Monday, December 2, 2013

December 2013

 Tuesday, December 31, 2013   
A recent national poll found that nearly two out of three Americans have never heard of the common core educational standards.  That’s why the Connecticut Education Department says four companies are vying for a $1 million public relations contract to promote the Common Core Standards.

Under the state’s Freedom of Information law the companies names can’t be disclosed until the contract has been awarded.

The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers developed the Common Core out of a concern that the US students were falling behind the rest of the world. The standards are expected to teach children to be critical thinkers and to resolve problems in ways that go beyond memorization.

But where the Common Core was implemented, test scores dropped. That has angered parents whose children previously scored high on standardized tests.

In April, the New York teachers’ union denounced the Common Core and argued that the state did not give them enough time or resources to prepare.  Of 45 states that have adopted the Common Core, New York and Kentucky were the first two states to begin testing students on the material.

Connecticut has earmarked about $15 million over the next two years to transition to the Common Core. About $13 million will be used for professional development and technical assistance.

Most Connecticut Transit bus fares will jump in January by from $1.30 to $1.50. Fares on Metro-North and Shore Line East trains will go up about 5 percent at the same time.
D-O-T Commissioner James Redeker says operating expenses dictate the need to raise fares to maintain the current level of service.
The cost of a weekly local pass goes up 5 percent, but a full month pass jumps 15 percent. The one-day cash fare for seniors and disabled riders rises from 65 cents to 75 cents
Two prices will go down: The all-day local pass that costs $3.25 will fall to $3, and the three-day pass drops from $7.80 to $7.50.
The new prices take effect January 19.

Newsday reports the new year will bring a new electric utility to Long Island, and an unrelated spike of nearly $17 for typical January electric bills.

Long Island Power Authority said average residential customers will see a $16.91 increase in their January bills because of an anticipated natural gas price jump, and a backlog of unpaid fuel costs from November. 
LIPA still manages utility rates even as PSEG-Long Island takes over system management Wednesday.
Customers will see the increase in the power-supply-charge portion of their bills. This fuel and energy purchase charge represents about half of LIPA bills. The other half, the delivery charge, is frozen until January 2016 as part of Governor Andrew Cuomo's LIPA reform act.
This affects all customers because most LIPA-contracted electric plants use natural gas. And the cost of natural gas rises in January as demand rises during the winter heating season.

A proposed East End sharpshooter program aimed at culling the deer herd has many Long Islanders in an uproar. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services has asked the five East End towns to sign onto the program. Riverhead Town opted out. 

Thousands have signed a petition in protest, hunters have spoken out against the plan, and opponents have filed suit against East Hampton municipalities.
And now, an animal rights group, Long Island Orchestrating for Nature, has blasted the proposed program.
The group’s president John Di Leonardo said he hopes “legal action stops this slaughter in its tracks,” and they consider alternatives.

USDA Wildlife media representative Carol Bannerman said the marksman program’s focus is to maintain "a safe, humane and effective operation."

In 2012, the agency chased away 2.3 million animals, or 97 percent of those doing damage, in New York State. Of those lethally removed, 68 percent were an invasive species. Only four animals out of 69,000 were killed by mistake.

All marksmen have a BA in wildlife biology, firearms experience, and have had criminal background and drug checks. Each team has three members: a driver, a spotter, and a shooter, all for safety. 

 Monday December 30

When lawmakers return to the State Capitol in February for the 2014 General Assembly session, the
Connecticut chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (known as “MADD”) wants to close what it sees as a
loophole in the state’s drunk  driving laws.

They won a victory in 2012 when a change in the law required the use of ignition interlock devices after a
driver's first conviction for drunk driving. The device requires the driver to blow into a tube to start it; if the driver’s blood alcohol content is above a certain level, the vehicle won’t start.

Now MADD wants the law expanded to include mandatory usage of the device after an individual’s first arrest.

Connecticut’s laws allow individuals arrested for the first time for drunken driving to enter into an alcohol
education program. If the program is successfully completed their record is expunged. 

During testimony given last April, Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Melody Currey said expanding use of the interlock devices would require an estimated 7,500 people per year to be added to the agency’s system.
The New York Daily News reports a state senator wants to end moonlighting by legislators, making the
Legislature their full-time job.

Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat, has introduced a bill barring lawmakers from having any outside employment. Hoylman says it would cut down on corruption by eliminating potential conflicts of interest.

Though the job of state legislator carries an annual base salary of $79,500 —second highest in the country— it is considered part-time pay.

Governor Cuomo’s anti-corruption commission has sent out a slew of subpoenas aimed at finding out what, if anything, the lawmakers are doing for their outside pay.

One argument against a full-time Legislature is the cost. Some say it would require hiking the base salaries of lawmakers who haven’t had a raise since 1999.

Outbound travelers through Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip can now get through security faster with the TSA PreCheck program.

According to the airport’s website, the program allows qualified travelers to no longer remove their belt, shoes, jacket or laptop from a carry-on when going through the airport’s security. Ways to qualify include
participating in an airline’s frequent flyer program, being a member of the TSA PreCheck Application Program and being a member of the armed forces.

Travelers who qualify will be informed on a flight by flight basis.

The TSA PreCheck application process requires an $85 fee and a visit to an application center to provide personal information and fingerprints.

The airport says the TSA will continue to have random security checks throughout the airport in order to ensure safety.


Long Island senators have stepped up their push to get Governor Andrew Cuomo to reverse a decision to
close Sagamore Children's Psychiatric Center in Dix Hills, buoyed by his change of heart on three upstate

In a letter to the governor, the nine members of the Island delegation, all Republicans, said he should save Sagamore -- as he preserved psychiatric centers in Elmira, Binghamton and Ogdensburg earlier this month.

The legislators say Sagamore Children's Psychiatric Center has the only state inpatient beds for children and adolescents on Long Island.

The Cuomo administration said Friday it would review the request. 

Last summer, the Cuomo administration announced plans to shutter nine of the 24 state-run psychiatric hospitals over the next three years as part of a move to shift patient care to regional centers or community-based residential facilities.

Under the plan, Sagamore is set to close in July. Long Island children who need to be hospitalized would have to go to facilities in Queens or the Bronx.
In the months since the plan was unveiled, lawmakers and parents have made a concerted push to slow it.

Activists have held numerous rallies, including one in Brentwood in November, and legislators introduced a bill to put the closure plan on hold until April 1, 2015.

Friday, December 27

The Connecticut State Police report on the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was to be released at 3 p.m. Friday. The report will run several thousand pages and has been redacted according to law. Its release means the criminal investigation is complete.

The report on the murder of 20 first graders, six educators, and the shooter’s mother will be released at It includes text, photos, and 911 calls.

Last month Danbury State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky III released his 43-page report, which included a state police timeline of 20-year-old shooter Adam Lanza’s attack on the school and communications between first responders.

Sedensky’s report described Lanza as a deeply troubled young man who only communicated with his mother by email for the three months leading up to the shooting. He said that Lanza’s father cooperated with the investigation.

Thousands of lower-income Connecticut residents have signed up for family planning services under the Medicaid expansion made possible by Obamacare. Melinda Tuhus reports:

Thousands of lower-income Connecticut residents have signed up for free family planning services under the Medicaid expansion made possible by Obamacare. Planned Parenthood vice president Jenny Carrillo says her organization has enrolled 4,000 people in the past year, which is 90 percent of all enrollees in the program. Besides the numbers, she says there's another exciting development.

"We also have seen a sharp increase in the number of women who are choosing IUDs and hormonal implants, which are the long-acting reversible contraceptives that are the most effective reversible methods of birth control. "

She says outreach workers have gone into schools, churches or wherever people want community education in an effort to reduce unintended pregnancies, especially among Latina and African-American teens, who have a higher rate of such pregnancies than white women.
The Albany Times-Union reports that the Medical Society of the State of New York has filed a federal lawsuit to prevent United Healthcare from dropping nearly 2,000 of the society’s doctors from its Medicare plans on Jan. 1.
In a complaint filed December 23, the Medical Society alleges the insurer terminated doctors’ contracts in order to offset “reduced federal payments under the Affordable Care Act.”
The Society has 22,000 member physicians in New York State.
The complaint argues that Medicare beneficiaries, must now either find new physicians or incur significant additional out of pocket costs to continue treatment with an ‘out of network’ provider.
Previously the Medical Society’s president wrote to the New York state health exchange saying the society worried the federal health law was being laid out in a way that allows “health insurers to essentially run roughshod over the patients and the physicians who will be delivering their medical care.”
Medical associations based in Connecticut’s Hartford and Fairfield Counties, also filed similar complaints this month.

