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Exonerated Man Describes Decades in Prison, Seeks Compensation

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 29, 2014 3:00pm
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Posted to: Courts

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Kenneth Ireland with attorney William Bloss on left

For most of his adult life, Kenneth Ireland said he believed he would die in a Connecticut prison, serving time for a vicious crime he did not commit.

During a Tuesday hearing, Ireland told state Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance, Jr. that he had convinced himself he would be killed in prison rather than have his hopes of exoneration dashed repeatedly during his 21 years behind bars.

“I was resigned I was going to die in prison, either of old age or more likely, in a violent altercation,” he said.

Ireland was eventually exonerated, thanks to the Connecticut Innocence Project, which re-tested DNA evidence from the 1986 rape and murder of Barbara Pelkey. The evidence pointed to another man and Ireland was released in 2009.

By then, Ireland had been behind bars a long time. He was 18 when he was arrested at work, still wearing his Subway restaurant uniform. He was 39 by the time he walked free from a courthouse in New Haven. Michael Lefebvre, an attorney who worked on the Innocence Project, was with Ireland in a different restaurant the day he was exonerated.

“In this restaurant there was a large mirror and as he stood in front of this mirror, [Ireland] just starred. He said ‘I didn’t recognize the old man in the mirror,’” Lefebvre said.

Ireland testified Tuesday before the claims commissioner, who is weighing a claim from his attorneys. The claim tries to assign a monetary value to all the time Ireland lost in prison and all the pain and suffering he endured while he was there. They are recommending that the state compensate Ireland at between $5.5 and $8 million.

The state is not objecting to the range of compensation outlined by Ireland’s attorneys. It is in line with the amount awarded in 2007 to James Tillman, a man who served more than 18 years in prison before he was exonerated.

During the hearing, Ireland recalled much of his experiences before, during, and after his time in prison.

Hugh McQuaid Photo He watched as his attorney, William Bloss, projected an interrogation video from 1987 onto a large screen in the hearing room. The video depicted a 17-year-old Ireland as he learns from Wallingford police detectives that they suspect him of the murder and rape. 

“This is like everyone’s worst nightmare, being accused of a murder,” Ireland tells the detectives in the video.

During the hearing, Ireland listened to emotional testimony from his mother, who visited him frequently while he was in prison. Early on in his sentence, he wrote her a letter after some tests failed to turn up evidence to support his innocence.

“It was the saddest letter I’ve ever seen in my life. It pretty much said ‘I’m going to die in prison. There is no hope and there’s just nothing left.’ As a mother, it broke my heart and I can only imagine how he felt,” she said.

Ireland told Vance that his two decades in prison were marked by violence and constant fear. His tenure behind bars stretched over periods of intense gang violence in the 1990s. And he said his status as a young, convicted sex offender made him a target for the other inmates. 

“When you’re convicted of a sex offense against a woman, or even worse against a child, the other prisoners feel that they have every right to prey upon you because of the despicableness of the crime,” he said.

When members of the Innocence Project finally called to tell him he would likely be released, Ireland said he refused to believe them. But since getting out, he said he has tried to take in the world, which has been overwhelming at times.

“It’s been amazing. The first year was an absolute whirlwind. Everything was surreal. My mind was on overload taking in the information,” he said.

Depending on what the Office of the Claims Commissioner recommends, Ireland’s claim may need to be considered by the legislature. In 2007, the legislature voted to award Tillman $5 million in compensation, which former Gov. M. Jodi Rell later approved.

As he closed out Tuesday’s meeting, Vance called Ireland’s story “truly amazing.”

“I’m sorry that you had to go through that,” he said.

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Litigation Between Independent Party Factions Threatens Party’s Ballot Access For 2014

by Christine Stuart | Jul 29, 2014 12:00pm
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Posted to: Courts, Election 2014, Legal, Local Politics

The Independent Party has the ability to endorse a candidate for governor, but if two factions within the party can’t stop litigating each other or come to an agreement on a candidate, then no one will get the ballot line in November.

One faction of the party, led by John Dietter, of Danbury, recently filed another lawsuit against the other faction of the party, led by Mike Telesca, of Waterbury.

Av Harris, spokesman for the Secretary of the State’s office, said they will accept an endorsement, but if they receive a conflicting endorsement then they will ask the two factions of the party to settle the dispute.

However, that’s the problem. The two factions claiming ownership of the party have been fighting in court on and off for the past few years.

Thisis troublesome for the Republican gubernatorial candidates, who the Independent Party generally cross endorses. The impact of such a cross endorsement can be significant.

The Working Families Party has not made an endorsement this year, but in 2010 they endorsed Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, whose name appeared twice on the ballot. That same year, the Independent Party endorsed Tom Marsh, who received more than 17,000 votes. Republican Tom Foley, who only appeared on the Republican Party line, lost to Malloy by 6,404 votes.

“If Gov. Malloy was not allowed to be listed by the Working Families Party, I would have won the election,” Foley testified at a legislative hearing in 2013. Foley is again running for the Republican nomination for governor, and if he wins it, the lack of an Independent Party endorsement and accompanying additional ballot line could led to a result similar to 2010.

When a Democratic leader proposed legislation in 2013 in an effort to get rid of cross-endorsements, Sen. John McKinney, who is also seeking the Republican nomination for governor this year, called it a “power grab.” Sen. President Don Williams was the proponent of the bill, which had also included language that would have abolished use of the “independent” label in party titles.

At the time, Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, explained that the only reason the Democratic majority included that change in the bill was because the Independent Party of Connecticut had received more votes in 2010 than the Working Families Party, a third party that traditionally cross-endorses Democrats.

“They realized that the Independent Party of Connecticut has run ahead of the Working Families Party and they want to neuter them by eliminating them,” McLachlan said.

The Democrat-controlled General Assembly eventually removed that language from the bill in 2013, and although the bill eventually passed in another form, the language against cross endorsement was also scrapped in the final version.

In the last two statewide elections more votes were cast on the Independent Party line than the Working Families Party line.

The latest lawsuit between the two factions within the Independent Party says that despite an adverse ruling from a Waterbury court in 2012, the defendants — led by Telesca — continue to make filings with the state elections enforcement commission relating to party registration and other regulatory issues. The plaintiffs — led by Dietter — argue that these conflicts will “serve to preclude the plaintiff Independent Party from effectively nominating candidates in the upcoming 2014 general election notwithstanding its legal entitlement to do so.”

Dietter is arguing that the defendants’ challenges to his leadership of the party continue to cause confusion about the party’s legitimacy.

Telesca and co-defendant Lawrence Depillo have been summoned to appear in Danbury Superior Court on Aug. 4 to prove why a temporary injunction should not be issued against them, according to court documents.

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Kenneth Ireland’s Wrongful Incarceration Hearing Set For Tuesday

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 29, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Courts, Legal

Christine Stuart File Photo

Kenneth Ireland

A man who served more than 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit is expected to testify during a Tuesday hearing on his claim for millions in compensation from the state.

The Office of the Claims Commissioner has scheduled a wrongful incarceration hearing for Kenneth Ireland at 11 a.m. in room 2C of the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

Ireland was convicted in 1989 of the rape and murder of Barbara Pelkey. He was exonerated in 2009 when DNA evidence helped prosecutors convict another man, Kevin Benefield, of the crime. But Ireland served more than two decades behind bars. His prison term began when he was 18 years old and ended when he was 39.

Ireland is now seeking compensation from the state and his lawyers argue that his claim can be fairly valued at between $5.5 and $8 million. In a damages analysis filed this March, they point to factors like Ireland’s loss of liberty, income, and family relationships. They also account for the physical and mental pain and suffering Ireland experienced in prison.

“Instead of enjoying life as a free man, Mr. Ireland was labeled a murderer and a sex offender and left to fend for himself in an adult prison at a young age. As a young sex offender in an adult prison, he experienced unspeakable violence,” attorneys William Bloss and Sean McElligott wrote in the damages analysis.

The state does not intend to object to the range of compensation outlined by Ireland’s attorneys. In an April letter to Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr., Attorney General George Jepsen said the amount seemed in line with the compensation given to James Tillman, a man who served more than 18 years in prison before he was exonerated.

“The Office of the Attorney General is not required by statute to take a position with respect to the amount of compensation sought by a person deemed to have been wrongfully incarcerated. Nevertheless, we have reviewed Mr. Ireland’s damages analysis and are unaware of any significant misstatements of law or fact therein,” Jepsen wrote.

Depending on what the Office of the Claims Commissioner recommends, Ireland’s claim may need to be considered by the legislature. In 2007, the legislature voted to award Tillman $5 million in compensation, which former Gov. M. Jodi Rell later approved.

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Congress Reaches Deal on New VA Funding

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 28, 2014 3:00pm
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Posted to: Health Care

Hugh McQuaid Photo

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal

Lawmakers in Congress reached a bipartisan agreement over the weekend for a bill approving billions in emergency funding to reform the struggling Veterans Affairs healthcare system, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Monday.

Blumenthal, who serves on the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee, said the agreement is the “beginning of really good news” for veterans and the federal VA. The agency has been under intense scrutiny for weeks following revelations of long patient wait times and efforts by staff to cover up the system’s shortcomings.

The agreement will still need to be drafted into a bill and passed by both chambers of Congress. But if passed, Blumenthal said the deal would provide the agency with $5 billion to hire new employees and upgrade its facilities. He said the Errera Community Care Center in West Haven would be among the 26 facilities to receive new funding.

The bill would provide another $10 billion to pay for vets to access health care services from private providers outside the VA system, he said. Veterans would be permitted to seek outside care if they have been waiting too long or live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility, Blumenthal said.

The deal also includes provisions making it easier to fire or demote VA employees in an effort to enhance accountability of workers within the veterans healthcare system, he said.

“This is a big bill, but it deals with a big problem,” Blumenthal said. “I’ve heard over the past months about how big in scope and scale the problem with VA healthcare is in delayed treatment and sometimes lower quality treatment.”

The senator was optimistic about the bill’s chances despite Congressional gridlock. He said it was negotiated this weekend by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and Florida Rep. Jeff Miller, who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

“My hope is the Senate will address it right away — literally in the next few days, and that the House of Representatives will do the same. It marks a bipartisan agreement: less than the Senate wanted but more than the House initially offered. It is a compromise,” he said.

Blumenthal said the final details of the bill were still being ironed out Monday. But because much of the cost is considered emergency funding, Congress is not required to offset the costs with revenue increases or cuts elsewhere. He said the agreement on emergency funding was a major point in the compromise.

Even with bipartisan agreement, Blumenthal said the new funding could be opposed by some members of Congress.

“There’s always the worry that a bill that permits emergency funding may be opposed by some of the extreme right-wing in the House, but this is a real consensus compromise and it involves the, really, mainstream recognition that our veterans have to be given what they need. We owe it to them,” he said.

Blumenthal said he pushed to keep the new funding for West Haven’s Errera facility in the bill. The deal includes money to upgrade the center, which helps vets with mental illness, substance abuse, homelessness, and other issues.

“Generally speaking, [the upgrades] will permit more specialization in some of the care that’s provided, better facilities in terms of equipment, additional doctors because of the additional space,” he said.

Although Connecticut’s other VA healthcare facilities will not be given additional funding for upgrades, they could benefit from the additional funds being made available to hire more staff, Blumenthal said.

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State Makes Loans Available to Weather-Proof Coastal Homes

by Madeline Stocker | Jul 28, 2014 1:14pm
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Posted to: Weather

Madeline Stocker photo

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy

Shoreline property owners can now apply to a state-funded loan program that provides financing for coastal home and business owners to protect their properties from future severe weather and flooding, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Monday.

The program, called Shore Up CT, will mainly finance property elevations, but also offers additional retrofitting for flood protection and wind proofing.

“During this century we have experienced more frequent storm surges, and the number of severe storms is only expected to increase,” Malloy said. “With this in mind, it is in our best interest to protect our coastal communities before disaster strikes.”

As it stands, accepted applicants can borrow up to $300,000, with a minimum loan amount of $10,000 and a 2.75 percent fixed interest rate. Malloy said that federally-controlled programs to protect coastal properties against severe weather “didn’t quite work.”

According to Malloy, Shore Up CT will provide funding for residents who wouldn’t have been able to receive assistance from similar federal programs.

“Shore Up CT is the first program of it’s kind across the nation, dedicating non-federal resources to storms and disaster readiness,” Joan Carty, president and chief executive officer of the Housing Development Fund, said

Formally known as the Shoreline Resiliency Fund, Shore Up CT will be funded by the Department of Housing and managed by the Housing Development Fund. While $4.3 million of the program’s funding will be immediately available for the first wave of projects, the General Assembly approved up to $25 million in bonding for the program earlier this year.

Eligible properties for homeowners include primary and secondary single-family homes and one to four-unit owner-occupied rentals. Single-family homeowners must live in the property at least 14 days per year to be eligible.

For business owners, properties must have fewer than 100 employees and be in good standing with all state agencies as well as be subject to coastal flooding and located in either Zone VE or Zone AE in coastline communities as defined by FEMA and NFIP.

Eligible coastline municipalities include Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, Norwalk, Fairfield, Bridgeport, Stratford, Milford, West Haven, New Haven, East Haven, Branford, Guilford, Madison, Clinton, Westbrook, Old Saybrook, Old Lyme, East Lyme, Waterford, New London, Groton, and Stonington.

All properties must be up-to-date with all local, state, and federal taxes.

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OP-ED | Now Might Be a Good Time to Press That Panic Button, Dan

by Susan Bigelow | Jul 28, 2014 1:01pm
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Posted to: Analysis, Election 2014, Opinion

Scroll down for an interactive infographic on the poll data


The governor’s race may have just come unknotted, if a new poll is to be believed.

Everyone, including myself, has been assuming that this would be a repeat of 2010: down to the wire and too close to call. But a new poll from the New York Times, CBS News, and YouGov suggests that Republican Tom Foley has actually taken a lead over Gov. Dannel P. Malloy just two weeks before the Republican primary, and less than 100 days before the November election.

