Monday, February 3, 2014

February 2014

Friday, February 28:

For the first time since Common Core education standards were adopted in 2010, Connecticut will invest funds to help districts implement the program.

Over the next two years, the state will spend 38 million dollars to help school districts.  About $800,000 will pay for 2,000 teacher "coaches" to be trained on the standards through workshops, online webinars and preparation for the new standardized tests.  1 million dollars is designated to train future faculty and teachers at colleges in Connecticut.

The largest payout is 24 million dollars for districts to upgrade their technology capacity so students can take the new assessments based on the Common Core by next school year.

However, the state's largest teachers' union isn't convinced it's enough money . They are calling the rollout so far of Common Core "botched" and "mishandled," and many teachers feel ill prepared with a lack of appropriate tools.

But on Thursday, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor told members of the legislature's budget-writing committee that even more help and funding is coming next year to train teachers.

The Hartford Courant reports Governor Malloy wrote a letter to the president Wednesday in opposition to proposals that would loosen requirements Indian tribes must meet to obtain federal recognition. 

Malloy asked Obama to drop a provision that would allow groups who previously have been denied recognition to re-apply, and another that would allow state recognized reservations to automatically qualify for federal recognition.

The proposal would affect three Connecticut tribes, the Eastern Pequot Indians, the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, and the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe who previously have been denied federal recognition.

The governor is concerned that the tribes would be exempt from state and local regulations and result in a significant loss of tax revenue as well as potential land claims. 

Malloy is concerned by the possibility of additional tribal gaming casinos, although since the late 1990’s the state has received millions in revenues from the two operating casinos in southeastern Connecticut.

As reported in Indian Country Today, The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation had been recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs but the decision was reversed after a successful campaign by then Connecticut Attorney General, now Senator Richard Blumenthal.

In July 2013 Senator Blumenthal met with congressional staffers of Senator Chris Murphy and Representative Elzabeth Esty and others to launch a campaign against the proposed federal recognition rules.   
The Suffolk Times reports: After months of debate and a failed lawsuit filed by opponents of the plan, a deer cull kicked off this week across multiple private properties on eastern Long Island, as parcels in Southold, Riverhead and Southampton have received state approval for the hunt.

A spokesperson for the United States Department of Agriculture confirmed Friday that the cull “started this week.

New York State Supreme Court Judge Gerard Asher dismissed a lawsuit against Southold Town that sought to prevent a planned deer cull using federal hunters within town lines.

The Wildlife Preservation Coalition of Eastern Long Island filed the suit and made a request for a temporary restraining order to halt the cull. The action was filed in conjunction with a number of other groups, including the Animal Welfare Institute and Hunters for Deer.

Attorney Leo Barnes of Melville represented the groups. He argued Southold Town failed to complete a proper environmental impact review.

Judge Asher ruled in favor of the town, saying Southold properly completed the State Environmental Quality Review process.

Wendy Chamberlain, founder of the Wildlife Preservation Coalition of Eastern Long Island, said the judge’s ruling would not stop the organization from trying to prevent the cull. However, she could not say what their next step will be.

Telemarketers running fundraising campaigns for charities in New York keep an average of 62 cents of every dollar they raise for themselves, according to a report from State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

In half of the fundraising campaigns run by for-profit telemarketers, the charities retained less than 30 percent of the funds raised, according to the report. 
In 91 campaigns, telemarketers were actually paid more than the amount that the individual charities received.

A portion of the donations covered by the report were made to charities related to Hurricane Sandy relief and aid to the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting.
The report say Telemarketers registered in New York reported raising more than $249 million in contributions in 2012, but more than $154 million of that amount went to cover the telemarketers' fees and expenses.

Thursday, February 27:

Governor Dannel Malloy and United Technologies Chairman and CEO Louis Chenevert want state lawmakers to approve a deal allowing the company to use up to $400 million in unused tax credits.

Malloy and Chenevert told employees and suppliers Wednesday afternoon that the deal is vital to the state keeping aerospace and engineering jobs. It would ensure Pratt & Whitney stays in Connecticut for a minimum of 15 years, and keep Sikorsky’s corporate headquarters in Stratford for a minimum of five years.

The deal also creates a customer training center at UTC Aerospace Systems in Windsor Locks and new labs at United Technologies Research Center.

The two locations currently employ 14,100 workers and 4,900 engineers, and can use 90 percent of the tax credits. To use the full credit, the company needs to employ 300 more workers and 100 more engineers.

The financing deal is unusual for the state. Malloy called the proposal “dynamic,” but Republican legislators remain skeptical.

A public hearing on legislation to prohibit the disposal and treatment of fracking waste in Connecticut will be held this Friday, February 28th in Hartford by the Connecticut General Assembly’s Joint Committee on the Environment. 

According to the Connecticut Sierra Club, fracking produces potentially hazardous, radioactive wastewater laced with chemicals. 

States without industrial oil and gas development, such as Connecticut, could be impacted by the disposal of fracking waste.

The Sierra Club says that fracking waste can include:

-Hazardous chemicals, including over 2 dozen known carcinogens;

-Radioactive materials linked to bone, liver and breast cancer; and

-Brine that is five times saltier than seawater, which can corrode sewage infrastructure and threaten the health of local freshwater ecosystems.

The public is invited to provide testimony at the Legislative Office Building - Hearing Room 2B at 1pm.

It seems Long Island’s deer cull is a political hot potato. The controversial sharpshooter program aimed at thinning the deer herd in Southold Town was initially set to begin in mid-February, but officials are refusing to disclose the actual start date of the cull — or to reveal whether or not it has actually already begun.

The USDA, which is conducting the cull, cited safety as the reason for not releasing information about it. On Tuesday night, members of the public spoke out against the cull at a Southold town board meeting. That followed a lawsuit filed by the Wildlife Preservation Coalition and a temporary restraining order against the cull.

The public outcry against the cull came after three earlier public forums and meetings, during which time the outpouring of support was overwhelmingly in favor of the cull, as residents painted pictures of lives ravaged by tick borne diseases and car accidents caused by deer, and experts detailed the damage to the environment caused by the swelling deer population.

The USDA said the total number of deer to be taken is likely will be less than the number harvested by recreational deer hunters in the county. Sharpshooter teams will operate only on properties where there is signed written permission of the property owner or manager.

The cull is on track to begin this month, according to the USDA and could continue through early April.

Newsday reports: The young adult workforce on Long Island is in "demographic collapse," especially in communities with the most expensive housing, according to Community Housing Innovations, a services and advocacy group.

Alexander Roberts, executive director of the nonprofit group says their analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data for ages 25 to 34 has a regional aspect, with the same situation showing in Westchester County statistics.

Roberts said he and others will seek a meeting with Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to request an analysis of whether local communities are adhering to the Long Island Workforce Housing Act, a 2008 state law requiring creation of affordable housing on the Island.

The law requires that 10 percent of any development of five units or more be affordable to households with incomes of up to 130 percent of Long Island's median income. For a family of four, that is $138,000 annually.

Mitch Pally, of the Long Island Builders Institute said:
“there are too many places on Long Island where building multi-family housing is not allowed. There's no zoning for it," 

Eric Alexander, executive director of Vision Long Island, said despite the report's statistics, "there is progress . . . 25 communities have either built or approved 'smart growth' projects," while another 20 have plans in the works.

Wednesday, February 26
Governor Dannel Malloy announced Monday that his administration will increase spending on heating assistance to offset the impact of a new federal law aimed at shrinking food stamp benefits for at least 50,000 households in the state.

The massive farm bill approved by Congress in February sought to cut the food stamp program by many billions over ten years. 

One reduction in the farm bill involves making it more difficult for states to continue a practice adopted by Connecticut and 15 other states,

Those states give eligible food stamp recipients as little as $1 in heating assistance benefits, so they would, under a federal formula, qualify for more food stamp assistance.

Under the farm bill, recipients will have to receive more than $20 in low income home energy assistance to continue to qualify for increased benefits.

To avoid the cuts Connecticut will expend an additional $1.4 million in federal heating assistance benefits for this purpose. Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said it is worth it.

The New York Times reports: Connecticut has been so successful in getting people to sign up for health insurance through its online marketplace that it is setting up a consulting business to help other states build and operate websites where people can compare and buy private insurance policies.

Kevin Counihan, chief executive of the Connecticut exchange, said Monday that it would license or franchise its technology, selling an “exchange in a box” to other states. It would offer a package of basic services, with an option for states to buy more.