The Albany Times-Union reports New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed a law requiring manufacturers of thermostats with mercury in them, to collect their old temperature controls in an effort to keep mercury out of the environment.

The measure requires they establish collection programs and in 2015 start filing annual reports on collections.
The collection goal is 15,500 for 2015, with state conservation officials required to set goals for 2016 through 2023.

Supporters of the bill say mercury exposure has been shown to impair brain development, with federal estimates suggesting 300,000 to 630,000 infants annually are born in the U.S. with mercury levels high enough to reduce intelligence.

Thursday, December 26

Ben Barnes, governor Malloy’s budget chief, has told municipal leaders not to expect any cuts in state funding for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1.
Barnes addressed the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, an organization that consists of most of the state's locally elected leaders.

The approved state budget for next fiscal year provides towns with $41 million more to help local municipalities cover education expenses. Funding for charter schools is also slated to increase by $16 million and magnet schools by $6.9 million next year.

During Malloy's time in office the Education Cost Sharing grant to municipal governments has increased by 2 percent.

Officials at CCM have long said the state is underfunding education, which they highlighted again in their report released Monday. Several of CCM members are plaintiffs in a lawsuit set for trial in July that claims the current level of state funding for education has the state failing its constitutional responsibility to provide students with a sufficient education.

A solar company is suing Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in federal court for the way in which it awarded renewable energy purchase agreements.

Allco Finance Limited filed a lawsuit against the D.E.E.P.  last week alleging the contracts for renewable power it signed with a 250 megawatt wind project in Maine and a 20 megawatt solar project in Connecticut violated the Federal Power Act and the Supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The two projects will provide 3.5 percent of Connecticut’s total energy load. That will get the state one-fifth of the way to its renewable energy goal of 20 percent by 2020.

Allco Finance Limited wanted to build solar farms in several Connecticut towns. It planned to generate up to 80 megawatts of power. It was one of several companies that submitted proposals considered by the state under newly passed legislation that outlines the state’s renewable energy goals. The legislation allowed DEEP to direct the utility companies to enter into agreements with generators to purchase power from renewable sources.

Allco says its price “was less than the price offered by the Fusion Solar Project”. and it claims that the contract “intrudes on FERC’s exclusive jurisdiction to regulate wholesale energy transactions.  
It also argues that the Maine Wind proect does not qualify because 250 megawatts is over the 80 megawatt limit set by the law.

The Attorney General’s office, which is defending the state in the lawsuit declined comment. 
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver joined advocates in Manhattan Monday to re-launch efforts to pass the New York DREAM Act, which would boost access for undocumented students to public financial assistance for college and create a Dream Fund to finance other scholarships.

The Democratic Assembly leader flagged the legislation, which would also give undocumented families the ability to open 529 college tuition savings accounts, as a top priority for 2014.

The measure, sponsored by Queens Democrat Francisco Moya, passed the Assembly 90 to 48 in May but never reached the floor of the Republican-led state Senate.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Melissa DeRosa, said the Democrat “supports the federal DREAM Act and is reviewing state-level proposals.”

The federal bill provides a path for the children of undocumented immigrants who attend college or serve in the military to eventually attain legal resident status and citizenship. The law would also eliminate federal sanctions against states — like New York and more than a dozen others — that provide in-state tuition rates to students regardless of their immigrant status.
The owners of a 19th century house owned by a freed slave filed a notice of claim, a pre-curser to a lawsuit, against Southampton village on Monday, seeking $10 million in damages. 

The action came after the village denied the owner’s a permit to destroy the house and build another in its place.

David Hermer and Silvia Campo bought the house this year for $2.75 million.
Their attorney said his clients are seeking actual and punitive damages from the village, including the loss of property value, the loss of investment and for violating his clients' constitutional rights.

Preservationists and black leaders want to save the house owned by Pyrrhus Concer, a slave who was freed at age 21, operated a business in Southampton, and died in 1897.

Wednesday, December 25

If you waited until after midnight Monday to enroll in Access Health CT, Connecticut’s health insurance plan … you will not receive coverage until Feb 1. 
Activity on the website and at the call center increased as the deadline approached. As of midnight Monday the exchange had enrolled over 62,000 people. 
About 55 percent signed up for coverage with one of the three private insurance carriers and 45 percent qualified for Medicaid.
On average, about 70 percent of those signing up for plans with private carriers have qualified for federal subsidies to offset the cost of their monthly premium.
Last week, letters and phone calls went out to the 26,000 residents who created accounts on the website, but had not yet signed up for a plan.
Once enrolled, residents will have until Jan. 10, 2014 to make their first premium payment. The payment needs to be received by the carriers before that date.

Twelve homeowners in the West Haven neighborhood of Old Field Creek, a block from Long Island Sound, are getting the first federal property buyout for Connecticut victims of Superstorm Sandy.
The homes will be purchased by the government and destroyed. The parcels can never be built on again.
The results are likely to mean that in the next few years one shoreline neighborhood in West Haven could all but disappear.
The buyout program works through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The conservation service had authorized $125 million for floodplain easements in 12 states hit by Sandy. 
But there were few applicants and nearly all were approved. Municipalities generally don't like shoreline buyouts, which take away some of their highest property taxes. 
The conservation service's program wound up awarding only $19 million in the three states that applied. Connecticut received the most - $7.5 million spread among five communities.
Only West Haven included homes. Bridgeport received about $1.25 million for five city-owned parcels along Johnson’s Creek it wants to turn into living shoreline.

The Connecticut Post reports:
At a discussion meeting in Bridgeport at the Workplace, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy said unemployment figures are down nationally, while the numbers of homeless and people needing help with fuel bills in Connecticut are up.
Murphy added "The economy is supposed to be in recovery, but I still see a lot of pain out there. When the latest benefits extension runs out Saturday, only 25 percent of those unemployed nationally will be receiving benefits, That's the lowest level in 50 years, and it is unfair. This is a system that you've been paying into for years, and now you need it."
The Workplace clients, all of whom have been out of work for a year or more and several who are participating in the agency's Platform to Employment program, described having to decide which bills to pay, or whether to buy food or pay the rent.
Eli Ramirez, of Bridgeport said "It's tough to go out and look for a job when you can't afford to put gas in the car," "I've been out a year, exhausted everything, and I'm living off my fiancee's wages. I've got five kids to feed.''

Two east end organizations’ projects were recommended last week for funding by the Suffolk County Water Quality Protection and Restoration Program.
If the Suffolk County Legislature approves the funding,  Peconic Green Growth and the Peconic Estuary Program would receive  a total of $153 thousand for projects addressing water pollution.
Three separate projects were recommended by the county’s Review Committee. They are:
for a pilot installation of new technology that uses ion exchange to purify wastewater,
for the development of a decentralized wastewater treatment system for homes in Orient village,
and for establishing a storm water organization that would promote watershed planning and projects among the 12 municipalities within the Peconic Estuary watershed.

Details are available at RiverheadLocal dot com.

Tuesday, December 24

Connecticut and New York are 2 of 13 states and several municipalities where the minimum wage will be increased starting on January 1.   In Connecticut the minimum wage will increase from 8:25 to 8:70.
The minimum wage in New York State will go from $7.25 to to $8.00 in the new year.

The highest minimum wage in the US will be $15 per hour in Sea-Tac Washington – the location of the Seattle Tacoma Airport.
Not all the economic news is rosy. On the eve of Christmas, Mark Scheerer of Connecticut News Service reports:

A dark cloud is hanging over the heads of 26,000 Connecticut residents this holiday as they face the end of their emergency unemployment benefits on Saturday.

So far, Congress hasn't voted to continue funding the benefits and it isn't likely, since House members already are home for their holiday break.

Lori Pelletier, executive secretary-treasurer of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, says the emergency unemployment compensation – put in place in the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008 – still is needed for thousands.

She says letting it expire is absolutely horrible.
“I can't think of any other word,” she adds. “It's just compounded that it's around, you know, this time of year."

Nationally, some 1.3 million people will lose benefits. The federal emergency benefits are intended to help people who still can't find a job after state benefits run out.

Barring an agreement in Congress, in July almost 2 million more people across the nation will suffer a similar fate, about 28,000 of them in Connecticut.

By the end of 2014, just over 85,000 Connecticut residents will have lost unemployment benefits.

