute of limitations to 10 years would put Connecticut behind 23 other states with longer or no statute of limitations, Andrews said. The statute of limitations when a sexual assault is against a minor is still 30 years. 

A bill ordering police departments to do a better job posting instructions about how to file a complaint against police received broad support at a public hearing Friday. Some even thought the proposed bill doesn’t go far enough to hold police accountable.

The bill follows the release of a report, which showed that many police agencies fail to clearly post their complaint policies and complaint forms online, and refuse to accept anonymous complaints. The report was conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut. It found that many police departments include threats of prosecution in their complaint intake protocols. In some cases, these obstacles violate state law and statewide police policy, according to the ACLU.

David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut, told Judiciary Committee members Friday that he supported the legislation, but would like to see it amended. “House Bill 7285 recognizes that our police complaint process is broken, but it could go further to fix it,” McGuire said. He said the bill identifies the problem with the police complaint process, but doesn’t do anything to fix it.
McGuire recommended penalties for law enforcement agencies that don’t comply. He also asked the state to create a standardized complaint form and asked that law enforcement track the complaint data.

Michael P. Lawlor, the state’s under secretary for criminal justice policy and planning, has had the opportunity to study — and talk over — the ACLU report with several police chiefs. Lawlor said Friday that if the legislature goes forward with legislation that mandates his office to track individual police departments complaints by citizens “we certainly will do so ... “We do it already for things such as traffic stops and tasers," Lawlor noted, although he added a note of caution that such tracking “can’t be done for free.”

While federal plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act were dead on arrival at the U.S. House of Representatives last week, New York advocates for health care reform are working on a state law that could drastically change the way health care is paid for in the state.

The New York Health Act, now wending its way through the New York Senate and Assembly, would create a single-payer health care system, dubbed “Medicare for All” by advocates, which would remove private health insurance companies from the process of paying for health insurance for New Yorkers. The system would be paid for through a progressive payroll tax that advocates say will make up a substantially smaller percentage of a family’s income than they currently spend on health care. Advocates for the New York Health Act explained the nuances of the bill to a packed crowd at Southold’s First Presbyterian Church, organized by North Forkers for the Common Good, on March 23.

The discussion was led by Martha Livingston, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of the Public Health department at SUNY Old Westbury and Michael Zweig, Ph.D., professor emeritus and former director of the Center for Study of Working Class Life at Stony Brook University’s Economics Department. 

Dr. Livingston, who serves on the Steering Committee of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer Health Care, said the Affordable Care Act “really built on the half of the health care system that is less efficient — the private health care industry.” Dr. Livingston pointed out that Americans spend 17% of the gross domestic product on health care, double the amount spent in most modern economies, primarily due to the money spent on administrative wrangling with health insurance companies.  “We’re spending half a trillion dollars a year on meaningless paperwork,” she said.

Dr. Zweig pointed out that people who wanted to expand Medicare at the federal level “were eliminated from the process” when former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act was passed in 2009. “They say that states are laboratories for democracy,” he said. “Let’s start from scratch and do it right. We have that opportunity.”

Friday March 24, 32017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: A new survey shows Connecticut employers believe in hiring formerly incarcerated individuals;
New York public transit operators seek a bump in state funding; and, Representative Lee Zeldin co-authorizes bipartisan legislation to fund Long Island Sound programs.

According to a new survey, though the vast majority of Connecticut employers support the idea of hiring individuals who have been previously incarcerated, few are actively doing it. According to the Southport-based Malta Justice Initiative, around 97% of business leaders believe formerly incarcerated individuals should have a second chance, and 95% believe hiring them could potentially help them become productive members of society.

While most survey respondents support the notion, few have put it into practice. Just 9% said they have significant experience in hiring previously incarcerated workers, 51% had little experience, and 40% said they have never done so, the survey found. Only 3% said they actively aim to hire people with criminal records. The survey polled 311 employers between June and October 2016.

55% of respondents said they have a hard time finding qualified job candidates and 76% of those people said they would consider hiring someone with a criminal record if he or she was qualified. Additionally, 74% of respondents said incentives like tax credits or subsidies for health care coverage would make them more likely to hire previously incarcerated people.

According to the Malta Justice Initiative, in Connecticut  10,000 people are released annually from state prisons and more than half of them return to prison within three years – at a cost of $51,000 per year, per inmate.

Public transit system operators throughout New York have watched their ridership increase in recent years. They would like their state funding to continue to increase as well. Major Long Island and upstate transportation system heads implored state lawmakers and Governor Andrew Cuomo to boost by roughly $10 million their operating aid for the coming fiscal year.

Cuomo is currently budgeting $502 million for non-Metropolitan Transportation Association transit needs.
The 2% increase would leave $4 million for upstate transit systems and $6 million for down-state residents. The Assembly included a $3 million increase apiece for upstate and non-MTA down-state transit operating aid in its one-house budget, while the state Senate included the full $10 million total ask.

The Assembly and Senate also included increased capital funding for those systems, something else operators would like to see in the final budget. The Assembly included $30 million, while the Senate included $91.2 million.