—Download the spreadsheet of the cross-tabs here and click on the CT tab along the bottom

Here’s the numbers that matter: Foley leads Malloy 42-33 percent, a decisive 9-point margin. If leaners are factored in, Foley is up over Malloy by a still-robust 48-41 percent.

The cross-tabs are where the poll gets interesting, though. For example, Foley leads Malloy among 18- to 29-year-olds 48-38 percent with leaners added in, which is a shockingly large lead in a demographic that has been increasingly Democratic. People between the ages of 30 and 44 are the only age group that Malloy is winning.

Foley also is doing much better with African-American voters; he still loses the group but manages to grab 30 percent, with leaners counted in. This is a remarkably strong number for a Republican in a northeastern state, and may suggest that Foley’s efforts to woo urban and non-white voters may be bearing fruit.

If either of these numbers hold up through the general election, it’ll be a huge shock to Democrats. According to exit polls, Malloy won the 18- to 29-year-old demographic 65-34 percent in 2010, while Obama won that group by about 30 points in 2012. Obama also won African-American voters in Connecticut, 93-8 percent in 2012. Young people and African-Americans have clearly been vital pieces of the Democratic coalition. If Democrats lose their grip on these constituencies, they are headed for big losses.

It’s not all bad news for Malloy supporters. Malloy’s lead among women (53-35 percent) is strong, and neither man has cracked 50 percent of the total. This poll may also be an outlier; we have very little else in the way of polling to actually look at, so there’s no way to be sure.

It’s also possible that the poll’s methodology is flawed. For example, the number of African-American voters is about 4 percent of the total, which is very small. In 2010, which was a similar political year, they comprised 8 percent of the electorate. Also, Quinnipiac’s May poll of the race shows Malloy winning 18- to 29-year-olds 55-23 percent, which is much more in line with what I’d expect to see. The poll is also an Internet poll, as opposed to a phone poll, and while YouGov has a relatively decent track record with these there are some methodological flaws built in. The users who respond are ones who are most interested, and users without Internet access aren’t included, so it’s hard to get a good random sampling.

The campaign also hasn’t really started in earnest, yet, either. The Malloy team is clearly keeping their powder dry until after the Republican primary while Foley and rival John McKinney have been going after the governor and their GOP opponent more or less equally.

There’s also that pesky “other” category in this poll, which is right around 5 percent. That’s probably the effect of independent candidate Jonathan Pelto, and as the election gets closer and Dems get antsy about Foley winning, some of that may bleed back toward Malloy.

That doesn’t mean that this poll shouldn’t snap Democrats out of their midsummer slumber. It should. Democrats aren’t showing a lot of fire thus far, which may be very dangerous. If this poll is even remotely accurate, it shows an electorate that is ready for change. The electorate is grumpy, and has been for years. They may be gearing up to take their frustrations out on the man who promised things would get better.

So what does this mean for the race as a whole? Well, at this point in the 2010 race, Malloy was leading Foley by 11 points. That narrowed, of course, but Malloy now finds himself the underdog. This is a role the governor seems to relish, and we ought to expect him to fight back hard once the leaves start to turn, but it guarantees nothing.

It also may force people to wonder, now that he’s in the lead, what Tom Foley might actually be like as governor. Foley needs to come up with an answer — before the Malloy campaign does. In short, expect a stormy fall as Democrats realize just how bad things are.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

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Foley Leads Malloy in Poll From New York Times and CBS

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 28, 2014 10:53am
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Posted to: Election 2014

An Internet-based poll by the New York Times, CBS News and a research firm called YouGov suggests that Republican Tom Foley has a 42 to 33 percent advantage over incumbent Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

The Connecticut results are a small part of a nationwide online polling project, the first wave of which was published Sunday in the New York Times. The results were based on Internet respondents rather than more traditional phone-based polling used by institutions like Quinnipiac University.

Foley, the Republican convention endorsed candidate, is competing in an Aug. 12 primary election with Senate Minority Leader John McKinney.

Foley lost to Malloy by only 6,404 votes in 2010 and Quinnipiac polls have suggested the public has remained evenly split on the two candidates. The New York Times / CBS poll suggests Foley may be gaining ground on Malloy.

The poll results see 42 percent of voters supporting Foley and 33 percent supporting Malloy. Meanwhile, an additional 8 percent “lean” toward voting for Malloy while 6 percent “lean” for Foley.

Foley has a strong lead among independent voters, according to the results, with 50 percent supporting the Republican and 15 percent supporting the Democrat.

In an article on the results, Nate Cohn, a writer for the New York Times Upshot project, said the poll offered “bleak news” for Malloy and Democratic governors in Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio, Georgia, and Arkansas.

Quinnipiac has not released a poll on the race since May.

Asked about the online poll during an unrelated press conference, Malloy said he typically does not comment on surveys and “at best, I guess we should call this a survey.”

Meanwhile, Foley’s campaign pointed to the results in an email to supporters.

“Guess what?  Tom’s message is catching on— Big time,” the email read.

McKinney, who was not included in the poll, released a statement suggesting the poll was useful for nothing more than “gossip.”

“Leaving aside the fact that an online poll conducted by registration only on a national basis that admittedly doesn’t use probability sampling is hardly a basis for anything but gossip, the YouGov.com poll tells us nothing more than that neither Tom Foley nor Dan Malloy have convinced voters that they can bring real change to Hartford,” he said.

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In Crowded Primary, Somers Touts Her Business Credentials

by Christine Stuart | Jul 28, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Election 2014, Southington

Christine Stuart photo

Heather Bond Somers shakes hands at Pepper Pot Restaurant in Southington

Heather Bond Somers of Groton may have been an unknown candidate for lieutenant governor several months ago, but due to some high-profile missteps by at least one of her opponents Republican voters are giving the newcomer to state politics a second look.

Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, who is supporting Somers’ campaign for lieutenant governor, said he only met her a few months ago and after a 20-minute conversation was convinced she would be the candidate he was supporting on Aug. 12.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with Heather over the course of this campaign,” Markley said.  “From the first, I’ve been impressed by her intelligence, her clear articulation of the issues, and her charm.  She wins over voters everywhere she goes, and she starts out with a strong base in eastern Connecticut, which will be a key battleground this November.”

Somers will face state Rep. Penny Bacchiochi and former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker on Aug. 12 in the Republican primary.

Markley said Somers has a business background and if she needed to he has every confidence she could be governor.

Somers had been teamed up with Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton before the Republican convention in May, but decided not to merge her finances with him causing the relationship between the two to end.

“The Citizens’ Election Program does not lend itself toward teaming up financially with a candidate,” Somers said earlier this week during radio interview with WATR’s Larry Rifkin.

Somers’ decision caused Boughton to search for another running mate to meet the $250,000 threshold necessary in order to obtain the $1.35 million primary grant. When his second running mate was unable to qualify for the ballot, Boughton dropped out of the race for governor.

The break-up of Boughton and Somers after the convention had some Republicans questioning her loyalty, but Somers said earlier this week that she had planned to run for lieutenant governor last November before her local election in Groton.

She said that’s why she didn’t seek the position of mayor. It was because she knew she was going to be seeking higher office.

Boughton has since endorsed Bacchiochi.

Why Lieutenant Governor?

The lieutenant governor in Connecticut is one of six constitutional officers, but their only responsibility is to preside over the state Senate, which is only in session five to six months per year. This gives the governor some discretion in how they want to use their lieutenant governor candidate. They could allow them to hold a more ceremonial position or they could give them a task.

Somers said she would want to be a municipal liaison and a business advocate.

She said she has seen first hand as a municipal leader how difficult it is to have a connection to the governor’s office.

“The reason I first ran for office was the property tax,” Somers said. “We have to do something because people are fleeing the state.”

She said the property tax system needs to be looked at and there needs to be exemptions for homeowners who are retired and on a fixed income. She said something also needs to be done with the corporation tax, which impacts small and medium size businesses more than the large businesses, which often have tax credits they can apply to avoid having to pay it.

Christine Stuart photo

Maureen Gagnon of Coil Pro gives Somers a tour of the facility

During a recent visit to Center Street in Southington Somers got a tour of a successful business and some struggling businesses.

Markley and Southington Town Councilwoman Victoria Triano introduced Somers to Maureen Gagnon of Coil Pro. It’s a manufacturing company at the end of Center Street that former U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon used as a backdrop to announce her 2012 campaign.

Somers and Gagnon sat down in a conference room to chat about the business. Gagnon explained how they make slitters, oscillators and edgers for other companies. Somers told Gagnon about the biotech manufacturing company she founded and then sold.

“The reason we need to elect Heather is because she has a deep understanding of small business, which is the backbone of our economy,” Triano told Gagnon.

Somers sold her share of the biotech manufacturing company two years ago, but said she stays involved with the day-to-day operations of the company, which has about 40 employees. The company manufactures a surgical foam that can be implanted in the body to fight off infection.

While promoting herself as a Hartford outsider, Somers also points out that she’s the only candidate in the race who has started a manufacturing company in Connecticut.

Somers talked to Gagnon about the hurdles her company faced as it tried to promote its product to doctors. Gagnon doesn’t necessarily have the same regulatory restrictions, but the two traded stories back and forth about the manufacturing industry.

Somers believes her background gives her an edge over her opponents. Bacchiochi runs a property management company and Walker is retired.

However, Somers who served 12 years as a local official in Groton is still a virtual unknown in many parts of the state. She’s been working hard using direct mail and radio ads to give voters a clearer picture of who she is in the last few weeks leading up to the primary.

Tom Scott, a former lawmaker who Somers and Markley bumped into at a local restaurant, said Markley knows how to pick winners. He said he doesn’t throw his support behind just any candidate.

Click here to read our profile of Bacchiochi.

The three candidates faced each other in a debate that aired Sunday on NBC 30 and will face each other again on WFSB on Aug. 3.

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No Reader Comments This Week

by Staff Report | Jul 26, 2014 4:59am
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Posted to: Media Matters

No comments will be accepted on the site until Aug. 3. We apologize for the inconvenience. In the meantime, please share our stories on your social networks and discuss there. We have coffee mugs ready to send to the folks who share our stories the most over the course of the week!

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Bond Commission Approves $725M

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 25, 2014 3:56pm
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Posted to: State Budget

The state Bond Commission borrowed a total of $725 million Friday. Funding for transportation projects made up $475 million as the largest item on a lengthy agenda.

“There is a lot of transportation dollars in this budget,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said after the meeting. “In fact, if you broke down the budget it’s largely transportation and housing, are the two largest expenditure items, two things that I am very much personally invested in.”

The housing projects include more than $38 million for a flexible housing program through the Department of Housing. The department received another $22 million for its housing trust fund and $3 million to set up a low-interest loan program for homeowners. The Capital Region Development Authority received another $1.2 million for housing projects.

The agenda included about $196 million in general obligation bonds. So far this year, the state has bonded more than $1.25 billion, which puts the governor close to the $1.8 billion “soft” bonding limit he set at the beginning of this year.

Sen. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, asked Malloy about the cap during Friday’s meeting.

“We’re under, but we’re right near it. So this is a big agenda, obviously with a lot of important projects. So we’re there,” Malloy said on the borrowing limit.

Although he expects the panel to meet again in September, the governor said the Bond Commission would likely have few additional meetings before the end of the year. Malloy said he has also asked some state agency heads to look for places to repurpose previously authorized borrowing.

“I said we’d be around [$1.8 billion], I intend to be around that number. But I’ve also asked them to look for reallocation opportunities, some of which appeared on the agenda today,” he said.

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Malloy Defends Decision On Immigrant Children

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 25, 2014 1:26pm
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Posted to: Immigration

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy

Despite public backlash, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Friday his administration made the right call when it declined a federal request to house thousands of immigrant children in a state facility.

The Democratic governor, who is seeking re-election in November, said he did not believe the immigration issue poses a political problem for him.

“Putting children in buildings that have mold, asbestos, and lead would be a far bigger problem,” he told reporters at a press conference following a meeting of the state Bond Commission.

Earlier this month, Malloy denied a federal request to house as many as 2,000 migrant children from Central America in a vacant section of the Southbury Training School.

The administration argued the space was unsuitable but the decision has since sparked a protest in New Haven, a letter from the legislature’s largely-Democratic Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, as well as criticisms from two perspective Republican challengers.

Malloy said he welcomes the argument.

“If I have a [political] problem, and it’s from someone who wants to institutionalize children, it’s a problem I’m willing to have,” Malloy said.

The governor frames the issue as a choice between placing children with family members or “warehousing” them in state institutions. So far, the federal government has placed 325 children in family settings in Connecticut. That number is significantly less than the number they had hoped to place at Southbury, but Malloy insisted it is the better option.

The governor compared the process to the state Department of Children and Families efforts to place more children with family members.

“We know that when a child is placed with a family member, temporarily or long term, they do better… The idea that we would not exhaust every opportunity to do that, made no sense to me at the very outset,” he said.

Others have framed the issue on different terms. Republican gubernatorial candidate John McKinney has suggested the governor’s denial of the federal request was an election year political calculation. McKinney has pointed to the Malloy’s support of policies giving undocumented residents drivers licenses and better access to higher education.

“Now on the eve of an election, he makes a political decision at the height of hypocrisy to potentially abandon these kids,” McKinney said during a recent debate.

Malloy said the decision not to place children in a state institution was not at odds with his support of immigration issues. He said most people agree with him when asked to choose between institutional placement or family placement.

“My position is perfectly clear,” he said. “In fact, I’ve been fighting a long-term cause in my own state to make sure that children who are within our foster care [system] are actually placed with family members. Why would I advocate anything differently for any other children?”

During a protest this week in New Haven, demonstrators called on Malloy to utilize New Haven’s former Gateway Community College site. The administration signalled Tuesday it would explore that option, but on Friday Malloy said that site seemed unsuitable as well.

“I will point out that that building does not have sprinklers either. So it probably doesn’t meet what [federal officials] are looking for,” Malloy said. “It doesn’t have sufficient windows, it doesn’t have a sprinkler system—but we’ve made them aware of it.” 