Pelletier says she is disgusted.
"It's just not what Congress should be doing,” she emphasizes. “Congress, especially the House of Representatives – it's 'the people's house – and you know, it's just shameful."
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reports that, despite the economy's progress since 2008, there are still 1.3 million fewer jobs available.

About 4 million Americans have been looking for work for more than six months. 

Nassau and Suffolk counties are working to secure locations and operators for about 2,000 slot machines after New York voters approved a state constitutional amendment to expand casino gambling.
The amendment will allow seven full-scale casinos for upstate New York and 2 slot machine parlors on Long Island.
Officials say they expect at least one of two parlors to open in the coming year with electronic gaming machines, restaurants and bars.
Suffolk County, which is facing a $180 million budget deficit next year, anticipates opening its facility by September and is already accounting for $4 million in expected revenue in next year's budget, according to County Executive Steve Bellone’s  office.
In November, Suffolk selected Buffalo-b ased operator Delaware North, a 2.6 billion dollar company to run its VLT parlor.  The firm runs several upstate casinos. 

OTB officials said they are looking at sites in western Suffolk along the Long Island Expressway, Route 110 and Veterans Memorial Highway.

Suffolk County will begin year-round Sunday bus service on select routes starting January 5. Buses will run seven days a week on 10 routes.

Sunday bus service started as a seasonal pilot program in 2011 on the East End.
Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman said it's been very successful. He proposed the legislation that passed in April to extend service.

The 10 bus lines are part of 24 areas in Suffolk deemed "critical" for transportation improvements.
The county anticipates 400,000 annual riders on Sundays. The service expected to cost $2.6 million per year, with the Federal Transit Administration paying half the first three years, and $1 million coming from the state this year. The county is seeking additional state funding.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said he believes the increased traffic to shopping, restaurant and nightlife districts will bring in money and help cushion the expense. The county faces a $250 million deficit through the end of 2014.

The Town of Southampton Police say a satirical article claiming lions had been released to control the East End deer population apparently caused a bit of a panic.
The oft-humorous weekly Dan’s Papers posted an online story last week claiming that a wealthy Bridgehampton resident was planning to import lions to hunt down deer.

Police Sergeant Michael Burns, says he has fielded anywhere between 10 and 15 calls from residents voicing their anger at the “news,”.  At least one caller claimed to have seen a lion stalking her back yard. Burns shrugged the calls off with a laugh and said he explained to the callers that the report was fake.

Monday, December 23

A review of state Department of Public Health records shows that several child care centers in the state have been the focus of complaints and citations in recent years for lapses in supervision that have injured and traumatized young children, but the centers have suffered few or no consequences.

As reported by the Connecticut Health I-Team, young children have been the victims of physical injuries, sexual abuse and neglect. These situations are not unusual in Connecticut where child care center license revocations are rare and oversight is lax.

In the last three years, the Department has revoked only two center licenses out of the 1,505 centers in the state.  Connecticut is one of only nine states that do not conduct at least yearly inspections of child care centers, and one of six states that do not require any initial health and safety training for providers, and one of four states that do not require program directors to have at least a high school education.

Providers are routinely allowed to continue operating after repeated health and safety violations, including abuse.

State officials said they are working to strengthen both program quality and monitoring.
A new Office of Early Childhood will take over the licensing of facilities from the Health Department next year. 

The University of Connecticut’s  Center for Economic Analysis reported today that the state’s unemployment rate would approach 11 percent if more than 64,000 people hadn't left the workforce since mid-2010,
While the state Labor Department released a 7.6 percent jobless rate late last week, the center’s latest quarterly analysis called it “superficially encouraging" and “misleading” because of how much the state's workforce is shrinking.

The unemployment rate is defined as the percentage of the total labor force – both those working and those seeking jobs – that is unemployed.
So if more jobless residents stop seeking employment assistance from the Labor Department, retire, move out of state, or otherwise give up on finding new jobs here, the unemployment rate improves.
Economist Fred Carstensen, the center’s director, says Connecticut’s structural impediments to greater employment, include:
•    A lack of diversity in an economy that relied too heavily on its defense industry and still depends greatly on insurance and financial services;
•    An aging, overcrowded transportation network;
•    And, a lack of new business start-ups tied to academic research.
Controversy swirls over a proposed sharpshooter program to cull the swelling deer herd on Long Island’s East End.
Riverhead Town has opted out of the plan and suits have been filed to prevent East Hampton from participating. 
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter says the town cannot afford the
$25,000 cost to participate. He says the town’s program with local hunters at Calverton has had great success.

The Long Island Farm Bureau secured $200,000 in grant funding to embark upon the United States Department of Agriculture's sharpshooter program to reduce the number of deer in the five eastern towns of Long Island and in the Town of Brookhaven.

But the program’s total cost, shared by federal, state and local governments is expected be about a half-million dollars. Barring judicial delay, it would begin in January.

Southampton Brookhaven and Shelter Island Towns are reportedly still deciding whether to participate. The Village of Sagaponack has agreed as long as its neighbor, East Hampton Town, and Southampton Town take part.

Last Thursday opponents of the program filed suits in Suffolk County Supreme Court seeking to stop East Hampton Town and Village from participating.

New York's health insurance exchange had the second highest number of enrollees nationwide last week, according to the newest federal figures. That figure was likely to grow by today's deadline for coverage starting New Year's Day.

Despite New York's relative success, Long Island brokers criticize that the system is not always simple to use and that they are having a difficult time finding reasonably priced insurance with strong networks of doctors for many of their small-business clients.

Jack Glanzer, president of The Granite Insurance Brokerage in Garden City said two-thirds of his clients have policies that are being terminated. 
Some brokers say they are having a hard time finding policies to replace the ones their clients used to have: Either the networks of doctors and hospitals have shrunk or the cost of comparable coverage has gone up.
Enrollees who missed today’s deadline still have until March 31 to sign up without penalty.

Friday, December 20

Connecticut’s private sector added 4,200 jobs in November and the unemployment rate continued its third straight month of decline to 7.6 percent. That's what officials at the Connecticut Department of Labor said Thursday.

Connecticut added 15,600 jobs this year.
“While a decrease in the unemployment rate and the addition of more than 4,000 private sector jobs in a month is clearly a step in the right direction, we still have much work to do,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday in a press release.

 “We are making steady progress at growing our economy in a way that will create good-paying jobs with good benefits for middle class families,” Malloy said. “But if you haven’t been able to get one of these jobs, then you’re not feeling the impact of these changes.”

November’s job gains were not broad based across industries, labor officials said. Four industry supersectors posted gains, five exhibited declines, and one was unchanged.

Last month's gains were in the trade, transportation, financial and utility sectors. Meanwhile, the leisure and hospitality sector lost 1,700 jobs and manufacturers lost 1,200. 200 government workers lost their jobs. And since Congress failed to take action to extend the federal emergency unemployment benefits more than 20,000 Connecticut residents who have already exhausted their 26 weeks of unemployment will fall off the rolls on Dec. 28.

For the first time since the recession began, fewer students are enrolling in public and private colleges part-time, and full-time enrollment has stagnated for the first time since 2001. That's according to enrollment figures released Thursday by the state Office of Higher Education. Executive Director Jane Ciarleglio said while the nearly 2 percent dip is not unexpected, it may be linked to changing economic conditions. She said, "Fewer part-time students may indicate that more adults, who usually take a limited number of courses, are finding jobs as Connecticut’s economy improves. That’s good news for the economy but a challenge for our colleges.” Declines in enrollment have led to deficits at the state’s largest public college system,. But regardless of the decreases, higher ed officials are planning for large increases in student enrollment in the years ahead. The increases, officials say, will come from attracting nontraditional students or pulling in Connecticut residents who now head out of state to college.

The Institute for College Access and Success reports that about 60 percent of students continue to graduate from Connecticut's colleges each year in debt. The most recent graduating class left with an average student debt of $28,000, which is 25 percent higher than five years ago. Many analysts and politicians say current debt levels are so alarming that paying back the loans will limit students' choices of jobs and limit their ability to take on responsibilities such as a mortgage.

Fire Island National Seashore received a $1 million federal grant to study options for a breach superstorm Sandy created last year in a protected wilderness area.

Seashore Superintendent Chris Soller said work on the environmental impact statement starts in January and he hopes to fast track the process. Soller said they’ll evaluate several options, including closing the breach or letting nature run its course.

