Tuesday, May 2, 2017

May 2017

Wednesday May 31, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Speaker Says Connecticut House will Debate Electronic Tolls; Connecticut Budget Debate Probably Headed To Extra Innings; and, voters continue to show support for N.Y. constitutional convention

The House is poised to debate one of the most controversial issues in Connecticut—tolls.  Rep. Anthony Guerrera (D-Rocky Hill) who has been pushing the issue for the past six years, said all the revenue raised from the electronic tolls on Interstate 95, 91, and 84, and Routes 8, 15, 9 and maybe 2, would be used to improve the crumbling roads and bridges. 
The federal government, according to Guerrera, would require Connecticut to use all the money raised from tolls on infrastructure improvements. So even without a lock box, Guerrera said it acts as a guarantee the money will be used on transportation improvements. 

The Department of Transportation has estimated that it would take three or four years to re-establish tolls on Connecticut’s highways, but Guerrera and House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin) are more optimistic about the time line, saying it could happen within 18 months or two years. 

Connecticut removed its tolling system in 1983 after a deadly crash. The new electronic tolls would be erected over the highway and allow cars to travel at highway speeds.
Guerrera said if Connecticut’s doesn’t do this then everyone has to look at alternative ways to fund the infrastructure. He said if they do that by borrowing then it’s on the back of Connecticut residents. “This is the fairest way of doing this,” Guerrera said. 

In March, the legislature’s Transportation Committee voted 19-16 to to implement electronic tolls on Connecticut’s highways in order to support improvements to those same roads and bridges. The legislation would also reduce the gas tax by 2.5 cents over the first five years.The legislation has been on the House calendar since April. The vote count is razor thin. There are 79 Democrats in the House and not all of them support electronic tolls. The bill needs 76 votes to pass.

Tuesday was only the second time in two weeks that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy met with legislative leaders to discuss plans to close the two-year, $5.1 billion budget deficit. The hour-long meeting ended with all parties agreeing to get back together on Thursday, but few other details were shared because there wasn’t much to say. The sides are still far apart and their plans are in various stages of completion. “Another good meeting,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin) told reporters after exiting the governor’s Capitol office. “We’re going to continue to work. Staff will get together tomorrow.”

The legislative session is scheduled to end June 7, but the fiscal year doesn’t end until June 30 so lawmakers on all sides believe they still have time to reach an agreement. It looks less likely that they will be able to pass a budget by June 7. Senate Republican President Len Fasano  (R-North Haven) said a decision about whether they can actually get to the finish line will be made early next week. Fasano said he thinks the General Assembly will be going into extra innings. “I think we’re going to end up doing a special session,” Fasano said.

There’s also a question about whether to “run it without the union’s vote,” Fasano said, referring to $1.5 billion in labor savings that are part of the fiscal year 2018 and 2019 budget. Each caucus has assumed the state employee unions will ratify $1.5 billion in concessions. However, the rank-and-file union members won’t wrap up their voting on the package until mid-July.

Malloy pointed out that if labor doesn’t approve the agreement, then Republicans and Democrats will have to come up with “hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in additional cuts.” Asked if everyone was getting along, Malloy said, “I’m not fighting with anyone. You should take that up with others.”Malloy said lawmakers are not agreeing with one another, but “nothing was thrown.”

The Albany Times-Union reports:
A recent poll shows that voters statewide show broad support for holding a constitutional convention, though they have yet to hear interest groups’ loud calls for and against holding one. The question will be on the ballot this November.

A Siena College poll released last week shows that 62 percent of voters statewide support having a convention in 2019, at which elected delegates would propose and vote on constitutional amendments. Any proposed changes would require final sign-off by voters.

Should they elect to hold a convention, voters will pick delegates in 2018. Yet 67 percent of voters say they’ve heard nothing about the convention.

Tuesday May 30, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut’s Governor and Lieutenant Governor Urge Lawmakers to Close 2017 Deficit; It’s Make Or Break Time For Major Legislation in Connecticut; Florida GOP operative involved in North Fork Politics; and, NYPIRG publishes online water contaminant database.

Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman are urging House and Senate leaders to quickly deal with this year’s $317 million deficit before moving onto the $5.1 billion deficit for the next two fiscal years. In a letter sent to Connecticut legislative leaders this morning, Malloy and Wyman urged the House and Senate to couple a deficit mitigation package with a deficiency bill, which helps move money around to clean up shortfalls in some accounts. 

Last week the House approved a deficiency bill without taking care of the deficit. The Senate has yet to raise the measure, but there were plans to allow Senate Republicans to amend the bill and close the deficit.The addition of the amendment would have sent it back to the House for approval. 

The letter touted the deficit mitigation plan pushed by the Senate Republicans last Thursday as “a responsible, compromise approach that has our support and deserves to be supported by the entire General Assembly.” The Republican plan would sweep about $23 million in off-budget accounts and use the $235.6 million left in the Rainy Day Fund to balance the budget. It would restore the $19.4 million grant to cities and towns that Malloy initially proposed to withhold from municipalities and restore $2 million to state hospitals.  Connecticut’s creditworthiness has been recently downgraded by three Wall Street rating agencies. 

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said that he expects the letter, which he hadn’t yet reviewed, would be discussed at a budget session with the governor scheduled later in the afternoon. “We’ll adjust if we need to,” Aresimowicz said. As of 4 p.m. the Senate had yet to convene to announce what bills it planned to debate today. Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said they plan to approve a deficiency bill and take up the deficit mitigation package separately as an emergency certified bill. 

This week will make or break several pieces of legislation as Connecticut lawmakers look to work through the weekend.The General Assembly has until Wednesday, June 7, to pass most legislation.

While many, including House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, have called the deadline arbitrary, what it means is that it basically gets much harder to pass any legislation that can’t be snuck into a budget implementer as the deadline gets closer. That’s because legislators will have to agree on what to debate and discuss if they have to return after June 7.

If the closely divided House doesn’t have a budget deal before next Monday, then it’s unlikely they will finish up approving a budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. As the session winds down power starts to shift to the minority party, which is the Republican Party in the House. The Senate, although it is evenly divided between the parties, still has Democratic Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman to break a tie vote in their favor. However, even getting legislation called for debate this year in the Senate has been challenging because of the new power sharing agreement.

The House is split 79-72, so it only takes a handful of members to kill any piece of legislation. Essentially, it means Democrats and Republicans will need to work together and deals will need to be made if anything is going to make it through the last week and a half of the legislative session.So far there haven’t been any big breakdowns in communication in the House, but the Senate has, at times, struggled to keep business moving.

In addition to passing a budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, lawmakers still have to resolve a $317 million budget deficit in the current fiscal year. The size of the deficit is a slight improvement, according to the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis. But aside from the budget there are several major pieces of policy that hang in the balance. Last week, the Senate approved legislation that would allow the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes build a casino off tribal land in East Windsor. The House then said it was opposed to giving the tribes exclusivity. Schaghticoke Tribal Nation Chief Richard Velky is expected to threaten to sue the state if it doesn’t open a competitive bidding process.

Another bill, one that would change how nuclear energy is sold in Connecticut, hasn’t passed either chamber. A similar bill was rushed through the Senate last year in the final days of the session only to be tabled for a vote in the House. A bill that would create a regulatory structure for ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft passed the House and awaits a vote in the Senate. Yet another bill that would allow electric car companies like Tesla to bypass the franchise system and sell directly to Connecticut consumers has been on the House calendar since May 9.

In the House, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, said on May 23 that he would like to vote on a proposal to increase the minimum wage. However, the House bill had effectively died when it was referred back to the Appropriations Committee and never called for a vote. Republicans and many moderate Democrats have opposed the measure, feeling it would give businesses another reason to consider leaving Connecticut or move faster toward automation. A bill that had been winding its way through the legislature would have raised the minimum wage from $10.10 to $11 on Jan. 1, 2018, and it would gradually increase to $15-an-hour by Jan. 1, 2022.

Aaron Nevins, is a Florida-based GOP operative who the Wall Street Journal says published Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee documents leaked by “Guccifer 2.0,” the hacker U.S officials believe to be linked to Russian military intelligence.

Southold Town residents are asking why Nevins became involved in North Fork politics. According to Southold Local editor Denise Civiletti, and The Wall Street Journal, Nevins is a former chief of staff for a Florida state senator and works for a public relations firm which has its offices in Delray Beach, Florida. According to the Journal, Nevins runs a consulting business which includes running grass-roots-style campaigns for corporations and wealthy landowners seeking to influence local politics.

In December, Nevins acknowledged publishing the Stronger Southold website and Facebook page but adamantly denied he was acting on anyone’s behalf. He claimed he had a residence in Southold, having married a native. But, according to public records databases, Nevins does not have, and never has had, a local address. He lives in Plantation, Florida, where he and the woman he calls his wife are both registered to vote.

The New York Public Interest Research Group has launched a searchable public drinking water system contaminant database with information on regulated and unregulated contaminants that have appeared in government water test data. It is available at nypirg.org.

NYPIRG’s “What’s in my Water?” tool allows users to search by zip code to determine what contaminants, both regulated and unregulated, have turned up in tests by the state departments of Health and Environmental Conservation and the U.S. EPA.

NYPIRG Clean Water Project Coordinator Anestoria Shalkowski said that for the most part contaminants listed on the website are within health limits as recommended by the EPA. Shalkowski recommended that users continue to monitor listed contaminants in their area and check EPA guidelines on contaminants for more information on health impacts of various contaminants.

 Monday May 29, 2017--no newscast

Friday May 26, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Connecticut State Comptroller Kevin Lembo pushes for public health insurance option; New York State approves details for new Excelsior Scholarship; and, New York State will receive payment in a settlement with Johnson & Johnson.

With 800,000 Connecticut residents at risk of losing their health insurance if the American Health Care Act (or AHCA) becomes law, Connecticut State Comptroller Kevin Lembo says expanding Medicare and creating a public health insurance option would help ensure people continue to have coverage. 

In letters sent Wednesday to U.S. Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, Lembo urged expanding Medicare, which is typically available to individuals once they turn 65, include those at least 55, and then offer an option for all people regardless of age to buy into the program as well. Making Medicare available to people who are at least 55, he said, would lower costs for people who buy insurance through the state individual market, and also lower the average cost of Medicare by adding younger participants to its pool.  Lembo said the AHCA and various proposals Senate Republicans are considering, “are not health care reform, but an immoral and outrageous attack on millions of Americans.”