At the moment, he said the feds have not made additional requests to place children in state facilities.

Malloy said he would be “more than happy to lead a national discussion” on the placement of immigrant children. Asked whether he believed President Barack Obama had failed to adequately address the immigration issue, Malloy blamed Congress.

“I think the Congress of the United States has failed on immigration. I think the Tea Party has failed us all on immigration. As I stand here today, the folks who are belly-aching about immigration policy still haven’t given the president the money he’s asked for to tighten the borders,” he said.

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OP-ED | Hartford Ballpark: Good for Region, Bad for City?

by Susan Bigelow | Jul 25, 2014 11:00am
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Posted to: Business, Opinion, Sports, Taxes, Hartford, New Britain, Newington

Hartford may not get that stadium after all, thanks to a bumbling city government and fierce opposition from residents. This might be a good thing for the city, even though it’s a loss for the region.

When I last wrote about the New Britain Rock Cats planned move to Hartford, it seemed like much more of a done deal. Fast forward a few weeks, however, and it now looks like anything but. Mayor Pedro Segarra has been forced to back away from his plan to have the city fund the ballpark, asking instead that the team pony up some of the money.

If that sounds like the kiss of death for the deal, that’s because it probably is. If there’s one thing sports teams hate doing, it’s spending their own money on stadiums.

It’s too bad — because plans for the area around the ballpark were starting to become interesting. Hooker Brewing, which has been all but throwing themselves at the city, wants to open a brewery/restaurant right next to it. That’s the sort of thing that could have attracted other restaurants and businesses to an area that right now is nothing more than a weedy sea of parking lots and on-ramps, and made the northern edge of downtown a destination instead of an eyesore.

But many of Hartford’s people have been pointing out that this whole ballpark idea seems like another sort of development aimed at getting white people from the suburbs to come downtown, drop a few bucks, and leave. They also say that private enterprises should pay for what will essentially be a money-making building for them, that stadiums never deliver the promised economic benefits, and that Hartford’s cash-strapped schools and services need the money more. It’s hard to argue with any of that.

In fact, it may be true that a baseball stadium and team in downtown Hartford would be great for the region, but the benefits would be far less tangible for the city itself.

This brings to mind the big-ticket development plans of the past few decades, the ones that were all supposed to jump-start development everywhere in the city. Some of them, like the convention center, ended up being great for the region. But were they necessarily good for the city? Will the placement of UConn’s Hartford campus in the old Hartford Times building downtown be good for the city? Will Front Street? Will the ballpark?

Hartford is being asked to carry a lot of weight as the heart of the region, despite the fact that the rest of the towns in Greater Hartford are otherwise content to ignore or actively resent the city’s problems. So it’s not surprising, then, that development priorities for city and suburbs are very, very different.

City-focused development sometimes may feel like it’s working against the rest of the region. In New Haven, they are tearing up the Oak Street Connector highway, or Route 34, in order to try and knit together parts of the city that were separated by it in the 1970s. This may mean it’ll be harder for people coming in to the city by car to get to where they want to be, but it’s better for the city.

What would city-focused development look like in Hartford? It might be small things, like streetscapes, or big things, like burying or re-routing I-84 so that it doesn’t monopolize acres of land downtown. It might be accessible neighborhood services, or more affordable housing, or better public transit. Think the busway: the suburbs hate it, but it’s going to be great for the cities it connects. But it might not be another big project that comes at too high a cost to the city.

My own first instinct is to think regionally. I think we should usually be working to do what’s best for the region, because that’s how I think we’re strongest. Downtown sports are a way to tie a region together, and provide affordable, family fun. I also freely admit that I would love to go to a ball game in downtown Hartford.

But I don’t live in Hartford. And I can recognize that it’s not fair of me to ask that the city build a ballpark that residents don’t want so people who don’t live there, and who are often very stingy about providing aid, can have a nice time. For once, we can put regional concerns aside and let the people of Hartford decide what’s best for them.

Maybe the Rock Cats can play in Newington — if they stay at all.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

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OP-ED | Another Week, Another Scandal

by Sarah Darer Littman | Jul 25, 2014 10:00am
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Posted to: Education, Opinion

Another week, and another education scandal here in the Nutmeg State. The FBI served subpoenas on charter school operator FUSE last Friday morning, and shortly after their visit Hartford Courant reporters found the receptionist shredding documents. “Asked what was being shredded, she said the documents were associated with the state-subsidized Jumoke charter schools.” Obstruction of justice, anyone?

Meanwhile, after the notoriously opaque state Department of Education declined to issue reporters a copy of their own FBI-issued subpoena, the Courant received this statement Monday from Department of Education spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly: “We have been assured that the department is not a subject of this investigation.” Okay then. That’s clear.

Yet by Tuesday, it was another story. Apparently, the subpoena seeks, among other things, “All emails of Commissioner Stefan Pryor” since January 2012.

What’s more, according to the Courant:

On Tuesday, Donnelly said she could not provide the name of the person responsible for the assurance or under what circumstances it was given. She said that someone from “law enforcement” had said something to “our legal team, staff attorneys.” Asked what was said, she replied that she didn’t have the exact words, but it was “relayed to us” that no one at the agency is “the subject of an investigation, or a target.”


Well, clear as mud, I guess.

What a difference 24 hours makes in Hartford. It’s like watching a soap opera, “As the Spin Turns. “

Actually, it’s more like, “As My Stomach Turns,” because those of us who have been asking real questions about the legitimacy of charter school “success” statistics for the last several years have been feeling sick as we watch the programs that work in schools get cut while more of our taxpayer dollars get siphoned away from the district and community schools into organizations run by Friends (and friends of campaign contributors) of Dan Malloy and Stefan Pryor.

Although the Courant finally has terrific and effective investigative reporter Jon Lender on the story, on June 16, hours before the Sharpe story broke, the paper’s editorial page — which has since been updated — was still repeating the familiar and unjustified refrain about FUSE’s “success”:

You hear that folks?  The Hartford Courant editorial board wanted to give more schools — and more of our taxpayer dollars — to “successful” school operators like Jumoke — just hours before the entire organization blew up and couple of weeks before the subpoenas got served.

Note to self: Don’t ever act on stock market tips from the Courant’s editorial board.

Joking aside, is it any wonder that politicians have been able to get away with so much corruption in this state when the “paper of record” has remained blissfully uncritical for so long?

Meanwhile, over in New London, another faux doctor has emerged from the edufraud stew — and at the rate he’s going, Terrence P. Carter, the incoming Superintendent of Schools, will soon be claiming doctoral degrees from as many schools as Larry King has had wives.

Carter reportedly has alternatively claimed to have doctorates from Stanford University, Hamersfield University in London, Lexington University, and Lesley University. This last is the only degree that state and local education officials, not to mention McPherson and Jacobson, the search firm paid $16,000 to vet the candidate, actually confirmed with a transcript — although the degree won’t actually be awarded until Aug. 25 of this year. Yet the Courant reports that Carter has been claiming a doctorate for over five years, on tax documents, in conference bios, and in communications. It doesn’t inspire confidence of the kind of honesty and integrity you’d want in the man you’re about to put in charge of a district that already has financial challenges.

Carter also listed a “Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies” from National Louis University in Chicago. But according to officials there, although he finished the necessary coursework he didn’t submit the degree finalization paperwork. Our state Department of Education isn’t bothered by this lack of an actual certificate.

According to the Courant, Education Department spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly said, “all that matters concerning Carter’s official qualifications as an administrator are the hours that he completed, so the transcript is enough.”

This just shows a level of inattention to detail and follow through that is disturbing for someone who will be in charge of a school district and should be modeling behavior for the children he serves. Would any college admission office take a student who’d done all the high school work but hadn’t filled out the college application? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Is this really the person to help kids become college and career ready?

I was also surprised by Ms. Donnelly’s statement because my appointment as an adjunct at WCSU was conditional upon providing a transcript, sent directly from the institution where I’d matriculated, to prove that I’d actually received the Master’s degree, which is now a requirement for an adjunct job in the state university system. I wasn’t aware that the rules were so . . . flexible.

So I posed this question to Ms. Donnelly: “I’m curious as to why a lowly adjunct getting paid peanuts would be jumping through more stringent hoops than an administrator who will be in charge of a substantial budget — especially with a $200 million school construction project involved. I’m wondering if you could comment on that.”

She had not responded as of deadline.

At this point, I’m hoping the FBI will help us connect the rest of the dots. It’ll be interesting to see just how far — and how wide — the dot trail leads.

Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.

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OP-ED | Here’s One Easy Budget Cut: Abolish The Lieutenant Governor’s Office

by Terry D. Cowgill | Jul 25, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Opinion, State Capitol

Few things are certain in life, or so the saying goes, beyond death and taxes. But I’ve found another truism you can take to the bank. The office of the lieutenant governor should be dismantled, abolished, and dispatched by voters to where it belongs: in the dustbin of Connecticut’s sordid political history.

There, I said it. I can think of a dozen different ways to spend the annual budget of the LG’s office, which as best I am able to tell, is roughly half a million dollars and includes a car, a driver, and a small staff that does . . . well, it’s not exactly clear what they do.

The LG’s post is even worse than the vice presidency, which Franklin Roosevelt’s second-in-command, John Nance Garner, famously described as “not worth a bucket of warm spit.”

I’ve often wondered what the LG does all day. Jodi Rell, who later became governor when her boss, the twice-indicted John Rowland, went to jail, spent her time going to ribbon cuttings and calling the morning drive-time shows at 100-watt radio stations.

When Rowland resigned in 2004, Rell was so conditioned to being an obscure figure who had performed ceremonial tasks for almost eight years, that she had difficulty transitioning to a real job with real responsibilities. For most of her six years as governor, Rell remained in LG mode, accomplishing little more than she would have if she had remained second in command.

At this writing, 45 of the 50 states have an LG. Two of those that don’t are our neighbors. New Hampshire and Maine have a system in which the presiding officer of the state Senate assumes the governorship in the event that the chief executive is unable to serve. That used to be the case in New Jersey until 2009, when the office of the LG was re-established.

However, the Garden State constitution now requires that the lieutenant governor be appointed to serve as the head of a cabinet-level department or administrative agency within the governor’s administration. In other words, the state gives the LG something substantial to do to earn her $141,000-a-year salary.

As if to justify her own $110,000 salary, Connecticut LG Nancy Wyman proudly announces on her website the responsibilities of her office, which include being chairperson of a few commissions and councils. And those duties are assigned to her by the governor. Most notably, she is the co-chair of the board of directors for the state’s new health insurance exchange, Access Health CT. The exchange’s CEO, Kevin Counihan, reports to Wyman.

Surely, those tasks could all be shifted to other members of the Malloy administration. According to the state Constitution, Wyman’s only official duty is to preside over the Senate when it’s in session. Couldn’t the actual Senate President — currently Don Williams — do that?

And since the job itself is so insubstantial, it attracts a rather unusual breed of politician. The usual platitudes about running for office obviously do not apply here. Someone running for a seat in the General Assembly or for one of the other constitutional offices — or, for that matter, a spot on a town zoning board — can plausibly claim to want to make a difference or have a passion for helping run the government.

But the LG candidate can’t say any of those things with a straight face. That’s because the only conceivable reason anyone would want the job is that it might be a ticket to something better. The increased visibility of being second in command might give the LG a leg up in a run for governor. Or, as was case 10 years ago with Rowland, the LG becomes governor if the top dog is poised for the slammer. Or if the chief executive is carried out of the Capitol in a pine box, the LG quickly becomes relevant.

According to Wyman’s communications director (yes, she has a communications director), her boss happens to be the incoming chair of the Lieutenant Governors Association — whatever that is. Wyman was ready to assume the chairmanship after this week’s LGA convention in Girdwood, Alaska. But she will be elevated to that post sooner than she expected because the current chair, LG Todd Lamb of Oklahoma, couldn’t be bothered to show up for the convention.

One candidate for LG in Arkansas is running this year on a promise to abolish his own office. Tim “Crash” Murray, the LG in neighboring Massachusetts, resigned last year and no one noticed. Nor was there a special election to fill his shoes because . . . well, aside from driving recklessly in his state-owned car on I-190 and nearly getting himself killed, no one really knows what he did anyway.

For a satirical look at just how irrelevant the job of second banana is, see the HBO series “Veep” starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Unlike the bumbling and foul-mouthed Selena Meyer, Wyman is a decent hardworking woman who worked her way up from a seat on the Tolland School Board to state representative to state comptroller.

Still, there’s got to be a better way to spend half a million dollars. I hear our hospitals are looking for money.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is news editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

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Moms, Lawmakers Uncertain of DCF’s Direction

by Christine Stuart | Jul 25, 2014 5:29am
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Posted to: Health Care, Mental Health Care, State Capitol

Christine Stuart photo

DCF Commissioner Joette Katz and Kristina Stevens

Following the Newtown shootings, the General Assembly told Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz in 2013 to come up with plan to eliminate barriers to mental and behavioral health services for all children, regardless of whether they’re under DCF care. But a group of mothers on Thursday expressed concern that Katz may be ignoring their kids.

The basis for their concerns rises out of the lack of mental health care coverage from private insurers. Since the insurance companies either don’t offer behavioral or mental health care coverage, or their policies only cover a limited, “medically necessary” amount, children are often discharged before they’re mentally or emotionally ready and find themselves back in the emergency rooms after new incidents.

With nowhere else to turn, families can ask DCF to provide “voluntary services” for situations where they can’t otherwise gain access to behavioral health care for their children. But the mothers on Thursday said the state is failing to authorize appropriate care for children in crisis, and as a result their emergency room stays are getting longer because they’re not getting into group homes or other institutional settings where their troubled kids can get behavioral services around the clock.

During a joint public hearing of the legislature’s Children’s and Appropriations committees, Katz said 25 percent of the kids stuck in emergency rooms seeking treatment for behavioral issues are already in DCF care. But she said the other 75 percent of the children in the same situation are not under DCF care.

“That’s not the child who would otherwise go into the bed that I’ve since closed,” Katz said Thursday.