The Connecticut exchange, Access Health CT, has performed better than the federal insurance marketplace and its troubled website,, and better than many state-run exchanges.

About 55,000 people have signed up for private health insurance through the Connecticut exchange, far exceeding the goal of 33,000 set for the entire open enrollment period, which ends March 31.)

Dr. Robert Scalettar, a board member of the Connecticut exchange, said its venture was conceived in part as a way to raise money to help pay for education of the newly insured. “We realized that… we could package our services and expertise and make them available to other states, promoting collaboration and avoiding a duplication of effort.”
Newsday reports: Long Island Power Authority trustees were scheduled to vote today on a plan to delay for two years the collection of $216 million in costs to settle a until 2025.

Last year LIPA announced settlement of a $265 million dispute with National Grid, the company that operated Long Island’s electric grid under contract.

National Grid had sought more than $400 million to cover the cost of pension and other benefits for a succession of workers dating to the days of the Long Island Lighting Co. LIPA had previously denied it owed the amount, but was advised last year to take the settlement.

Since then LIPA has been working on a plan to recover the costs from ratepayers.

The authority said it had already set aside $32.6 million from its 2013 revenue to cover a portion of the costs. The remaining $216 million, it proposes, will be deferred over 10 years starting in 2016.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter  gave his ‘State of the Town” address Tuesday.

He said he wants the Town to procure a line of credit secured by town-owned land at EPCAL the Town-owned land being developed as an industrial park in Calverton. 

Walter estimates  the land sales and leases at EPCAL as a $100 million asset.
He said the town needs to draw on the equity of the land to avoid a 16 percent tax increase.

Walter referred to the line of credit as “a cushion against temporary tough times."
He referred to “new revenue about to come online from activity on Route 58” where more big box stores are set to open.

The town's total bonded indebtedness ballooned from $42 million in 2002 to $165 million in 2012 — nearly a 300 percent increase over the span of a decade.

Most of that increase is attributable to two things: the aborted landfill reclamation/closure project (about $50 million) and borrowing against future 2-percent property transfer tax revenues to fund farmland and open space acquisitions (about $70 million).

Walter said "I have said repeatedly that due to our landfill debt, the only way our town government has functioned has been by drawing down on our budget reserves.”

Tuesday, February 25

Connecticut lawmakers want to create new penalties for crimes committed with unmanned aircraft and establish rules for how police use drones in investigations as part of a far-reaching bill governing drones.

The Judiciary Committee heard public testimony on the bill Monday. Proposed federal regulations could see the small, relatively inexpensive aircraft become much more common.

The bill would make “use of an unmanned aircraft” a crime. A conviction under the new statute could be as severe as a Class B felony if the drone was weaponized.

Lesser degrees of the crime involve stalking, voyeurism, and harassment and would result in a Class C felony.

The legislation also sets rules for how police can use drones as tools for investigations. The bill requires law enforcement officials to get a warrant before operating a drone to collect information.

The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association opposed the bill and urged lawmakers to form a task force to take a closer look at the issue before passing the law.

However, the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union supports the legislation and does not want to see the legislature wait another year to define how police can use the aircraft.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez was in Hartford on Monday, promoting support for an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Connecticut's minimum wage was raised last month to $8.70 an hour and is planned to go up again next year.

All Connecticut members of Congress already support the increase to $10.10, but Perez said it was still important to hear the local stories of those struggling to get by on minimum wage.

A panel of four men and women told their stories, which confirmed a recent Congressional Budget Office report that the majority of minimum wage workers are adults, not teenagers, and two-fifths of them work fulltime.

Some employers spoke in favor of an increase, while employer organizations such as the CT Business and Industry Association and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Bridgeport oppose it, saying it will raise their costs and reduce employment.

The budget office report found that going to $10.10 an hour could reduce total employment by 500,000 workers by the second half of 2016. However, it would lift 900,000 families out of poverty and increase the incomes of 16.5 million workers.

Newsday reports: Suffolk County Community College might be the first Long Island public college with a blanket ban on smoking. The college wants to ban smoking and other tobacco use across its three campuses.

Last week, the college board of trustees voted unanimously to ask the Suffolk County Legislature for permission to ban tobacco use at its Brentwood, Selden and Riverhead campuses.

This follows a push by the State University of New York to ban tobacco use on all SUNY campuses.

Suffolk County already bans smoking inside and within 50 feet of county buildings, which include those at SCCC. College intergovernmental relations coordinator Ben Zwirn said the school moved ahead with its own policy after an online poll showed overwhelming support for a smoke-free college.

With 26,000 students, SCCC is the largest of the state's 36 community colleges.

Newsday reports: Last night the Suffolk County Water Authority board trimmed a proposed 4.2 percent increase to just 1.2 percent, crediting sales of surplus land for the reduction.

The rate increase will cost $3 more a year on the current average bill of $340 for customers who uses 160,000 gallons annually.


Monday, February 24

Thanks to TV advertising during the Olympics, Connecticut's health care exchange saw a 67 percent increase in daily enrollment, according to officials from Access Health CT.

Total enrollment is now almost 127,000. Fifty-seven percent are 45 and older, while 22 percent fall into the all-important 18 to 34 year-old category. The younger group are healthier and are needed to strike a balance with older residents who tend to need more health care and thus cost the system more.

Enrollment in the exchange is open until March 31.

Connecticut's new commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection -- DEEP -- has some new initiatives he'll try to pursue this election year.

But Robert Klee will also keep focused on Governor Malloy's controversial priority of providing cheaper energy through expansion of natural gas.

One of Malloy's other priorities is to remake the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority into a 21st century waste system to be known as the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority. Klee says that overcoming the state’s dismal efforts at increasing recycling and other non-dumping forms of disposal to 60 percent will take education and outreach to essentially re-program community and individual trash habits.

Other priorities are cleaning and developing former industrial sites, known as brownfields, that are contaminated with various toxic substances, and continuing to acquire open space.

Klee was chief of staff to DEEP Commissioner Dan Esty, and also studied under Esty at Yale. Klee says his new job -- like his previous position under Esty -- will draw on his expertise in both science and policy.

At a public hearing last week in Milford, dozens of speakers expressed outrage over soaring utility rates. Speakers said their variable rates almost tripled this winter and their utility bills more than doubled. 

Although other companies also were mentioned, several singled out North American Power, which is one of the suppliers available through the state’s electricity exchange, as the biggest offender.

Responding to the complaints, North American Power spokeswoman Tiffany Eddy said Friday that the company voluntarily informed its customers in December that rates could substantially increase this winter, and urged them to take a fixed rate.

The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority scheduled five public hearings around Connecticut to learn about consumers’ experiences with electricity suppliers in the new marketplace. 

They include a meeting tonight at Brookfield Town Hall and Thursday at Veterans Memorial Hall in the City Hall Building in Waterbury – both at 6:30 pm.

The Riverhead News-Review reports: Governor Andrew Cuomo announced this week that $1.4 billion in federal aid will help pay for upgrades and repairs to the  electric grid and protecting the grid from future storms.

The funding will cover the elevation of damaged substations, automatic sectionalizing of switches across the grid in order to minimize outages and strategic undergrounding of appropriate power circuits.

Mr. Cuomo said the funding will allow the State to improve the power grid, without raising rates.

About 90 percent of the Long Island Power Authority’s customers were left without power in the wake of the 2012 storm, which caused significant damage to the electrical infrastructure.

New York state will be responsible for determining the type of prevention the funds can be used for, depending on the location of the repairs.
Ninety percent of the funding, will come from FEMA, with the remainder drawn from federal Community Development Block Grants.

Newsday reports: The public will get a chance to comment on Fire Island's emergency dune-rebuilding project in early March, now that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Interior Department have agreed on "refinements" to the plan.
Releasing the draft environmental assessment is a critical step in securing $140 million in federal money to build 15-foot-high protective dunes on the barrier island.
Superstorm Sandy flattened Fire Island's dunes in October 2012, and the lengthy planning process for rebuilding them meant homeowners on the South Shore and on Fire Island faced increased hazards during last year's hurricane season.
Senator Charles Schumer  and Representative Tim Bishop have pressed agencies to work swiftly so that dredging might begin this summer -- at least on publicly owned lands east and west of Fire Island.

Newsday reports: Last night the Suffolk County Water Authority board trimmed a proposed 4.2 percent increase to just 1.2 percent, crediting sales of surplus land for the reduction.