The state comptroller is also pushing for a public health insurance option in Connecticut. He sent a separate letter on that topic Wednesday to Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman, who has convened a bipartisan group to examine the health care landscape and co-chair of Access Health Connecticut, the state’s insurance exchange.

New York State’s Higher Education Services Corporation, which helps oversee student loan financing, has approved final regulations for the new Excelsior Scholarship program which will eventually provide free tuition to either State University of New York or City University of New York schools, to families earning up to $125,000 a year.

The governor’s release highlights some of the exceptions or exemptions to the 15-credit per semester requirement, which has drawn criticism for being unrealistic for some students. Among those are a provision that would accommodate those serving in the military and allowing hardship waivers for those who graduate and move out of state.

The original plan called for grads to remain in the state for up to four years or risk a penalty in the form of having to pay back some of the tuition money. There is also a catch-up provision for students who may fall short of the 15-credit requirement.

According to The Albany Times-Union, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced on Wednesday that Johnson & Johnson, maker of popular over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol, Motrin and Sudafed, has agreed to pay $33 million to 42 states and the District of Columbia—to settle allegations that it employed deceptive practices to market and promote the drugs.

New York will get $1.3 million from the settlement, which resolves allegations going back to 2009 through 2011. The company’s subsidiary at the time, McNeil-PPC Inc., claimed the over-the-counter drugs complied with federally mandated current Good Manufacturing Practices. However, an investigation conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and attorneys general across the country revealed that a number of McNeil manufacturing facilities and the medications they produced did not meet the national standards.

The investigation’s findings resulted in the recall of several adulterated McNeil drugs, including Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl, St. Joseph Aspirin, Sudafed, Pepcid, Mylanta, Rolaids, Zyrtec, and Zyrtec Eye Drops.   

In addition to the monetary penalties, the agreement requires McNeil to reform its marketing practices, including the way it advertises its drugs on its website.

Thursday May 25, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: New Census Estimates show Most Connecticut Cities Losing Residents; bipartisan coalition seeks support for Connecticut’s state parks;  and, Westhampton Beach wants a slice of $2.5 billion water-quality pie.

Most Connecticut cities lost more residents than they gained from 2015 to 2016, though some in southwestern Connecticut had small gains, the U.S. Census Bureau reported today. Danbury, Stamford, Milford and Norwalk were the only large cities in Connecticut showing increases.
All but Milford are in Fairfield County, and they added about 1,700 residents combined. Town population estimates for 2016 showed population declines in 15 of the state’s 19 large cities. The Census defines large cities as having populations higher than 50,000.

The bureau estimated Connecticut lost 8,300 residents from 2015 to 2016. That’s about equal to the population of Haddam. The bureau’s estimates show a decrease in Connecticut’s population each year since 2014. Of the state’s 169 towns and cities, 143 saw their number of residents go down from 2015 to 2016.

Bridgeport, Hartford and Waterbury lost the most residents.
Those cities are among the five largest in the state, along with Stamford and New Haven. Bridgeport lost about 1,100 residents. New Haven remained virtually stable, losing about 80 residents. As for towns under 50,000, Fairfield County’s Bethel and Shelton had the second- and third-largest increases in the state. Stonington grew the most among smaller towns, with about 350 new residents in 2016.

Nationally, Connecticut is third for population losses, and ranks 29th in the country for total population. The only states with larger losses were Illinois and West Virginia.

A group of legislators from both political parties made a renewed pitch for the state to spend millions to maintain Connecticut’s parks and forests. The legislators held a press conference at the state capitol to push for a proposal called “Passport to the Parks,” which they said would raise between $10 million and $14.5 million per year through a $10 vehicle registration fee to be paid every two years when vehicle registrations are renewed. The $5 per year fee would be, at least as designed, dedicated strictly to maintain the state’s beleaguered park and forest system, which has been particularly hard hit by a series of budget cuts during Connecticut’s budget crisis the past few years.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s most recent budget proposal would cut an additional $8 million from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and most of that, about $6.4 million, would be saved by converting most state parks to “passive management,” providing staffing at only a handful of shoreline parks, and leaving the remainder with little to no ongoing maintenance. Eric Hammerling, executive director of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association said: “The governor’s recommendation would close campgrounds and leave even fewer services available to the public. ‘Passive management’ means that visitors will enter at their own risk and witness shameful neglect of the our most precious natural resources.”

The “passport” would allow drivers with Connecticut plates to enter state parks for free, while visitors from other states would have to pay entry fees. The legislation that would have implemented the proposal died in committee, but supporters are still hoping the idea could come up as part of the state budget.

Newsday reports:
Westhampton Beach village officials are working on a plan for a local waterfront revitalization program that they expect could put them in a better position to get state grants for improving water quality.

Patricia Schaefer, chairwoman of the village’s Conservation Advisory Council, cited New York State’s recent approval of a water infrastructure bill when she recommended that the village board of trustees draft a proposal. The state will provide $2.5 billion for projects geared toward ensuring clean drinking water. “In light of the vision that the board has for future work and infrastructure work in the village, it just makes sense to have some sort of a planning document,” Schaefer told the board.

Mayor Maria Moore said she was intrigued that creating a plan could help the village get more state grants for future water-quality initiatives. “The board is in favor of taking any steps that would improve water quality in the village,” she said.

Wednesday May 24, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Union Leaders Begin Selling Labor Deal to Members; Connecticut Senate Gives Thumbs Up To Tribal Casino Bill; and, New York Assembly Passes Package of Voting Reforms.

A day after a deal was struck between the governor and labor leaders that would save Connecticut $1.5 billion over the next two fiscal years, state workers were at the capitol Wednesday to show support for it. “Every time we’ve been asked to step up to the plate, we have. We’ve not only made concessions, but we’ve given back, also,” said AFSCME Council 4 Executive Director Sal Luciano.

Rank-and-file union members still have to ratify the deal and while the threshold for approval is lower than it was in 2011, it’s still not a slam dunk.  In order to finalize an agreement two-thirds of all voting unions need to approve the contract and no more than one-third can oppose it. Without a deal, the state would have to lay off 4,200 employees to get the necessary savings in 2018.

The deal negotiated this week between the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) and Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s negotiators, if ratified by union membership, would rescind the 113 layoff notices that started going out in April.
The plan freezes wages for the next three years and allows for a 3.5 percent increase in pay in 2020 and 2021. It also requires employees to take three furlough days.

The state Senate approved a bill early this morning that would pave the way for Connecticut’s two federally recognized tribes to build a casino in East Windsor. The bill passed on a 24-12 vote after more than two hours of debate. The bill tries to minimize the risk to the state for its decision to give the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribal nations exclusivity over gaming in Connecticut. However, it’s fate in the House doesn’t look good. 

The Senate bill requires the tribes to get permission from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to maintain the current 25 percent revenue sharing agreement with the state of Connecticut. Under the legislation, the tribes would need to come back to the General Assembly following approval by the BIA and the governor in order to obtain the gaming license for the East Windsor facility.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin) said he has many members who believe the open bidding process for a third casino “is the way to go” and “we shouldn’t be giving the exclusive rights to anyone.” House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said they haven’t caucused or vote counted the casino bill yet with their members. When they do he expects there will be “32 different opinions.” Ritter said the bill that passed the Senate early this morning cannot pass the House as currently written.

Public News Service reports that the New York State Assembly last week approved nine bills to reform and modernize New York's outdated election system. If they become law, the bills would allow early voting and "no-excuse" absentee ballots, combine some primary elections, and allow online registration and automatic transfer of registrations when voters move within the state.

According to Dick Dadey, executive director of the group Citizens Union, New York has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the nation, and these reforms are long overdue. "This package of bills would allow New Yorkers to vote in different ways, and over several days, opening up the process of voting to make it more easy for voters," he explains.

Similar bills have passed the Democratic-controlled Assembly in previous years, but have not made it through the state Senate, where Republicans hold a slim majority.

Tuesday May 23, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Democratic Lawmakers Express Relief At Prospect of Union Deal; Connecticut Union Officials Criticize Judicial Nominations with Concessions on the Horizon; and, New York State pension fund valued at $192 billion.

Democratic lawmakers were expressing relief today after word that Connecticut state employees were close to inking a concession deal with Governor Dannel P. Malloy. The details of the five-year deal show the state would save $712.6 million in the first year and $849.4 million in the second year.

Neither Malloy or the unions have said there is a deal yet, but a framework of the agreement they’ve been working on was given to the media Monday as bits and pieces of the deal had begun to leak out. During a Capitol press conference today, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin) said, “I’m very thankful that they’ve come to an agreement.”

The amount of savings means lawmakers and Malloy only have to find about $1.6 billion in spending cuts and revenues to balance the budget. However, that also assumes leadership of the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition will vote to open the health and pension part of the contract that doesn’t expire until 2022.

The agreement, which asks state employees and retirees to contribute more to their health and pension benefits, doesn’t offer explicit layoff protections. “It truly is better than the alternative,” Aresimowicz, who works as an education coordinator for AFSCME Council 4, said. “It locks in some level of job security.”

Union officials criticized the Judiciary Committee Monday for approving the nominations of 13 attorneys to the Connecticut Superior Court.  “The optics here are not good,” AFSCME Council 4 Executive Director Sal Luciano said Monday.

State employee unions, including those in the Judicial Branch, are currently in talks with Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s administration. If the two sides can’t reach an agreement it’s possible that as many as 4,200 state employees would lose their jobs. Last year at least 300 Judicial Branch employees lost their jobs as a result of budget cuts.

“Our union members want to protect the vital services they provide to Connecticut citizens,” Luciano said. “That’s why we are making a good faith effort in our discussions with the administration. But it’s hard for front-line workers to maintain their morale when their livelihoods are threatened at the same time six-figure managerial employees are getting jobs.” Chris Collibee, a spokesman for Malloy, said the judicial nominations represent “a fraction of the current vacancies” on the Superior Court bench. He said appointments will help ensure that the court is able to conduct its business in a timely fashion.

AFSCME Local 749 President Charles DellaRocco said: “The state and the branch are spending money unwisely on essentially lifetime appointments for managerial level employees, while asking its lowest paid to give back — or face the unemployment line. It makes no sense and it sends the absolute wrong message to the workers we represent.”