According to Southold Local, yesterday, U.S. Senators from New York and Connecticut, together with co-chairs of the House Long Island Sound Caucus, introduced legislation to continue funding for Long Island Sound water quality and shore restoration programs. President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint calls for cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s annual budget by about one-third and eliminating funding for specific regional efforts.

Ongoing, decades-long restoration efforts targeting Long Island Sound have resulted in real progress, according to Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment.
Esposito said: “Water quality has improved, hypoxia diminished, sewage plants upgraded. Whales and dolphins returned to the Sound. We’ve come too far to go backwards.”
Representative Lee Zeldin said, “We must do everything we can to protect this precious feature of our life, culture and economy here in the First Congressional District.”

The bipartisan, two-house bill, the Long Island Sound Restoration and Stewardship Act, would combine two complementary water quality and shore restoration program authorizations, at their previous levels of $40 million and $25 million per year, through 2020. 

Senator Chuck Schumer said: “This legislation will make sure we have federal funds to help restore and protect beaches and waters in and around Long Island Sound.”

Friday March 10, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: paid family leave legislation clears first hurdle in Connecticut; Justice Center authority questioned by New York State Attorney General; and, New York to join Washington State’s move to block new Trump immigration order.

On an 8-5 vote yesterday, the Labor and Public Employees Committee in Connecticut forwarded the House a bill that would allow employees to earn up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. The bill would allow employees to start contributing a portion of their paycheck to a Family and Medical Leave Fund Compensation Trust Fund in 2019, and to start using the system by July 1, 2020. The amount of money an employee on leave could receive would be capped at $1,000 per week.

The bill has been a priority of Democrats in the House and Senate.  Only one Republican, Senator Craig Miner (Litchfield) voted in favor of the House legislation yesterday. The other Republicans on the committee opposed the measure.

While employers would be mandated to help their employees set up a payroll deduction into the fund, there would be no funding required from businesses. Employees are the ones contributing to the fund so proponents of the legislation argue there’s no additional cost to employers, which is why several employers support it. At the same time, large business groups, like the National Federation of Independent Businesses, are against it.

If passed, Connecticut will become the seventh state to have paid family and medical leave. Other states providing paid family and medical leave include California, Washington, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts.

A case involving allegations of sex abuse by a teacher has raised potentially groundbreaking questions about the legal authority of a special agency created by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature to oversee institutions ranging from psychiatric hospitals to prisons for young offenders.

As part of the defense for alleged sex abuser Marina Viviani, her lawyer Michael Pollok, yesterday questioned the ability of the state’s Justice Center for the Protection of People With Special Needs to pursue the case because its prosecutors are unelected. Pollok contends that runs counter to the state constitution, which requires prosecutors to be elected by the voting public. While one might describe the argument as a mere defense tactic it has drawn the interest of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has joined the case. He, too, questions whether Justice Center prosecutors have the authority to bring criminal charges of their own.

The Justice Center was created by Cuomo and the Legislature in 2013 largely in response to a series in the New York Times about abuse and neglect of disabled New Yorkers who live in state-run hospitals and residences, and also in centers that are licensed by the state. Equipped with a hotline that people can call with complaints as well as a corps of investigators and lawyers, the Justice Center can prosecute those accused of abusing or neglecting people in their care.

According to the Albany Times-Union, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will on Monday join a lawsuit in the Western District of Washington state, seeking a restraining order against President Donald Trump’s revised executive order on immigration, or travel ban.

Schneiderman said in a statement Thursday: “President Trump’s latest executive order is a Muslim ban by another name, imposing policies and protocols that…violate the Equal Protection Clause and Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution. As the Trump White House has already said, the administration’s latest Muslim ban seeks to accomplish the same unlawful and unconstitutional outcomes as the original order. Smart, aggressive litigation by state attorneys general and civil rights advocates across the country successfully torpedoed President Trump’s first Muslim ban…we are now marshaling our resources to fight Trump’s latest, unconstitutional decree in the Ninth Circuit.”

Trump’s revised order, issued Monday, is set to take effect March 16.  Six countries are still subject to a 90-day ban on entry; Iraq was removed from the list. Travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen who hold visas or green cards may enter. Acceptance of refugees is still suspended for 120 days.

Hawaii filed a separate lawsuit against the order.

Thursday March 9, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Local Elected Officials Tell Connecticut Lawmakers To Take Teacher Pension Shift Off the Table; Connecticut Officials Launch Opposition to Affordable Care Act replacement; and, New York Governor’s administration details projected ‘devastating’ impacts of Affordable Care Act replacement.

A group of local elected officials said Thursday that it is illegal for Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy to shift about a third of the state’s contributions to the Teacher’s Retirement System to cities and towns. “We didn’t create this problem,” Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said. “... The problem is theirs today, not ours.”