Katz was talking about the more than 100 congregate care beds — a.k.a. group home or institutional beds — she’s closed since being appointed commissioner of the child welfare agency in 2011. Katz told the committee she’s been able to reduce the number of children in congregate care from 30 percent to 19 percent. She said she’s also raised the number of children placed with families from 14 percent to 35 percent.

Her goal is to have the number of children in congregate care down to 10 percent, but she admits she has not set a deadline.

Christine Stuart photo

Nancy Aker, Carol Poehnert, and Mary Jo Andrews from The Moms’ Mental Health Advocacy Group

Mothers and lawmakers wondered if Katz is striking the right balance for children by pushing them out of institutional or congregate care settings.

Katz told the committee that said she would have no problem placing a child in congregate care if it was appropriate, but she is trying to move the department away from congregate care settings.

“The children in the EDs [emergency departments] that you’re talking about — first of all, three-quarters of them aren’t mine, so I’m happy to help and you know that we are stepping up to work with those families and those children,” Katz said.

Carol Poehnert, a mother who belongs to the Moms’ Mental Health Advisory Group, found Katz’s statement troubling and hurtful.

“Hearing her repeatedly talk about her kids, and that the ones in the ER are not her kids, gave me the impression they weren’t her problem either — and that’s my child,” Poehnert said. “It gave me the perception that the plan she and her colleagues may be formulating will also be geared to her kids [already in DCF care].”

A majority of Connecticut’s children are not under DCF care, Poehnert said.

Nancy Aker, another mother in the group, said the non-DCF kids spending time in ERs because of behavioral issues may require voluntary DCF services when they can’t find help in other places.

In a set of issues and recommendations the mothers gave to the Children’s Committee, they explained that psychiatrists and therapists often do not accept private insurance and private insurance rarely covers mental health services.

“So while she wants to make a clear differentiation that she’s responsible for only 25 percent, in fact when you have families who are in crisis and haven’t gotten the services they need, that blows over and becomes her problem, too,” Aker said.

Mary Jo Andrews, another mother, said she had trouble accessing voluntary DCF services because a social worker at the agency refused to bring her request to Katz. Based on that experience, she said Katz has made cutting down on these types of placements part of her goal, and she said the social worker was afraid that she would be retaliated against if she brought the commissioner a request for this type of placement.

“My daughter should be one of her kids, but she wouldn’t even open a file for us,” Andrews said.

Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, pointed out that Katz’s policy decisions regarding congregate care placement are having an impact on the system.

“Do we have a way to know this move has improved outcomes for those children?” Bye asked.

Katz said all that information is tracked.

Bye said she sees people in her community suffering because of this policy shift.

Bye said she many of her constituents belong to the Moms’ Mental Health Advocacy Group and have children with significant mental health challenges. They came to DCF for voluntary services and didn’t get them, Bye said, adding that the parents then had to make some tough decisions about how far they were willing to go to get their children the services they needed.

“I continue to have concerns about kids having appropriate settings that are sometimes a step above what foster care can give them at that time,” Bye said. “. . . As representatives we hear human stories that speak sometimes against some of the shifts and make us worry about kids whose parents didn’t mortgage their homes for that special program, cycling in and out of the ER because they’re not making it in another setting.”

With the ongoing shortcomings of private insurance, there’s a lot more that Katz’s department will be expected to do for these children, Bye said.

There already is a well-documented shortage of mental health care professionals in Connecticut. It’s not clear whether DCF or a coalition of state agencies including DCF even have the capacity to provide behavioral health care for all non-DCF children who need it in Connecticut.

Bye encouraged Katz to work with the 36-member advisory panel to up with recommendations by the Oct. 1 deadline.

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Bacchiochi Fires Campaign Consultant, Foley Keeps Her

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 24, 2014 4:36pm
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Posted to: Election 2014

Hugh McQuaid File Photo

Regina Roundtree

Lieutenant governor candidate Penny Bacchiochi ended a consulting agreement with urban outreach consultant Regina Roundtree on Thursday over online comments about another candidate, but Roundtree will continue work for Tom Foley’s gubernatorial campaign.

“Her status is that she’s a consultant to the Foley campaign for urban outreach,” Foley spokesman Chris Cooper said. “The work she was doing for the Bacchiochi campaign was not connected or related to the work she is doing for the Foley campaign in any way.”

Roundtree had also served as an urban outreach consultant for the Bacchiochi campaign until Thursday when Bacchiochi’s primary opponent, Heather Bond Somers, called on the campaign to “disavow” statements Roundtree made about her on social media.

Former Republican lawmaker Kevin Rennie posted on his blog a screengrab of Roundtree apparently charging Somers with “white privilege” on her Facebook page.

Reached by phone, Roundtree said the comments were hers, but had been taken out of context in the post. She declined to comment further on the issue.

The Somers campaign called the social media comments “outrageous assertions.”

“While a Republican primary may become very heated over the discussion of a candidate’s record and vision there is no place for the personal, divisive and defamatory assertions which are becoming common from the Bacchiochi camp,” the Somers campaign said in a statement.

Bacchiochi stirred controversy prior to the Republican convention in May, when she suggested in media interviews that another candidate, David Walker, made comments about her biracial marriage. Bacchiochi later apologized to Walker.

On Thursday, she responded to Roundtree’s comments by severing ties with the consultant and calling the comments “unacceptable.”

“The campaign had no prior knowledge of the statements attributed to her that appeared on a third-party social media web site. The campaign has ended its consulting agreement with Ms. Roundtree,” she said.

Roundtree, founder of the Connecticut Black Republicans and Conservatives as well as Cogent Consulting, appears to have a more lucrative relationship with the Foley campaign than with the Bacchiochi campaign.

According to campaign finance documents, Bacchiochi paid Roundtree and Cogent a total of $645.16 for consultant work this year. Meanwhile, Foley has paid Cogent a total of $7,210.

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Child Advocate Criticizes DCF for Reaction to Jane Doe

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 24, 2014 2:26pm
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Posted to: Juvenile Justice

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State Child Advocate Sarah Eagan

State Child Advocate Sarah Eagan said the Children and Families Department inexplicably shamed the transgender teen known as Jane Doe this month with a press release about a July fight involving Doe and three other girls.

“The public shaming of Jane Doe — a victim of significant abuse and neglect — is also inexplicable in light of the fact that the July 12 incident involved four girls, all of whom were restrained, all of whom were described in DCF records as hitting each other and staff,” Eagan wrote in a Wednesday statement.

The three-page statement from the child advocate is the latest in what has become a lengthy public dispute over the well-being of the 16-year-old Doe, which was ignited when her legal caretaker — DCF — had a court transfer her to an adult prison. The state argued that the troubled youth was too violent to be housed in their care.

Doe spent weeks at York Correctional Institute before the department, responding to public outcry, moved her to a locked facility for girls in Middletown called the Pueblo Unit. That’s where the July 12 incident took place, which prompted a press release from the department signaling Doe would be moved to the Connecticut Juvenile Training School for boys.

Eagan said DCF unfairly singled out Doe, despite the involvement of other girls in the fight.

“One of the girls was restrained on five separate occasions during the same night — including being placed in handcuffs and prone restraint — long after the initial incident had ended. No transfers were announced for any of the other girls involved in the incident,” the child advocate wrote.

Gary Kleeblatt, a spokesman for the department, said DCF decided to release a statement on Doe because of the “extensive” media coverage her case had previously received. He said it would not have been possible to move her to the boys’ facility without the transfer becoming public.

“Given the fact that every placement or potential placement for the youth has been the subject of extensive news coverage, we thought the most transparent and accountable way to handle the move to CJTS was to announce it publicly,” he said.

Although the incident remains under investigation, Kleeblatt said the department believes one of the four girls involved in the July 12 fight was a victim. Another appeared to be aiding the victim, while a third girl was transported to a hospital for “self injurious behaviors.”

After the incident, Kleeblatt said Doe “destabilized” the Pueblo Unit by tearing a sprinkler head from the room, which caused the doors to open and flood damage to occur.

The department had announced in June that Doe had been “tentatively accepted” into a privately-run youth facility in Massachusetts. Kleeblatt said Thursday those plans have been scrapped.

“Although the Massachusetts facility previously identified has formally rejected Jane Doe, and although approximately two dozen other facilities have rejected her because of her behaviors or their inability to treat her in a setting with other girls, we will continue to seek opportunities for placement,” he said.

Eagan said the department’s statement on the July incident suggests it may have a conflict of interest with regard to Doe.

“DCF is Jane’s guardian and is legally obligated to make decisions that protect her best interests. DCF’s rush to publicize a fraction of an incident is difficult to reconcile with its parental role. DCF may also have a conflict of interest between its role as Jane’s guardian and its role as a systems manager for juvenile services. If this is the case, a Guardian Ad Litem should be consulted on decisions that impact Jane’s wellbeing,” she wrote.

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McKinney: ‘We Are Not Leaving This Race’

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 24, 2014 12:00pm
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Posted to: Election 2014

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John McKinney

Republican gubernatorial candidate John McKinney rejected Thursday his primary opponent Tom Foley’s suggestion that McKinney drop out of the race and endorse him.

“We are not leaving this race,” McKinney said in a campaign statement responding to comments from Foley published in the New London Day Thursday morning.

The two candidates are competing in an Aug. 12 primary election for the Republican nomination to run against Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Foley, the Republican convention-endorsed candidate who also ran against Malloy in 2010, sat down Wednesday with the Day’s editorial board. During the meeting, he suggested that McKinney, the state senate minority leader, abandon his primary challenge and endorse him.

“I think the right thing for John to do is to drop out of the race and endorse me, and I hope he does it,” Foley told the Day. Foley went on to say that McKinney risked politically alienating himself by staying in the race.

McKinney said the comments suggested that the race has tightened.

Although the primary election is less than three weeks away, no public polling data on the race has been published since May 9, when Quinnipiac University released survey results suggesting that McKinney and four other Republican candidates were “running way behind” Foley and “struggling to gain name recognition.”

McKinney said internal campaign polling suggests things have changed since the Republican field has narrowed and he and Foley have begun running TV spots and participating in debates.

“Obviously, Tom Foley’s polling is telling him the same thing ours is telling us: this race is now competitive. After a disastrous debate performance and an unwillingness to give voters a straight answer on any important issue, voters are turning toward our plan for spending reductions and real tax relief,” he said.

In the statement, McKinney encouraged Foley to participate in more debates before the primary election.

Chris Cooper, a spokesman for the Foley campaign, disputed McKinney’s suggestion that the race had become competitive.

“Internal polling, I think is showing probably on both sides, that this race is more than a 20 point margin,” Cooper said.

According to the Day, Foley said he is likely to win the primary and has a better shot than McKinney at defeating Malloy in November. He pointed to his narrow loss to Malloy in 2010, when the Democrat won by just 6,404 votes.

“To be taking on a Republican candidate who came as close as I did in 2010, is likely to win the primary and also has a very good shot of winning in November, I think is a mistake,” Foley said.

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State Bond Commission Gets Ready To Approve $722.3M In Borrowing

by Christine Stuart | Jul 24, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: State Budget, Taxes, State Capitol

Christine Stuart photo

Capitol skylights after the stained glass was removed

Restoring the stained glass skylights at the state Capitol is just one of the many items on Friday’s state Bond Commission agenda.

An estimated 304 stained glass panels were removed from the 5th floor skylights on the east and west side of the state Capitol in June. The panels were crated and are ready to be shipped for restoration. The total cost of restoring the skylights, which began falling down in 2008, is about $800,000.

Christine Stuart photo There’s another $3.15 million on the Bond Commission agenda to help restore the skylight and repair the William A. O’Neill Armory’s roof. That project also will receive about $1.15 million in federal funds.

However, those projects are some of the least expensive on the $722.3 million agenda.

There’s $474.6 million for a variety of transportation projects, which will be paid for with special obligation bonds.

“The scope of work will depend upon the project’s design and final costs will be based upon bids received,” according to the agenda. “However, the Department of Transportation is requesting the flexibility to revise or modify projects, if required, within specific subsections of the Act.”

There’s another $30 million that will be used to help municipalities fund their road repaving programs. It’s the first of two installments for the program. Another $5.4 million will be used to help purchase highway and bridge renewal equipment like dump trucks, loaders, backhoes, snow removal equipment, and specialized bridge maintenance equipment.

There also is $15 million for the Small Business Express program. None of the businesses receiving the loans are detailed in the agenda, but the Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner is supposed to report to the General Assembly every six months about which businesses received funding.

About $17.4 million will be used to assist eight inter-district magnet schools with capital startup and expansion as required by the Sheff v. O’Neill settlement.

The Mark Twain House and Museum is expected to receive $2.2 million for a variety of projects, including drainage improvements and parking lot repairs. The Harriet Beecher Stowe House and library will receive $650,000 for for interior restoration and a fire suppression system.

Another $3 million will be used by the Department of Housing to set up a low-interest loan program for homeowners and businesses in coastal flood areas to help them flood-proof and wind-proof their homes or businesses. Loans of up to $300,000 will be provided for a term of 15 years with no principal or interest for one year, according to state officials.

There’s another $1 million for the dredging of the Mystic River auxiliary channel, which will improve access to one of the marinas.

Goodwin College in East Hartford could receive $3.75 million to help it equip its manufacturing, dental hygiene, and ophthalmic programs.

The Bond Commission also will look to help New Haven by paying for the surprise environmental contamination the city found when it was cleaning up Bowen Field. The state plans to give the city $4.8 million to help rid the parcel of the PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls) found in the caulk joints of the bleachers and in the paint on the exterior of the locker room.

There is another $1.5 million that will be used to construct a new golf learning center, a nature learning center, and other improvements in Norwalk. Earlier this month, House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, who has been critical of the state’s borrowing, praised Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s decision to put the item on the agenda.

The state Bond Commission is scheduled to meet at 10:30 a.m. on Friday.