The rate increase will cost $3 more a year on the current average bill of $340 for customers who uses 160,000 gallons annually.

The increase will take effect April 1.

James Gaughran, authority chairman, credited the smaller increase to the agency's sale of a half dozen surplus land parcels over the last two years that has brought in about $3 million.    

Friday February 21:

House Republican Chief of Staff George Gallo resigned after concluding that he is a person of interest in a federal investigation of the caucus’ campaign vendor mailings. 

On Wednesday many GOP lawmakers were questioned by FBI agents.

In a written statement House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said “Our caucus is cooperating fully with the federal inquiry into House Republican activities.”

The city of Bridgeport Parks Commission voted on Monday to oppose leasing a closed landfill at Seaside Park to United Illuminating for a controversial solar project.

However, city attorney Mark Anastasi said Tuesday the city may still lease the closed landfill.  He told Hearst Media that the commission vote was “non-binding” and that the administration has submitted the solar project to a number of boards and commissions for recommendations.

Critics of the plan say that the Parks Commission is empowered by the city charter to make decisions about parklands and that their vote should stand. 

Mayor Finch, who is in favor of the project said, “If we reject it, it will certainly tarnish the city’s image.”

Because of the conflicting information, the city council held off voting on the issue Tuesday. The council wants to first review the parks board’s decision, and seek a formal legal opinion from Mr. Anastasi including whether the landfill is actually parkland before taking action.
The Town of East Hampton is taking a stand against PSEG Long Island's new overhead transmission line being built along village streets between East Hampton and Amagansett. 

Supervisor Larry Cantwell sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo urging his "immediate intervention" to halt the utility's installation of new, taller poles and conductors alongside an existing lower voltage overhead line. 
Mr. Cantwell's February 18 letter states that the lines should be buried underground using federal money allocated for Hurricane Sandy relief.

Many residents who live along the route said they had not been notified of a public hearing the village held with representatives of the utility in September.

Opponents circulated a petition demanding a halt to the project until their concerns are addressed.  These include effects of electromagnetic fields produced by the power line, the aesthetic impact of tall poles, and reduction of property values.

In his letter Mr. Cantwell states there was no public review of the environmental assessment for the project and no public participation in the process.

Officials of PSEG Long Island, say that the upgrade is necessary for its transmission infrastructure to withstand extreme weather, including winds of up to 130 miles per hour. They say that routing the poles in proximity to existing lines along the Long Island Rail Road could result in a region wide power outage, if lines are knocked down in a storm. They say burying the lines would be too expensive.
Newsday reports: The Suffolk County Water Authority has sold 7.8 prime acres along the Long Island Expressway in Islandia for $1.56 million to a real estate firm.

The latest sale brings the total gained from disposing of excess properties to more than $3 million. 

The initiative is aimed at holding down the need for future rate hikes.
The closing comes in advance of a scheduled hearing Monday on a proposed 4.2 percent rate increase, which would take effect April 1.

The sale went through despite opposition from Islandia Mayor Allan Dorman who urged the SCWA to donate the land so that veterans housing could be built. But SCWA officials say, as a public authority, it is not legal for them to donate land for private use.

Thursday, February 20

The Connecticut Post reports: A new report by the Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition, says that despite chronic and nagging poverty, progress is being made to help the city's children in the areas of education, health and safety.

The report looks at dozens of comparative measures. The percentage of children living in poverty went down slightly from 39.9 percent to 37.6 percent.

But the report says while the city remains below the state average in numerous measures, the number of high school graduates is up, the number of student suspensions is down and the number of reported child abuse cases dropped by 25 percent in just a year and the number of families with health coverage has increased..

37.6 percent of city children – 13,500 - live below the federal poverty line. Though less than the year before, the rate remains two and a half times the state child poverty rate of 14.8 percent.

The median family income for a Bridgeport youngster is about $44 thousand, compared to $85 thousand statewide and $102 thousand in Fairfield County.

The percentage of students entering kindergarten with a preschool education was 65 percent compared to about 80 percent statewide.
State spending on public schools in Bridgeport was $8,145 per pupil last year, far below the $8,900 per pupil spent on Hartford students.

The graduation rate in the city increased in 2012, but still way below the statewide graduation rate of 85 percent.

Of those who did graduate, 69 percent of city students went on to college, compared to 84.5 percent statewide. 

The Public Utility Regulatory Authority announced on Friday that it will look into consumer complaints about what turn out to be high cost electric power contracts offered by suppliers under the Energize Connecticut Plan.

Many electric customers find that the low fixed rates marketed to them give way to expensive variable rates, and more than double their bills.

Connecticut AARP advocacy director John Erlingheuser says marketers hired by retail electric suppliers target seniors especially in their pitches. Some companies offer gimmicks to lure customers into fixed length contracts.

Erlingheuser said, “The market is not good enough for anyone with a small amount of usage.” Many seniors use less than 400 kWh a month, so they may not save anything. Fees and rate increases can also quickly negate any small savings.

The Public Utility Regulatory Authority has scheduled five public hearings around Connecticut including one tonight, at 321 New Britain Avenue in Unionville, also  February 24 at Brookfield Town Hall and  February 27 at Veterans Hall in Waterbury, all at 6:30 pm.
The New York Civil Liberties Union and the New York State Department of Community Corrections announced Wednesday an unprecedented agreement to reform the way solitary confinement is used in New York State’s prisons.

The state will immediately remove youth, pregnant inmates and developmentally disabled and intellectually challenged prisoners from extreme isolation.

With the agreement, New York State becomes the largest prison system in the United States to prohibit the use of solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure against prisoners who are younger than 18.

The federal housing discrimination lawsuit by the NAACP against the Town of Huntington is over, hours before it was to go to court.

The lawsuit, filed in 2011 by the Huntington NAACP and the Fair Housing in Huntington Committee, claimed a housing development proposal discriminated against minorities and families because it was designed around one-bedroom for-sale units instead of multi-bedroom rental homes to attract families.

The Huntington Planning Board unanimously approved a settlement Wednesday night. The town board approved the same settlement Tuesday night.

The town board agreed to take the necessary zoning action to allow construction of a proposed development in Melville with 72 one-bedroom, 39 two-bedroom and six three-bedroom units.

They are to be available to people earning 50 percent to 80 percent of the Nassau/Suffolk median income. For a family of four, that’s about $53 to $85 thousand.

Purchasers would be selected by lottery. They would pay the equivalent of two months of maintenance costs as a down payment. No mortgage or other type of financing is required.

Unlike with rentals, residents would build limited equity – in amounts yet to be determined, which they would collect once they moved.

Financing for the development is being sought by the developer.

Wednesday February 19

Labor advocates and business associations disagreed Tuesday over a proposal to fine large employers if they do not pay their employees at least a standard wage.

The legislation would fine employers with more than 500 workers $1 per hour for any workers not being paid a standard wage in addition to health care benefits.

The standard wage for fast food workers in the Hartford area is currently the minimum wage, according to the Labor Department.

On January 1, the minimum wage was increased from $8.25 to $8.70 in Connecticut.

According to the Connecticut Citizens Action Group, businesses would have the option of either raising wages or paying the fees to help offset what their employees cost the state in subsidies.

By not paying their employees better and offering them adequate benefits, large companies are passing costs on to taxpayers, who foot the bill when low-wage workers receive state assistance.

However, businesses say that the proposed legislation will impact far more than “low-wage” employers. That is, if the state’s utility companies or large manufacturers employ hourly workers for less than the standard wage, those businesses will either have to suddenly give those employees raises or get hit with a potentially hefty fine.

Senator Richard Blumenthal is working to reverse a decision in which UnitedHealthcare terminated more than 2,200 physicians across the state from its AARP Medicare Advantage network, a move that could impact up to 30,000 patients.

The practitioners include physicians from Hartford and Fairfield counties, who went to federal court to get an injunction to halt the terminations, as well as 1,200 specialists in the Yale Medical Group.
Yale-New Haven Health System and UnitedHealthcare have not agreed to inclusion of Yale-New Haven Hospital in the United’s medicare plan.
There are 1,200 practitioners in the Yale Medical Group, all based at Yale-New Haven Hospital. 

UnitedHealthcare reached an agreement to keep Bridgeport Hospital and Greenwich Hospital, both part of Yale New Haven Health System, but not Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Blumenthal said seniors should have choices on Medicare coverage, and should have access to the doctors who have cared for them for many years.

AARP which receives royalties from several UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage plans it endorsed says the decision to eliminate providers was made by UnitedHealthcare.