David Grogins, an attorney with Cohen and Wolf, drafted an opinion that says the governor “cannot require municipalities to contribute” because state statute defines the allowable sources of funding. He said the only allowable sources of funding are contributions from teachers, appropriations from the General Assembly, bond proceeds, and earnings from investments. “It is clear in its mandate that these are the only funding sources,” Grogins said. He opined that Malloy’s proposal also violates the 2008 bond covenant the state created to help address the unfunded pension liability. “Statute specifically states that the proceeds of the sale of these bonds must be used to reduce the unfunded liability of the TRS Fund,” Grogins wrote. “The Governor’s proposal circumvents the mechanisms set forth in the Statute to address unfunded liabilities of the TRS Fund.” 

But the Malloy administration defended its proposal Thursday. “We understand that some communities would prefer not to lose this generous hidden subsidy from the state, but it is discouraging that they would hide behind spurious legal arguments rather than directly stating their opposition to paying for their own teachers’ pensions,” Chris McClure, a spokesman for Malloy, said.

He said they believe the proposal doesn’t violate the bond covenant. “We stand by our assertion that requiring the towns to pay only 1/3rd of the cost for the pensions of their employees is not just the right thing to do for the state, but is not violative of the bond covenant,” McClure said. “The relevant portion of the covenant states ‘there shall be deemed appropriated from the General Fund of the state the amount equal to the annual required contribution to the fund for the Connecticut teachers’ retirement system,’ which is exactly what we have proposed. The covenant is silent as to source of revenue to fund that appropriation.”

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and members of Connecticut’s Congressional delegation are criticizing a Republican proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with the American Health Care Act.  At an unrelated press conference Wednesday, Malloy said regardless of what happens with replacement efforts “they probably have put a nail in the coffin of the exchanges by withdrawing the mandate.” The individual mandate required Americans to purchase insurance or pay a penalty. Those penalties helped cover the cost of the law.  “It remains to be seen who will come forward to write in any of the states for any of the exchanges,” Malloy said. 

The exchanges provided a way for those in the individual market to purchase health insurance, if they didn’t have employer-sponsored insurance. There was a guarantee that it would be issued regardless of an individual’s medical history. Under the Republican proposal it’s unclear if those exchanges, which were supported by assessments on insurance companies, will continue to exist. U.S. Rep. John B. Larson said Wednesday that the process has been rushed and lacks transparency. He pointed out that the Congressional Budget Office hasn’t even had a chance to estimate how much it would cost and how many people would be covered. 

Connecticut insurance companies have to submit their rates for 2018 to the Insurance Department regulators by May 1, and ConnectiCare is continuing to work with legislators and regulators to ensure a stable and sustainable health insurance market.

The Albany Times-Union reports that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration is projecting that more than 1 million New Yorkers would face a significant loss of health coverage under the House Republicans’ American Health Care Act and more than $4.5 billion in costs would be shifted to the state, counties and hospitals over four years if that bill comes to pass. Those projections were accompanied by strong statements from Cuomo condemning the GOP’s plan as “regressive” and as a “direct assault on New York values.”

Cuomo’s Department of Health projects that some $2.4 billion in costs will be shifted to the state, counties and “safety net” hospitals beginning in 2020, and that could grow when the impact of Medicaid block grants is taken into account. The impact in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins April 1, is projected to be $240 million.

“Furthermore, this plan is a direct assault on New York values – defunding Planned Parenthood, restricting access to abortion and reproductive health services, and eliminating $400 million in means tested credits that lowered insurance costs for low-income New Yorkers, while slashing taxes on the wealthy,” Cuomo said, warning that with conservative opponents of the bill demanding changes, “as disturbing and devastating as the proposed cuts would be, the final result could be downright bone chilling.”

Wednesday March 8, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Lawmakers Quietly Kill Governor’s Quest to Lower Liquor Prices in Connecticut; Connecticut Police Chiefs Try Again To Require Gun Holders To Show Permit; and, Riverhead-North Fork ‘Unity Town Hall’ event planned to bring
local communities together.

The legislature’s General Law Committee quietly killed Democratic Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s bill to change Connecticut’s liquor laws Tuesday. The committee, which technically has until March 14 to approve legislation, decided to end its work early this year. That means the bill that would have allowed liquor, beer, and wine retailers to sell their alcohol below what they paid for it never got called for a vote. Rep. David Baram, D-Bloomfield, who co-chairs the General Law Committee, said Tuesday that they didn’t have enough support to pass it.

Malloy’s attempts to modernize Connecticut’s liquor laws and make them more friendly for consumers have met with resistance from the package store industry, which doesn’t believe it will be able to compete with large retailers and grocery stores. Carroll Hughes, executive director of the Connecticut Package Store Association, has argued that changing the law to eliminate the minimum bottle price would cause at least 600 package stores and 10 manufacturers of specialty spirit products to lose their businesses.

Total Wine & More, which has four stores in Connecticut, filed a lawsuit against the Department of Consumer Protection in August 2016 alleging that the state’s 35-year-old practice of regulating liquor prices constitutes a price-fixing scheme. The lawsuit is still pending and could go to trial at the earliest in 2018.

The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association and a handful of Democratic state lawmakers are trying again to pass a bill that would allow police officers to ask gun owners for their permit if they are openly carrying their weapon. A court decision clarified that gun owners only have to carry their permit. They don’t have to show it.