Not long after the storm, officials wanted to close the breach to prevent additional flooding in the Great South Bay. Environmentalists countered that high water levels had caused the flooding.

Researchers reported the breach seemed relatively stable, has improved nearby water quality, and isn’t putting South Shore communities at risk. But Soller said, "It's not a silver bullet to solve all problems in the bay."

A public meeting Saturday morning in the Bellport Middle School auditorium will discuss the breach and environmental impact statement..

Greenport Village passed on an unannounced increase to its electric ratepayers this month, shocking and confusing residents. The purchased power adjustment line in their bills more than doubled since the summer, far exceeding the increase village officials had warned of. And many villagers say they received no explanation for this sharp increase.

This new fee covers a hike in the village’s new long-term transmission agreement with the New York Power Authority. Electric customers expected a total increase of $7.75 to $10.69 per month. But The Suffolk Times research found that the purchased power adjustment fee jumped from 1.68 cents per unit of electricity consumed in October statements to 7.89 cents per unit in December’s bills, even when usage had declined.

Mayor David Nyce said the new agreement with the power authority would stabilize rates for the foreseeable future, and this large increase was due to a one-time service fee. He said rates would normalize the next billing cycle.

Village resident William Swiskey said that was the first explanation many customers had heard.
He said, “It seems to me the Village of Greenport is unable to explain them. It doesn’t make much sense to pay a bill and not know what you’re paying for. The public is entitled to know.”
 Wednesday, December 18

A state task force will recommend to the Connecticut General Assembly that people be allowed to look at crime-scene materials related to murders, but also that legislators should make it harder to release that material -- including 911 recordings -- to the public.

A proposal adopted Tuesday during the lengthy final meeting of a panel on privacy and public disclosure asks the legislature to approve policies to allow residents to inspect — but not copy — law enforcement records of homicides.

Although the proposal would create a process for a resident to petition the release of records, it takes the significant step of shifting the burden of justifying such a release onto the person requesting them.
James Smith, president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, described a proposal the group was considering as “the wholesale destruction of Freedom of Information.”

Reuters news service reports AT&T, the biggest U.S. phone company, is exiting the traditional wireline telephone business in Connecticut by selling it to Frontier Communications for $2 billion in cash.
AT&T said it will continue serving wireless clients in the state.

Connecticut is the only state in the U.S. Northeast where AT&T operates traditional phone service..
Its Connecticut operations bring in $1.2 billion in annual revenue, or less than 1 percent of its expected 2013 revenue.

Under their agreement, Frontier will buy more than 900,000 phone lines, about 415,000 broadband connections, and about 180,000 of AT&T's video subscribers.

About 2,700 AT&T employees, most of whom are part of the Communications Workers of America union, will join Frontier which has agreed to honor their existing labor contract.   

Tuesday, the Suffolk County Legislature voted to pass a new policing agreement between the Suffolk County Police Department and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Immigrant advocacy groups are calling it an important first step.  Mike Clifford, New York News Connection has more:

Amol Sinha with the New York Civil Liberties Union says the agreement is the result of four years of federal scrutiny into hate crimes that he describes as "basically ignored" by Suffolk County Police. He says the D-O-J agreement puts steps in place to ensure the Suffolk County P-D is more responsive from now on.

 "It calls for responses to allegations of discriminatory tactics, for training on cultural sensitivity and bias-free policing, meaningful language access, and robust community engagement."

It was the 2008 beating and stabbing murder of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero that sparked the federal probe. The D-O-J agreement was approved by a unanimous vote by the Suffolk County Legislature on Tuesday.

Foster Maer with the group Latino Justice says a second agreement may need to be crafted, because this one leaves a big question mark on some 40 hate crime cases in the county – for issues like who committed the crimes, and why local cops didn't go after them.

 "There’s still more digging to be done here. Why were those cries for investigation never investigated? Something went wrong and we just don’t know what it is – and until we know that, we don’t know if the right remedy has been achieved."

Sinha says the current County Executive Steve Bellone has set a more welcoming tone for minorities in Suffolk County, but he agrees there is still work to be done.

 "Suffolk County has had a history of anti-immigrant sentiment coming from the top, coming from the County Executive’s office. You know, we can’t forget that shameful history and to move forward, we have to keep in mind what happened in the past, so that we don’t revert back to the old days."

The Hagedorn Foundation's Joselo Lucero, the younger brother of hate crime victim Marcelo Lucero, said of the agreement, "Marcelo’s death wasn't in vain, this is the beginning of change."

Tuesday, December 17

Connecticut has suspended its debit card tax refund program in response to a security breach at its contractor, JP Morgan Chase.

An attack on JP Morgan’s website between July and September affected customers all over the country.

In Connecticut, the attack impacted residents who have prepaid debit cards that the state uses in lieu of checks to administer payments like tax refunds, child support, and unemployment benefits.

In response, the Revenue Services department was suspending the debit card program for tax refunds and sending thousands of residents their refunds via paper checks for the rest of the year.

In 2014, the Department will give taxpayers the choice to receive their refunds either by paper checks, direct deposit, or a debit card.

People covered by the Connecticut Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan and similar high-risk insurance pools across the country will get another month to find new coverage before the program ends in 2014, federal officials announced Thursday.

In addition, people buying coverage through state health insurance exchanges will have extra time -- until Dec 31 -- to pay their first month’s premiums if they want their new health plans to take effect Jan. 1. And some Connecticut customers will have even longer to pay.

Some Connecticut customers will have even longer to pay. Kevin Counihan, CEO of Access Health CT, Connecticut's exchange, said the organization was working with insurers to extend the payment deadline until Jan. 7.

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the state's largest insurer, indicated that it will allow people until January 7 to pay their first month's premiums for coverage that takes effect January 1, as long as they submit their applications by Dec. 23.

An official at the insurer HealthyCT said the company wants to be flexible for consumers who want coverage that begins Jan. 1, but is still assessing its options.

A New York state judge has blocked a plan to clear 55 currently forested acres in Yaphank to create an auction and storage facility for more than 7,000 vehicles -- including some damaged by superstorm Sandy.

In a scathing 21-page decision, State Supreme Court Justice Peter H. Mayer, said Brookhaven Town officials failed to take a "hard look" at the proposal and hastily prepared a study concluding the vehicles posed little threat to the environment.

The Suffolk County Water Authority also had questioned the plan and asked town officials to seek an alternative site because of a nearby well.
But civic activists and their attorneys, who had filed the suit this year, said Monday the storage plan had been in the works long before Sandy.

In his decision, Mayer noted that the proposal was filed with town officials on Oct. 25, 2012 -- four days before Sandy swept across Long Island.

Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto said Monday the town would not appeal the decision.

Newsday reports:

Southampton Town has received a New York State grant of $128,000 to fund planning for a park in Hampton Bays.

Good Ground Park would be a central part of efforts to rejuvenate the downtown area.

The money will be used for the design work, which will be publicly bid early in 2014. Construction, to cost between $2.5 and $3 million, would start in 2015 if funded by next year's round of state grants.

The plan includes an amphitheater, playground, picnic tables and pavilion.

The park will be near Montauk Highway and Ponquogue Avenue.
The town's Community Preservation Fund purchased the land for the park ten years ago.

Monday, December 16

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Metro-North Committee met today for the first time since the December 1 Hudson Line derailment.  Officials discussed new safety measures that need to be implemented including a positive train control accident prevention system for both Metro North and the Long Island Railroad.  The cost - $1 billion - would require a federal loan to pay for.

Two thirds of the Long Island Railroad system has speed control technology. Officials say the goal is to have it everywhere but there is no timetable for this.

Since the Sandy Hook tragedy a year ago, Connecticut has made significant gains to create a system that better identifies and treats children suffering from traumatic stress. But not all children have equal access to mental health services, based on where they live or their insurance status.

Robert Franks, vice president of the Child Health and Development Institute, says 25,000 Connecticut children per year experience significant traumatic events in their homes or communities. Adam Lanza, the shooter who killed 20 first graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, had a history of mental health problems. Research such as the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study has found that misdiagnosed or untreated childhood trauma can impact mental and physical health in adulthood. Last week, Newtown families met with Vice President Joe Biden in Washington D.C. as the federal government announced plans to invest $100 million in mental health centers and facilities nationwide.

In Connecticut, the Sandy Hook tragedy led to the passage of legislation to strengthen the state's mental health system and intensified efforts to train personnel to screen for trauma in pediatric, school, juvenile justice, welfare and other settings.