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Cadmium Task Force Gets Off To Rocky Start

by Christine Stuart | Jul 23, 2014 4:19pm
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Posted to: Economics, Environment, Equality, Jobs, State Capitol

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Sen. Kevin Witkos, Rep. David Baram (center), and Rep. Diana Urban

A task force that was created to determine an acceptable level cadmium in children’s jewelry got off to a rocky start Wednesday when the decision to appoint two jewelry industry experts was questioned by Rep. Diana Urban.

Urban, who co-chairs the Children’s Committee and the cadmium task force, said there was a “gentlewoman’s agreement” on the floor of the House that if a lawmaker was unable to serve on the task force they would try and appoint another lawmaker to the position.

Instead, Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol, and Sen. Art Linares, R-Westbrook, appointed Anthony DeGeorge, director of quality assurance for Fashion Accessories in Rhode Island, and Brent Cleaveland, executive director of Fashion Jewelry and Accessories Trade Association of Rhode Island.

Urban said it was her understanding that if a lawmaker could not serve they would find another lawmaker to serve in their place since “we are the policy makers in the state of Connecticut.” She said the composition of the task force is already such that jewelry manufacturing industry experts were appointed. She didn’t believe it was necessary to stack the task force with even more.

Rep. David Baram, D-Bloomfield, who co-chairs the General Law Committee, said it’s his understanding that Betts and Linares tried to get other lawmakers to serve, but were unsuccessful.

“It was difficult to enlist people and not everybody is terribly interested in maybe this topic vs. another topic to spend the time we are all committing,” Baram said.

Regardless of what the task force recommends the issue will need to be debated and vetted by the legislature next year, Baram said.

Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, said the handshake agreement between two colleagues of the same party on the floor of the House “does not change state statute.” He said whatever deal Urban and Baram struck on the floor of the House does not apply to the Republican Party.

“Absent a specific limitation in the law our authority to appoint a nominee is unlimited,” Witkos said. “There is no boundary . . . When we appoint a designee we do so to serve the best interest of the task force.”

Linares, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, said he plans on attending these task force meetings even though he appointed Cleaveland to his place on the task force.

“It’s important to have a diverse group on the task force,” Linares said after the meeting. “Bringing in people with all areas of expertise will help our overall goal.”

Baram said there will be ample opportunity for people to question assumptions and facts.

Urban reminded the task force that there’s not a clear consensus on what level of cadmium is appropriate for children. She said she wished the federal government and the Consumer Protection Safety Act, which regulates lead, would also regulate other metals like cadmium.

She said the goal of the task force is to figure out what level protects children. At the same time it has to balance that with needs of the manufacturing industry in the state.

“This is a very complex question,” Urban said. “It’s not an easy question that’s being put on the backs of states.”

The next task force meeting will be held July 31 at 2 p.m.

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NRA Doles Out Grades To Connecticut Candidates

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 23, 2014 1:51pm
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Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley received a passing grade but not an endorsement from the National Rifle Association’s PAC Tuesday in a candidate scorecard distributed ahead of Connecticut’s primary elections next month.

The NRA’s Political Victory Fund graded primary candidates for statewide office as well as House and Senate races. The “A” through “F” grades were based on candidates’ records pertaining to Second Amendment issues.

In the Republican gubernatorial primary race between 2010 nominee Tom Foley and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, the NRA gave Foley a “B-” and McKinney and “F.”

The group defines a “B” as a “generally pro-gun candidate,” but notes that the candidate may have taken some positions in support of gun control in the past. Meanwhile, the group describes a candidate assigned an “F” as a “true enemy of gun owners’ rights.”

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the Democratic nominee, was not graded as he is not facing a primary challenge.

McKinney’s failing grade from the national gun rights group likely stems from his role in the drafting and passage of more restrictive firearm regulations in the aftermath of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. McKinney’s senate district includes Newtown where the 26 murders took place.

McKinney defended his support of the legislation during a recent debate with Foley.

CTNJ File Photo “I had the great honor of representing Newtown and Sandy Hook for the last 15 years in the state senate. I was with them at the firehouse that day. I shared the pain of those families when they were told their kids weren’t coming home,” he said.

Foley’s “B-” is likely due in part to his general comments in support of Second Amendment rights. In January, he told a gun rights group that, if elected, he would veto further restrictions on gun owners.

“I will promise you this — if I am governor any further attempts at restrictions on law-abiding gun owners by our legislature will stop at the governor’s office,” he said.

However, Foley has stopped short of calling for a repeal of the law and has been consistently unwilling to specify which gun control provisions of the statute he opposes. Through a spokesman, Foley said he was content with the NRA grade.

“A ‘B-’ in school would not have been okay with my parents but here a ‘B-’ is okay,” Foley said.

Scott Wilson, president of Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said the NRA grades were fair ratings. CCDL was the statewide gun rights group Foley addressed in January. Wilson said the organization is approaching 15,000 members. He said many of those members are also affiliated with the NRA and consider the organization’s grades.

Wilson attributed the NRA’s modest assessment of Foley to the candidate’s statements and unproven record.

CTNJ File Photo “Tom has never been elected to office before. I know he respects the rights of gun owners but that surely won’t be proven until he is in office,” he said.

As for McKinney, Wilson said an “F -” would have been more appropriate.

Connecticut Citizens Defense League has not yet graded candidates or made endorsements of its own.

On the other side of the gun control debate, Ron Pinciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said he would reverse the NRA grades. He said he would assign a “B+” to McKinney and a “C-” to Foley.

Pinciaro credited McKinney with working “very hard to come up with a fair and bipartisan solution” to the Sandy Hook shooting. He said McKinney’s ranking would have been higher, but he felt the candidate had “walked back” some of his earlier statements that were “more to our liking.”

Pinciaro said his group would be publishing scorecards for candidates for General Assembly seats within the next few weeks. However, he said they do not intend to publish candidate grades in the Republican gubernatorial primary race.

“We thought we would wait to see who the candidate was going to be before we made any endorsement or direct statements,” he said.

Although the NRA declined to make an endorsement in the GOP gubernatorial primary race, it did make endorsements in other contests. In the Republican primary race for lieutenant governor, the group endorsed, state Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, who received an “A.”

Bacchiochi’s two primary opponents were both ranked highly by the NRA. Heather Somers received an “A-” and David Walker received an “AQ.” According to the group’s website, an “AQ” means the candidate was judged to be a “pro-gun candidate” based solely on his or her responses to a questionnaire.

The NRA also endorsed Democratic state Rep. Linda Orange over her primary challenger, Jason Paul. Orange, who voted against last year’s gun control bill, was given an “A-” grade. Paul, who has made Orange’s anti-gun control vote central to his campaign, scored a “D-.”

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Republican Senator Calls For Access Health Meeting

by Christine Stuart | Jul 23, 2014 12:06pm
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Posted to: Health Care

Access Health CT, Connecticut’s health insurance exchange, canceled its meetings in July and August, but in light of several significant issues, a Republican Senator is asking it to reconsider.

Sen. Len Fasano wrote Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman Tuesday and asked her how the Access Health CT board would be informed of several ongoing issues, including the cancellation of several hundred customers from their policies.

Earlier this month, Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan said a programming error caused the wrong tax subsidy to be applied to the plans of about 5,748 individuals and about 900 of those were dropped from policies leaving them uninsured.

In his letter to Wyman, Fasano detailed the problems with Connecticut’s health insurance exchange over the past few months. From the programming glitch, which was scheduled to be fixed on July 18, to the security breach involving the backpack left on a Hartford street by a call center worker—Fasano expressed concern about the lack of dialogue.

“I believe that Access Health CT is working very hard to correct the problems caused by the glitch, but I would like to see the board involved in this process as well to ensure that the fix is appropriate, to offer suitable advice or assistance, and to review and verify that all people impacted by the problem have in fact been assisted,” Fasano wrote.

He said it was his understanding that the board canceled all of its meetings in July and August and he wanted them to reconsider that in light of these issues.

In a statement Tuesday, Wyman’s spokeswoman said the board has decided to meet in August.

“While the Access Health Board is not meeting in July, they are rescheduling their August meeting,” Juliet Manalan said in a statement. “ In the interim, Access Health is providing updates to Board members, and, as always, Lieutenant Governor Wyman is in regular contact with CEO Kevin Counihan and Access Health leadership.”

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OP-ED | Giving Adoptees and Their Kids the Rights They Deserve

by Bill Finch | Jul 23, 2014 8:38am
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Posted to: Opinion, State Capitol, Bridgeport

I’m a proud father of four kids. So when the doctor asks for our family medical history, why does the government keep that information locked away? I may be the mayor of our state’s largest city, but because of outdated laws, I’m just another adoptee who is treated as a second-class citizen.

I’m one of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans who are prohibited by law from possessing their own birth records-the basic information that tells them who they are and where they came from.

More than 65,000 adoptees in Connecticut have been legally barred from accessing their birth records.

That’s because under Connecticut law, adoptees like me haven’t been allowed to access to their birth records. This law keeps people from truly knowing their identity. Imagine that: Our government fighting to protect our credit cards from identity theft, while keeping countless citizens legally barred from their medical identity at the same time.

Courtesy of Finch's staff

Malloy signs the adoption bill

Keeping adoptees – and their children – from birth certificates means they don’t have access to their biological, medical, and cultural history. It also creates a society where there are two classes of people: One group that has unlimited access to understanding their full and true identity, and another group that is legally prohibited from accessing information regarding their identity. It’s a complete disregard for “equal protection under the law.”

The status quo was unacceptable. Many tried to change it. In fact, as a state senator in 2006, I introduced a bill to give adoptees access to their birth certificates at the age of 21. It passed both chambers of the state legislature. But the governor at the time vetoed it.

Thankfully, this year was different. Adoptees in Connecticut were able to celebrate a major win.

Championed by Rep. David Alexander (D-Enfield and fellow adoptee), legislation granting birth records access to those born after October 1, 1983 once again passed in the state legislature. This time we have a governor who was willing to stand up for adoptees. Governor Dannel P. Malloy signed the bill into law.

Doing so gave more than 25,000 adoptees across the state the ability to access their true identity – a chance to truly know who they are.

It’s great news. It’s a good start. But we must continue making progress. There are still over 30,000 adoptees in Connecticut who lack their most basic human right. All adoptees in all states, in all countries, should be given access to their identity.

All people deserve equal rights, regardless of their race, wealth, zip code, sexual orientation, or birth status.

With this in mind, let’s move forward faster to ensure everyone – including all 65,000 adoptees in our state – are no longer denied their rights they deserve.

Bill Finch is a former state senator and currently serves as the mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

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Landmark Education Trial Pushed Back To January

by Christine Stuart | Jul 23, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Courts, Education, Election 2014, Hartford

Courtesy of CT-N

Superior Court Judge Kevin Dubay will hear arguments in the case beginning on Jan. 6, 2015

A landmark education funding trial was supposed to start on Sept. 9, but according to the parties involved it will be moved to January 2015 — months after the November election.

Last January, Superior Court Judge Kevin Dubay refused to push the trial past the November election as the state requested, but the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding — the group that filed the lawsuit — said Tuesday that they agreed to a trial date of Jan. 6, 2015.

The group has been fighting the state to properly fund pre-K through 12th-grade public schools since November 2005. They had been hoping in 2011, when Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy took office, that he would seek to settle the lawsuit since he was one of the original plaintiffs. But it was a tough ask for a governor who was already struggling to hold cities and towns harmless when he needed to find money to replace the federal stimulus funds the previous administration had used in order to boost the Education Cost Sharing formula.

The plaintiffs have continued to put pressure on the Malloy administration to fully-fund the Education Cost Sharing formula — a move that may have been easier to do during his re-election campaign — but said they weren’t upset with the January 2015 trial date.

“The January trial date will enable CCJEF to gather information from the fall term of the 2014-15 school year and give additional time for other evidence collection.” CCJEF Project Director Dianne Kaplan deVries said Tuesday in a press release.

Former Newtown First Selectman Herb Rosenthal, who is president of CCJEF, echoed deVries’ statement.

“This is but an inconsequential delay in our decade-long struggle to make sure that school children will have their day in court,” Rosenthal said. “Moving the trial date to January can only strengthen our case and heighten our resolve.”

A spokeswoman for Attorney General George Jepsen said that the new trial date was necessary based on discovery requests.

“The state and the plaintiffs in this case agreed to the rescheduled trial date as it became clear that plaintiffs needed additional time to respond to court-approved discovery requests,” Jaclyn Falkowski said Wednesday. “We believe that a new trial date was necessary for the state to have a fair opportunity to defend this lawsuit, which seeks billions in additional taxpayer-funded education funding each year.”

In motions filed back and forth in court over the past three years, the state continues to argue that the Malloy administration has done enough to increase the Education Cost Sharing grant — an education grant that helps municipalities fund local schools. There’s also the question about if the state could even reasonably find the money to fully-fund the formula as it currently exists.

In court documents, Brian Mahoney, the chief financial officer at the state Education Department, said the legislature increased the Education Cost Sharing grant by $51.46 million in 2014 and $41.26 million in 2015. The boost in funding went to 119 towns and about 95 percent of it was directed at 30 of the lowest performing districts, called Alliance Districts, according to Mahoney.

But Jim Finley, former head of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and now a lobbyist for CCJEF, has said the increases in funding still don’t fully fund the formula.

“The ECS formula is intended to ‘equalize’ the ability of towns to pay for public schools at a level that ensures all students equal opportunities for educational excellence,” Finley said. “Since its inception, however, the ECS formula has never been fully funded.”

If it were fully funded it would total $2.7 billion, according to Finley.

“The actual 2012 grant was $1.89 billion, more than $763 million short of the ECS promise under the last formula, which was revamped in 2007. The total ECS formula for 2013 was $1.94 billion and will be $1.99 billion in 2014 and $2.03 billion in 2015,” Finley testified in an affidavit filed last year.

CCJEF and the named parent and student plaintiffs are represented by Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, the Yale Law School Education Adequacy Project, and David Rosen & Associates PC.

The state is represented by Attorney General George Jepsen and his staff.