The hospitals still in the network include: Milford Hospital, Griffin Hospital, Midstate Medical Center in Meriden, Bridgeport and Greenwich hospitals.  

PSEG Long Island, the company that operates Long Island’s electric system, said it reached a tentative pact with its unionized workforce on Tuesday.

The agreement calls for raises of at least 2 percent starting next February and 2.25 percent the following year.

The tentative 21-month agreement calls for workers to receive a $500 payment next Feb. 1.

PSEG has vowed to hold the delivery charge portion of bills steady through 2014 and 2015, so any increase tied to the raises will likely be held off until 2016. 

Spokane-based Clearwater Paper Corp. is closing its Central Islip location, eliminating the 153 jobs there.
The company said it would consolidate the local operations into some lower-cost facilities.

It has 12 other manufacturing plants in the United States and one in Canada.

Clearwater said employees can apply for jobs at the other plants. Its nearest location is in East Hartford, Connecticut.

The layoffs are scheduled to start Sunday. The company said it will offer employees severance pay and provide career-assistance services. The Long Island plant produced bathroom tissue, paper towels and napkins.

The announcement is another blow to the Island's manufacturing sector, which has been losing jobs for years. In December the sector had 71,500 jobs, the latest state Labor Department data show, down from 73,400 a year earlier and 132,700 jobs in December 1990.

The Suffolk Times reports: There is still a month left until spring and Southold Town has already plowed through all but 10 percent of its sand and salt budget for the year according to Highway Department Supervisor Vincent Orlando.

Since the start of the year, the town has spent roughly $138,000 to clear the roads. 

Orlando said he is working with Supervisor Scott Russell and the Town Board to transfer money to the snow removal budget to finish out the remainder of the year.

Tuesday, February 18

After emerging Monday from a closed-door meeting with the heads of Metro-North and the MTA, Governor Malloy said the railroad was going to put in place a 100-day plan to begin to earn back the trust of the commuting public by providing reliable, on-time, and safe travel from Connecticut to New York.

The plan is expected to be created over the next two weeks. The two sides also agreed to an independent review of any major projects like the recent replacement of an electrical cable in Cos Cob.

In 2013 problems plagued Metro North including the derailment in Bridgeport, followed by the death of a worker on the track in West Haven, the power outage in September which halted traffic on the New Haven line, and the fatal derailment in the Bronx in December.

The incidents are being investigated by federal officials. MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast said when those investigations are completed, he believes they’re going to find that there was an exodus of key people who retired after being with the railroad for 30 years, as well as some issues related to the tracks.

One solution, he said, is to bring in new management, like Metro-North president Joseph Giuletti, who started work last week. Both also promised to listen to the concerns of riders and to respond to the governor's concerns.

Representative Toni Walker, the House chairwoman of the legislature’s powerful budget-writing committee, wants to know when and how the Department of Children and Families will address the overburdened caseloads of the social workers responsible for getting care for the thousands of abused children in state custody.

The millions of dollars the department has saved from decreasing the number of children living in group homes or being sent out-of-state are mostly funneled to other areas of the state budget.

Since January 2011, DCF has seen a 30 percent drop in social workers, a total of 400.

Governor Malloy's proposed budget provides no funding for additional social workers for the Department. 

The agency's court-appointed federal monitor, Raymond Mancuso said the funding cuts mean that many of the children in state custody experience delays in receiving the services they need, and he said it's getting worse.

DCF has been under federal court supervision for more than two decades. The agency’s recent reforms have led to fewer investigations taking place for non-serious allegations and fewer children ending up in state custody.

Department leaders told Walker they would let her know how they plan to tackle the caseload issue.

Suffolk officials are looking to expand the Southwest Sewer District seven miles east to hook up to the planned $475-million Ronkonkoma Hub project in Brookhaven adjacent to the Long Island Railroad station.
This would scrap a proposed on-site $25 million sewage treatment plant, where treated wastewater would discharge into the groundwater. Instead, the county would build a pump station and run a pair of pipelines and tie into the sewer district. Sewage would go to the Bergen Point plant for treatment, and treated wastewater would discharge three miles into the Atlantic Ocean.

Public Works officials say a pipeline would save at least $2 to $3 million in construction. It also would cut six months from the 18- to 24-month construction time and protect underground drinking water supply.

The new pipeline would also allow connections along the route and eliminate the need to create a separate sewer district.

Plans for the 50-acre Ronkonkoma Hub project include 1,450 apartments, up to 195,000 square feet of retail space and 360,000 square feet of office and medical facilities.

Citizen Campaign for the Environment executive Adrienne Esposito called the sewer plan a “more eco-friendly and cost effective solution,” but added, “We need to know the impact on tributaries, rivers and even Lake Ronkonkoma.” 

A new Quinnipiac University poll found a majority of New Yorkers favor legalizing small amounts of marijuana for recreational use and overwhelmingly support — by an 88 to 9 percent margin — for legalization of medical marijuana.
Support for recreational use of the drug was by a comfortable majority at 57-39 percent. Men tend tend to favor recreational use more than women, the young more than the old and Democrats and independents more than Republicans.
The survey carries a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percent.

Monday February 17

Environmentalists believe the state legislature needs to take steps to prevent fracking waste from ending up here, even though there is no fracking activity in Connecticut.

Last week Louis Burch of Citizens Campaign for the Environment told lawmakers about the dangers of production brine, the concentrated fluid that flows out of a gas well. That brine is five times more salty than seawater and could be used to de-ice roads.

In Connecticut  fracking waste has not been used to de-ice state roads, according to Transportation Commissioner James Redeker , but it’s unknown whether it’s been used by municipalities or private contractors.

According to a Northeast Public Radio report, fracking brine has been used in some up-state New York counties. The DEC, the agency that regulates the use of fracking brine, says it ensures the waste does not have high concentrations of pollutants.

Burch said that currently, there are no policies in place at the state level to protect Connecticut from spreading toxic production brine on roadways. He said the companies doing the fracking in nearby states are looking to get rid of the waste and willing to do it at a very low cost.

The road salt shortage in combination with tight state and municipal budgets could make this production brine an attractive alternative.

There are no fewer than four bills this year in various committees seeking to stop the disposal of fracking waste in the state.

The Connecticut environmental advocates of ConnPIRG, are hoping to build on a bill raised by the legislature’s Environment Committee to expand the types of containers on which consumers would pay a deposit, as an incentive to recycle them. Currently deposits apply to containers of soda, beer, and water.

The language of the bill would broaden the law to cover juices, teas, and sports drinks, but advocates want the bill to cover any type of single-serving beverage, including small bottles of liquor known as nips.
Environment Committee Co-Chairman Senator Ed Meyer said he favors the expansion.

The state’s grocery stores say they lose between 2 and 4 cents per container returned and do not want the law expanded.
Grocery stores must rent return machines and pay the labor costs of keeping them running and keeping their redemption centers sanitary.

Mute swans might get a stay of execution if three lawmakers have their say.

New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele and State Senators Tony Avella and Steve Cymbrowitz co-sponsored legislation that would impose a two-year moratorium on the New York State 

Department of Environmental Conservation's plan to declare mute swans a "prohibited invasive species" and to kill all of the 2,200 mute swans in the state by 2025.

Under the proposed plan, adult swans in public waters could be shot or euthanized, or they could be caught by those licensed to keep them in captivity.

Mute swans are most prevalent on Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley.

The new legislation would require the DEC to demonstrate the actual damage to the environment or other species that have been caused by the mute swan population of only 2,200 across the state.

Newsday reports the state has backed off its proposal to close Sagamore Children's Psychiatric Center this summer, deciding instead to cut the number of beds in half.

The New York State Office of Mental Health announced a plan last year calling for merging New York's 24 inpatient psychiatric hospitals into 15 "regional centers of excellence" to focus more on community-based services.

The plan originally called for Sagamore to lose all of its 54 beds this July and for Long Island children who needed to be hospitalized to go to facilities in Queens or the Bronx. Parents and politicians argued that would pose a hardship for families.

OMH spokesman Ben Rosen said, under the revised plan, Sagamore will remain operational for the next fiscal year ending March 31, 2015, with 27 beds. It's not clear what will happen after that.

Critics worry the state could close the facility later.

But Harvey Rosenthal, executive director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, said he thought the plan was a "good sort of compromise" because it would mean more services that stress prevention and keep patients in the community.