Franks notes huge disparities between rich and poor in Connecticut and says, "We must leverage the resources we have to meet that tremendous need.”

Parents and caregivers can find information on child traumatic stress and cognitive behavioral therapy locations in Connecticut at

A forum last Wednesday in New Haven connected the torture conducted by U.S. forces overseas, including at Guantanamo and other so-called "black sites," with treatment of prisoners in U.S. facilities, especially the concept of solitary confinement as torture. WPKN's Melinda Tuhus has more:

The event was sponsored by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, which since 2006 has involved more than 320 religious organizations in working to stop  torture.

Hope Metcalf, a professor at Yale Law School, said she has spent several years speaking with prisoners, their family members, correction officers and administrators at prisons. She said 80,000 people in the U.S. are being held in segregation, though only a small fraction suffer the complete sensory deprivation that often leads to mental breakdown. She said a lot of prisoners may have access to a radio and books and may even have a roommate, though not one they would choose.

She noted that some states, including in the South, have moved recently to reduce the number of inmates being held in solitary,  both to save money and to increase safety for both inmates and staff.

Newsday reports:

The Fire Island breach that cut through the barrier island during Superstorm Sandy appears to be relatively stable and has improved nearby water quality according to a report from Stony Brook University researchers.

State officials concur. Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman Pete Constantakes said "At the present time, the breach is stable, and is not enlarging or closing”.

But Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Senator Charles Schumer and other local politicians called for its closure. As it stands, should the breach appear to pose a danger, closure work could not be done immediately.

The Fire Island National Seashore said an environmental-impact statement must be done, but requests for Sandy aid funding have been turned down. The seashore did not respond to questions about how long the assessment would take its cost or other specifics.

Friday, December 13

A National Vigil for Victims of Gun Violence at the National Cathedral in Washington DC on Thursday brought religious leaders, members of Congress and families of gun victims from across the nation together.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, Member of Congress from the District of Columbia paid tribute to the Newtown families.

She said legislation on women’s suffrage and civil rights took persistence to achieve and persistence will be required to pass gun safety legislation.  


“I am grateful to the states who have moved ahead.  I am grateful for their moral courage. We summon that courage today on the part of the Congress of the United States by meeting here … where they come.”

“The presence and persistence of the Newtown familes have become faces for our struggle for gun safety.  As long as we persist and they persist they cannot be denied.

That is what the Newtown families are showing in their leadership. They have refused to fade until the next headline.”

The vigil was sponsored by the Cathedral and the Newtown Foundation. Others participating included Newtown Promise, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and the Connecticut Against Gun Violence Education Fund.

Governor Dannel Malloy and Bridgeport’s Mayor Bill Finch have called for the ringing of church bells at 9:30 am Saturday, to observe the anniversary of the Newtown shootings.

Despite assurances to the contrary from both Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman and Access Health Connecticut  chief  Kevin Counihan, the Access Health CT website was offering inaccurate pricing information when it opened for business on October first.

Staff at the exchange were aware of the incorrect information , but it was denied in a press conference. Insurance companies maintain the information they provided was accurate.  But Counihan said yesterday. inaccuracies regarding deductibles and co-insurance rates impacting all 19 individual health plans were discovered September 26th.

The problem may have impacted about 2,400 residents who signed up for plans through the website during October.

But the state says that Anthem, ConnectiCare, and Healthy CT were not responsible for the mistakes.

It’s still unclear exactly how or why the information was coded into the system incorrectly if the insurance carriers did in fact provide the exchange with accurate information.

New York State Senator John Flanagan, an East Northport Republican and leader of the State Senate's Education Committee has called for a year's delay in the state Education Department's plan to establish a website "portal" that parents and others could use in obtaining student records. 

The data would be deposited with inBloom Inc., a nonprofit Atlanta-based corporation funded largely by software billionaire Bill Gates.

The Assembly already has approved legislation empowering parents to block inBloom from obtaining their children's records. Flanagan's proposal would allow local school districts to opt out of participation.

The new data system would store student records, including academic and disciplinary reports, using "cloud" technology. 

New York state is investing more than $50 million in technology to support the system. But the plan has sparked an outcry from educators and parents who are concerned about the privacy of students' records.

The project's supporters have asserted it affords a superior level of protection and distribution of data, will save schools money, and will allow for better, customized use of students' scores both by teachers and parents. 
Flanagan also recommends banning tests of students in preschool through grade 2 for the purpose of rating teachers' job performance.

Thursday December 12

A group of supporters of the Greenpeace Arctic 30 held a rally in New Haven  Wednesday afternoon. They called for the dropping of charges against all 30 by Russian authorities. They were arrested and their ship impounded after two activists tried to climb an oil rig in Arctic waters. They're calling for an end to all drilling in the Arctic.

The men and women have been charged with "hooliganism," which carries a possible 7 year prison sentence. They are out on bail but cannot leave Russia pending court proceedings. People around the world are calling for their release by Christmas.

Captain Peter Willcox sent a message of thanks through his sister, who lives in Norwalk. Willcox wrote “This world is going to be saved by people who show up. Thank you for showing up."

The petition calling on Russia to free the Arctic 30 is on the Greenpeace website.

Social workers and clients gathered Wednesday at the Legislative Office Building to vent their frustration with the new Department of Social Services system.

Clients have been experiencing problems with the new system, launched in July.  Many have lost benefits who shouldn't have, putting some in life-threatening situations.

One outreach worker said in the past, that she was able to work the back channels for the most dire and serious cases, but has had trouble doing that under the new system.

DSS Commissioner Roderick Bremby said those back channels weren’t programmed into the system. But he said they are aware of the complaints from social workers and are using a team to figure out the best way to move forward with technology.  

In response to last week's deadly train derailment and an emergency order from the Federal Railroad Administration, the Metro-North New Haven Line will get an automatic braking system to be installed in several months.

In the meantime, Metro-North has imposed graduated speed limits at two critical curves and five movable bridges for the meantime.

The curves are in Port Chester and Bridgeport. The bridges cross the Mianus, Norwalk, Saugatuck, Pequonnock and Housatonic rivers.

Beginning Tuesday morning, trains must gradually slow to 30 miles per hour in these areas. 
When the braking system is in place, it will automatically slow speeding trains. Metro-North is working on a longer-term project to install a more advanced system that completely halts the speeding trains.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that $750 million has been awarded through the Regional Economic Development initiative to help fund 824 projects throughout the state.

On Long Island the grants include:

$2,000,000 to Stony Brook University to build a facility for START-UP NY, a public-private partnership for building construction.

$2,000,000 to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to establish a center to aid research in new therapeutics and diagnostics for cancer and neurological disorders.

$2,000,000 to support high performance computing at Brookhaven National Laboratory and Hofstra University.

$1,340,000 for infrastructure improvements at Enterprise Park in Calverton including upgrade of the Calverton sewage treatment plant.


$1,000,000 for infrastructure improvements at Wyandanch Rising, a comprehensive, community-based revitalization initiative.

A Southampton Village board has rejected a request to demolish a house that was once the home of a 19th century slave who became a prominent resident of the community.

Preservationists and black leaders who want to save Pyrrhus Concer's house applauded Wednesday night's vote, but said they expected a lawsuit from the house's owners, who bought it this year for $2.75 million.

The village's Board of Architectural Review and Historic Preservation voted 3 to 1 to reject the application to demolish the house, at 51 Pond Lane, to make way for a two-story home. House owners David Hermer and Silvia Campo plan to appeal the ruling, according to the couple's attorney.

Concer was sold into slavery at age 5 and freed at 21. He is believed to be the first African-American to visit Japan in 1845 and later operated a ferry on Lake Agawam. Historians think the building was Concer's homestead since at least 1852. He owned it until he died in 1897.

Supporters of saving the house are trying to raise money from the town and county preservation funds as well as from private sources to buy it from its current owners.

Wednesday, December 11
Two Yale Divinity School students and a long-time peace activist from New Haven were arrested Monday in a unusual protest at Hancock Air Force Base in Syracuse, New York. 
WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus has more:

Mark Colville, a member of the Catholic Worker movement, explains he was arrested there last year also, and the judge in that case took the highly unusual move of issuing an "order of protection" against non-violent protesters, on behalf of the base commander. He says they decided to use the same premise for this week's protest.

Colville: "So, one of the ideas we had as a community was to try to initiate an 'order of protection' on behalf of women and children and families in Afghanistan."