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Child Poverty in Connecticut Increased 50 Percent Since 1990

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 22, 2014 3:30pm
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Posted to: Poverty

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Connecticut Association for Human Services policy analyst Tamara Kramer

Poverty among children living in Connecticut has increased by 50 percent since the Annie E. Casey Foundation began keeping track in 1990, according to an annual report from the foundation.

The sobering statistic was part of a mixed bag of good and bad numbers in the 25th annual KIDS COUNT Data Book released this week. The report tracks the well-being of children in all 50 states and the nation as a whole. The status of children is measured by indicators like kids’ economic situation, education, health, and family situation. The report is based on data from 2010 to 2012.

Overall, Connecticut ranks seventh in child well-being, which is an improvement from last year when the state ranked at an all-time low of ninth place.

But the state’s high overall rankings can be misleading, Connecticut Association for Human Services policy analyst Tamara Kramer said at a Tuesday press conference.

“We know the state’s overall performance masks major disparities between children of color and their white peers,” she said.

Wade Gibson, director of the Fiscal Policy Center at Connecticut Voices for Children, said Connecticut may be the only state to see a 50 percent increase in child poverty since 1990, when about one in every 10 children lived in poverty. Now, nearly one in six children lives in poverty, Gibson said.

Hugh McQuaid Photo “There are very few states in the country where you can say that. We may be the only state that has had a 50 percent rise in child poverty,” he said.

Orlando Rodriguez, an analyst for the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, said the numbers are more striking when you account for racial and ethnic backgrounds. Poverty rates among African American, Hispanic, and mixed-race children are significantly higher than among their white counterparts, he said.

“If you don’t dig a little deeper, you don’t see a quarter of your Hispanics and a quarter of your African Americans living in poverty,” he said.

The report did include some bright spots for Connecticut. For instance, the state scored 5th in the overall educational well-being of children. Only 37 percent of children in Connecticut do not have access to preschool, which is the lowest rate in the country.

“This is up to 4-year-old data, so this doesn’t even reflect recent investments. So, I think what’s great about this indicator is it shows that when we commit to something, when we make something a priority, we can move and we can be the best state in the country,” Kramer said.

During Tuesday’s press conference, some of the speakers offered policy recommendations to improve the well-being of children in Connecticut. Gibson said that more state resources need to be devoted to supporting children. During the 25 years in which child poverty has risen, Gibson said the state has spent a declining percentage of its budget on children.

Gibson called for expanding the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit program and increased access to early childhood education programs.

“As we do these two things, because they do cost money, it’s crucial that we continue working to expand the share of the budget that goes to kids,” he said. “And make sure that when we spend more money . . . that we don’t take money away from another area that benefits kids. Too often we pay for an expansion in K-12 education by dialing back higher education.”

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2014 Surplus Revised Upward Due To Federal Funds

by Christine Stuart | Jul 22, 2014 3:00pm
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Posted to: State Budget, Taxes, State Capitol

CTNJ file photo

Ben Barnes, Malloy’s budget director

Earlier this month, State Comptroller Kevin Lembo predicted the state would end the year with a $33.2 million surplus. But thanks to additional federal money, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has revised revenues upward by $63 million over last month’s forecast.

That brings the new estimated 2014 surplus to $121.3 million, according to Malloy’s budget office.

In its monthly letter to Lembo, Ben Barnes, Malloy’s budget director, said most of the additional revenue came from a $42.1 million increase in federal Medicaid awards. About $37.2 million came from personal income tax revenue, while all other revenue was revised downward by $16.3 million.

If the surplus number holds into September — when the state closes the books — then the $121.3 million will be deposited in the Rainy Day Fund, bringing the balance in that fund up to $392 million.

“While there is still much work to do, we are making progress in our effort to make state government more sustainable for the long term,” Malloy said in a press release. “Depositing this surplus into the Rainy Day Fund, combined with our efforts to limit spending, are just a few of the ways that we are taking responsible steps to restore the fiscal health of our state.”

But Republican lawmakers were quick to criticize the decisions the state made in order to accomplish what they believe is a fake surplus.

“This is a paper surplus, the only place it should be deposited is the trash can,” Sen. John McKinney, who is running for governor, said. “We need an honest budget with a real plan for tax relief, not more gimmicks.”

Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said the surplus reported Tuesday by the Malloy administration comes at the cost of “shifting expenses off the books, borrowing to fund everyday government expenses, and diverting over $189 million away from the Special Transportation Fund.”

“It is not a true surplus,” Fasano said.

What Malloy is touting as a surplus is “celebrating — a failed economic plan coupled with the creation of an illusion of excess funds,” said Fasano.

“The truth is Connecticut faces a deficit of almost $3 billion over the next two years,” Fasano said. “Bonding and moving funds around only digs us into a deeper hole, grows our debt and underfunds areas that need our support.”

Fasano and McKinney are referring to several decisions made over the past few years to refinance debt and push the repayment date past the November election. The legislature and Malloy also erased the 2012 budget deficit by postponing the early payment of about $222 million in debt.

“While we aren’t yet where we want to be, this shows that Connecticut’s on the right path,” Barnes said in a press release. “Prudent fiscal policy under Governor Malloy — with average annual budget growth lower than those of his last two predecessors — means we are building reserves that are an important contingency against any future economic downturn.”

Earlier this year, Malloy and his budget office wanted to give what they predicted would be a $500 million surplus back to the taxpayers through a $55 tax refund. However, plans for that were scrapped in late April when budget analysts predicted the surplus would be much smaller.

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McKinney Comes Back At Foley In Second Ad

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 22, 2014 1:45pm
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Posted to: Election 2014

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Republican gubernatorial candidates continued to attack each other in TV ads this week as John McKinney accused frontrunner Tom Foley of misleading voters about McKinney’s legislative voting record.

The two men are competing in an Aug. 12 primary for the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic incumbent Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Foley lost a narrow election to Malloy in 2010 and was endorsed by party delegates in May. McKinney is the leader of the Republican minority in the state senate.

McKinney’s new 30-second TV spot, which was released late Monday night, is the latest in an ongoing volley of negative ads from two candidates who had previously pledged to run positive primary campaigns.

It serves as a rebuttal to Foley’s last campaign commercial, which cast both McKinney and Malloy as political insiders who have both voted to raise taxes. The ad opens with McKinney watching Foley’s previous ad.

“Is he kidding? I opposed Dan Malloy’s policies and he knows it,” McKinney says. “Tom Foley is just not being honest about my record.”

Foley’s ad suggested that McKinney and Malloy were on the same page on a number of issues, including tax hikes. McKinney did support a bipartisan bill in 2005 which raised gas taxes and funded transportation infrastructure improvements. But that bill was passed and signed by Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell years before Malloy was elected.

Like his earlier commercial, McKinney uses his new ad to remind voters that Foley has stated he plans to hold state spending level rather than cut it. McKinney again says he is the only candidate willing to cut spending.

McKinney drew criticism last week while making this same claim. In his first ad, McKinney’s campaign altered an audio clip of Foley, which was recorded on WNPR’s Where We Live. In the edited audio snippet, Foley seems to twice say “I’m not going to cut spending.” In his radio appearance Foley actually said, “I’m not saying I’m going to cut spending. I’m saying I’m going to hold spending flat.”

In his new ad, McKinney also accuses Foley of supporting the collective bargaining agreement, which the Malloy administration negotiated with state employee unions.

“It’s Tom Foley who supports Dan Malloy’s sweetheart deal with state union bosses. I don’t,” McKinney says.

McKinney has positioned himself as the only candidate seeking to seek more labor concessions from the state employee unions. However, Foley’s relationship with state labor leaders has hardly been cozy. AFL-CIO delegates laughed at Foley during their June convention when he tried to reassure the unions that he would not seek to reopen the collective bargaining deal.

While the two Republican candidates have been trading negative ads in advance of their primary three weeks from now, Malloy, who does not face a primary opponent, has only run one campaign commercial.

Malloy’s one-minute TV spot ignored his political opponents while a narrator touted the governor’s policies. The ad focuses on Malloy’s leadership in times of crisis, which polling results have suggested voters consider to be one of his stronger qualities.

“It hasn’t been easy, but we’re coming back. Dan Malloy. Strength. Conviction. Progress,” the narrator says.

In a statement, McKinney called Malloy’s ad a “revision of history” and a “fictional documentary.”

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OP-ED | ‘Solutions’ For Broken Schools Are Simple . . . Except In The Real World

by Barth Keck | Jul 22, 2014 11:00am
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Posted to: Education, Opinion

Schools are broken. We have to fix them. What can we possibly do?

Well, the fundamental job of schools is performed by teachers. So teachers must be the problem. Let’s fix the teachers.

Let’s start by eliminating tenure. Too many bad teachers remain in classrooms because of ironclad tenure laws. If we eliminate tenure, then we’ll eliminate all of the bad teachers. And if we eliminate all bad teachers, every student will learn at a higher level.

We can also get more bang for our buck if we get rid of silly ideas like tying teacher pay to additional college degrees. Do teachers with advanced degrees really translate into improved student learning?

Finally, teachers should be evaluated using student test results and rewarded for their students’ success. If this were the case, the only teachers left in classrooms would be the hardworking, results-oriented ones.

The solutions for fixing broken schools, you see, are rather simple.

Except in the real world.

Pardon me for asking, but why do so many education-reform ideas focus on eliminating the supposed glut of “bad teachers”? Quite frankly, I have grown weary of this oversimplified perspective.

CT News Junkie columnist Terry D. Cowgill recently echoed this overworked concept in an otherwise levelheaded op-ed: “There is no question that bad teachers make for bad schools. And the bad teachers not only drag down the profession but they lower morale. Ask any great teacher how much she hates sharing space in the profession with someone who simply sleepwalks through his entire day.”

With all due respect to Mr. Cowgill, himself a former teacher, I’ve never concerned myself with “sharing space” with a colleague who “sleepwalks” through the day because: 1) I have never encountered, in 23 years of teaching, such a blatantly irresponsible colleague who lasted more than a year or two as a teacher; and 2) I’m too busy teaching my own students to worry about the performance of other teachers. That’s a job for administrators.

Do bad teachers exist? Of course they do. And they need, first, to be counseled and, if necessary, jettisoned. But it seems to me that “bad teachers” have become the scapegoat for “our broken schools.” And for that matter, just what is a “broken school,” anyway?

Perhaps Governor Dannel P. Malloy was referring to such schools in a 2012 report outlining his education reform plan: “After decades as a national leader in education, Connecticut has more recently lost its edge. Our students’ overall performance has stagnated, and our achievement gap — the worst in the nation — has persisted.”

Malloy offered no specific data to back this assertion, but he nonetheless proposed a sweeping plan to “revitalize our schools” and “restore public education in Connecticut to a position of excellence.”

Perhaps Malloy was referring primarily to the achievement gap in Connecticut schools since his plan pinpoints the “lowest-performing schools” and “districts with the greatest need.”

These must be the so-called “broken schools” in Connecticut.

But then again, if you trust statistics, most Connecticut schools are not all that broken.

“Connecticut students remain on par or are outpacing many of their peers globally in areas of math, science, and reading, according to a new assessment conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,” reported the Hartford Courant.

In fact, “only four education systems worldwide did better than Connecticut students in reading.”

In addition, “Connecticut’s high school seniors scored the highest in reading among 13 states and also narrowed the state’s achievement gap between black and white students, according to a test known as ‘the nation’s report card’.”

What’s more, “It’s the first time in recent history … that we’ve seen a statistically significant gap closure” between black and white students, according to state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor.

Serious concerns still persist: “Our achievement gaps remain too large, even when we are performing at high levels in terms of aggregate performance,” said Pryor.

Nevertheless, how “broken” are the schools if Connecticut students have shown such performance gains? Are we trying to fix a “problem” that largely doesn’t exist?

Well, maybe. But still, we should eradicate all of those bad teachers by eliminating tenure, discouraging advanced education for teachers, and implementing teacher evaluations based on student test results.

How else, after all, are we going to fix our broken schools?

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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Advocates Say They Were Kept In The Dark About New Malloy Appointment

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 22, 2014 5:30am
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Leslie Simoes, executive director of The Arc Connecticut

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s appointment of Craig Henrici as head of a state agency occurred so quietly that the agency’s staff thought Henrici was joking when he showed up for work, the executive director of The Arc Connecticut said Monday.

This month Malloy appointed Henrici, an attorney and the former Democratic mayor of Hamden, to replace recently retired James McGaughey, Executive Director of the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons With Disabilities.

The administration did not issue a press release to mark Henrici’s appointment, which Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba said is not unusual. But according to Leslie Simoes, executive director of The Arc Connecticut, the office’s staff did not get a memo either.

“Mr. Henrici actually walked into the Office of Protection and Advocacy and walked in the front door to the reception desk and said ‘I’m here. I’m the new executive director.’ And they didn’t know he was coming. The staff actually laughed. They thought it was a joke,” Simoes said.

The comments came during a Monday press conference in Hartford, where advocates for disabled people and political opponents of Malloy questioned the process that led to Henrici’s appointment to head an agency occasionally expected to take positions counter to the administration’s position.

“The process was, there was no process. Even the staff there didn’t know what was happening,” Simoes said in a phone interview afterward. “We just felt as a disability community that we were left in the dark about what was happening.”

Asked for comment, Malloy’s office responded with a statement from Jonathan Slifka, the governor’s liaison to the disability community.

“As a former public official, an attorney, and a father of a child with a developmental disability who has been a client of Department of Developmental Services, the newly-appointed executive director has the professional background and personal commitment necessary to be an effective, aggressive, and independent advocate for persons with disabilities — which is exactly what the governor expects him to be,” Slifka said.

Although the Office of Protection and Advocacy website does not include a biography of Henrici, his legal office website provides some details. In addition to being elected mayor of Hamden in 2005, he served a term as a state representative from 1997 to 1999.

As an attorney, Henrici specializes in real estate, personal injury, and municipal law among other areas, according to his website.

Hugh McQuaid Photo Henrici’s appointment was first reported on the blog of Jonathan Pelto, a former Democratic lawmaker and vocal critic of Malloy. Pelto is collecting signatures to appear on the gubernatorial ballot in November as a third-party candidate.