The Albany Times-Union reports:
New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office said today that the state pension fund now has an estimated value of $192 billion after earning an estimated 11.42% overall return on investments in state fiscal year 2016-17, which ended March 31.

The $192 billion valuation marks the highest ever for the fund, according to data from DiNapoli’s office. It grew by $13.4 billion over where it was at the end of the 2015-16 fiscal year.

The New York state pension fund is the third-largest public pension fund in the nation. 

Monday, May 22, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Melinda Tuhus and Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Supporters of Graduate Student Teachers Union march on Yale’s Graduation day; Connecticut Senate Replaces Bear Hunting Bill with ‘Cecil’s’ Bill; and, bill to reduce size of Suffolk County Legislature stalls.

Between one and two thousand orange t-shirted and graduation-capped supporters of Local 33, the union of some of Yale's graduate student teachers, marched around New Haven on Yale's graduation day to demand that the administration negotiate a contract with them.

WPKN's Melinda Tuhus was there:
The marchers included members of Yale's three other unions, as well as many members of the larger New Haven community and union supporters from as far away as Baltimore

Robin Canavan is vice chair of Local 33 and one of those who participated in a now-23 days and counting rolling water-only fast. Asked why Yale should care, since most of those marching were not graduate student teachers promoting their own cause, she replied: “We are part of this community. we are part of Yale. So I would hope they would care about their own mission and sit down and talk to us about our work, because our work is essential to the mission of this university. It's about teaching undergraduates.” 

​The union accuses the administration of stonewalling until Donald Trump's nominees to the National Labor Relations Board can be seated. Yale says it's appealing the NLRB decision because the union vote included just a small fraction of graduate student teachers.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.

Instead of allowing a bill that would have permitted black bear hunting in Litchfield County to receive an up or down vote, Democratic lawmakers in the Senate turned it into a bill to prevent the import, possession, sale or transport of elephants, lions, leopards, or rhinoceroses. The amended bill, which was sent to the Judiciary Committee after hours of debate, prevents the import and transport of five big African species. 

“We as a state should stand up and say we value these endangered species,” Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) said. He said at the moment there are 5,000 residents for every bear in the state of Connecticut, so the bear population is not currently a crisis. Duff said the bill is among the top five issues he’s received feedback on this year from his constituents, and they are against allowing bear hunting.

According to testimony on the bill, the black bear population has rebounded and bears are now common in parts of Connecticut. Males can generally weigh up to 450 pounds. The bill, as written would have required the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection commissioner to establish a black bear hunting season, applying the same requirements and restrictions that apply to deer hunting. The legislation had the support of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

At the moment, DEEP’s bear management activities involve public outreach and education, research and monitoring, and intervention practices.

A vote on a bill to let the public vote on reducing the size of the Suffolk County Legislature from 18 members to 13 appears unlikely. The Legislature’s ways and means committee voted last Thursday to have the proposal “tabled subject to call.”

The bill was first introduced last November and has been tabled several times at committee. Now that it is “subject to call,” a majority of the seven committee members would need to vote in favor of placing it back on the agenda. East End Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor), chairperson of that committee said only one member of the committee supports the bill. Legislator Bill Lindsay III (D-Bohemia) proposed the bill in November and estimated in December that it would save $4.5 million.

“We have reached the point where we cannot add any further burden on the taxpayers, and in order to make up the difference, some services, including the Legislature, need to be consolidated to allow for taxpayer dollars to be invested back into the community,” Mr. Lindsay said at the time.

Five residents spoke at a pair of December public hearings on the measure, with four of them opposed to shrinking the size of the Legislature. North Fork Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said the bill had very little support among elected officials. He added that he would be in favor of debating the issue of a smaller Legislature, but that debate would need to be focused on how it might impact public services. Ms. Fleming said she opposed the bill.

Mr. Lindsay says he plans to reintroduce the bill next year. “What’s wrong with letting the people choose what type of government they want?” he asked. “All the bill does is set a referendum.”

Friday May 19, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Father of Boy Killed by Bridgeport Police Speaks Out; a new database finds 800 “double dippers” in the New York State public sector; and, Concerned East Enders take the Plum Island Preservation Case to the State.
Earlier today, the lawyer for the father of 15 year-old Jayson Negron shot and killed last Tuesday by Bridgeport Police Officer James Boulay, disputed claims made by the police following the killing.Attorney Michael Rosnick, standing beside Juan Negron, Jayson’s father, said:  “It appears that the initial factual allegations from The City of Bridgeport and social media were false. It appears that the vehicle was not stolen, there was never a police chase and no officer’s life was in danger to justify the use of deadly force, on a child nonetheless.”

Bridgeport Police Officer James Boulay shot 15 year-old Jayson Negron in his chest after what state police have claimed was a brief pursuit in a stolen vehicle. The Bridgeport Police then left Jayson Negron’s body, with his hands cuffed behind his back, uncovered and untreated by emergency personnel for six hours. 

The passenger in Negron’s vehicle, Julian Fyffe, was shot in the arm and back. He told Hearst Connecticut Media that there was no pursuit and that Officer Boulay fired three shots at them through the open driver’s door after Negron panicked and hit the gas, sending the car backwards.

Although there were earlier reports from family members that Negron had been homeless, Rosnick said Juan Negron had recently gotten full custody of his son. Rosnick said: “Jayson was a joyful, fun-loving 15 year-old boy who enjoyed music and the arts. He lived with his father and attended Bunnell High School in Stratford. Jayson was adored by his family and friends. The family is expecting that the rule of law and justice will prevail, that the state of Connecticut will conduct a fair and impartial investigation, that the true facts will come to light and that those responsible for Jayson’s death will be held accountable. The family and community are entitled to the truth.”

The Empire Center has come out with a database of more than 800 “double dippers,” or retired public sector employees, who, while collecting their pensions, received a Civil Service waiver to go back to work for the government and earn more than the $30,000 limit that would, without a waiver, result in a payment freeze (those over age 65 are exempt from the waiver requirement).

The practice has long been controversial since to get such a waiver, the organization hiring the person is supposed to go through “extensive recruitment efforts” and show that they couldn’t find anyone else to do the job going to the waiver recipient. The definition of “extensive though, can be vague.

Moreover, as the fiscally conservative Empire Center notes, there is no waiver requirement for those over age 65 and it’s not known how many pension-collectors continue to earn a $30,000-plus taxpayer-funded paycheck. Many waivers go to retired law enforcement officers, many of whom can retire in their mid-40’s if they have worked for 20 years. In addition to the state Civil Service department, the state Education department, Court system, and New York City can grant the waivers.

According to the East End Beacon, county legislators, town supervisors and village mayors are asking New York State to intervene against the federal government’s plans to sell Plum Island. The East End Supervisors and Mayors Association sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo on April 26, asking New York to declare the sale inconsistent with the state’s Coastal Zone Management Act. They also sent letters to U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Congressman Lee Zeldin. Suffolk County Legislature agreed to send a similar letter. 

Advocates are asking the governor’s office to make clear to the federal government that the sale of the island is not consistent with the state’s coastal policies, before the federal agencies charged with the sale issue a consistency determination, which could include language stating the sale is consistent with state policies, without the state’s input. New York’s Department of State, headed by the governor, administers the state’s coastal management policies.

Governor Cuomo has taken on the federal government over its actions in the Long Island Sound in the past, threatening in December 2016 to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over its designation of a dredge spoil dumping site in eastern Long Island Sound.

Thursday May 18, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: CT unemployment rate climbs to 4.9% in April; Wall Street continues to pile onto Connecticut; and, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli warns that tough financial decisions could lie ahead for New York State.

Connecticut’s unemployment rate rose from 4.8% to 4.9% in April as the state lost 1,500 non-farm jobs, the Department of Labor reported Thursday. The jobless rate nonetheless is 0.5% lower than it was one year ago and the state has added 5,500 jobs over the past 12 months. Private sector employment was down by 1,000 jobs last month but still up 9,900 positions over the past year. Connecticut now has recovered 89,000 of the 119,100 jobs lost in the last recession or just under 75%. The private sector has regained 92.7% or 103,500 out of 111,700 jobs lost.

“Though April non-farm job estimates fell by 1,500, we are still well ahead of last year’s pace,” said Andy Condon, director of the labor department’s Office of Research. “For the fourth month in a row we have seen small increases in the unemployment rate accompanied by larger increases in the labor force.” The labor force includes those who are employed and those actively seeking work.

Don Klepper-Smith, an economist with DataCore Partners and who was economic adviser to Gov. M. Jodi Rell, said the new labor report, coupled with recent downgrades for Connecticut by Wall Street credit rating agencies, does not bode well for the future.

“Given current developments, I’m not that optimistic about Connecticut’s state and local budget problems and how they get resolved going forward,” Klepper-Smith said, warning that the rating downgrades come with a likely cost. “This means higher borrowing costs, which inevitably get passed along to taxpayers, meaning higher taxes, less job growth and further outmigration.”

Another Wall Street credit rating agency, S&P Global Ratings, downgraded Connecticut’s bond rating Wednesday — the state’s third in the past four business days. S&P lowered the state’s general obligation bond rating from AA- to A+, potentially raising borrowing costs in the future. It also reduced ratings for other state bond programs, including its capital borrowing program for the University of Connecticut.

Selling general obligation bonds on Wall Street is the principal means state government uses to finance municipal school construction, capital projects at public colleges and universities, renovation of state buildings, and open space and farmland preservation. General obligation bonds are repaid with resources from the state budget’s General Fund. This fund includes receipts from income, sales and most other taxes, gaming proceeds, several categories of federal grants, and revenues from various fees.

The announcement by S&P comes two days after a similar downgrade by Moody’s Investors Service. Fitch Ratings Inc. lowered its bond rating for Connecticut on Friday. Wednesday’s action by S&P also marks the sixth downgrade for state government in the past six months among the four major credit rating agencies.

The ratings agencies have cited rapidly eroding state income tax receipts, the impending depletion of the state budget reserve, and huge unfunded liabilities expected to drive public-sector retirement benefit costs up for the next 15 to 20 years.

The Albany Times-Union reports:
With more than $10.5 billion in bonded indebtedness approved with the most recent state budget and tax revenue projections trending downward, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is warning that tough fiscal decisions could lie ahead for New York state. The Comptroller, with the release of a report outlining the indebtedness, also took aim at the way the 2017-18 state budget was finalized a week after the April 1 deadline.