The judge's order of protection stipulated that even demonstrating legally outside the gates could trigger arrests with potential felony charges. The three have now been charged with several misdemeanors, and Colville also received a contempt charge, which potentially carries a year in prison.

Colville says the judge's order has a chilling effect on free speech:

"Obviously, not putting aside the fact that innocents are routinely being killed by these drones, but I mean, these kinds of incursions on freedom in this country have to be challenged. And so, we have to be willing to take some risks for that."

The three have a court date on December 17th.

Connecticut and seven other eastern states, all with Democratic governors, said Monday they are petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to force stricter air standards on nine upwind states from the Rust Belt and Appalachia that rely on coal-fired power plants.

Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maine, which all have Republican governors, are not signing the petition.
According to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, more than 80 percent of the ozone level in the state is because of upwind pollution.

Governor Dannel Malloy said the eight states are seeking federal action to lower unhealthful ozone levels that plague Fairfield County on many summer days and produce acid rain across Vermont and New Hampshire. 

All eight states are under EPA orders to reduce air pollution.

The petition asks that polluting states, whose local air quality has not triggered the same EPA standards, be added to the Ozone Transport Region. Those states are Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Calling New York state's property tax burden "a crushing tax on people," Governor Cuomo received a report proposing a two-year freeze on property tax rates and the creation of a cap on the percentage of household income that those taxes could consume. The cost to the State would be $1 Billion for homeowner relief.

The Governor called New York's property tax cost "disproportionate nationwide," citing Long Island as well as Westchester and Rockland counties as particularly hard-hit.

The panel's freeze proposal — applicable to communities outside New York City — would allow taxing entities to increase their annual budgets by the 2 percent allowed by the state's current tax cap. That limited increase, however, would be paid by the state instead of by property owners. Only those residents who live in localities that keep budget increases under the cap would be entitled to the tax break. 

Southampton Town will soon have a new museum in Hampton Bays.

The popular summer Dune Road spot, Neptune’s Beach Club, will soon be reestablished as a museum and public boardwalk.

After the club was purchased for $3.2 Million from the Town's Community Preservation Fund the Town Board voted to earmark $1.2 million in the town's capital budget to transform the club into a museum dedicated to an African-American Coast Guard Station that once stood at the site.

According to the Hampton Bays Historical Society,The African American Station, was open from 1915 to 1937. It was reactivated during WWII. It closed for good in 1944.

The money set aside by the town will also be used to construct a 500-foot boardwalk that will connect the Neptune's ocean-front property to the town's Tiana Beach property.

Tuesday, December 10

In the wake of the deaths of 26 students and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School, state lawmakers have been looking at mental health issues related to preventing future violence.
Mike Clifford of Connecticut News Service has more:

Stonington Representative Diana Urban co-sponsored a children’s mental health bill that she says should help break down barriers and get all the various agencies working together, and working better with families, to catch mental health issues at an early stage.

Urban "What we found is, on these very, very young children that the families would realize that there was a budding problem, and it was enormously difficult for them to get anyone to actually listen to them."

Critics of the measure say it lacks needed funding, but Urban says it does require that mental health agencies, schools and emergency mobile psychiatric services all coordinate their efforts.

Meridan Senator Dante Bartolomeo says a major focus is seeing to it that all those who come in contact with children have a wide exposure to education on mental health issues.
Dante "Teachers and pediatricians working together with a focus on the family and the child; that’s a way in which we hope to prevent that type of an 'Adam Lanza situation' in the future."

Urban adds a Mental Health Task force meets on Wednesday to look at approaches to dealing with mental illness, beyond simply putting kids with behavior problems on medication.

"So, we’re looking at alternative treatments – we’re looking at, is there a genetic component to this, is there a nutritional component? You know, some of those most simple things get ignored. "

Urban says families often fear they or their child will be stigmatized if they seek help for a mental health issue. She notes school-based health centers may be one solution, because families and students might feel more comfortable reaching out in their own school.

Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said he believes there are a number of gun owners in the state who have yet to register their weapons. Wilson counts himself among that number, although he said he plans to declare his rifle before Jan. 1. The CCDL is a
Second Amendment advocacy group opposed to the new law.

Wilson said many Connecticut gun owners were holding off on registering their weapons while a lawsuit filed by his group makes its way through the court system. The complaint challenged the constitutionality of the new law and asked a judge to bar its implementation.

New York’s so-called Amazon tax will remain in place for now, with the US Supreme Court deciding not to hear a challenge to the state law that requires web-based retailers to remit sales taxes even if they don’t have a physical presence here.

The tax was challenged by Amazon and Overstock, another major e-retailer. The state Court of Appeals upheld the tax earlier this year.

The tax has generated about $500 million since it went into effect in New York in 2008. It applies to those who sell more than $10,000 worth of goods annually and who use click-through functions that guide people to other websites, also known as affiliates.

U.S. Department of Agriculture approved sharpshooters aim to kill as many as 3,000 deer on eastern Long Island this winter. 

The cull, planned over 40 nights starting in February, would be an aggressive step to curb a white-tailed deer population estimated to be from 25,000 to 35,000 on the East End that
residents blame for car wrecks, the spread of Lyme disease and the destruction of crops, forests and home gardens.

The cull -- backed by the Long Island Farm Bureau and key officials on the East End -- would involve agents shooting with night-vision equipment and silenced rifles, and from the backs of trucks and atop tree stands.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell, who supports the effort, described it as “pest control."

The meat would be donated to Long Island food pantries

Monday, December 9
Applications for the Connecticut’s health insurance exchange skyrocketed last week, with close to 1,000 people signing up for coverage each day.

That compares to a previous peak of 3,500 enrollees for the week before Thanksgiving.

So far, about 25,000 people have signed up for coverage through Access Health’s individual market since it opened October 1, and 100 small employers with 536 workers had applied.

Just over a quarter of individuals are under age 35. Officials hope that number will increase, because younger members, who generally use fewer medical services, typically balance out the costs of older members. But under the health law there are federal financial protections for health insurers that enroll an unusually high-cost population or experience losses in their exchange plans.
The open enrollment period for exchange insurance runs through March 31, but people who want coverage that takes effect Jan. 1 must sign up by Dec. 23.

This week the Newtown Foundation and survivors of gun violence from across the country will gather Thursday at the National Cathedral in Washington to remember the tens of thousands of victims of gun violence. The foundation was started after the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings on December 14 last year. Its aim is to move the remembrance ceremony away from Newtown to give the community the room it needs to heal.

The Washington gathering will pay tribute to all 30,000 people killed by gun violence in the past year, a number that includes suicides. 
The foundation also is asking people to honor the victims by participating in acts of kindness in their own community.
Governor Dannel Malloy is not expected to attend the ceremony at the National Cathedral.  But the governor has called for houses of worship to ring their bells 26 times at 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 14.
He also asked people who want to participate to donate to a local charity or to volunteer their time in service to their community.

The Brookhaven Town board has adopted a law which aims to curb abandoned houses and buildings. The law requires owners of vacant properties to register with the town by paying a $250 fee, and providing contact information for whomever is responsible for maintaining it.
Comparable laws exist in major cities such as Boston, Chicago and Minneapolis, as well as Babylon town on Long Island.

Failure or refusal of a property owner to register within 30 days after they become due results in a fine of $1,000 to $15,000 for each structure.

New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office says it has launched an audit of the state’s hate crimes reporting system overseen by the Division of Criminal Justice Services in an effort to ensure that police departments are accurately reporting the crimes.

The review was triggered in part by a request from state Senator Brad Hoylman, an openly gay Manhattan Democrat. 
Hoylman issued a report questioning whether some crimes against people based on their sexual orientation are actually being misclassified, inferring there is an underreporting of hate crimes.

In November, criminal justice services released statistics that showed hate crimes jumped 30 percent statewide last year.
More than 200 supporters of immigration reform rallied at a Southampton park on Sunday according to Newsday.  They urged Congress to pass comprehensive legislation giving those in the country illegally a path to citizenship. House Speaker John Boehner has said that the issue will be addressed in 2014.

East End Immigrant Advocates, a year-old group organized the rally.  They said they are also trying to draw awareness to east end immigrant communities, many of which are relied upon for services by owners of second homes, but are often overlooked politically.

Immigrants and supporters said that the immigrant communities on the East End face a unique set of challenges.  The high price of housing has forced many immigrants into unsafe overcrowded homes.

Benny Torres, of Hampton Bays, a former Democratic leader in town said "They want us to mow the lawns and paint houses. But they don't want us to live here."