At Monday’s press conference, he said he learned of the appointment when he was approached at a farmers’ market by a parent who had previously had contact with the Office of Protection and Advocacy. Pelto said Henrici’s appointment seemed political.

“By putting in a political appointee — or what would appear to be a political appointee — into a position where their job was actually at times to take on the administration if it became necessary, that’s something that’s a slippery slope that, up until now, we’ve tried to stay away from,” Pelto said.

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, who represents Hamden, released a statement defending Henrici, whom he said he’s known for more than 20 years. Sharkey denounced Pelto and Sen. Joe Markley, a Southington Republican who also questioned the appointment during the press conference.

“Craig has walked in advocates’ shoes in support of a member of his own family for many years. Frankly, I’m disgusted that Senator Markley and Jonathan Pelto would try to use this as an opportunity to further their political ambitions,” Sharkey said.

Hugh McQuaid Photo However, during the press conference, Cathy Ludlum, a Manchester resident with spinal muscular atrophy who advocates for disabled people, said she was concerned about whether Henrici was qualified to take on the “staggering responsibilities” of the office.

“Please understand that we harbor no ill feelings against Mr. Henrici specifically. Although neither I nor my colleagues in the disability community have ever heard of him before, perhaps he has a deep understanding . . . of the numerous threats and challenges people with disabilities face every day,” she said.

Simoes said she wants to see Henrici be a successful and said she felt badly about the reaction he received from the agency’s staff on his first day of work.

“We all want this to work, we want to support this new appointment, but it’s difficult when we felt sort of blindsided by it and don’t know his qualifications,” she said.

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New Jersey’s Lightning Rod Gov Visits Connecticut to Stump for Foley

by Christine Stuart | Jul 21, 2014 6:48pm
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Posted to: Election 2014, Greenwich

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

He’s the head of the Republican Governors Association and a potential 2016 presidential nominee. And controversy seems to follow New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wherever he goes.

In Connecticut on Monday for a Republican fundraiser at the home of a hedge fund manager, Christie agreed to a campaign stop with Republican gubernatorial nominee Tom Foley. The two met up at the Glory Days Diner in Greenwich before heading to the fundraiser in the Belle Haven section of town, where admission was between $1,000 and $10,000.

At the diner, the two who were followed by throngs of news media from the tri-state area. They made their way around the diner and introduced themselves to Republican voters who filled the diner shortly before the duo’s arrival.

Christie, a nemesis of Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy who has been critical of public policy decisions Connecticut’s governor has made — said Foley should have won four years ago.

“I’m looking forward to working with Tom over the next 100 days or so and we’re going to have a win,” Christie said.

Asked about Sen. John McKinney, who is running against Foley in the Republican primary on Aug. 12, Christie said it’s a hard decision to make.

“I got to know Tom four years ago and quite frankly I thought he was going to be elected four years ago,” Christie said. “. . . He earned my support by the way he conducted himself last time and the way he’s conducted himself over the last four years.”

He said it’s never an easy decision to make but the state Republican Party in Connecticut has also endorsed Foley at the convention.

“I felt like it was the right thing to do,” Christie said.

Christine Stuart photo Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola said he hasn’t made any personal endorsements, but the party made a strong endorsement of Foley in May.

“Tom was instrumental in arranging this fundraiser which will benefit the state party,” Labriola said. “We’ve reached out to both candidates and invited them both to try to help us build our resources for the general election. Tom has stepped forward with this event.”

Christie said he knows how tough things have been in Connecticut over the past few years and he feels like Foley is the “right guy to be able to fix those problems.”

The New Jersey governor said he didn’t know how much money the Republican Governors Association would dedicate to the race, “but we don’t pay for landslides and we don’t invest in lost causes.” He said he would dedicate the resources necessary to get Foley’s campaign over the finish line.

Outside the fundraiser at the home of Brian Olson, a co-founder of Viking Global Investors, Christie was expected to be greeted by protesters upset with his decision to veto a bill restricting some high-capacity gun magazines and refusing to meet with parents of the Newtown victims.

Christie said that the statement was not true. He said he met with Newtown families a year ago and didn’t believe it was necessary to meet with them again after he had made a decision.

“I have nothing but sympathy for those folks, but I don’t believe the bill that was passed in New Jersey was an effective way to deal with it,” Christie said.

Foley declined to comment on Christie’s veto of the legislation.

“Gov. Christie is the governor of a different state. He represents different people. So I don’t really want to comment on the decision he has to face in New Jersey,” Foley said.

After a debate last week, Foley faulted Connecticut for its ban on high-capacity magazines and certain types of assault weapons, and for not doing more to improve access to mental health treatment in Connecticut. He suggested some of the gun control policies unfairly inconvenienced state gun owners.

Christine Stuart photo

Tom Foley

However, Foley would not specify exactly which gun control policies he opposes. After the debate, he was asked by a reporter to detail which of the firearm policies he would have seen removed from the bill. Foley simply answered “No.”

Christie said it would be unusual for a voter to agree with a candidate 100 percent of time.

“If you look for the candidate you agree with 100 percent of the time, go home and look in the mirror. You’re the only person you agree with 100 percent of the time,” Christie said.

He said he and Foley may disagree on some things, but the “litmus test is who best serves the people of the state of Connecticut. There is no question in my mind after watching the last four years of Gov. Malloy, on the merits, Tom is going to be a better governor for the people of Connecticut.”

The Democratic Party pounced on Christie’s visit.

“It takes a lot of chutzpah for Governor Christie to insult the families of Newtown one week, then fundraise in their state the next,” Devon Puglia, Democratic Party spokesman, said. “We know Tom Foley thinks our smart, strict gun law signed by Governor Malloy is ‘inconvenient,’ but does he think Governor Christie’s actions are acceptable?”

Puglia said Foley has refused to be specific about where he stands on gun control.

“While Tom Foley often struggles to provide specifics on complicated policy questions, this is an issue he can be crystal clear on with Connecticut voters,” Puglia said.

Labriola said the protesters have every right to protest the event. At the same time, Christie has to “govern the affairs in his state as he sees fit.”

Labriola said the fundraiser is being held for one purpose: to defeat Malloy in November.

“It is to raise money to defeat Dan Malloy so we can pull Connecticut’s economy out of last place. That’s what this election is about, and what the Democrats want you to forget,” Labriola said Monday.

The money raised will go to the party’s state account to help statewide candidates, including Foley. Even candidates participating in public financing like Foley can now receive money from the Republican Party to help with their campaign thanks to changes made by Malloy and the Democrat-controlled General Assembly in 2013.

Labriola declined to say Monday how much he expected the party to rake in from the event. The amount will be made available afterward.

Christie came to Greenwich in 2010 to campaign for Foley, who lost that year by 6,404 votes.

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Senator In Serious Condition At Rhode Island Hospital After Fall

by Staff Report | Jul 21, 2014 2:21pm
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Posted to: Transparency, Stonington

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Sen. Andrew Maynard

The chairman of the legislature’s Transportation Committee is in serious condition at Rhode Island Hospital after he fell outside his Stonington home early Monday morning at around 2:39 a.m.

Sen. Andrew Maynard, 52, fell from an outside staircase onto a nearby sidewalk at his home,  Stonington Police Capt. Jerry Desmond said. Maynard’s injuries are severe and he was transported by Stonington ambulance to Westerly Hospital. Desmond said the incident appeared accidental but Stonington Police were continuing to investigate it.

Maynard’s Senate colleagues asked the media Monday to respect the family’s privacy.

“Senator Maynard suffered an injury while at home over the weekend,” Sen. President Donald E. Williams, Jr. and Sen. Majority Leader Martin M. Looney said in a statement. “Family members are with him now, at an area hospital, and are caring for him. His family is asking for privacy while he convalesces.”

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman also issued a statement regarding the incident.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Andy and his loved ones,” Malloy and Wyman said in a statement. “Working with him has been an honor and a privilege. He is a powerful voice for his district and for the issues he cares about. We join the rest of our colleagues in wishing him a full and fast recovery.”

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Boughton Gives Bacchiochi His Support

by Christine Stuart | Jul 21, 2014 12:00pm
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Posted to: Election 2014, Taxes, State Capitol, Danbury, Stafford

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Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and Penny Bacchiochi at MannKind Corporation

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton had been teamed up with Heather Bond Somers, but last week he was offering state Rep. Penny Bacchiochi his full-throated support.

Boughton, who dropped out of the race for governor in June, spent Thursday morning giving Bacchiochi, the Republican endorsed candidate for lieutenant governor, a tour of Danbury.

The tour started at MannKind Corporation where Bacchiochi learned how the company will begin manufacturing an inhaled form of insulin. Currently, insulin for diabetics can only be administered through injection.

Company officials, who opened the Danbury facility in 2007, received FDA approval for the drug and the delivery method last month. They are hoping to bring it to market within the next six months.

Juergen Martens, corporate vice president of pharmaceutical development and technical operations, said the biggest hurdles the company had to overcome were with the FDA. He said they didn’t have any problems with local taxes or permitting.

Boughton said the city gave the company some tax credits and expedited the permitting when the facility was being renovated. The building, which was a surgical equipment manufacturing facility, had been vacant for about 15 years.

Neither former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell nor Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy have visited the company, according to company officials.

Christine Stuart photo “We hope to see you back here when you win your election,” Martens told Bacchiochi.

From MannKind Corporation, it was a quick trip to JK’s Restaurant — home of the famous “Texas Weiner.”

“Don’t call it a hot dog,” Boughton warned Bacchiochi. “It’s a weiner.”

An institution in Danbury that has been around for 90 years, JK’s Restaurant is where Boughton brought Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley in 2010 after the two were merged onto the same ticket by Republican primary voters.

Boughton said he never brought Bacchiochi’s opponent, Heather Bond Somers, to JK’s with him.

But the location is a favorite haunt of Somers’ campaign consultant Richard Foley, the former chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party. After a quick scan of the parking lot, Boughton’s staff determined that Foley’s vehicle was not there and an awkward encounter would be avoided.

After running with Boughton for months, Somers decided after the Republican convention in May to go it alone. The decision ultimately cost Boughton a chance to qualify for public financing, which has been seen as a necessary hurdle in the race for governor.

“I think there are a lot of people in the Republican Party wondering how trustworthy is a lieutenant governor candidate, who can’t keep a promise to a gubernatorial candidate,” Bacchiochi told Dennis House during a taping of “Face the State” later that same day. “But that’s not for me to decide. That’s something for the voters to decide.”

Last week in a radio ad, Somers accused Bacchiochi of being an “insider” who accepted money to lobby for medical marijuana and who more recently called another candidate “racist” before being forced to “retract her ugly comments.”

The narrator in the ad continues: “Don’t let Penny Bacchiochi blow Republicans’ chances to take down Dan Malloy’s job-crushing agenda.”

Christine Stuart photo

Boughton and Bacchiochi talk to diners at JK’s in Danbury

Bacchiochi makes no apologies for lobbying for medical marijuana, the only drug that eased the terminal cancer pain of her now-deceased former husband. And she believes she’s apologized for the comments she made about David Walker, the third candidate in the race, prior to the May convention.

“I’m running an issue-based campaign. I am running on my record, my achievements, my successes, and most importantly what I can deliver to the voters of Connecticut. As far as I can tell, David Walker is doing the same thing,” Bacchiochi told House. “So the blistering attacks my Groton opponent threw my way, I don’t think voters want to see us attack each other. I think they want to run on a positive message of what we can do.”

She said at the end of the day a negative campaign is going to hurt the Republican Party. There are still some who believe former Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele’s attack ads against Tom Foley in 2010 cost Foley the election.

“This type of negative campaigning really hurts us as Republicans,” Bacchiochi said. “I’m frankly disappointed and embarrassed that this is going on.”

Boughton, who describes himself as a “blue collar” Republican, has much more in common with Bacchiochi than he did with Somers. But the timing was never right for the two to team up together this year.

“She’s a person of conviction and a person of her word who will do a good job as lieutenant governor,” Boughton said Thursday.

When Boughton ended his campaign in June he endorsed both Bacchiochi and Foley in the same press release.

And while they won’t be running mates, Bacchiochi and Boughton will be spending plenty of time together over the next few weeks.

The Greater Danbury area is home to about 13 percent of the likely Republican voters in the Aug. 12 primary, and Bacchiochi said she plans to make it a weekly stop on her schedule.

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OP-ED | All Eyes On England

by Valerie Dugan | Jul 21, 2014 10:00am
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Posted to: Business, Economics, Labor, Opinion, Transportation, Aviation

With a huge percentage of Connecticut’s economy dependent upon the defense and aerospace industries, all eyes turned toward England over the past week.

The international air show at Farnborough, England, concluded July 20. In 2012, $712 billion in new orders were announced at this biannual event. How that will compare with new orders announced this year will be an important indicator of the health of these key industries — as well as the resulting economic benefits to flow to the Nutmeg State? The final numbers are still being tallied.

Last year, more than 3,000 companies in Connecticut won nearly $10.2 billion in defense contracts. What that is less than in other recent years, it is still sharply higher than the $6.2 billion recorded in 2002.

About 100,000 people in the state are employed in the defense and aerospace industries with combined payroll of about $7 billion.

As a result, in addition to the numerous defense and aerospace companies that will be showcasing their products and abilities in Farnborough, even the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development will be on hand to help push new orders to our borders.

The market for new commercial aircraft is traditionally highly cyclical. As airlines become profitable, orders for airplanes surges. Conversely, when airlines are flying fewer passengers and deficits arise, orders for planes slumps.

As well, the market for defense systems has its own cycle — more spending during war and far less when perceived risks are diminished. U.S. defense spending today represents roughly 4 percent of Gross Domestic Product — compared to 8.9 percent during the Vietnam War, 11.7 percent during the Korean War, and a huge 34.5 percent during World War II.

Despite continued political unrest in the Middle East, overall the wars America has been fighting are slowly winding down. Great news for humanity, of course, but it seems to me there will be a negative impact on the defense industry in Connecticut. An overall poor business climate in our state, of course, does not help attract new companies in any industry and I believe it restricts potential expansion of companies already located here.