The decision put police chiefs in a tough spot. Police officers will receive calls about a person carrying a gun and they will have to respond to the location, but once they find the person carrying the weapon they can ask to see a permit to find out if the person is carrying the gun legally. However, that person doesn’t have to produce a permit for the officer. Farmington Police Chief Paul Melanson said Tuesday that they then have to call the person back who reported the person with the gun and tell them they were unable to figure out if the person was legally carrying a firearm. Melanson said: “What if that person carrying a firearm is outside a daycare? What do I tell the parents who have to come pick up their kids? … We’re just asking for the ability to protect the public the best way we know how,” Melanson said.

Judiciary Committee Co-Chairman Rep. William Tong (D-Stamford), said the legislation is straightforward and not complicated. He said it makes all the sense that if you’re openly carrying, a police officer should be able to ask you to present your permit. It’s not a gun bill and it’s not about gun owners, “it’s about police safety,” Tong said. Similar legislation passed the Public Safety and Security Committee last year, but was never called for a vote in the House.

Second amendment groups like the Connecticut Citizens Defense League say they are opposing the legislation again this year because it’s about a constitutionally protected right. “While most people would willingly show their pistol permit to a law enforcement officer asking to see it, it is another thing altogether for that same officer to simply demand it in the absence of any wrongdoing,” CCDL President Scott Wilson said. He said lawful gun owners understand and respect law enforcement, “but there is a reason why citizens have constitutional protections, and there is a reason why law enforcement has limits on their authority.” He said people “minding their own business who happen to carry a firearm deserve the same protection under the law. They should not be made second class citizens and denied constitutional rights afforded every other citizen.” 

But Tong maintained that the bill is not about gun owners and does not infringe on their rights. Tong’s message to gun owners: “This bill is not about you … If you’re carrying your firearm and you show your permit, it’s no problem.”

The public hearing on the legislation will be on March 15.

A Riverhead-North Fork Unity Town Hall is in the works. It aims to bring people in the area who feel vulnerable together with those who are motivated to take action in response to current political tensions. The event is set for Sunday, March 26, from 3 to 5 p.m. at the St. John the Evangelist School cafeteria in Riverhead.

It will serve as an initial gathering of people who feel they are part of targeted groups, activists who are already engaged in progressive action and those who are unhappy about current trends but are unsure how to get involved. “We’re trying to bring everyone together so everyone can have a sense of the fact that they’re not alone,” said Carolyn Peabody, who is co-chairing the event with Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate. The agenda will include presentations on issues such as immigration, women’s rights and the environment. The town hall will be a place to share stories and information, acting as a springboard for creating local “unity action committees,” Ms. Peabody said.

The committees will form a network for people to learn about the impact of the administration’s policies affecting themselves and others and connect people who are willing to stand up for each other’s concerns and rights, she added.

In addition to developing new relationships, attendees will be invited to commit to the cause in ways such as supporting those who feel threatened and calling attention to biases they’ve encountered or discrimination they’ve observed. Dinni Gordon of Greenport, who is helping organize the event, described it as an “introduction to activism,” as well as a way to connect the North Fork. She said: “The North Fork is kind of a long, skinny finger and often people from one hamlet don’t work with people in another hamlet, which isn’t all that far away, but isn’t part of their immediate environment. Part of it is sort of trying to bring people together who have common issue interests and who are from the North Fork, not just from their own hamlet or village.”

Tuesday March 7, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Debate On Recreational Marijuana in Connecticut Takes Center Stage; Business Confidence in Connecticut Improves; and, Environmental Groups Push Forward with Plum Island Lawsuit.

Today was “pot day” at the Connecticut state Capitol. As groups gathered in two different rooms at the Legislative Office Building, the views on legalizing recreational cannabis couldn’t have been more conflicting. 

In one room was a group of state legislators, and other advocates saying the time has come for Connecticut to join the eight other states and Washington, D.C. in legalizing recreation use of cannabis for adults over 21 years of age. Across the hall, a few hundred yards away, was another group of legislators, about 40 police officials, and a different group of advocates claiming legalizing recreational marijuana in Connecticut would be the worst thing to do. In dueling press conferences, both sides presented information which they said validated their position. Later in the morning, the Public Health Committee held a public hearing on the matter.

One of the four bills, H.B. 5314, sponsored by Rep. Melissa Ziobron, R-East Haddam, directs the Department of Consumer Protection to establish a regulated system of marijuana cultivation and sales for adults 21 years of age and older. The Department of Revenue Services would create a tax structure that would generate revenue for the state and certain municipalities.

Said Ziobron: “One of my goals in proposing legislation to legalize marijuana is to promote a healthy and substantive discussion on the issue. I feel that the legalization of marijuana is inevitable and, as such, Connecticut should be at the forefront of the movement in order to set the standard for effective policy.” Ziobron and the sponsors of three similar proposals — Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and Reps. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, and Toni Walker, D-New Haven — have agreed to work together to end cannabis prohibition in Connecticut and to ensure whichever bill moves forward will create the best system possible for regulating and taxing the plant. During testimony in front of the Public Health Committee later in the day, Ziobron said that marijuana is “safer than alcohol and tobacco.”