“Billions of dollars in spending lacks key details that would better inform the public about how their tax dollars are being spent,” DiNapoli said in a statement accompanying his latest report. He also repeated the fear, voiced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and others, that the White House, along with a Republican-controlled Congress could enact steep cuts to programs like Medicaid, which would harm the state’s budget.

The report comes just a day after DiNapoli chided the Cuomo Administration for what he said was its failure to meet the reporting requirements for Empire State Development, which helps stimulate economic development.

Wednesday May 17, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN Volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight:  Connecticut House Seeks to Toughen Oversight of Tax Credits; Connecticut Keeps Pressure on Environmental Protection Agency to Crack Down on Emissions from Coal-Fired Plant; and, Bike Sharing a Possibility for Suffolk County.

Legislation that would toughen oversight of state tax credits and economic incentives unanimously passed the House of Representatives Wednesday. The bill, championed by state Comptroller Kevin Lembo, now moves to the Senate. A similar bill unanimously passed both chambers last year before it was vetoed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The House overruled Malloy’s veto, but the Senate failed to reconsider it. 

The bill’s goal, as written, expands legislative review of economic development programs. It seeks to use Department of Economic and Community Development’s annual report to the legislature and the auditors’ regular and stand-alone audits to trigger legislative reviews of spending on large tax credit programs. Proponents of the legislation say it will give the legislature greater oversight of financial assistance and tax incentives the executive branch awards Connecticut businesses. 

Lembo, who is also exploring a run for governor in 2018, had spent the days leading up to the House vote campaigning for its passage. He praised the House for its vote. Lembo said it’s frustrating that Connecticut invests half a billion dollars each year in economic development through forgivable loans, tax loopholes, and other programs. “But guess what, we don’t really know if these investments are working because we don’t do an independent analysis. We’re one of the only states that doesn’t do it,” Lembo said.

Malloy’s spokesperson, Meg Green, said: “The First Five initiative continues to be an important tool in growing our economy - creating over 3,500 job in Connecticut to date.” The program gives large businesses who promise to create more than 200 jobs forgivable loans and other economic incentives to grow their workforce in Connecticut.

On the eve of Connecticut’s first unhealthy air day for the 2017 ozone season, state officials are trying again to get the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to protect residents from coal-fired power plant emissions drifting in from Pennsylvania. It’s been 11 months since they first petitioned the EPA to hold a public hearing regarding the Brunner Island Steam Electric Station in York County, Pennsylvania.

A lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court says the coal-fired plant is contributing to the amount of ozone in Connecticut’s air, causing the ambient air quality here to fall below national standards. The Pennsylvania plant comprising three major boiler units with a combined capacity of over 1400 MegaWatts, emitted about 11,000 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions in 2014.

“Connecticut has the highest ozone levels in the northeast — which adversely impacts the health of our citizens and the quality of life in our state,” Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Robert Klee said last summer when the original petition was first filed. The original petition asked that meaningful reductions be achieved in no more than three years

Tuesday’s petition asks for a public hearing to be held followed by a decision granting or denying the petition. “We are using every tool afforded by the Clean Air Act to achieve emission reductions from upwind states and the power plants that operate there,” Klee has said. “Our petition is yet another salvo that sends a clear message to upwind states that Connecticut is no longer going to accept being the tailpipe of America.”

With recent advances in mobile technology, bike sharing programs, where people can borrow publicly owned bicycles along their commute, are becoming more feasible in rural areas. MTA Transit Solutions Manager Rosemary Mascali and Southampton Town Sustainability Committee member Nicholas Palumbo have been advocating for a regional bike sharing program with town and county leaders in recent weeks.

They told the Southampton Town Board at its April 20 work session that technology has advanced dramatically in the past five years, with locks that allow riders to drop off bikes without unwieldy docking stations and GPS chips in the bicycles that make it easier for companies to keep track of the bikes. They said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a runner and advocate for alternative transportation, was “very excited” about the idea when they approached him in mid-April, and has asked his community development planning specialist, Jonathan Keyes, to issue a request for information from vendors.

Mr. Palumbo said the system could work well near transit hubs, downtowns and beaches throughout the East End, as well as local college campuses. “We’re hoping there will be a single bid initiated by the county, with provisions for opt-in within the towns and villages,” said Mr. Palumbo. “This could really move the needle on biking infrastructure across the county, and that could help everyone,” said Mr. Palumbo.

Tuesday May 16, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN Volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Wall Street Ratings Agency Puts Pressure on Connecticut to Handle Debt; Connecticut’s legislators release updated budget proposals; and, Senate Democrats push ‘equal rights’ amendment for New York State Constitution.

It was the second time in less than two days that a Wall Street rating agency downgraded Connecticut’s bonds. On Monday, Moody’s Investor Service downgraded Connecticut’s debt from Aa3 to A1, and last Friday, Fitch Ratings downgraded Connecticut’s general obligation bonds.

State Treasurer Denise Nappier said clearly a “course correction is necessary, and that a more disciplined path must lead in the direction of responsibly addressing our long-term liabilities.” Nappier suggested the legislature adopt her idea to authorize tax-secured revenue bonds to reduce the cost of borrowing and allow savings to be directed toward rebuilding the Rainy Day Fund, which will be depleted this year. Chris McClure, a spokesman for Governor Dannel P. Malloy, said it’s “yet another call to action from a credit rating agency.”

In the face of looming budget deficits, Governor Malloy released his revised budget proposal Monday. His proposal reduces spending by 1.2% in the first year and relies on municipalities to help pick up at least part of the cost of teacher pensions, while also eliminating funding in other municipal aid categories. It also reduces funding for state parks and social services. 

Connecticut's Democratic and Republican legislative leaders put forth their budget proposals today, following the release of Governor Malloy's proposal yesterday. The Democratic Legislative proposal legalizes marijuana, expands casino gaming, creates a paid Family and Medical Leave system, and reduces funding for Connecticut’s clean election system. The Democratic budget would spend $19.78 billion in 2018 and $20.06 billion in 2019. That means it spends about $50 million more than Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s revised budget in the first year and about $57 million more in the second year.

The budget doesn’t ask municipalities to contribute $400 million to the Teacher’s Retirement System, but it does cut $200 million in unspecified municipal aid and forces municipalities to find $100 million in regional efficiencies. It also requires non-union state employees to take three furlough days to achieve $4.6 million per year. It cuts another $50 million from the Board of Regents, which oversees the Connecticut State College System, and eliminates the already consolidated legislative commissions. It also closes Southbury Training School, another prison, and the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, which was already scheduled to close July 1, 2018. 

The budget assumes legalizing marijuana will generate $60 million in 2018 and $100 million in 2019. It’s unclear if they actually have the votes for legalizing marijuana. The budget also moves toward tolls, but doesn’t include any revenue from the idea in the next two years. As far as gaming is concerned, House Majority Leader Matt Ritter (D-Hartford) said they are interested in looking at the Massachusetts model of expanding gaming where applicants would pay a fee to open a casino. However, Senate Democrats seem more inclined to allow the two federally recognized Indian tribes open up a casino in East Windsor.

The Democratic budget also reduces the sales tax diversion to the special transportation fund by more than $200 million a year. It raises about $160 million in application and licensing fees. It reduces a tax credit for the working poor even further than Malloy and delays paying down the differential on the transition to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles by $57.5 million. The House and Senate Republican budget proposals rely heavily on changes to the state’s relationship with labor for savings. 

The House Republican budget would spend $19.47 billion in 2018 and $19.62 billion in 2019. Numbers for the Senate Republican budget were not immediately available. Each caucus decided to do its own budget proposal instead of a joint proposal. The House Republican proposal would cap bonding at $1.3 billion, it would stop shifting a portion of the sales tax to the Municipal Revenue Sharing Account, it would save any changes to the Education Cost Sharing formula for future legislatures, reduce the tax credit for working families even further, and reduce the workforce through attrition by 2% starting in the second year of the budget. It also restores the $200 property tax credit for middle-income individuals and families.

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides (R-Derby) said the most important part of their proposal is to come out with no tax increases for the state of Connecticut. Most of the spending reductions in the Republican proposal come from maintaining the Education Cost Sharing formula at its current levels and under the current formula. It also assumes Malloy will find more money from his negotiations with the state employee unions.The Senate Republican budget proposal relies on increasing the amount of labor savings from $700 million in 2018 by another $258.1 million. In 2019 it assumes an additional $405 million over the $856 million proposed by Malloy.

The Albany Times-Union reports:
A number of Democratic state senators as well as activists proposed legislation today that would enshrine equal rights in New York’s constitution for every person based on gender, sexual orientation or identity, physical or mental disability and more. The measure would surpass that of every other state in ensuring equal rights, as well as the U.S. Constitution, advocates said outside the Senate chamber.

Advocates are hoping for its passage by the Legislature either this year or in 2018, followed by another vote by a second, separately elected Legislature, and then a public statewide vote. The advocates and lawmakers noted that 11 states – including California, Oregon and Illinois – have passed equal rights amendments related to women, but New York has not. “We’re basically saying that New York could join other states in making it clear that you don’t discriminate against anyone of any category or any sub-definition,” said Manhattan state Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat who is sponsoring the bill. 

“We’re living in a country right now where literally some people are terrified.” Krueger added that, “It’s not okay to assume that bad things won’t happen” just because New York is a liberal state. Legislators and advocates said they would reach out to Republicans and Democrats in both the Assembly and Senate. “We see nothing partisan about this effort,” said Krueger. Krueger said she had spoken with leading New York constitutional experts, who assured her the amendment’s language would pass muster.

Specifically, the bill states that no New Yorker would be denied equal protection under the law for their “race, color, creed, religion, national origin, citizenship, marital status, age, gender, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, physical or mental disability, other immutable or ascriptive characteristic, or like grounds for discrimination…”

Monday May 15, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Governor’s Revisions Continue To Ask Municipalities For Help Balancing The State Budget; Connecticut State Labor Negotiations Reach a Critical Point as Layoff Notices Go Out; an,d New York State program aims to destroy a plant that can scar and blind;

Issued at 12:15 PM today, Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s revised budget proposal cuts an additional $600 million in the first year of the two-year budget for 2018-19, bringing spending down 1.2% below the current year’s budget. And within the proposal Malloy also continues to ask cities and towns for help. The first year of Malloy’s revised budget would spend $19.49 billion in 2018, down from the $19.73 billion budgeted for the current year.