Across the street, four people staged a protest of the rally.
East End Tea Party chairwoman Lynda Edwards, of Amagansett, was holding a sign that read, "Don't Jump the Fence, Obey the law."

She said legal residents would do the jobs immigrants do. 

Friday, December 6

A federal judge on Thursday ruled in favor of the Fairfield and Hartford County Medical Associations when he ordered United Healthcare to stop terminating contracts with doctors in its Medicare Advantage network.

U.S. District Court Judge Stefan Underhill said the reputation of the doctors and the physician-patient relationship would be jeopardized if the insurance company proceeds with termination notices that went out to approximately 2,200 doctors in Connecticut.

Governor Malloy has requested Metro-North Railroad to provide an action plan addressing safety issues following Sunday’s train derailment in the Bronx that killed four passengers and injured more than 60 others, according to a statement from the governor’s office.

Malloy requested the action plan address communication, safety reporting, inspection and maintenance programs, remedial short-term action plans and longer term capital investment to upgrade the infrastructure.

Malloy also asked that the track inspection report that followed the Bridgeport derailment be provided immediately, as well as monthly reports of all track, bridge, signal, power, equipment inspection and maintenance action.

The New Haven Register reports:
The fight between Toad’s Place and Yale University, which has been festering for five years, is heading to court in a few months, short of a settlement.

The legendary music hall where Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, U2 and Bob Dylan have played, is in a land dispute with Yale University, that if not successfully resolved could see the end of the club in its current space.

It’s a legal fight about land boundaries, adverse possession, and easement by necessity that all boils down to adequate exits from the nearly 1,000-person capacity club to satisfy the fire marshal.

The club, which has been there for almost 40 years, wants a solution that allows its patrons, by right, to exit onto the adjoining Yale property in the event of an emergency.

As reported by the Suffolk Times:

North Fork legislators are lobbying the chair of the state’s Environmental Conservation Committee to pass a bill that would have given local municipalities on the East End the authority to loosen some restrictions on deer hunting.

In an effort to move the impasse on getting those approvals, Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski said “the overpopulation of white-tailed deer is a crisis which has plagued the East End of Long Island for many years, negatively impacting not only human health, but water quality, biodiversity, private property, the economy and the agricultural industry.”

Amendments to the state hunting law proposed by State Assemblyman Fred Thiele last year would have given the five East End towns the ability to reduce bow hunting setbacks to 150 feet, from the current 500 feet. In addition, opening up a special firearms hunting season for the entire month of January was proposed; currently, only weekdays are allowed.  


Newsday reports:

The Suffolk County Legislature will vote as early as Dec. 17 on comprehensive police reforms that a federal official said seeks nothing less than a cultural change in the approach toward minority communities.

Lawmakers will decide whether to adopt the pact with the U.S. Department of Justice to address discrimination concerns stemming from the 2008 stabbing death of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue.

The agreement's expected passage will make Suffolk one of the largest suburban police forces under federal oversight.

Legislative approval will start the clock for provisions requiring tracking of biased policing, hate crime cases and traffic stops in minority communities as well as the adoption of policies to improve relations with Latinos and offer language help to non-English speakers.

The accord ended a four-year federal investigation into allegations that police ignored attacks on immigrants by individuals and groups of teens specifically looking for Latinos to harass, creating a climate of fear.

Immigrant and civil rights advocates welcomed the plan, but reserved full judgement for when the plan is put into effect.

The East End Immigrant Advocates, an outreach and advocacy group will sponsor a rally for supporters of comprehensive immigration reform at both the state and federal levels.
The rally will take place Sunday, December 8, at 1:30 p.m. at Lola Prentiss Park , 151 Windmill Lane in Southampton Village. 

Thursday, December 5

The Hartford Courant reports:

A federal lawsuit by the National Shooting Sports Foundation seeking to overturn the state gun control law passed this year was dismissed Monday.

Chief U.S. District Judge Janet Hall ruled that the firearms trade group lacked the standing to challenge the law.

Mike Bazinet, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said the group had not reviewed the decision.

The trade group, based in Newtown represents every major gun manufacturer and 8,000 firearms-related businesses. 

The legislation passed in April bans the sale of more than 100 types of military-style rifles, penalizes gun owners who don't register with the state police by Jan. 1, and limits large-capacity magazines to 10 bullets.

The foundation sued Governor Dannel Malloy and lawmakers, charging that the law was adopted improperly as an emergency certification and did not pass both houses before it was signed by the governor, among other violations.

Judge Hall ruled that the foundation's claimed financial injury did not make it a proper party to challenge any defects in the legislative process.

Lawsuits challenging the law filed by other gun groups are pending — one in federal court and one in state court.

First responders and state employees impacted by trauma during the response to the Sandy Hook school shooting will receive 40 hours of compensatory time under a deal reached by the state and six state employee unions.
The money for the benefits will come from a privately-funded foundation set up by the legislature earlier this year.

The creation of the fund was necessary because mental health impairment is not covered under workers’ compensation.

The respective state agencies will name the employees involved.
The General Assembly must vote on the deal when it returns in February. If it does nothing, the plan will go into effect within 30 days.

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch marked the beginning of the demolition of the former Remington Arms site today. The site is the potential home of a second train station on the city’s east side. It once housed one of the largest munitions plants in the country. 

The mayor said “A second train station in Bridgeport will be an engine for economic development for the East Side, East End and the entire City. My administration has been working collaboratively with state and federal officials to demonstrate the need for a second train station in Bridgeport."

Eastern Suffolk’s Board of Cooperative Education, known as BOCES, has launched a new department that aims to better prepare students for the future. It will also open a regional high school in Bellport next school year for students interested in studying the sciences.

The new school, to be named the Eastern Long Island Academy of Applied Technology is a transformation of the career and technical education department at BOCES.

BOCES’ programs are offered to more than 1,700 students in 51 school districts. BOCES offers more than 30 classes in career trades and about 20 exploratory programs for students in grades 8 through 10 during the summer months.
They are designed to help students with college and career preparation and readiness.
Engineering, advanced manufacturing and veterinary technician courses have been added to next year’s class offerings.
The Academy’s programs are offered in Bellport, Oakdale, Riverhead, and the Suffolk Aviation Center in Shirley.

Eastern Suffolk BOCES will also open its new STEM-based high school at its Bellport campus next school year. That school will have a concentration on engineering and applied science. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The school is partnering with SUNY Stony Brook University, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and others, to develop the high school curriculum.

The Patchogue-Medford Board of Education special meeting relating to the common core curriculum, originally scheduled for Wednesday, is being rescheduled to be part of the Monday December 16 Board of Education Business meeting.

The meeting will take place at South Ocean Middle School, 225 South Ocean Ave. in Patchogue. The public session will start at 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, December 4
Recordings released today of 911 calls from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting show town dispatchers calmly responding to a janitor, a teacher and others and assuring them help is coming.

The operators urge the people inside the school to take cover as they reach out to town officials and state police for help. The operators also ask about the welfare of the children.

A gunman shot his way into the school on the morning of Dec. 14 and gunned down 20 children and six educators with a semi-automatic rifle. He committed suicide as police arrived.

The calls to Newtown police were posted Wednesday on a town website. A court ordered the release of the tapes last week, despite the objections of prosecutors, after a legal challenge by The Associated Press.

Newtown leaders have called for restraint in the use of the tapes. Many parents of the murdered children opposed the release, and the local on-line news source, Newtown Patch, indicated it will not post the audio, a transcription, or a link to the tapes.

In New London, the standoff continues between Lawrence + Memorial Hospital and about 790 nurses and technicians. After seven hours of discussion Tuesday, the workers’ union and the hospital are continuing negotiations on a three-year contract today.

The nurses and technicians, represented by AFT, went on strike November 27 and planned to return at 11 p.m. Saturday. But the hospital has locked them out until they reach a compromise. L+M has hired about 200 temporary workers.

Job security, not wages and benefits, is the main sticking point for workers. They don’t want their jobs moved away or transferred from the hospital, or have new lower-paid hires replace them.

AFT doesn’t want discuss other contract negotiations until they resolve that issue.

Hospital spokesman Michael O’Farrell said,“There was no willingness at all to discuss any other contractual elements in an effort to make some progress.” 

AFT spokesman Matt O’Connor said,“We’re not opposed to getting the easy stuff out of the way; we want to resolve the issue that’s at the heart of the dispute.”

By Thursday, all the union representatives will have given affidavits to National Labor Relation Board officials.