The potential for making money off cannabis was clearly one of the biggest reasons recreational use seems to have a better chance of making it through the legislature this year than in the past, as the state struggles to make up a huge budget deficit. Representative Walker said the state has “to look at new industries.” She estimated that legalizing cannabis for recreational use could bring in $63 million in revenue in year one, and more than $100 million in the second. She added that it also could bring in 15,000 new jobs.

Nearly two-thirds of Connecticut voters, or 63%, support making possession of small amounts of cannabis legal for adults, according to a March 2015 Quinnipiac University poll. Those opposed to legalizing recreational cannabis were just as ardent as supporters in their statements. Monroe Police Chief John Salvatore, who is also president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, said legalizing pot “will diminish the quality of life in the state.” Salvatore, who was surrounded by 40 other police officials from various towns in the state while making his comments, said he’s talked with police officials in Colorado, which was the first state in the country to legalize recreational cannabis, and the feedback he gets isn’t good. “Increases in crime, increases in homelessness, many panhandlers in streets in areas that were once night resort areas are now decaying and they’re losing convention business. So there are other costs a municipality or a state will incur if they do legalize recreational marijuana,” Salvatore said.

Governor Dannel P. Malloy has repeatedly stated that legalizing recreational use “isn’t a priority” for him. “While the governor’s personal position has not changed with respect to this issue, he is following the debate as this proposal works through the legislative process,” said Meg Green, spokesperson for the governor.

A growing number of Connecticut business leaders expect conditions to improve for their companies, a recent survey found. Forty percent of business leaders said they foresee conditions getting better, according to the CBIA/Farmington Bank Fourth Quarter Economic and Credit Availability Survey, up from 26% who felt that way in the previous quarter.

Though the survey was regarding the fourth quarter, businesses were polled via email from mid-January to early February, after the presidential and state elections had taken place. There were 173 respondents. Among them, 39% said they expect stable conditions, down from from 49% in the third quarter; 21% had a negative outlook, down from 24% in the third quarter. A growing number of business leaders, 24%, said they expect to grow their workforce, up from 19% the previous quarter. Most, however, or 65% expected no change and 11% planned to cut jobs.

Given the timing of the survey, 59% of business leaders thought the Trump Administration’s economic, regulatory and fiscal policies would positively affect growth here.

Governor Dannel P. Malloy is expected to address the business community at 10:15 a.m. Wednesday, March 8 at the Legislative Office Building where CBIA and many chambers of commerce will be gathered for their lobby day. 

One month after the federal government filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought last year by environmentalists over the proposed sale of Plum Island, environmentalists are continuing to push forward with their legal challenge. The lawsuit filed last summer by a coalition of environmental groups alleges the federal government failed to consider conservation alternatives, failed to consider any form of sale other than a public auction, failed to consider the potential transfer of the island to another government agency, and failed to adequately detail the necessary environmental cleanup of the island.

The plaintiffs include Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound and Soundkeeper, Group for the East End, Peconic Baykeeper; birder and environmental advocate John Turner; CT/RI Coastal Flyfishers President John Potter and historian and author Ruth Ann Bramson of East Marion, lead author of “A World Unto Itself: The Remarkable History of Plum Island, NY.” The defendants, which include the United States General Services Administration, United States Department of Homeland Security, and the administrators of those agencies, said in their Feb. 2 motion to dismiss that the environmental groups’ case lacked “subject matter jurisdiction” because the federal government has not yet finished its environmental review of the sale.

In their March 2 response, the plaintiffs said they “need not wait until bulldozers descend on Plum Island to bring this challenge” and that their claims “were ripe the moment the defendants issued their flawed Final Environmental Impact Statement [FEIS]” in 2013.”

Connecticut Fund For the Environment Legal Director Roger Reynolds described the defendants’ motion to dismiss as “procedural wrangling.” Mr. Reynolds said the defendants need to submit their final reply to the U.S. District Court by March 16, and he expects the case to go before a judge sometime later this summer.

Monday March 6, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight:LGBTQ Advocates Lobby For Passage Of Bill Banning Conversion Therapy in Connecticut; Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Democratic Leaders Look To Push Back Municipal Budget Deadlines; and, East Hampton Petitions U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Airport Noise Case.

Connecticut state lawmakers are considering a bill that would prohibit licensed professionals from performing conversion therapy on minors, a practice designed to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Medical and mental health experts have widely denounced conversion therapy, which also is known as sexual reorientation therapy, as being ineffective and detrimental.