Friday, February 14

In the 14 months since the Newtown shootings, there were 44 school shootings across the country, two thirds of these were at K-12 schools.
Those 44 incidents resulted in 28 deaths and 37 non-fatal injuries, with shooters ranging in age from 5 to 53. 

Frustrated by inaction on gun-law reform, Connecticut’s Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, and activists including Carlee Soto, whose sister died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, demanded Wednesday that lawmakers renew efforts to approve expanded background checks and other similar measures.
Murphy accused those who oppose sweeping changes of being out of touch with their constituencies.

At a news conference Wednesday Murphy said "The response from the United States Congress is at best indifferent and I would argue at times complicit. I say `complicit' because ... some individuals in Congress want to allow more guns on public property.''

Murphy cited an amendment that Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul, attached to a Postal Service bill last week that would have overturned a federal ban on firearms in post offices.

A Senate panel rejected Rand's measure but approved one by Alaska Democratic Senator Mark Begich, that allows licensed gun holders to carry guns on post office property, outside the building.

Murphy called on Congress to rethink what kind of gun reform makes sense and how to upgrade insufficient mental health care at a time when mental illness has been directly linked to multiple high-profile gun violence cases in the past five years.

 Three years ago, the Connecticut legislature estimated there were 372,000 rifles in the state of the sort that might be classified as "assault weapons," and two million plus high-capacity magazines. Many more have been sold in the gun-buying boom since then.

Last year the Connecticut legislature passed a law requiring the registration of ‘assault weapons’ and high capacity magazines.   By the end of 2013, state officials received around 50,000 applications for "assault weapon" registrations, and 38,000 applications for magazines.

There are now perhaps as many as 100,000 people, who have broken no other laws, but by owning unregistered assault weapons, all of them are committing Class D felonies.

Tony Guglielmo, of Stafford , the ranking GOP senator on the legislature's public safety committee said “I honestly thought from my own standpoint that the vast majority would register. If you pass laws that people have no respect for and they don't follow them, then you have a real problem."

The New York Times reports:
New York state and the Obama administration have agreed “in principle” to grant an $8 billion Medicaid adjustment for New York State that could help stabilize some hospitals in Brooklyn and would reconfigure the delivery of health care throughout the state.

The so-called waiver would allow the state to move Medicaid money around. The $8 billion over five years agreed upon is lower than the state’s $10 billion request.

Federal officials discouraged using the waiver money to prop up hospital operations.  They said it should be used to reduce the need for hospitalization and to provide more outpatient care.

Governor Cuomo said the funds would be used to “transform” health care. He said, had the waiver not been approved, not only would hospitals close, but also  it would “endanger the operation of our health exchange.”
Road salt is in short supply throughout the eastern seaboard.
In Connecticut, the shortage prompted Governor Malloy to declare a state of emergency Thursday evening.

The state had enough salt left to clear its highways and roads through one more storm. 

On Long Island a Brookhaven Highway Department salt storage building in Miller Place collapsed under the weight of snow and ice Thursday evening.

Brookhaven Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro said the incident "will pose a significant challenge logistically for the remainder of the snow season."

If conventional rock salt is in short supply – beet brine may be the answer.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn has sponsored a bill looking at a more effective and environmentally sensitive option for keeping county roads clear — using beet-based brines.

Hahn says coating roads with salt poses environmental effects — as it can find its way into nearby estuaries and corrode infrastructure.

She says “For the most part, traditional salt brines are largely ineffective below 20 degrees. However, a beet brine will work at temperatures as low as 25-below zero and is safer for the environment.

The New York State Thruway Authority began using a sugar beet juice brine a few years ago. It is used to pre-treat roadways, helping prevent ice from forming.

Thursday, February 13

The New Haven Register reports:

The era of drones in domestic skies is here and two Connecticut state representatives want to get some laws into place to manage them.

James Albis and Matthew Ritter are drafting legislation that would make sure police don’t use “unmanned aircraft” without a warrant.

Their proposal, which still must go through the Judiciary Committee and public hearings, is mostly concerned with misuse by law enforcement. It also addresses the use of drones for voyeurism or harassment, such as stalking.

Albis said he wants the state to be able to regulate those areas in which it is legally able to do so. He says that as a state, Connecticut probably will not be able to require where they can and cannot fly. That’s up to the FAA, which says commercial use of drones is illegal but has no clear law governing that.

The proposed Connecticut law will also not address use of drones by journalists.

While police actions can be photographed and video recorded, according to the courts, drones bring up new issues because of their potential access.

The FAA is working on regulations but they are not likely to be ready until after 2015.

Seeking to clarify when a state political campaign can use funds from its party’s federal account, the State Elections Enforcement Commission adopted an advisory opinion late Tuesday outlining when it’s appropriate.

SEEC regulators wrote in their opinion that the concern was how much of the state Democratic Party’s reported fundraising included state contractors.

It also stated “The overarching principle to be followed is simple: Connecticut committees pay for their expenses with money raised within the Connecticut campaign finance system.”

But it gets complicated when staffing and overhead overlap. Each come with its own set of rules on how state and federal party accounts can fund those expenses. And certain overhead expenses can be paid as joint expenditures.

State election regulators concluded, “federal law does not create a loophole in the Citizens’ Election Program and other Connecticut campaign finance laws that would allow federal committees to make expenditures that are also contributions regarding Connecticut candidates.”

This holds true even after last year’s campaign finance law changes, which allowed greater individual contributions to parties and unlimited party contributions to clean election candidates.
------------------------ reports the Southampton Town Trustees were served with a court injunction on Wednesday afternoon that ordered Southampton Town to take control of the Trustees’ financial accounts.

Two weeks ago State Supreme Court Justice Peter H. Mayer ruled that the Southampton Town Trustees were an agency of the town government, not an autonomous government body, and could not maintain independent bank accounts.

The ruling may be the latest skirmish In the war between the trustees and ocean front homeowners over how to protect their homes in the face of rising seas and disappearing beaches.

The Trustees claim that their authority over the public easement along the beaches gives them the ability to regulate activities that could impact or threaten the existence of that easement, namely the construction of hardened structures along the shoreline that could cause the erosion of the beach over which the easement is imposed.

Over the last 20 years, the assertion of that authority has led to numerous lawsuits by homeowners against the Trustees, and vice-versa.

The Trustees currently have lawsuits pending against the villages of Quogue and Southampton, and several of their residents, stemming from the construction of beachfront structures without the consent of the Trustees.
Eric Shultz, president of the Board of Trustees said Wednesday “we can’t conduct any business. They’ve shut us down.” 


Thanks to a nearly $1.4 million overall increase in state aid, Riverhead schools will not have to cut programs or staff in order to stay within the state-mandated 2-percent property tax levy limitation for the upcoming school year

Riverhead will see its state education aid increase nearly 7 percent, to about   $21 million, under Governor Cuomo's proposed budget.

Without the increase, the district was again facing additional cuts to stay within the tax cap and still maintain all its existing programs, according to School Superintendent Nancy Carney.

She said “Our class size is at a maximum. We've reduced staff in all areas. We're really running on a bare minimum."

The district's current operating budget is $117 million.
The school board will vote to adopt its 2014-2015 budget on April 22, followed by a public hearing on May 13. The statewide school budget vote day is Tuesday, May 20.

The Connecticut Post reports:

A proposal to create a retirement trust fund for Connecticut residents --at no charge to the state -- has been proposed for the second consecutive legislative session.

Lawmakers joined union leaders and activists on Tuesday to rekindle a bill that was defeated last year.

It would be a way for workers with inadequate or non-existent retirement plans to piggyback on state investments that are bringing back double-digit interest for the state's public-employee and teacher retirement funds.

Sen. Catherine A. Osten, D-Baltic, co-chairman of the Labor and Public Employees Committee, said the nonprofit trust would have an appointed board. Employers would allow portions of paychecks to be deposited directly into accounts, and would have the option to also contribute to employee plans.

"The state of Connecticut has an employee pension fund and a teacher's retirement fund that is on its way to being more solvent because of the steps that have been taken recently," Osten said, noting more state contributions to the retirement plans.

A group of former Connecticut state employee union members, some of whom wanted to change unions after a 2011 concession package, are suing the state and its union in a class-action complaint.

Late last month, about eight current and retired state employees who are members of CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 alleged in court that the state has been withdrawing the full amount of union dues from their paychecks.