The proposal also makes some additional revenue changes. It eliminates the sales tax exemption on non-prescription drugs and increases the conveyance tax from 1.25% to 2% on residential real estate valued over $800,000. It maintains the elimination of the property tax credit and a tax credit to the working poor that Malloy proposed back in February. “Over the last several years we have asked state agencies to do more with less,” Malloy said. “They have delivered on that task and they will continue to realize efficiencies, but we must acknowledge that the state agencies will need to start doing less with less.” It is nearly impossible to cut expenditures year after year and not expect changes in state services, the governor added. The sentiment continues to be true about the state’s commitment in funding to local governments.

The revised proposal would cap the amount of money it expects cities and towns to pay into the Teacher’s Retirement System at $400 million, a concession of sorts on the part of the governor. Local elected officials had objected to picking up the pension costs because the amount is expected to increase by a few hundred million per year. However, local elected officials are not going to be any happier with today's proposal from Malloy. The revised budget would eliminate the Pequot and Mohegan Fund, which are the funds redistributed to towns from the slot revenues the state receives from the two federally recognized tribes. The funding has been distributed to all 169 municipalities in three annual payments for at least the last two decades. In 2014 and 2015, the state paid out about $61.7 million through the fund to the municipalities.

Malloy’s budget would cut an additional $8 million from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and most of that, about $6.4 million, would saved by converting most state parks to “passive management.” Eric Hammerling, executive director of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association, said the recent layoffs leave only 35 full-time staff to manage 110 state parks. “The governor’s recommendation would close campgrounds and leave even fewer services available to the public,” Hammerling said. “‘Passive management’ means that visitors will enter at their own risk and witness shameful neglect of the our most precious natural resources.”

However, the largest cut is to the Department of Social Services. Malloy is proposing reducing that agency’s budget by $83 million in 2018. Some of the reductions would be from eliminating the supplemental pool for hospitals, changing how the state’s Medicare savings program works, and rescissions to benefits for the poor under the Temporary Family Assistance program and Medicaid. On Tuesday, Republican and Democratic legislative leaders are expected to unveil their own budget proposals.

Govenor Dannel P. Malloy has tried mightily not to negotiate with Connecticut’s labor unions through the news media.  On Friday after a state Bond Commission meeting, he declined to characterize the negotiations, which sources say have been difficult but are beginning to yield results. 

As part of his budget proposal, Malloy has asked the unions for $700 million in concessions in 2018 and $856 million in 2019. The first vote on the negotiated contract received the support of 57% of the union’s rank-and-file members, but failed because it didn’t pass 14 of the 15 bargaining groups. Malloy is looking at 4,200 layoffs without an agreement in place, and layoff notices started going out on Friday.

While sources say the two sides have been negotiating in earnest and are close to a deal, AFSCME Council 4 posted a message on its website for their membership describing the negotiations as “difficult and often times frustrating.” It says that the union is working hard to avoid layoffs, service cuts, and reductions in pay, pension, and health care.

Extending the contract will be difficult to sell to the governor and lawmakers, who have been critical of the 20-year deal former Gov. John G. Rowland gave the unions. House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, has said “no way” to the extension of the contract. But the unions, which have acknowledged the worsening budget situation, have to give their membership something and an extension of the contract will be viewed as respect for the collective bargaining process. It would also help the unions survive the next governor.

According to The Albany Times Union, after a decade the tide may be slowly turning in New York State’s war against a gargantuan invasive plant species. Giant hogweed plants have toxic sap that causes serious burns, blisters, scarring and long-term skin damage. Getting its sap in an eye can cause blindness.  

Naja Kraus, forest health scientist overseeing the hogweed program for Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC, said that since eradication efforts began in 2006, state crews have poisoned or cut out more than 6.3 million hogweed plants at hundreds of locations.

Hogweed sap is so dangerous that DEC workers dress in Tyvek jumpsuits, gloves and goggles before they cut out plants by the roots or spray herbicides to wipe out large fields. This summer, crews will again head out to hundreds of places to kill giant hogweed, which can grow more than 14 feet tall. Hogweed resembles a Queen Anne’s lace plant on steroids, growing tall from its center stalk, topped with white, umbrella-like flowers more than 2 feet across. It has large green leaves shaped like elephant ears. 

Hogweed is found at nearly 1,300 known sites across the state. The DEC recommends property owners call the state for help to remove hogweed.

Friday May 12, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Connecticut’s Bond Commission disagrees over agenda and casting a vote; New York State program aims to destroy a plant that can scar and blind; and MS-13 members on Long Island arrested in “gang purge.”

In the second Connecticut state Bond Commission meeting of the year, there were disagreements about almost everything on the agenda, including how someone should cast their vote. The commission approved $351.7 million in borrowing at its meeting Friday morning.

Governor Malloy initially said he planned to borrow $2.7 billion this calendar year but had only put about $245.7 million on the state credit card up to today’s Bond Commission meeting. The $351.7 million approved Friday brings the total for the calendar year up to about $597.4 million.

Rep. Chris Davis (R – East Windsor) said he didn’t believe the state should be borrowing $351.7 million when it’s facing a $389.8 million deficit this fiscal year and a $5.1 billion deficit over the next two years.

According to The Albany Times Union, after a decade the tide may be slowly turning in New York State’s war against a gargantuan invasive plant species. Giant hogweed plants have toxic sap that causes serious burns, blisters, scarring and long-term skin damage. Getting its sap in an eye can cause blindness. 

Naja Kraus, forest health scientist overseeing the hogweed program for Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC, said: Since eradication efforts began in 2006, state crews have poisoned or cut out more than 6.3 million hogweed plants at hundreds of locations. Hogweed sap is so dangerous that DEC workers dress in Tyvek jumpsuits, gloves and goggles before they cut out plants by the roots or spray herbicides to wipe out large fields. This summer, crews will again head out to hundreds of places to kill giant hogweed, which can grow more than 14 feet tall. 

Hogweed resembles a Queen Anne’s lace plant on steroids, growing tall from its center stalk, topped with white, umbrella-like flowers more than two feet across. It has large green leaves shaped like elephant ears. 

Hogweed is found at nearly 1,300 known sites across the state. DEC recommends property call the state for help to remove hogweed.

Newsday reports:
Federal Homeland Security officials said yesterday that MS-13 gang members were among 30 people arrested on Long Island recently as part of a national sweep by federal law enforcement. The arrests were part of a six-week “gang surge” that netted 1,378 people.  Many were considered suspects in transnational criminal activity including drug trafficking, smuggling of people and weapons, sex trafficking and murder. In New York, 21 were identified as members of MS-13, which has been linked to multiple killings in the region. 

Officials said some of the gangs have been working together in their attempt to maximize illicit proceeds by specializing in different criminal activities.

On Long Island a series of brutal killings of mostly young people in Brentwood and Central Islip have been linked to MS-13.  During a visit to Central Islip last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed “to demolish” MS-13 and to back local law enforcement and federal prosecutors in their efforts. Officials say the command and control of MS-13 still resides in El Salvador, where they run their illicit operations.

Thursday May 11, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut House leaders wary of withholding $19 million pledged to towns; Professors and Students Pan Proposed Consolidations, Tuition Increases for Connecticut State Colleges & Universities; and, Electricity Report Says Long Island’s Projected Energy Use is Plummeting.

Leaders from both parties in the House of Representatives said today they are wary of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal to withhold $19 million in outstanding municipal aid to help close a last-minute state budget deficit. But House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin) and Minority Leader Themis Klarides (R-Derby), said they remain committed to negotiations with the administration to mitigate the $390 million hole in the current fiscal year. “It’s almost June. Where are they [cities and towns] supposed to get that money if Connecticut withholds it?” Klarides asked. “We can’t promise them one thing and then pull the rug out from underneath them,” Aresimowicz said.

Democratic and Republican House leaders met with reporters before Thursday morning’s House session to discuss the deficit-mitigation plan Malloy unveiled Wednesday.  The governor and the General Assembly are scrambling after watching state income tax receipts in April fall about $400 million below expectations. But with just seven weeks left before the fiscal year ends on June 30, Malloy warned lawmakers Wednesday that options are very limited if Connecticut is to avoid borrowing to cover its operating debt.

The plan “requires actions we would all prefer to avoid,” Malloy wrote in a letter to leaders. “However, I believe we all can agree that our constituents, our taxpayers, our creditors and our employees all expect that we will decisively address our current-year problem and turn our attention to the greater challenges we face in the upcoming biennium.”

An overflow crowd packed today’s Board of Regents meeting to criticize a money-saving plan that calls for both tuition increases and consolidations of the state’s regional and community college system. The board last month adopted Connecticut State Colleges and Universities President Mark Ojakian’s framework for both tuition increases and savings through administrative consolidations.

About 90,000 students attend the 17 schools in the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system. Last month the Board of Regents approved a plan that increased tuition 4% at the four regional state universities, 2.5% at the 12 community colleges and 4% at the online Charter Oak College. It also approved a series of student fee hikes. All told those tuition and fee increases are expected to bring in about $21 million, but that’s only about half of the college system’s projected deficit.

It is the other part of Ojakian’s plan - to consolidate operations to save $28 million -  that received most of the audience’s ire at the board meeting, though many also criticized the planned tuition increases. “The plan uses austerity measures that will detract from quality programs rather than actively investing in the public higher education institutions that are educating the future leaders of our state,” Louise Williams, history professor at Central Connecticut State University and CCSU-AAUP chapter president, said. “The plan also fails to protect the unique missions of each of the 11 community colleges and the four regional Connecticut State university’s,” Williams said.

Speaker after speaker told the board that consolidating the colleges would take away the uniqueness of each individual college.

Long Island’s projected peak energy use is plummeting, thanks to rooftop solar and energy efficiency measures, according to a report issued by the Long Island Power Authority and PSEG-Long Island in late April. Environmentalists called the draft 2017 Long Island Integrated Resource Plan and Repowering Studies, three years in the making, a “bombshell report.”

Gordian Raacke, Executive Director of Renewable Energy Long Island, said: “What we are witnessing here is a historic game changer on how Long Island produces its electricity. LIPA’s latest electric forecast proves that energy efficiency and renewable energy have successfully stabilized the unrelenting growth in electricity usage of the last decades. The analysis shows that solar and offshore wind can supply the bulk of our power needs more economically and without polluting our air, and that clean renewable energy technologies will replace polluting fossil fuel sources over the coming decades.”