Critics of conversion therapy say it is based on the flawed assumption that homosexuality and bisexuality are sicknesses. “It’s disgraceful,” said state Rep. Jeffrey Currey, a Democrat representing the 11th House District. Currey introduced the bill along with Democratic Fifth District Sen. Beth Bye. “It may not be as widespread as in other parts of the country [but] we do know it occurs in the state.” Currey said the bill, which is before the Public Health Committee, focuses on minors because they have increased risk factors. Lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender youths are more than twice as likely as their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the National Association of Social Workers and other groups have denounced the practice, saying homosexuality is not a mental disorder and cannot be “cured.” Mental health providers with close ties to religious institutions and organizations tend to be promoters of conversion therapy, according to the American Psychological Association. The Connecticut Psychological Association is also among the groups supporting the bill.

The legislation will be among bills discussed in public hearings Tuesday, Currey said.  More than 60 lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors.

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Democratic legislative leaders told the head of the state’s largest municipal lobby today that they want to see if they can help cities and towns delay their budget process and avoid possibly overtaxing or undertaxing their residents.

“We have heard and understand the anxiety expressed by local leaders over the timing of municipal aid assumptions and budget adoptions, especially when there is a long session and so many changes have been and will continue to be put on the table for consideration,” Malloy and legislative leaders wrote to Connecticut Conference of Municipalities CEO Joe DeLong. “To that end, we would like to work with CCM and its members on potential changes to existing statutes to give municipalities more time to adopt budgets, as well as expedited adoption of grand lists.” In a phone interview, DeLong estimated they will have a better idea about whether this can be done within the next week to 10 days.

Windsor Town Manager Peter Souza said its charter dictates that tax bills must be sent out by the middle of June and it takes a few weeks to print those bills, so Windsor must have a budget that’s been approved by its voters by the end of May. That means, the Town Council adopts a budget at the end of April and they usually hold a budget referendum the second Tuesday in May.

DeLong said the legislation they’re looking to pass would supersede the town charters and relieve municipalities of those deadlines in the short-term. DeLong said the problem with the governor’s budget, which makes several changes to municipal aid formulas and funding, is that municipalities run the risk of overtaxing or undertaxing their residents. “If the towns move forward with a budget now, they risk overtaxing their residents,” DeLong said. “If they take a more cautious approach … they run the risk of having to do a supplemental tax bill.”

Neither scenario is desirable for state or local officials. “We believe that providing municipalities a chance to have more concrete information on state-provided aid before making local decisions is a reasonable and appropriate measure to explore together,” Malloy and legislative leaders wrote.

East Hampton Town today filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court decision over the town’s proposed airport noise regulations “that would rob East Hampton and thousands of other local airport sponsors of their ability to manage their airport, in the best interests of their residents,” according to the town’s announcement this afternoon.

The town had attempted in 2015 to enact several pieces of legislation limiting the use of the airport by noisy fixed wing and helicopter traffic, but aviation groups soon sued. While the U.S. District Court upheld two out of three of the town’s rules, they were struck down by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in November 2016, shortly after which the town announced its intent to take the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The town maintains it has the right to exert local control over its airport after not taking federal funds for upkeep of the airport for several years, with the intent of allowing so-called “grant assurances” that the town would not restrict aircraft to expire.

Said Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell in a press release: “For the last three years, this town board has been fighting to regain local control of our airport. We followed the FAA’s advice and elected to forgo federal funding so that we could protect our residents. We engaged in a lengthy public process to identify meaningful but reasonable restrictions, and the District Court agreed that we met that test. But, with the stroke of a pen, the appeals court decision has federalized our airport and stripped us – and the thousands of similarly situated airports – of the ability to exert local control. We cannot let that decision stand.”

Friday March 3, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson, Neil Tolhurst, and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Connecticut’s taxi industry asks for changes in a changing industry;  New York lawmakers seek refugee funding amid federal uncertainty; and, New York State education officials seek public input on holding schools accountable.

The president of one of the largest taxicab companies in Connecticut told the legislature’s Real Estate Committee yesterday that the taxi industry “is very near extinction.” Bill Scalzi, president of Metro Taxi, said they’ve watched their customer base disappear “as a result of the oversaturation of for-hire vehicles.” Scalzi was referring to ride-sharing services such as Uber, and Lyft.

Scalzi said the legislation being debated yesterday would “legitimize” those companies, “without giving the taxi industry a means to compete. Instead of opposing legislation that codifies the practice of ride-sharing services, Scalzi pitched lawmakers on giving the taxi industry the ability to operate with fewer restrictions. Scalzi said being able to remove rooftop lights, change insurance requirements, and allow drivers to start working on a probationary period before their background checks are completed would be helpful changes to the taxi industry.

Lyft declined to say how many drivers it has in Connecticut. It says it doesn’t share market specific data, but it has 600,000 drivers nationwide. Uber has been servicing Connecticut since April 2014. The company launched in Fairfield and New Haven counties and has since expanded its operation to Hartford and New London. Lyft suspended its services in Connecticut in 2015, but started back up in November and is currently recruiting drivers.

A bill that would have tightened regulations for ride-sharing services passed the House in 2015, but stalled in the Senate. The 2015 bill would have tightened background checks for drivers and would have established insurance coverage requirements that don’t currently exist.