Their complaint stated “State defendants have seized union fees equal to full union membership dues from nonmember plaintiffs and the proposed class for the benefit of CSEA”

Individuals who are not members of the union still have to pay a fee because their salary and working conditions are largely based on contracts negotiated by the state and the union. However, they are not required to pay the full amount they would have to pay if they belonged to the union.

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office, which will be representing the state in the complaint, said they will respond at the appropriate time in court.

Since its opening in 2003, the Medford Multicare Center for Living on Long Island has been investigated by the state attorney general and the state health department for falsifying records, neglect, health infractions, and injured patients.

Nine of the home's workers were arrested Tuesday. Its owners were accused of paying themselves $60 million in Medicaid money since it opened.

The New York State Department of Health, which regulates nursing homes, issued 130 violations to the home for failing to provide adequate care to its residents.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said 17 employees have been convicted of neglect and falsifying records since 2008 when Andrew Cuomo held that office. Hidden cameras caught employees mistreating residents and forging paperwork to cover up the abuse.

The nursing home has paid at least $32,000 in fines to settle violations issued by health regulators, including one in 2009 that may have led to the death of a patient.

Newsday reports:
Backers of a bill in Suffolk County to raise the age from 19 to 21 to buy tobacco products testified Tuesday that the legislation would reduce smoking among young people, while retailers said it would be "debilitating" to their businesses.

More than a dozen convenience store owners who attended the Legislature's first public hearing on the measure warned it would drive young people to Nassau County or the black market to buy cigarettes.

The proposed law would impose fines of up to $1,000 for businesses that sell tobacco products to customers under 21 on a first offense and up to $1,500 for second offenses. 

County health workers say high school student’s use of tobacco products is rising slightly. In 2012, 21.8 percent of students used tobacco, a 1% increase over 2010. That's well below the 32.5 percent who used tobacco in 2000.

Store owners said that with the recession, and taxes that are now $4.35 on a pack of cigarettes in New York, stores that once sold 35 cartons a day were selling 20 cartons a day.

The Legislature is scheduled to hold another public hearing on the issue March 4.Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory announced his support of the legislation after the hearing. 

Tuesday, February 11

Yale law school students working with the school's immigration clinic and veterans’ rights attorneys held a news conference today to announce that a judge has certified a state-wide Class Action on behalf of immigrants held without bond more than six months.

Jamaica born Mark Reid, a lawful permanent resident of New Haven, and veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve, is currently detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Massachusetts.  He was put in deportation proceedings because of a criminal conviction.

Reid filed a class action lawsuit last year on behalf of himself and other immigration detainees held for longer than six months without a bond hearing.

On Monday, U.S. Judge Michael Ponsor rejected ICE’s “dubious interpretation” of the immigration statutes and certified a class of all ICE detainees held six months or longer in Massachusetts.

The decision should lead to an opportunity for long-term immigration detainees held in Massachusetts to secure an individualized bond hearing and, in many cases, release from detention while awaiting results of their removal case.

Children with autism were the most frequently subjected to restraint or seclusion in Connecticut schools in the 2012-13 school year.

A new state Education Department report tallied more than 33,000 incidents of physical restraint or seclusion in public schools and private special education programs.

The report shows that autism was the primary disability among special education students subject to “emergency” restraint or seclusion, with 40 percent of all such incidents involving a child with autism. Autism also accounted for nearly half of all cases in which children were put in seclusion as part of their individual education plans.

The report indicates that black and Hispanic children are more likely to be restrained and secluded than white students. Fifty-seven percent of students who were restrained or secluded were members of minority groups, while the majority of special education students statewide are white.

Newsday reports that the New York State Board of Regents moved to ease some testing and evaluation requirements for students and teachers, the first significant retreat after a statewide storm of criticism over the rapid rollout of Common Core academic standards.
During a meeting Monday, the board voted on several revisions. They voted to delay the high school graduation requirement of passing tougher, Common-Core-aligned English and math Regents tests with higher scores until 2022. The current passing grade of 65 will stand.

The board’s voting also included clarifying the meaning of new test scores and limiting the time students can spend on local standardized tests required by the teacher evaluation system. The Regents also voted to allow appeals by teachers and principals rated "ineffective" in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years. The board also voted to lobby the state for more funding related to Common Core testing.

The Regents' vote technically was preliminary, although it included all 17 members.  A final vote was scheduled for this morning.

Stony Brook University Hospital is not yet participating with any of the eight authorized Suffolk County plans on the health exchange marketplace in Suffolk County according to a hospital spokesperson.

South Fork Assemblyman Fred Thiele criticized Stony Brook, "Suffolk's only public hospital, operated by the State of New York," for failing to sign up with exchange insurance providers.

The reimbursement rates being offered by the insurance companies on the exchange are too low, Stony Brook CEO Dr. Reuben Pasternak told Newsday last week.

The East End Hospital Alliance hospitals, Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport, Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead and Southampton Hospital —  are participating with the five "major" exchange providers and continuing to negotiate with the remaining providers

Thousands of consumers who faced enrollment problems and other issues after signing up for health insurance with Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield through the N.Y. Department of Health exchange will receive three weeks of free coverage.
The insurance company agreed to the move following a state Department of Financial Services probe into complaints about Empire sending out member ID cards late, failing to send out bills on time, and other issues.
An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 consumers who enrolled with Empire through the State Department of Health and paid for coverage for the month of January, but did not receive care during that period will receive cash payments equivalent to three weeks of premiums paid.

Monday, February 10

Governor Dannel Malloy came to a Hamden elementary school on Friday to promote his plan to add over a thousand new publicly funded pre-school slots to schools around the state. Hamden doubled the number of its slots over the past few years. WPKNs Melinda Tuhus reports:

Malloy praised Hamden's mayor and educational leaders for their commitment to early childhood education. Malloy funded universal pre-k as mayor of Stamford and said he studied the issue extensively and learned

  “when clidren are appropriately stimulated in a learning environment a well before age 5 that their mind - their brain actually develops differently – phystically dirferently.”

The state Education Department will find out which school districts have the physical capacity to handle more pre-school classrooms, starting with 30 lower income towns and expanding from there.
Senate President Don Williams said pre-school education reduces crime and teen pregnancy, as well as increasing the graduation rate. And it makes economic sense.

Williams: “For every dollar that we invest in quality pre-K in the state of Connecticut taxpayers save seven dollars in avoided remedial and social service costs.”

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.
Senior citizens impacted by United Healthcare’s decision to drop Yale-New Haven Hospital doctors have until February 14 to enroll in original Medicare.
Individuals who want to keep their doctors at Yale-New Haven can do so by un-enrolling from the United Healthcare Medicare Advantage Plan and re-enrolling in original Medicare. 
Help in switching is available from the State Aging Department
 at (800) 994-9422.
The relationship between Governor Dannel Malloy and the state's public employee unions has improved to the point that labor leaders are now praising Malloy, especially in comparison to other state's governors, like Scott Walker of Wisconsin. This, despite major earlier conflicts, like Malloy's demand that state employee unions come up with enough savings and concessions to close more than half the state's $3 billion budget hole. That led union leaders to describe their relationship with the Malloy administration as rocky.

But last week, labor leaders outlined their 2014 agenda in the Legislative Office Building. Lori Pelletier, head of Connecticut AFL-CIO, said, "We are not Wisconsin. We are proud that this legislature and Gov. Malloy respect the collective bargaining process."

This year they are seeking to expand collective bargaining rights to new groups of workers and require greater oversight of nonprofit hospitals converting to for-profit models. They are also supporting Malloy’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2017. 

Cheap heroin has been flooding the Long Island market over the past couple of years according to the Long Island Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, LICADD.   Deaths due to the drug jumped 83 percent between 2010 and 2012 and 83 people died from overdoses in Suffolk County according to New York Senator Chuck Schumer’s office.

These statistics were cited by recovering addicts and other supporters of a plan to lease a house across from Riverhead Town Hall.  The home would be another recovery house to be operated by Robert Hartmann of the group  Mainstream House .  They testified at Town Hall last week.

The house requires a zoning change for the intended use.
Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of LICADD, said there is an acute need for local beds for addicts.

Mr. Hartmann, himself a recovering addict, told the board that all clients in his houses need to be working and contribute to the upkeep of the houses. Clients who relapse are removed from the houses and taken back to inpatient detox centers.

Town Supervisor Sean Walter said he will put the proposal up for a vote at the board’s February 19 meeting - if he has the support of his fellow board members.

Last week, Long Islands’ North Haven village board announced it would hire the wildlife management firm, White Buffalo Inc., to help cull the local deer herd and permit its hunters to use shotguns. Only bow hunting has been allowed until now.