The study estimates the need for power plants in 2030 has been reduced by 1,700 megawatts since the amount estimated in 2013, “the equivalent of three to five large baseload central station power plants,” according to the report.


Wednesday May 10, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Governor Dannel P. Malloy Immediately Signs Connecticut Ban On Conversion Therapy Into Law; Yale graduate student teacher hunger strike still ongoing two weeks in; and, New York State now accepting applications for autonomous vehicle tests.

Surrounded by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy immediately signed a bill banning youth conversion therapy minutes after it unanimously passed the Senate Wednesday. Conversion therapy is a practice designed to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity and has been widely discredited by medical professionals. 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.”

During the bill signing in his state Capitol office, Malloy said the bill is supported by the “science” and “our cultural awakening and awareness that we are a society of many different players … and we shouldn’t try to make everyone just like us.” Malloy said no one should be subjected to therapy that doesn’t work and isn’t supported by science.
Malloy has been a proponent of LGBT rights. He said the swiftness of the signing shows how serious Connecticut is about sending this message to its youth.

Earlier during the more than hour long debate on the bill, Sen. Beth Bye (D-West Hartford) said the bill keeps with professional guidelines and doesn’t infringe on a parent’s decision to take their questioning child to a therapist. She said as long as that therapist isn’t using coercive methods to get that youth to be something they are not, then the therapy would be allowed under the legislation.

The legislation creates a civil penalty for the practice of conversion therapy if money is exchanged between the parties. The bill, which passed the House last week 141-8, was immediately transmitted to the governor’s office for his signature.

After two full weeks, some of the original eight Yale graduate student teachers from Local 33 UNITE HERE who began a hunger strike are still at it, while others who dropped out on the advice of their doctors have been replaced by some of their colleagues. They are trying to get Yale to negotiate a contract after winning union recognition in eight of Yale’s academic departments. They and their supporters held a rally on campus Tuesday evening. 

WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus was there:
People formed a huge circle on the Cross Campus green in the form of a ticking clock, and they all held signs asking Yale, “How much longer?” Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro noted that the union followed the rules and was certified by the National Labor Relations Board, but Yale still has refused to negotiate, having appealed the decision.

Local 33 President Aaron Greenberg, who ended his fast on Monday, said he had a brief conversation with President Peter Salovey in which they agreed they wanted the fast to end “and that we would be happy to end it with him, to break bread with him, at the negotiating table. He said, Good luck, and rushed off to his office in Woodbridge Hall. “Good luck” is an unacceptable response, an unacceptable response to our very basic demand (applause).”

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.

The Albany Times-Union reports that autonomous cars are one step closer to joining New York roads. The state is now accepting applications from companies interested in testing or demonstrating autonomous vehicles on public roads, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration announced on Wednesday. 

The state budget included legislation that will allow companies to test driverless cars through April 1. In a statement Governor Cuomo said: “New York has emerged as one of the nation's leading hubs for innovation, and as we invite companies and entrepreneurs to re-imagine transportation technology, we will encourage the development of new, safe-travel options for New Yorkers. With this action, we are taking a careful yet balanced approach to incorporating autonomous vehicles on our roads to reduce dangerous driving habits, decrease the number of accidents and save lives on New York roadways."

Under the law, tests of driverless technology must be conducted under the watchful eye of the State Police. There must be an actual person who holds a valid driver’s license in the driver's seat during testing. Also, vehicles used in testing must have a $5 million insurance policy. 

However, when and, more importantly, if, driverless cars will become widespread on roads isn't clear. After the one-year testing period ends, the state Department of Motor Vehicles commissioner will be required to submit a report on the testing by June 1, 2018. Under current state Vehicle and Traffic Law, vehicle operators must have at least one hand or prosthetic device on the steering wheel at all times when the vehicle is in motion. The budget language supersedes that law to allow the testing. 

Legislation to allow the use of self-driving technology passed the state Senate last year but went nowhere in the Assembly. That legislation, which would let anyone use a self-driving automobile on the road, was reintroduced in both houses and currently is awaiting committee action. New York is one of thirteen states to have passed legislation related to autonomous vehicles, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The governors of Arizona and Massachusetts have issued executive orders related to driverless vehicles.

Tuesday May 9, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN Volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Democratic Lawmakers Defend Connecticut’s Citizens Election Program; Number of Lead-Poisoned Children Drops, but More Showed Higher Levels; and, New York’s top court upholds strict drunk driving rules.

Connecticut’s current budget crisis should not be used as an excuse to gut the Citizens Election Program, a group of Democratic lawmakers and good government advocates said today. Republican legislative leaders included the elimination of the Citizens Election Program, or CEP, in the budget they released at the end of April and will include it in their revised budget proposal expected to be released Friday. Democratic legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy are also looking at revising their budgets by Friday.

In 2005, the Connecticut General Assembly and former Gov. M. Jodi Rell approved the Citizens Election Program, which allows candidates to raise small donations of between $5 and $100 in order to receive a larger state grant that can be used to help fund their campaign. In 2005, with bipartisan support, the measure passed 27-8 in the Senate and 82-65 in the House.

Tom Swan, executive director of the Connecticut Citizens Action Group, said he’s confident Gov. Malloy, who was the first candidate in 2010 to qualify for public financing, “will not allow this to be in the final budget process.” Swan said he’s certain Malloy doesn’t want his legacy — as the first governor ever elected under the system — to include the destruction of the same clean election system. But Republican lawmakers say it has nothing to do with the clean election system and everything to do with Connecticut’s current fiscal crisis.

Senate Republican President Len Fasano (R-North Haven) said even though he voted for the program in 2005, the landscape has changed: “The state cannot keep up with managing funds for a program that is a mere shadow of the original bill and is no longer an effective tool in keeping elections clean as we’ve seen in recent years. I voted for and still support the CEP in its original form. If the Democrats were receptive to the reforms Republicans have proposed in the past to restore the CEP’s integrity, then I wouldn’t be suggesting cutting the program now," Fasano said. 

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin) said by passing the CEP the General Assembly made a promise to its constituents that “they would have the ultimate impact on our elections.” He said the idea was to be “beholden to the constituents.” Aresimowicz said he would not be in favor of going back on that promise.

Nearly 1,400 new cases of lead-poisoned children under age six were reported in Connecticut in 2015, a slight drop from the year before, but more children showed higher levels of poisoning. A child whose blood test shows 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter or higher is considered poisoned. The 2015 numbers show 98 new cases of children with lead levels of 20 micrograms or higher, four times the threshold number and a 32% jump from 2014. “We cannot, with any certainty, explain why this is the case,” said Krista M. Veneziano, coordinator of the Connecticut Department of Public Health’s (DPH’s) Lead, Radon, and Healthy Homes Program.

These numbers from the DPH are just an estimate because of under-testing, and Connecticut is not alone in deficient screening and, in fact, does better than many states, according to a national study of one- to five-year-olds published May 2 in “Pediatrics,” an American Academy of Pediatrics journal. Combined, children in Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford and Waterbury comprise close to half of all the new cases of poisonings in 2015.

DPH numbers show that among 135 dwelling units investigated and reported in 2015, 84 percent had lead-based paint hazards, 59% had a lead dust hazard, and 34% showed lead in the surrounding soil. The total number of Connecticut children six and under with lead poisoning in 2015 was 2,156, which includes children still being treated from previous years. This is about 130 fewer than in 2014.

The Albany Times-Union reports:
New York’s top court has upheld a policy implemented by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration that allows the state Department of Motor Vehicles to permanently revoke driving privileges for repeat drunk drivers. In a 5-0 decision, the state Court of Appeals upheld Cuomo administration rules, put in place in 2012, that take steps going beyond state law governing relicensing procedures for drivers with multiple DWI convictions.

Under state Vehicle and Traffic Law, a driver’s license can be revoked if he or she has three drunk-driving convictions in the span of four years, or four convictions in eight years. The administration added new rules permanently revoking the license of those convicted of five or more alcohol- or drug-related driving offenses in his or her lifetime, or three or more convictions plus at least one other serious driving offense (such as a fatal accident) in the past 25 years.

In its Tuesday decision, the court found that the DMV commissioner, who has wide discretion in relicensing drivers under state law, has the authority to put forth regulations with respect to licensing procedures.

Monday May 8, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Governor and lawmakers to begin closing $5 billion deficit; Connecticut’s Medical Marijuana Program Continues To Grow, As Debate About Legalization Continues; and, New York bill aims to stop United-style ‘involuntary de-boarding’.

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy and legislative leaders face a daunting task this week. The challenge involves closing the largest state budget gap since the last recession — one that has grown enough over the last two weeks to leave all previous plans massively out of balance. Between now and Friday, three new budget plans are expected to be submitted, and either a tentative union concessions deal will be struck or the governor will take another step toward ordering more than 1,000 new layoffs.

There are sharp philosophical differences between Democrats and Republicans, between the Executive and Legislative branches — and even between some political allies. Additionally, there is no agreement on whether to conduct budget talks privately or in a televised meeting open to the public. Meanwhile, legislators and the governor now have less than eight weeks until the new fiscal year begins. And while the regular legislative session ends June 7, the real deadline comes 23 days later — after which Malloy must attempt to run the state on the previous fiscal year’s spending and revenue plan.

Largely because of eroding state income tax receipts, fiscal analysts warned last week that Connecticut can expect $1.5 billion less revenue in the next two-year state budget than originally anticipated. The legislature’s nonpartisan analysts and Malloy’s budget office both say that finances, unless adjusted, will run $2.2 billion to $2.3 billion in deficit next fiscal year, and $2.7 billion to $2.8 billion the year after that.
Those potential gaps, 12% and nearly 14% respectively, are the largest since the 18% hole Malloy faced during his first year in office in 2011. The same is true for the combined biennial shortfall of roughly $5 billion.

Both the governor’s budget for the next two years, submitted in early February, and a biennial GOP plan offered last week — but based on the Jan. 17 revenue forecast Malloy also used — now are $1.5 billion out of balance. All sides concede the issue that probably will prove the most challenging to resolve involves taxes. Senate Republican President Pro Tem Len Fasano of North Haven said he is willing to consider a modest amount of tax increases, provided they come from changes to credits and exemptions, and not from increasing tax rates. Given the huge potential deficits facing state finances, “I don’t think you can do it all on the spending side,” the Senate GOP leader said.

Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven and House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, (D-Berlin) said Democrats are developing a balanced plan that addresses both spending and revenues based on the latest trends. While Aresimowicz said last week that he couldn’t rule out an income tax increase, fellow Democrat and House Majority Leader Matt Ritter said he wouldn’t consider one — unless trends showing massive erosion of anticipated receipts from this tax were somehow to improve. The speaker said he understands and that he and Ritter aren’t that far apart.
Aresimowicz said. “… I feel very similar about the income tax. I would say it is the tax (increase) of last resort.”

While the move to legalize recreational marijuana in Connecticut has hit a speed bump, the medical pot program continues to grow, with the number of medical marijuana patients in the state at 18,071 as of May 5, according to the latest figures from the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection.

There are 669 physicians registered to certify medical marijuana patients and nine dispensaries in the state where medical marijuana is available. Additionally, there are four medical marijuana producers in the state. There are 22 debilitating conditions for adults and six for patients under the age of 18 that the State Board of Physicians have certified for medical marijuana use.

“We’re incredibly proud of the Connecticut medical marijuana program’s thoughtful expansion,” Acting Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle H. Seagull said. “Our program is the first pharmaceutical model in the country - and always had made great health care the number one priority. This program supports more than 18,000 patients in Connecticut with severe debilitating conditions, and allows them to lead healthier lives,” Seagull added.

While the medical marijuana program is alive and well in Connecticut, efforts to legalize recreational pot in the current General Assembly session have so far fizzled. Several bills proposed to legalize recreational pot never made it out of committee, though proponents still hold out hope it may get attached to other legislation or even the budget with a month left to go in the legislative session. Advocates say the time has come for Connecticut to join the eight other states and Washington, D.C. in legalizing recreational use of cannabis for adults over 21 years of age.

Connecticut’s Office of Fiscal Analysis has determined that the Nutmeg state could bring in $45.4 million to $104.6 million a year in revenue if the legislature legalizes cannabis in the same way as Massachusetts or Colorado. 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.

Asked about the chances of recreational cannabis legislation being revived in the remaining weeks of the legislative session during a press briefing on Wednesday House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin) wouldn’t rule it out. Stating Connecticut has a “budget crisis” Aresimowicz said: “I have repeatedly said that while it has a vote problem in the House I can understand why people want it to remain on the table … That’s a lot of money that we’re talking about,” Aresimowicz said. In the past the speaker has also said he wouldn’t want to legalize recreational marijuana solely for budget reasons. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has repeatedly stated that legalizing recreational use “isn’t a priority” for him, though he added he would follow the progress of proposed legislation.

The Albany Times-Union reports:
New York state law could soon offer protections for airline passengers who find themselves subject to an “involuntary de-boarding situation,” as United Airlines put it last month.

After a passenger was forcibly dragged off a United flight in April when he refused to give up his seat on an overbooked plane, Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Long Island) has introduced a bill that would give any passenger involuntarily removed from a flight the statutory right to seek damages. 

“There is no excuse for an aircraft operator to forcibly remove any person who has paid for an assigned seat on such aircraft,” Englebright’s sponsor’s memo states. What’s more, the sponsor’s memo states that “it is even more inexcusable to cause any physical harm” to a person because the airline erred in assigning seats or by overbooking. “To use force to remove a person that has fairly paid his or her fare and is seated on an aircraft is inappropriate and discriminatory,” the memo states. Englebright’s bill, introduced on Friday, does not yet have a state Senate same-as version.

At a U.S. Senate hearing on Thursday, the head of the Chicago Department of Aviation apologized to David Dao, the passenger violently removed from the April flight heading for Louisville, Ky., so the plane could accommodate crew members. United Continental CEO Oscar Munoz apologized again for the incident at a separate congressional hearing earlier in the week. Dao and United reached an “amicable settlement” related to the incident last week.

Friday May 5, 2017   (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: healthcare union releases a new TV ad targeting Governor Malloy’s budget proposal; Riverhead will hold a social justice diversity summit tomorrow; and, a new audit by the New York State Comptroller finds the Office of Mental Health overpaid an Altamont housing provider.

One of the largest healthcare unions in Connecticut is keeping the pressure on Democratic Governor Dannel P. Malloy and urging him not to relocate a 21-bed detox and rehabilitation facility from Hartford to Middletown. In a new television ad, three workers at the Blue Hills Hospital in Hartford, ask the governor to rethink his budget proposal.
Malloy’s budget says the move would save the state about $465,000 per year. But it would also mean Hartford wouldn’t have any public detox beds at a time when the number of opioid related deaths has increased in Connecticut.

Larry Watts, a Blue Hills clinical social worker, who stars in the ad, said:  “By closing Blue Hills Hospital, the governor is putting people’s lives at risk. As someone on the ground fighting the opioid epidemic, I know the governor’s decision will cause this crisis to worsen in Hartford.” 

The governor’s office stated that it does not reduce the number of detox beds.  Chris McClure, a spokesman for Governor Malloy, said: “What it does do is consolidate 21 detox beds from Blue Hills in Hartford to CVH in Middletown – a total distance of about 20 miles – and results in savings to the state through a reduction in overhead costs and consolidated functions.”

The television ad will be running over the next several weeks.  Governor Malloy is expected to present his revised budget proposal to lawmakers on Friday, May 12th.

The Riverhead Anti-Bias Task Force is convening a “social justice diversity summit” at Riverhead High School tomorrow, Saturday May 6, 2017. The task force has scheduled speakers and presentations on the subjects of civil rights, immigration, criminal justice, bullying, educational disparities, housing discrimination, homelessness and Native American issues.

Keynote speakers Dick Koubeck of Long Island Jobs with Justice and Cathryn Harris-Marchesi, a member of the firm of noted civil rights attorney Frederick Brewington, will kick things off. The opening remarks will be followed by a series of topical presentations by local officials and community leaders. 

Anti-Bias Task Force chairwoman Connie Lassandro said: “The goal and mission of the task force is to educate the community.” Lassandro added that the task force wants to “bring a positive attitude and information to the community, to build understanding and dispel myths.” She said that tomorrow’s event is free and open to the public.

The social justice diversity summit will begin at 9am with breakfast. A morning program of speakers and presentations will be followed by a boxed lunch, then breakout sessions and a question-and-answer period. The event is scheduled to wrap up by 3pm. Riverhead High School. 

According to The Albany Times Union, an audit released yesterday by state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli’s office finds that New York State Office of Mental Health, or OMH, is owed more than $32,000 by an Altamont housing provider for mentally ill New Yorkers.  The amount represents an overpayment that covered unallowable expenses, including a retreat in Lake Placid, and close to another half million dollars in costs found “questionable” by the audit.

It recommended that OMH recover the $32,000 from the provider, Rehabilitation Support Services, from overpayments made in 2014 and review another $490,000 in questionable expenses. OMH said in a response attached to the audit that it would review the alleged overpayments and questionable expenses and recover funds as appropriate. 

Nonprofit Rehabilitation Support Services released the statement: “While we respect the purpose and goals of this review, we join OMH in taking issue with several of the draft findings and recommendations, and further, in strongly refuting its conclusions, which are not reflective of the high standards with which this program is implemented, nor its success in serving a population that is too often unrecognized and underserved,” the statement read.


Thursday May 4, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Officials Criticize Repeal of Obama-Era Retirement Rule; Connecticut Senate Gives Final Passage To Three Bills Wednesday; and, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and 11 other governors send letter to Trump on climate change.

The U.S. Senate voted 50-49 Wednesday to overturn an Obama-era rule designed to help states create retirement saving programs. Last year, Connecticut voted to move forward with setting up a public retirement system for all Connecticut residents. It asked every employer with more than five employees to deduct three percent of an employee’s paycheck to deposit into the fund.

About 600,000 Connecticut residents, who don’t have employer-sponsored retirement saving plans, could have benefited from the legislation, according to proponents. Connecticut was one of seven states to set up this type of program.

In reaction, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin) said: “I’m very disappointed to see that the US Senate, on an unusual 50-49 vote, has attempted to derail a program intended to help working families save for retirement. It is a shame that the interests of Wall Street are being put ahead of the 600,000 private sector workers in Connecticut who would benefit from our landmark public retirement security plan, as well as the other 55 million Americans who are trying to save for retirement.”

Senate President Martin Looney (D-New Haven) who along with Aresimowicz championed the legislation, said: “Republicans are standing directly in the way of financially secure futures for hundreds of thousands of Connecticut residents. Helping private sector workers save their own money for retirement is a sustainable commonsense solution to people from falling into poverty once they reach retirement age and may be entirely reliant on social security benefits.” Congressional Republicans said the state programs would discourage small business owners from offering their own private retirement plans.

The Connecticut House and Senate may not have a budget, but they’ve been able to give final passage to a few bills already this year. Typically, one chamber would exhaust their own members’ bills before passing legislation approved by the other chamber, but this year is different. The split between parties in the Senate and the slim Democratic majority in the House have lawmakers working together for the most part on smaller pieces of legislation. As a result, three bills received final passage Wednesday and are headed to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s desk.

One of the bills, HB 6008, would create a consumer council position within the Metropolitan District Commission, a water and sewer authority serving eight towns in the Hartford region. The Senate also approved HB 7254, which takes steps to improve the quality of education received by students with dyslexia. The bill will require special education teachers to complete a course of study and have supervised practicum hours in the detection and recognition of students with dyslexia.

Dyslexia is a neurobiological disorder and is often inconsistent with a student’s other cognitive abilities. It is estimated that 15-20 percent of children struggle with this condition, according to lawmakers.

The Senate also approved HB 7025, which provides a mechanism for domestic insurance businesses to divide their organization into two or more entities with the approval of the state Insurance Department. The House did not give any final passage to legislation Wednesday.

The Albany Times-Union reports:
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the governors of 11 other states are urging the Trump administration not to take the U.S. out of an international climate treaty to combat man-made climate change. Cuomo signed the letter in support of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement along with the governors of California, Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington.

The agreement was accepted by 195 nations, and called for nations to cut emissions of greenhouse gas, which are primarily created by the burning of fossil fuels, so that global temperature increases are limited to no more than 2 degrees Celsius.

“New York’s aggressive efforts to combat climate change are essential to protecting and preserving our state and nation’s precious natural resources for future generations. New York cannot combat climate change alone and today I’ve joined my fellow Governors in urging continued U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Agreement — the United States must lead the charge in uniting the most powerful nations across the globe in the fight against climate change,” said Governor Cuomo.