Wednesday, Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy and fellow Assembly Democrats from upstate’s major cities called for $12 million in the state budget to provide state funding for refugee resettlement. Their proposal follows a recent influx of refugees in upstate cities. They want funding so refugee resettlement agencies remain at capacity if federal funding — provided based on the number of refugees resettled — declines, to help extend federal government-funded resettlement efforts from the current 90 days to 180 days, and to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate legal services to refugees.

October 2015 through September 2016 data show of the 5,028 refugees who were resettled in New York, 4,745 were resettled upstate.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, told reporters Wednesday that while refugee resettlement may be a federal issue, “when the people come here, they’re residents of New York State, and I think the state should have some responsibility in making sure they get services they need, so we will look to do that.” Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, R-Long Island, told reporters Wednesday that he believes refugee resettlement is primarily a federal issue, though he noted that some GOP senators have been outspoken in favor of refugee 

According to the Albany Times-Union, New York State’s Education Department wants the public’s input on how to hold schools accountable—for student success, potential alternative testing methods, and possible interventions for low performing schools.

The Department is currently crafting a statewide plan to address these issues and comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal law that replaced No Child Left Behind, granting more flexibility to states for holding schools accountable. States must submit their accountability plans to the U.S. Department of Education during early 2017. 
ublic meetings will be held across New York this month, to gather community input. The meetings will address issues like: what new assessment practices New York may wish to pilot; requirements for newly arrived English language learners; strategies for professional support for educators; design of the state’s public school accountability system; and supports and interventions in low performing schools.

Check the State Education Department website for more on Every Student Succeeds and the latest meeting information. Meetings are already scheduled on Monday March 13 at Eastern Suffolk County BOCES in Patchogue, 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. and 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. and at Western Suffolk BOCES in Wheatley Heights 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.

Thursday March 2, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: advocates push to ban under-the-radar sales of Connecticut state property; Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim Seeking Tenants for Bridgeport’s Ballpark; and, New York lawmakers push upstate and Long Island SAFE Act
repeal bill.

Conservation advocates hope to clear a crucial hurdle this spring toward establishing tougher standards for the sale or transfer of Connecticut state property. With successful votes in the House and Senate, they could put a proposed amendment to the state Constitution on the November 2018 ballot. If ratified, it would prevent the legislature from selling, trading or giving away state land without a public hearing and a two-thirds’ vote of approval in both chambers.

The General Assembly has a longstanding practice of conveying dozens of state parcels annually in an omnibus bill that gets little public scrutiny. And as state government enters a 15- to 20-year period of constrained budgets, some advocates fear officials might be tempted to sell valuable land assets for short-term budgetary solutions. With more than 170 parks, forests and wildlife management areas, Connecticut has a treasure trove of natural assets that greatly add to the quality of life here.

But Eric Hammerling, executive director of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association, said it doesn’t take much — such as the development of a mini-mall on a seemingly innocuous parcel of wetlands that actually drains into a nearby nature preserve — to dramatically change a valuable asset. “We typically have little warning on which parcels of state lands are being proposed to be given away,” Hammerling testified before the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee this week. And if that transfer is one of the many ordered annually by the legislature, it usually comes in the waning days of the session “when the rules are suspended and bills are flying through. … The process shouldn’t work this way, and conveyances of public lands through the General Assembly should be the last resort, and not the first.”

The proposed constitutional amendment deals only with sales or transfers ordered by lawmakers. Those arranged by state agencies in accordance with the law, advocates say, typically follow a much more deliberative and transparent process. Margaret Miner, executive director of the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, testified that if the amendment is ratified, it also will dissuade some who otherwise would attempt to move land in a less-than-transparent way.

2017 marks the Bridgeport Bluefish’s 20th anniversary of the Ballpark at Harbor Yard. The baseball franchise is operating under a one-year contract extension that guarantees the season kicks off next month and gives the team and the City time to negotiate a new contract. The team’s original contract expired at the end of last season, the Connecticut Post reported. But on Wednesday, a legal notice from the City appeared in the Connecticut Post, calling for proposals “for professional sports team operator or an outdoor entertainment venue” for the ballpark.

Rowena White, spokeswoman for Bridgeport’s Mayor, Joe Ganim, said the Request for Proposals should not be viewed as a sign the Bluefish are out. “Of course, any and all participants are encouraged to apply, including the Bluefish,” she said.

Frank Boulton, team owner since 2008, declined to comment specifically on the Request for Proposals, but made it clear he wants to remain the stadium’s tenant. “Our focus is on the 20th anniversary season and working with the city to make sure we’re here for many years to come. Hopefully the community values the Bridgeport Bluefish and all they’ve done to bring affordable family entertainment to southern Connecticut,” he said.

A source familiar with the situation who wished to remain anonymous said they were “disappointed to see” the city looking for other tenants, but not surprised.

The Albany Times-Union reports that Republican state lawmakers are pushing legislation they say strikes a balance between a desire across much of New York state to repeal the SAFE Act gun-control law and a desire to keep the law in full effect in New York City. The bill would make a number of elements of the SAFE Act applicable only within the five boroughs. It would repeal upstate and in the city’s suburbs provisions that include the five-year recertification requirement for pistol permits, restrictions on transferring firearms to family members as part of an estate and the SAFE Act definition of an assault weapon, replacing it with the old statutory definition.