North Haven Mayor Jeff Sander says the hunt, which begins within a month, is only one part of an effort proposed by the village deer management committee to reduce the deer population and control disease.

The mayor said the immediate goal is to reduce the deer herd,  estimated at between 200 and 250 animals, to about 100. The village will notify nearby residents and bow hunters of where any shooting will be taking place.

Hiring White Buffalo will cost the village approximately $15,000. 

Friday, February 7   
Governor Malloy is proposing that every child in Connecticut have access to preschool by 2018.
The governor’s $51 million proposal would begin in the fiscal year that begins July 1 by providing $11.5 million in new funding to pay for an additional 1,020 children from low-income families to attend high-quality early education programs.

When completely rolled out, the plan for universal preschool access would enroll 4,010 more children in early education programs.

The Republican minority leaders said during interviews that they support increasing access to early education programs but have reservations.

Almost all of the additional seats will be provided for students from low-income families living in the state's lowest-performing districts.

The governor’s budget this year would provide another $3.5 million in the coming fiscal year for the state to launch a quality rating system for day care programs that receive state subsidies and increase the frequency that home-based programs must be inspected for safety. The funding would also increase per-student funding to programs by 3 percent.

The increase in inspections follow federal auditors' reporting last fall that every one of the home day care providers they inspected had health or safety problems. The budget would allow for staff to be hired so child care programs can be inspected annually, instead of the current once every three years.

Most of Long Island’s school districts, would get less state operating aid in the coming academic year under Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposed budget than they received in 2008-09.

School leaders said more money is needed to meet across-the-board cost increases, maintain educational programs and staff, pay for federal and state mandates, and keep budgets within the property tax cap. But the governor's aides argue that the aid levels reflect drops in enrollment.

According to the New York State School Boards Association, 84 percent of districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties would have less aid in 2014-15 as compared with the figures six years ago. 

David Little, the association's director of governmental relations, says while the governor's $21.3 billion aid plan calls for a statewide 3.8 percent hike, it "falls dramatically short of expectation and need,"

But Cuomo aides say enrollments generally have declined over the years since 2008-09. The Island's student population has dropped by almost 4 percent, during that period.

School representatives say the drop in enrollments does not justify aid reductions. Increased costs of employee pay, health insurance, pensions and districts' heating expenses offset any savings from enrollment declines.

Little said "I can go from 25 students in a classroom to 19 students, and I still need a teacher in that classroom."

Republican State Senator John Flanagan of East Northport, chairman of the Education Committee, has predicted that the governor's call for $600 million-plus in additional operating aid will be boosted to at least $1 billion. 

Riverhead Town Board members voted Tuesday to mortgage the town's real estate at the Calverton Enterprise Park in order to plug an estimated $4 million budget gap next year — and avoid either a 16-percent property tax increase or "catastrophic" budget cuts.

Supervisor Sean Walter is calling the mortgage a "bridge loan," meaning the town is looking to leverage its equity in the Calverton real estate — it owns 600-plus acres of developable land at the site — to access cash it needs to stay afloat until the land can be subdivided and sold.

The supervisor and town board are hoping the borrowing will be short-term, because Riverhead is already struggling under the weight of a debt burden the supervisor calls "crushing."

The town's total bonded indebtedness ballooned from $42 million in 2002 to $165 million in 2012. Most of that increase is attributable to two things: an aborted landfill reclamation project (approximately $50 million) and borrowing against future 2-percent transfer tax revenues - $70 million to fund farmland and open space acquisitions.

Since 2008, transfer tax revenues have lagged behind the annual payments of principal and interest due on the community preservation fund bonds. 

Projections indicate CPF revenues in 2017 will be about $1 million short of the $5.5 million due on the CPF bonds. At that point, the CPF reserve fund will be depleted. The difference would have to be paid out of the town's general fund.

Thursday, February 6

Governor Dannel Malloy delivered his budget address today, his last before the November 2014 election. 

The Governor didn’t offer any new sweeping spending or tax proposals. 

But he insisted the state is on its way toward economic recovery and attempted to head off any criticism of how he’s decided to get there.
Malloy spoke about the work done to partner with
Connecticut small businesses.
He encouraged lawmakers to continue to push for change to help everyone in Connecticut participate in the state’s economic recovery.

According to state Comptroller Kevin Lembo the state will end fiscal year 2014 with a $506 million surplus. Malloy plans to put $250 million in the Rainy Day Fund, an additional $100 million payment to state employee pensions, and $155 million in $55 tax refunds to about 2.7 million taxpayers.
Malloy found bipartisan support on some issues. 

But Republican lawmakers and Republican gubernatorial candidates believe Malloy used his speech Thursday to test the waters of his re-election campaign.

Malloy has not said whether he will run for re-election in 2014.

Republican Tom Foley, who came within 6,404 votes of Malloy in 2010, said the budget was full of “phony election year math.”  and it was irresponsible to say the state has a surplus.

Legislative budget analysts predicted a state deficit of $1.1 billion starting fiscal year 2016. But Malloy argued there’d be no deficits if budget growth stays at 2.8 percent.

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, called Malloy’s proposed budget encouraging and sensitive to local property taxpayers.

The Suffolk Times reports: On Long Island, food pantries and soup kitchens are preparing for an uptick in demand as some eastern Suffolk County households that currently receive assistance from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, prepare to see those benefits reduced — again.

The new cuts follow a $5 billion reduction in SNAP benefits that took effect in November.  The anticipated additional reductions, tied to a federal farm bill, are expected to save nearly $8.5 billion and will affect certain families in 16 states who participate in both SNAP and a federal home heating oil assistance program, called the “heat and eat” subsidy.

The bill passed the U.S. Senate Tuesday, having already been approved in the House of Representatives, and is expected to go to the president for signature as soon as Friday.

Those who work or volunteer in area food pantries say that, in the wake of last year’s cuts, they are already struggling to feed the estimated 1 in 10
Long Islanders who are in need and that the $200 million being set aside in the farm bill for food pantries nationwide will fall far short of satisfying the anticipated demand.

Some of the 11,000-plus SNAP households in New York’s First Congressional District  on eastern Long Island, about half of which include children, could lose an average of about $90 a week in assistance.  This is on top of approximately $29 in benefits lost last November.

Senator Charles Schumer wants to be known as RoboCop, at least when it comes to cracking down on telemarketers who use ever-better robocalling technology to disturb us at dinner time.
“Schumer said “I want to punish them” on Wednesday during a teleconference to promote a bill that would toughen penalties for telemarketers who circumvent Do Not Call lists and call people anyway.

The number of complaints to the Federal Trade Commission have gone up 275 percent over the last 3 years in New York, prompted in part by technology that has increased the volume of calls that can be made.

As a result, Schumer wants to increase the fines for violating Do Not Call lists from $1,500 to $20,000 and even impose possible jail time for the worst offenders.

Newsday reports: Big-box retailer Costo has agreed to pay a $60,000 fine for selling pesticides banned on Long Island according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The product “Bayer Advanced Lawn Complete Insect Killer is labeled  “not for sale, sale into, distribution, and or use in Nassau, Suffolk, Kings and Queens counties of New York.”

The company also has been ordered to remove the pesticides from its Long Island stores and to issue a recall notice to its customers.

Pesticides containing chemicals such as imaldicloprid and halpfenozide are banned to protect the underground aquifer that supplies the region's drinking water, according to the DEC.

Wednesday, February 5

The minimum wage is back in the news in Connecticut and New York.

Connecticut’s minimum wage increased in January and it’s scheduled to rise again next year, but Governor Dannel Malloy announced Tuesday that he will seek yet another minimum wage increase to bring Connecticut up to $10.10 per hour by 2017.    

On Tuesday in Bridgeport, Malloy said the state is seeing an improvement in the economy and corporations are earning “record profits,” including those corporations that run retail and food service businesses most impacted by the minimum wage.
But Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, a Fairfield Republican, said Tuesday, “hiking the minimum wage will hurt small business owners and cost jobs”.

The governor said the goal of his administration when it comes to implementing policies like a minimum wage hike is an attempt to move as many people as possible to the middle class.

Malloy’s proposal would increase the minimum wage to $9.15 an hour in January 2015. By January 2016, it would increase to $9.60 an hour and by January 2017 it would be $10.10.