More people who lacked health insurance are getting covered under Obamacare, under the state's program, Health Access CT. A forum at the Grove in New Haven tonight will explore both access to health care and the underlying issues that still get in the way of low income residents achieving better health. WPKN's Melinda Tuhus  reports:

Heang Tan with Health Justice CT, which is sponsoring the forum, says societal problems like gun violence, poor neighborhood air quality, and lack of access to nutritious food must be taken into account.

We see a lot of Medicaid patients with insurance but the outcomes are still kind of poor, and there's a lot of issues related to that, and that's what the debate is going to be about on Wednesday.

She says both access and equity will play a role in improving health care.

Tan says Connecticut residents of color still suffer higher rates of disease than whites.
Health equity means that regardless of race, ethnicity, economic status, education -- everyone has an equal and fair opportunity to be healthy.

She says while some health experts focus on access and others focus on underlying causes of poor health, both solutions will be needed.
Melinda Tuhus,  WPKN News.

And on Long Island...

Under a tentative settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday, the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD) has committed to "significant changes in how it engages the Latino community."

The Justice Department began an investigation of the SCPD in 2009 following the killing of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorean immigrant who was attacked by a group of teenagers in Patchogue in November 2008.

That investigation "focused on discriminatory policing allegations, including claims that SCPD discouraged Latino victims from filing complaints… and failed to investigate crimes involving Latinos."

Under the settlement, which must be approved by the county legislature, the SCPD must "ensure that it polices…free of unlawful bias."

The agreement also calls for enhanced training and investigation of hate-crime allegations, better communication with people with limited English proficiency, and strengthened outreach by the police in Latino communities.

SCPD has already instituted some of the recommendations.

SCPD will report to the Justice Department on a regular basis on its implementation efforts.

The Justice Department will monitor compliance with the agreement, which ends only after the SCPD has substantially adhered to all of the requirements for at least one year.


Tuesday, December 3
Newtown Patch reports:

The Newtown Police Department is planning a full review of its actions on December 14 in the wake of the state's summary report released last week.

The review will examine the choices, judgment calls, and tactical decisions made in the minutes from 9:35 a.m., when the first 911 call was placed from Sandy Hook Elementary School, until police entered the building at about 9:44 a.m.

Police Chief Michael Kehoe told The Danbury News-Times last week the report vindicated police, who faced criticism for slow response time. Kehoe said police took precautions on the possibility of more than one shooter.

A state judge ruled Tuesday audio recordings of the 911 calls from December 14 will be made public this week. 

According to the Connecticut Post the calls will be released Wednesday afternoon in the Danbury offices of the Cohen & Wolff law firm, which had represented Newtown in its attempt to suppress the recordings.

Connecticut residents who own guns categorized as assault weapons under new firearm regulations have until the end of the month to register the weapons with the state before risking felony charges.

The registration requirement was included in gun control regulations approved in April as part of a state response to the Sandy Hook shootings.

The law expanded the number of firearms prohibited in Connecticut and banned the sale of ammunition magazines that carry more than 10 rounds.

Gun owners who had previously purchased the weapons and magazines are required to register the equipment with the state by Jan 1st.

Michael Lawlor, Governor Dannel Malloy’s criminal justice advisor, said gun owners should take seriously the consequences of ignoring the law. Disregarding the registration requirements can carry felony charges in some cases, which can make Connecticut residents ineligible to own guns.

The new law added about 100 guns to a list of weapons specifically banned in Connecticut and broadened the definition of an assault weapon to include the AR-15 style weapon used in the Newtown shootings.

The Albany Times-Union reports: 

Governor Cuomo’s Moreland Commission on public corruption has issued a preliminary report, offering some ideas for the shape of the ethics debate that’s sure to heat up when lawmakers return to Albany next month.
Among the initial recommendations:

 * reforming the campaign finance system with public financing,
 * creating an Independent Election Law Enforcement Agency,
 * providing “powerful new tools” for prosecutors,
 * and increasing the “Required Disclosure for Elected Officials”, such as outside income and lobbyist relationships.

Previous attempts to clean up Albany have met with strong legislative opposition.

Reuters reports: An animal rights group yesterday filed what it said is the first lawsuit seeking to establish the "legal personhood" of chimpanzees. Included as defendant in the action is Stony Brook University on Long Island.

The non-profit Nonhuman Rights Project asked a New York state court to declare a 26-year-old chimp named Tommy "a cognitively complex autonomous legal person with the fundamental legal right not to be imprisoned."

The other chimps are Kiko, a 26-year-old chimp living on a private property in Niagara Falls, and Hercules and Leo, two young male chimps used in research at Stony Brook University. 

Steven Wise, the president of Nonhuman Rights Project, told Reuters "Chimpanzees possess complex cognitive abilities that are so strictly protected when they're found in human beings. There's no reason why they should not be protected when they're found in chimpanzees.”

The lawsuit states that chimps are entitled to a "fundamental right to bodily liberty," which Wise says is the basic right to be left alone and not held for entertainment or research.

Suffolk County and Riverhead Town officials along with the Long Island Housing Partnership and developers held a meeting today to announce that the county will provide additional financial support for revitalizing downtown Riverhead.

County Executive Steve Bellone and County legislator Al Krupski plan to introduce a resolution to provide an infrastructure grant for the Woolworth building on East Main Street.  The building is being rehabilitated into a mixed use structure with affordable rental units above retail space.

 Monday, December 2

In 2013, homelessness nationwide decreased by four percent. However, Connecticut has seen a seven percent increase since 2012, according to the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.

The federal Housing and Urban Development Department released the nationwide data about the decrease in homelessness last week. Connecticut’s information was reported earlier this year.
The coalition said Connecticut had over 4,500 homeless individuals on January 29.
Most of the homeless are only temporarily without shelter, but there were 430 chronically homeless individuals in the state. 

This year, 37 families were without a place to live. 

Connecticut also has a significant number of homeless youth ages 18-24.
The good news in the data is that the number of homeless veterans in the state has dropped 25 percent since 2005.

Several hundred people -- native and non-native -- gathered on Cole's Hill near Plymouth Rock on Thanksgiving Day to commemorate the 44th annual National Day of Mourning for the loss of native lives and lands after the arrival of European settlers to the shores of New England, as well as continuing injustices.
Many who came were from New York and Connecticut.

WPKN's Melinda Tuhus reports:
Mahtowin Munro is a Lakota and co-chair of the United American Indians of New England, which sponsors the event. She said the European view that nature must be exploited for human benefit has led to a planetary crisis: 

 Munro: "a refusal to acknowledge and deal with global warming; a refusal to acknowledge that nuclear power threatens all of us, whether in Fukushima or down the road here in Plymouth where there is s nuclear plant; a refusal to see that fracking is raping the earth; a refusal to see the devastation of the tar sands... "

 A Mi'kmaq woman spoke of an ongoing effort to stop fracking on a First Nation reserve in New Brunswick, during which many native people have been arrested.

After the speak-out, people marched through Plymouth shouting their demands to free long-imprisoned native American activist Leonard Peltier, to stop the Keystone XL pipeline and to end fracking.

An incoming Suffolk lawmaker does not believe she needs a change to the county's double-dipping ban to hold two public posts with a combined salary of at least $215,000 next year.
As an administrator at East Middle School in Brentwood, Legislator-elect Monica Martinez earns $117,000 a year. She will earn $98,260 annually as a legislator.

Martinez, a Brentwood Democrat, said Friday she has asked Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone to pull his bid to tweak the law that, as written, appears to restrict Suffolk elected officials from holding any other taxpayer-funded job except teacher.
Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said Friday that the administration will withdraw its bill seeking to address the county's ban on dual public pay.

The controversial bill was set for a public hearing at Tuesday's legislature meeting.

The Suffolk County Water Authority has contracted Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County to gather data from local farmers about their agricultural practices.  The aim is to better understand if and how the chemicals farmers use are reaching groundwater.
The water authority says 27 out of 56 supply wells on the North Fork are on treatment for pesticide-related contamination.
A farmer’s irrigation and product storage practices can each play a role in whether or not chemicals are leeching into the groundwater.   Cornell scientists will make recommendations on how farming practices might be improved to protect water quality.
The program will focus on farms surrounding the agency’s well field off Route 48 in Peconic.


The Patchogue – Medford Board of Education will hold a special workshop  meeting on issues surrounding the Common Core curriculum,  The meeting at the South Ocean Middle School will be at 7 pm on Wednesday, December 4.

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