Sponsors of the legislation say they aren’t opposed to all parts of the SAFE Act, including provisions related to gun ownership by those who have been convicted of a violent crime and increased penalties for those who murder a first responder, the so-called Webster provision. Still, they maintain that key provisions they see as restricting gun ownership needn’t apply for law-abiding gun owners across most of the state. The bill sponsors say there is precedent for such regional lawmaking, including the different phase-in schedules for the minimum wage increase in New York City, its suburbs and upstate.

The bill has Republican Majority Conference support in the Senate but lacks key Assembly Democratic Majority backing. A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, tweeted in response to the bill, simply, “no.” Without the support of Assembly Democrats and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who counts the SAFE Act among his progressive legacy-defining achievements, the legislation is almost certainly doomed to fall flat. But the lawmakers behind it say they want to start a longer-term “reasonable and rational” conversation about how to govern a diverse state.

Wednesday March 1, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Melinda Tuhus and Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Public Hearing In Bridgeport concerning future Gas-Fired Power Plant; Connecticut Bag Bill Appears to Have Enough Votes to Pass; and NY congressman pushes bill allowing striped bass fishing off Montauk

Dozens of people attended a public hearing in Bridgeport City Hall Tuesday night regarding ​the air permits needed before a power company can build a gas-fired plant on the site of its currently operating coal-fired power plant. WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus reports. Those who spoke in favor -- including several from the plant's immediate neighborhood -- praised PSEG as a good corporate neighbor that gave two million dollars for community projects as part of its Community Environmental Benefits Agreement to help get the gas plant approved.

​Some community members, along with many environmental activists, spoke about ​the harmful ​health and safety impacts of bringing fracked gas into the area, as well as about the contributions ​to climate change ​of methane releases from ​the gas. 

Kelly Heidelman ​ ​is a young mother who​ lives near the site. “I’m here to stand in support of everyone who has come before me who has asked for a health assessment to be done here ahead of the air permits being approved. As a parent I’m very concerned that as I raise my three small children here, they will be chronically exposed to toxins in the air.”

The CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection or DEEP conducted the hearing, which ​was requested by the climate group 350 Connecticut. Written testimony for or against DEEP issuing the air permit may be submitted by March 10 to lidia.howard@ct.gov.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.

A majority of the legislature’s Environment Committee think it is a good idea to charge five cents for single-use plastic bags and to use the money to help maintain state parks, which are currently funded at the same level they were back in 2006. However, many expressed concern about whether that fund would truly be dedicated to helping state parks, or that it would be just another account that could be swept into the general fund to help erase the budget deficit.

Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, said he believes the five cent fee for plastic bags makes an environmental policy statement. The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is not in favor of creating a new fund with the fees collected from the bags and would prefer the money be deposited in the general fund. Some lawmakers expressed concern about it being a regressive tax on a poor population, who can’t or won’t afford the more expensive reuseable cloth bags, while others said they should just ban plastic bags.

This is the first year the Connecticut Food Association, which represents grocery stores, is supporting the bill. Only stores with gross annual sales of at least $2 million and more than 10,000 square feet of retail space will have to comply with the collection of the bag fee. The state, if the bill passes the full General Assembly, could start collecting the fee as early as Oct. 1, 2017.

Newsday reports:
U.S. New York Representative Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has proposed a bill that would permit striped bass fishing in federal waters off the coast of Montauk.

The Local Fishing Access Act, introduced in the House on Feb. 16, would reverse restrictions on striped bass fishing in the Block Island Transit Zone between Montauk Point and Block Island. While other types of fishing are permitted in this zone, striped bass fishing has been prohibited since 1990 after a sharp decline in the stripers’ population In neighboring New York and Rhode Island waters, both commercial and recreational fishermen can catch a limited number of striped bass.

“The Local Fishing Access Act would eliminate the regulatory confusion hurting the hardworking, responsible men and women of the region’s struggling fishing communities, while freeing up Coast Guard and other law enforcement resources that are diverted from more critical missions, such as national security and vessel safety,” Zeldin said in a Feb. 21 news release. A regional fisheries commission would determine which types of fishing gear are allowed, Zeldin spokeswoman Jennifer DiSiena said.

Charles Witek, a member of the New York Marine Resources Advisory Council, said increasing recreational fishing in the area would threaten the striped bass population, which is just higher than the threshold denoting overfishing. “We shouldn’t be doing anything to put that stock at risk given its current state,” Witek said Thursday. Witek agreed with a supporter of the bill that overfishing caused by commercial fishermen would likely be prevented by a highly regulated quota system that dictates the number of striped bass permitted to be caught. “It’s not going to increase the commercial catch. It’s going to increase the territory,” said Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association in Montauk.

Zeldin proposed a similar bill to permit recreational striped bass fishing in the Block Island Transit Zone in July 2015. The proposed legislation passed in the House in April and was not voted on by the Senate.