It is estimated that there are currently 70,000 to 90,000 Connecticut workers who earn the minimum wage. The governor’s proposal means that an employee working 40 hours per week would earn $21,000 per year before taxes.

The Federal Poverty level for a family of 4 is $23,550.

New York's minimum wage increased to $8 on January 1 and is scheduled to increase to $8.75 next year and $9 an hour by January 2016.

The Albany Times-Union reports that State Senate Democrats are backing legislation to accelerate the hike to $9 by a year and — failing that — free cities and towns to raise minimum pay independently within their own borders.

A bill sponsored by Manhattan Democratic Senator Adriano Espaillat would speed up that timeline to $9 next year and index the minimum wage to the rate of inflation thereafter. The bill also would hike the minimum hourly wage for restaurant workers to $5.50 and to $6.20 after Dec. 31.

Another bill would repeal tax credits for businesses that hire teenagers and pay them minimum wage. Opponents say it discriminates against older workers.

But the fate of the proposals were immediately cast into doubt when Senate Republicans said they had "no interest" in revisiting the issue.

Keno, the bingo-like game of chance, was adopted by the Connecticut General Assembly last June as a new revenue stream that would help balance the state budget. 

The two-year budget estimated that Keno would raise $31 million by the end of fiscal year 2015, but the Office of Policy and Management said Monday those estimates have dropped to $13.5 million based on the state’s ability to get the game running.  Also the revenue must be shared with the Indian tribes that run casino gaming.

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, a Fairfield Republican who is running for governor, said Monday that he plans to introduce legislation to repeal Keno.

McKinney said the drop over the past few years in slot revenue at the two Indian run casinos should show lawmakers that “gambling is not a reliable, stable form of revenue or economic development.”


Suffolk County officials are touting the success of East End Sunday bus service following the first month since its expansion.

In December, the county announced plans to extend Sunday service throughout the year starting in January.

The lines which run from Orient Point to Riverhead and East Hampton and East Hampton to Montauk previously only operated between Memorial Day and Columbus Day.

According to county officials, during the first month the Orient-East Hampton line had over 200 passengers each day

In addition to the two East End routes, the six other county routes that were extended in January saw an “encouraging” amount of ridership. Throughout the month of January there were an average of 195 riders on each bus line.

Last year, the Suffolk County Legislator approved more than $2 million dollars in state and federal transportation assistance to expand bus services.

Tuesday, February 4

New Haven Mayor Toni Harp gave her first State of the City speech Monday night before the Board of Alders. Her theme was that New Haven is poised to be "the greatest small city between New York and Boston." WPKN's Melinda Tuhus reports:
One major focus was creating a 21st century transportation system. She supported expanding Tweed New Haven airport and building a second parking garage at Union Station to enable more commuters to get to New York City and stops along the way.

She added:
"However, I will make it clear that without more and better buses of all types running more appropriate routes, we can not fulfill our promise of jobs and opportunity to the people of New Haven. Adequate transportation is an economic and civil rights issue. I will not let buses, or those who ride buses, be left behind."

Harp also called for separated bike lanes and slower traffic to both protect pedestrians and promote business.

Harp gave a nod to New Haven's growing Latino community, saying she welcomed their contributions and will address their needs and concerns.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.
New Haven area Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro released a statement on Monday urging the Senate not to move forward with the Farm Bill. She is a former chairwoman of the subcommittee responsible for funding the United States Department of Agriculture.

DeLauro said, “Three months after cutting $11 billion from food stamps, our nation’s most important anti-hunger program, supporters of this Farm Bill are trying to cut another $8.6 billion. Yet, they have gone out of their way to reopen loopholes that benefit millionaires and billionaires."

DeLauro said the winners are wealthy farmers and agri-businesses who will get more taxpayer- subsidized crop insurance and the losers are 850,000 low-income households and their children, veterans and working low income families, and seniors who must choose between food and warmth.
Despite DeLauro's plea, the Senate voted Monday to move forward with the bill.

Newsday reports that the Suffolk County district attorney’s office is widening its probe into claims of police targeting and stealing cash from Latino immigrants in traffic stops. This comes after officials have heard of more incidents.

Chris McPartland oversees investigations in District Attorney Thomas Spota’s government corruption bureau. He said they have reason to believe there are other victims.

Leads surfaced after the district attorney filed charges against Sergeant Scott A. Greene, an officer caught on camera taking a $100 bill from a driver who was an undercover Latino officer. Greene has pleaded not guilty.

Complaints from two Latino men about getting stopped in the Farmingville-Medford area sparked the investigation. Other immigrants have had similar complaints. But they didn’t report the incidents out of fear, partly because they live in the country illegally and don’t want to be deported.

McPartland said the district attorney’s office wants people in immigrant communities to know “their complaints will be taken seriously.”

New York State Health Commissioner Nirav Shah testified at at a joint legislative hearing Monday in Albany as reported by the Albany Times-Union. 

Shah provided little information on his department's 16-month-long review of the health impacts of high-volume hydrofracking, or when his final report on the subject might be released.

Shah said "We're looking at all available evidence that could potentially impact on our review of human health," 

The review, including the commissioner's trips out of state, has cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to date according to the commissioner.

Hydrofracking, a way of releasing natural gas from rock, has been hailed by supporters as a potential economic boon for the state's Southern Tier. But critics fear that "fracking" will foul drinking water and damage the land where the gas is extracted.

The state Senate had a scheduled hearing today on hydrofracking.
On the topic of hospital restructuring, Shah expressed cautious optimism about the state's application for a $10 billion federal Medicaid waiver, an infusion of money that he said is essential for the survival of several downstate hospitals.

The waiver would fund a restructuring of hospitals away from expensive inpatient care toward more walk-in services, to reduce avoidable hospital stays by 25 percent.

The commissioner says the state has saved $4.6 billion in the three years since it began restructuring its Medicaid program.  It is on track to save $34 billion over the next five years, with the savings split between state and federal governments.

Monday, February 3

In response to several recent power outages on Metro North Railroad, Governor Dannel Malloy came to New Haven's Union Station Sunday afternoon

to announce a $10 million upgrade to the power supply on the New Haven line -- the busiest rail commuter line in the nation. WPKN's Melinda Tuhus


Malloy said infrastructure maintenance and improvements had been ignored for30 years, but that needs to change.
He said the possibility that thousands of commuters who use the line daily would return to the state's highways due to lack of confidence in the rail line is


Installing two new transformers that will double the power capacity in the western end of the state is scheduled to be done over the next 16 days. But

that will still leave the line vulnerable in the last few miles from Greenwich to Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Metro North must also invest in rail infrastructure.

Gov. Dannel Malloy will soon meet with the new head of the MTA to discuss the state's concerns on a line that used to run like clockwork.

Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News.

Governor Dannel Malloy has proposed exempting 50 percent of teachers’ pensions from state income tax.

The proposal will cost the state about $23 million each of the next two years.
Malloy pointed out that teachers do not receive Social Security, so their pension is generally their only form of income. Most states with an income tax

apply the levy to teachers’ pensions. There are only five states that don’t.

In addition to exempting half a teacher’s pension from state income tax, Malloy proposed exempting over-the-counter medication from sales tax, a

two-day state park fee holiday, exempting municipal health care plans from insurance premiums, and extending an angel investor tax credit. The

proposals total about $52 million in 2015 and $53 million in 2016.

The money from these proposals are coming from what Malloy anticipates will be increased revenues.

On the spending side, Malloy said he’s kept yearly spending increase at 2.8 percent and plans to continue to do that.

A spokesman for the House Republicans said these proposals are all recurring expenses and will add to what legislative analysts are predicting will be a

$1.1 billion deficit in 2016.

East Hampton Town was issued a temporary restraining order last week barring the town from implementing a contract with the Long Island Farm

Bureau and the UDSA to allow sharpshooters to cull the town’s deer herd.

Subsequently Both East Hampton Town and Village announced they’ve decided not to participate in the cull.

This leaves Southold where there are about 200 deer per square mile as the only municipality participating.

The towns of Riverhead, Southampton and Shelter Island previously declined to participate.  Riverhead and Shelter Island have plans employing local

hunters during special hunting seasons to kill deer which are blamed for tick borne diseases, crop and garden damage and traffic accidents.
East End Beacon reports: In case you can’t get enough of severe weather, Governor Andrew Cuomo has unveiled a new Citizen Preparedness Training

Corps to train 100,000 New Yorkers to respond to severe weather.

Mr. Cuomo says severe weather events are becoming more frequent and more extreme. But you knew that.



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