Wednesday May 3, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Governor Expresses Urgency in Labor Negotiations; Eight graduate student teachers at Yale University in the 8th day of water-only fast for labor negotiations; and, use of methoprene in Suffolk County mosquito spraying poses high risk to other marsh life.

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy told reporters Tuesday that no matter what happens in the next few weeks he’s going to need state employees to step up to the plate “sooner rather than later.“ The closed-door labor negotiations to extract “at a minimum” $700 million from state employees in 2018 need to be completed “relatively soon,” Malloy said.

If the governor’s administration is unable to reach a deal with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, Malloy is planning to lay off about 4,200 state employees, according to the budget document he released in February.He said he’s loath to continue budget discussions without an indication that the labor savings will materialize. Malloy declined to characterize the discussions between his administration and SEBAC.

Larry Dorman, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 4, one of the largest state employee unions, said Tuesday that they are actively engaged in discussions with the administration and are trying to find solutions.

But the clock is ticking. The two sides have been informally discussing the situation since November. Since that time the shortfall has grown to about $5.1 billion over the next two years throwing all the various budget proposals out of balance. After having cut spending by more than $850 million last year and not raising taxes, lawmakers are still struggling with finding the right mix to balance the budget.

Eight graduate student teachers at Yale University are in the eighth day of the water-only fast to pressure the administration to bargain in good faith with their union, Local 33 of UNITE HERE. On Tuesday night 200 people attended a candlelight vigil outside the university president's house.

In February 8 academic departments won elections seeking to be represented by Local 33, but since then the administration has not agreed to sit down and negotiate. It's filed a formal appeal with the National Labor Relations Board, asking that body, which oversaw the February elections, to review what it calls the union's "questionable micro-unit strategy, which is unprecedented in higher education." It therefore says that negotiations are "premature."

The vigil was low-key; no doubt aware of the seriousness of the moment, no one applauded or cheered when the eight fasters walked slowly to waiting wheelchairs in front of President Peter Salovey's house. They walked slowly, two by two, up the steps and knocked twice on the front door, but nobody answered.

One of the fasters, Julia Powers from the comparative literature department, read a statement from the group to mark the end of the first week of their fast: “We're cold; we're tired; our minds are fuzzy. But the solidarity of our community has sustained us.”

The fasters and their supporters spend their days on a plaza directly in front of the President's office. Despite saying he is concerned for their health, he has not said a word to them so far.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.

In yesterday's local newscast, we reported on a Suffolk County vector control plan to spray salt marshes today and tomorrow. One of pesticides being used, Altosid liquid larvicide concentrate is also known as methoprene.

Kevin McAllister of Defend H2O says: "While Suffolk County contends that methoprene poses ‘no significant human toxicity,’ this pesticide is highly toxic to early life stages of crustaceans. The class of organisms that includes lobsters, crabs and shrimp. Because of its toxicity and high risk in the aquatic environment, the State of Connecticut has banned its use in all coastal areas. Defend H2O and other environmental organizations are seeking a similar ban in New York."

Tuesday May 2, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN Volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Protesters Arrested In Last Ditch Effort To Save Derby Man From Deportation; Connecticut Public Safety Committee Grounds Drone Legislation; and, Suffolk to spray marshes for mosquitoes tomorrow and Thursday.

Nineteen people who sat, arms locked, in front of locked doors at the Abraham Ribicoff Federal Building today to protest the pending deportation of a Derby man were arrested.

The arrests, by Hartford police, came after an hour-long rally, attended by 75 people, who marched and chanted slogans in support of Luis Barrios, a Guatemalan citizen, who is married and has four U.S. - born children. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is expected to deport Barrios on Thursday. Today’s demonstration was a last ditch effort to stop his deportation. Those arrested would likely be charged with disorderly conduct and criminal trespass charges, Hartford Deputy Police Chief Brian Foley, who was at the scene, said. One of those arrested, Natalie Alexander of New Haven, a member of Showing Up for Racial Justice, said, “We’re here to make the moral argument that ICE shouldn’t be doing this to Luis.”

An undocumented immigrant, Barrios has lived in Connecticut for two decades with no criminal record. Barrios fled Guatemala in 1992. Several of his close family members and friends have been kidnapped and murdered there, Barrios has said, who added he fears his life will be endangered if he returns to Guatemala. In 2011, Connecticut state police pulled over Barrios for a broken tail light and detained him for transfer to ICE officials. Considering him a low priority, ICE granted him a stay of removal and renewed it annually for five years. In February 2017, at his first ICE check-in under the Trump administration, ICE officials informed Barrios that his stay would no longer be granted and would be required to depart the United States, pursuant to a 1998 judicial order.

On Monday, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy wrote to Immigration and Customs Enforcement seeking reconsideration of the decision to deport Barrios. Last week, U.S. Rep Rosa DeLauro, whose district encompasses Barrios hometown of Derby, issued a letter to ICE New England Regional Director Todd Thurlow, stating: “I am requesting prosecutorial discretion in this matter, and fair-minded consideration of the entirety of Mr. Barrios’ contributions to society and obligations to support and care for his family. I am deeply concerned about this situation.” Barrios has filed a motion to reopen the deportation order, which is still pending with the Board of Immigration Appeals.

One of the rally organizers, Katie Miles, said that a petition with over 2,500 signatures urging a stay of the removal of Barrios was delivered to Thurlow’s Boston office earlier today.

Connecticut was poised to become the first state in the nation to allow the use of weaponized drones by law enforcement, but the legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee decided to let the legislation die Monday. The bill was amended to allow police to equip drones with lethal and “less lethal” weapons, but it wasn’t enough to get the committee to debate it and vote on it. North Dakota passed a law in 2015 to allow non-lethal weaponized drones. 

“At the end of the day there just wasn’t enough support for the weaponization of drones by police,” Rep. Joe Verrengia (D-West Hartford) said. The co-chairman of the Public Safety and Security Committee said the legislation would have been a “game changer” for law enforcement. He said he still believes there’s time to come up with legislation that everyone could live with and expects it could be resurrected. 

The bill had passed the Judiciary Committee 34-7 at the end of March. It would have increased the criminal penalty for civilians who weaponize drones. The bill also said law enforcement would only be able to use a drone if they obtained a warrant from a judge. Law enforcement opposed the later provision. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut applauded the defeat of the legislation. “Today the legislature sent a loud and clear message that Connecticut does not need and will not accept police equipping drones with weapons,” David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut, said.

Suffolk County vector control is planning to spray salt marshes tomorrow and Thursday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. to target mosquito larvae, county health department officials said. The pesticides VectoBac 12AS liquid concentrate and Altosid liquid larvicide concentrate are to be sprayed, weather permitting, over marsh areas by helicopter at low altitude.

County officials said that residents don’t need to take precautions as any human exposure is unlikely and the pesticide has “no significant human toxicity.”

Spraying is to be conducted in areas of the towns of Babylon, Islip, Brookhaven, Southampton, Riverhead and Southold.

Monday May 1, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Drop In Income Tax Receipts Plunges Connecticut’s Budget Further
Into Deficit; Connecticut State Employee Eyes Governor’s Office; and, Block Island starts getting power from wind turbines.

Connecticut’s income tax collections plummeted at the end of April leaving Connecticut with a gaping $5.2 billion hole in its budget for this year and the next two fiscal years.
Revenues are down about $413 million this fiscal year, and another $597 million in fiscal year 2018 and $865 million in 2019, according to the latest estimates. That means the budget hole lawmakers and Governor Dannel P. Malloy will have to fill after depleting the $235 million rainy day fund is about
$5.2 billion.

Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said today: “The precipitous drop in revenue we experienced in late April creates major challenges for the state throughout the remainder of this fiscal year and into the next biennial budget we are currently working on. We need to take immediate action to reduce spending between now and June 30 to reduce our current year deficit as much as possible to prevent the need to borrow to meet expenses.”

Malloy said he would work to reduce spending in order to bring the budget he presented back in February into balance. Republicans have said they will revise their budget to reflect the new revenue figures. Republican and Democratic legislative leaders will meet Tuesday with Malloy for their first budget negotiation.

While most of the candidates eyeing a run for governor in 2018 are only exploring the idea, Glastonbury resident Betheona ‘Bethy’ Guiles-Smith, who works in the Office of the State Building Inspector said she’s all in. She filed her paperwork last week and intends to run for the Democratic Party’s nomination. 

Guiles-Smith, 51, said she’s focused on helping the middle class and small businesses, who often go ignored by state policymakers.  She said middle class residents who fall on hard times shouldn’t have to worry about filing for bankruptcy and should be able to access help. She believes it’s unfair that low-income residents who receive benefits from the federal government such as Section 8 housing vouchers get a hand up, and the middle class that contributed tax dollars to fund the program gets nothing. 

Guiles-Smith, who said she will start fundraising in earnest after a meeting with the State Elections Enforcement Commission to go over the basics, doesn’t believe working full-time for the state and running a gubernatorial campaign will be a problem. She said she’s juggled a number of responsibilities in the past such as working full-time and earning a master’s in social work from the University of Connecticut. 

Guiles-Smith is a member of the Glastonbury Democratic Town Committee, but has never held elected office. She said she worked hard to get Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy re-elected.  She joins an increasingly crowded field of candidates. Those who have filed paperwork to explore a run for the Democratic nomination include state Comptroller Kevin Lembo, former Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris, Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim and former federal prosecutor Chris Mattei. 

Newsday reports:
Block Island formally threw the switch on a first-time connection to the New England energy grid through a new cable to the mainland, and began receiving power from the country’s first five offshore wind turbines.

In an interview Friday, Block Island Power Co. chief executive Jeff Wright said the event ends nearly a century of dependency on loud, smoky diesel-fired power generators that burn about one million gallons a year.

All eyes have been on Block Island’s wind farm, visible 14 miles from Montauk Point, since Deepwater Wind completed the first offshore U.S. wind farm three miles from the Block Island coast in December.

With annual power costs projected to decline $500,000 to $700,000 for the utility, Block Island residents will see a level of savings on their bills — for the first year, at least. A supply charge will drop to 12.44 cents per kilowatt hour from a current 17 cents, Wright said. After a year, new capacity charges will bring the cost of power to around where it was in the early part of this year for power from the local plants.