Nevertheless, there are individual companies within the defense industry that are worthy of investor consideration.

In recent years, government regulators have tended to turn “thumbs down” to substantial industry consolidation. Cash flow developed by these companies, therefore, tended to result in increased dividends, reduction in debt and even stock buy-back programs. Careful research can identify interesting investment opportunities with companies showing these characteristics.

There is a new area, as well, that I believe is on the precipice of major expansion: drones.

The international market for airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance was $17.5 billion in 2011, according to a report issued by Visiongain. The same report noted that the worldwide market for unmanned aerial vehicles totaled $3 billion in 2011. The continual news accounts of these vehicles, drones, operating in both military and civilian situations, clearly suggests to me that this market is going to expand dramatically in coming months and years.

A few months from now, in October, Connecticut will play host to its own mini-version of Farnborough. Aerospace Components Manufacturers (ACM), a consortium of Connecticut-based firms supplying the major aircraft and engine companies, will conduct a trade show in Windsor. While most of the ACM member firms are privately held, their success does give an indication of where we stand in the defense industry cycle as well as the overall direction of the publicly traded behemoths.

One industry analyst suggested that one of the few ways for the large defense companies to grow will be to capture market share from others. At Farnborough, Connecticut companies were trying to do just that. And, in Windsor in October, ACM member companies will be trying to capture business that might otherwise go to overseas firms.

Valerie B. Dugan, CFP, is a Senior Vice President and Financial Advisor in the Hartford office of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. For more information, please contact Valerie at 860-275-0779.

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State Delays Collection of Union Fees

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 21, 2014 5:30am
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2011 rally of union workers outside the state Capitol

Plans to begin collecting representation fees for a recently-formed home health care workers union have been put on ice while state officials grapple with a Supreme Court ruling that may have made those fees illegal.

“The union requested that the state not collect agency fees given the uncertainty created by the recent Supreme Court decision, Harris v. Quinn,” Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Friday. “We agreed with the union’s request and no agency fees will be collected from individuals covered by the collective bargaining agreement.”

The high court’s decision in Harris v. Quinn in late June found that home health care workers in Illinois paid through Medicaid can not be forced to pay fees to the union representing them.

State officials, including Malloy and Attorney General George Jepsen, are reviewing the case to determine what impact it will have on Connecticut’s recently-formed home health care workers union.

Dues and representation fees for workers who elected not to join the union were scheduled to kick in for the first time Friday for some workers and next week for others. Doba said union dues will be collected as previously planned.

The move will reduce income to the union, at least until a final call has been made on whether the Connecticut organization can collect agency fees in spite of the high court’s ruling on the Illinois union.

Jennifer Schneider, a spokeswoman for SEIU 1199 New England, said there are about 6,500 home health care workers in the bargaining unit on behalf of which the union has negotiated. Schneider estimated that around 2,500 had chosen to become members of the union, but said it was difficult to know for sure because the organization had not yet collected dues.

The union already has negotiated raises for the health care workers. Those hourly increases are scheduled to kick in during the same period that the fees were to be subtracted. Workers also are scheduled to receive a different check for back pay because the raises are retroactive to January, Schneider said.

The Attorney General’s Office is still reviewing the court decision, according to spokesperson Jaclyn Falkowski. That means there is no official word on whether the ruling will permanently preclude the union from collecting the fees. Even if a determination is made, Falkowski said it may not be shared with the public.

“Absent a request for a formal opinion, our ability to publicly discuss any legal advice or conclusions provided to client agencies may be circumscribed by the attorney-client privilege,” she said.

SEIU initially characterized the ruling as narrow in scope and impacting only Illinois workers, but opponents quickly seized on the decision, calling on Malloy and Jepsen to proactively halt the implementation of the agency fees.

Soon after Malloy signed executive orders setting the unionization process in motion during his first year in office, a group of conservative lawmakers and advocates for disabled people filed a lawsuit challenging what they called “forced unionization.”

The lawsuit was tossed by a Connecticut court after the legislature reaffirmed Malloy’s executive orders, but Sen. Joe Markley, a Southington Republican who was a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said the high court ruling accomplishes its objective.

“It doesn’t seem to me there’s any uncertainty, it seems to me the ruling of the court was clear these agency fees cannot be collected in this case . . . I don’t know what further clarification they need besides a ruling of the Supreme Court,” he said.

Joe Summa, the attorney who represented Markley and the other plaintiffs, agreed. He said Connecticut’s union has been set up under “exactly the same” legal framework and principles as the Illinois program, which the court struck down.

If Connecticut eventually decides the court decision precludes the collection of agency fees permanently, SEIU political director Paul Filson said the union will step up an outreach effort to convince more members of the bargaining unit to become dues-paying members of the union.

When asked about the decision two weeks ago, Filson pointed to SEIU’s work in right-to-work states where government workers are allowed to opt out of labor union membership and dues. He said SEIU is “a strong union in those states too.”

Filson continued: “So that’s how we’ll approach it, but it’s not fair. When we’re the exclusive representative for these workers, the right to not contribute to our representation, to us getting raises for folks, it isn’t fair. It’s frankly a right-wing tactic to basically take money out of the only opposition corporations have in this country. If they can destroy the unions, there’s no opposition to anti-worker legislation, anti-worker politicians who get elected. We’re it.”

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DeLauro Uses New Report To Push For Paycheck Fairness

by Madeline Stocker | Jul 20, 2014 1:02pm
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Posted to: Congress, Economics, Equality, Jobs, Labor

A newly-released report contains evidence that closing the gender pay gap would both improve women’s Social Security benefits and strengthen the program’s finances.

The report, which was released by social justice organization Social Security Works, details the relationship between the lifetime earnings and Social Security benefits, with data showing that women age 65 or older received an average Social Security benefit of $12,520 in 2012, compared to $16,396 for their male counterparts.

This discrepancy is extended to disability and life insurance benefits as well as retirement benefits, all of which are the effects of paycheck inequality, according to the report.

“The data clearly show that women make less than men in nearly every occupation for which wage data are tracked,” the report said. “Even after taking into account college major, occupation, economic sector, experience, selectivity of one’s undergraduate institution, GPA and many other factors, women still earn 7 percent less than men one year out of college, and 12 percent less 10 years out.”

Cumulatively, the average career pay gap between men and woman is $220,000 over a 35-year career, with a $3,876 yearly difference in Social Security benefits.

For U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, paycheck inequality remains one of the nation’s more pertinent issues.

“It’s the foundation on which the middle class was built,” DeLauro said. “Today, women make just 77 cents for every dollar made by a man for equal work. Seven in 10 Americans believe that women deserve equal pay. We have the power to pass this legislation, we just need the political will.”

DeLauro, who has introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act every year since 1997, said that paycheck inequality affects women of color more than any other racial background.

“The gender pay gap is particularly bad for women of color,” DeLauro said. “While the average American woman gets 77 cents for every dollar made by a man, African American women only get 62 cents, and Hispanic women only 72 cents. Without Social Security benefits, the average poverty rate for women is one in 10. For African American and Hispanic women, it’s one in five.”

In Connecticut, even women who have Social Security are subject to poverty. Among the 178,276 family households in the state headed by women, about 25 percent of those families, or 44,391 households, have incomes that fall below the poverty line, according to a report by the National Partnership for Women and Families.

“It’s even worse for the two out of every five women living on their own,” DeLauro said last week when the report was released.

Though DeLauro and other many other of the nation’s voters have expressed their support for paycheck equality there are still many who oppose it.

According to the Republican National Committee, who posted a 2014 press release titled “The Misleading Paycheck Fairness Act,” the PFA is nothing but a “desperate political ploy.”

“This law will not create ‘equal’ pay, but it will make it nearly impossible for employers to tie compensation to work quality, productivity and experience, reduce flexibility in the workplace, and make it far easier to file frivolous lawsuits that line the pockets of trial lawyers. Ultimately, this bill will hurt all workers, especially women.”

The release went on to say that the 77 cents per dollar statistic is misleading, and that the “dishonest rhetoric” and “inaccurate math” used by the Democratic party is nothing but the party’s “latest political ploy.”

Though such opposition has prevented the legislation from moving forward, DeLauro is confident that the Paycheck Fairness Act will pass in the future, as it has already passed the House in 2007 and 2009, but “came just a few votes shy” in the Senate.

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Blumenthal Will Offer Insight After Visit To Mexican Border

by Jhansi Katechia | Jul 18, 2014 3:24pm
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Courtesy of Blumenthal's Twitter page

Sen. Richard Blumenthal and a delegation visiting one of the detention centers

(Updated 6 p.m.) When he returns from the border, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal would like to sit down with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to offer his firsthand insight on the situation and discuss ways Connecticut can play a constructive role in immigration reform.

Blumenthal traveled to the Texas-Mexico border Friday with U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske. They visited the local border patrol center where immigrants are being held.

The senator said he hoped to find solutions for a situation he described as “heart wrenching.”

“Hundreds of children sleep on concrete floors without blankets, where they are kept in cells for possibly days,” Blumenthal said.

Earlier this month, the Malloy administration denied the federal government’s request to house some of the thousands of illegal immigrants fleeing Central America.

“I look forward to sitting down with the governor and his administration so I can give him the insight that I have gained,” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal said he would like to hear the governor’s concerns and offer his insight based on his visit to the border.

At an unrelated event Friday, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, said she hasn’t spoken to the governor, but hopes the state can offer to help these children.

“It is my hope that Connecticut is going to participate in trying to deal with this,” DeLauro said. We have a humanitarian crisis, a serious humanitarian crisis, so I’m hopeful that Connecticut will be engaged in participating and in helping to provide assistance here.”

But Malloy’s administration has been pretty adamant that it doesn’t believe the state owns a building that fits the federal government’s request.

Mark Ojakian, Malloy’s chief of staff, told the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus on Friday that the state doesn’t have a suitable location for the children based on the criteria provided by the federal government. The caucus sent a letter to Malloy Thursday urging him to find space.

“The request for assistance was quite narrow,” Ojakian wrote in his response to the caucus. “Among other requirements, the agencies were seeking facilities that contained no less than 90,000 square feet of open space, which needed to be ready and available for immediate use. The facilities also needed to be ADA and NEPA compliant, with additional outside space as needed for trailers that hold showers, restrooms, and kitchens.”

It was initially thought that the Southbury Training School, which houses developmentally disabled adults, may fit the criteria, but Ojakian said a review of the property found that’s not the case.

“All vacant properties owned by the State were found to be either far too small to accommodate the needs of GSA and HHS, were not ADA or NEPA compliant, and/or they contained mold, asbestos, lead, or other serious problems which would require extensive renovation before they could be occupied (especially by children),” Ojakian wrote.

He said the Department of Children and Families is working with the federal government to coordinate “where possible, the temporary placements of individual unaccompanied minors who have family relations in Connecticut.”

Some Latino advocacy groups have said there are more than 30 immigrant children who fled their country staying with relatives in Connecticut.

Meanwhile, on the border Friday, Blumenthal spoke to some of the immigrant children at various holding facilities, where he was able to hear their stories.

“Many of these children were put on buses and trains by relatives to reach this country and escape horrific conditions of torture and abuse,” Blumenthal said.

Most of the stories center around criminal cartels and gangs that put these children at risk, according to Blumenthal.

“I am seeking to think through what solutions there can be to help address the needs of every child with fairness and due process,” Blumenthal said.

For one, Blumenthal would like to formulate specific measures that will help to bring law enforcement to these countries in turmoil.

“These countries need to eliminate the criminal operations that inhumanely exploit and brutalize children,” Blumenthal said.

He would also like to see more resources such as food, shelter, and recreation brought to the immigrants in the holding facilities.

Christine Stuart and Mary O’Leary of the New Haven Register contributed to this report.

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OP-ED | Fix the Process

by Brian O'Shaughnessy | Jul 18, 2014 2:40pm
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Posted to: Economics, Election 2014, Opinion, Taxes, Transparency

Soon we will be inundated with messages all saying the wrong thing.

The primary dysfunction is partisanship. They did this or that. However, it really is us. We need to demand more.

As the campaigns heat up, look for someone that talks about the process. Simply saying we need to spend less — or more in a specific area — misses the point by a country mile.

It is undeniable that we have a financial structure that habitually creates budget deficits. The structure needs to change.

For example, the income tax is far and away the largest single source for state revenue. Added to sales and use taxes — also personal in nature — and that accounts for 65 percent of state revenues. Why don’t we improve the economic power of this revenue source? Seems obvious to me. Jobs decrease, the median income goes down, we have less revenue and more need. However, the focus is not present.

If urban jobs are the key, why don’t we spend money creating the infrastructure necessary to create more economically vibrant cities? This is a 20-year process and we had better get started. Last time I looked, Bridgewater Associates was not recruiting at Hartford Public or Hillhouse. These are the young adults staying in Connecticut and they need jobs.

There is no shortage of studies that say we should stop funding A and spend on B. We look to Washington State or Pew and say, “See, this is how the money should flow.” Then off we go, each onto his own world and we adjust the same system that gives us deficits year in and year out. We use spoons and toothpicks to move mountains.

Asking folks in Hartford to “reallocate” funds from one function to another is a task incapable of performance without the appropriate process. Receipt of funding in the past appears to be an annuity.

An analysis of how the expenditure of funds can be directed toward more revenue producing endeavors is not a task that we are incapable of performing. We have the tools, just not the process. We adjust the same budget year after year and wonder why the results don’t change.

One more example, but perhaps the most important one: How we spend money and how we raise money are conceptually inseparable. Why do we separate them with a Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee that never works with the Appropriations Committee? These bodies should work in partnership with the executive policy office, the Office of Policy and Management.

The focus should be basic and simple:  We should appropriate money for functions that will increase revenue. In the real world, people sit in a room and say, “How can we generate revenue and how much will it cost?”

We are about to begin a two-year analysis of our state’s sources of revenue (taxes) and it may not include an analysis of the impact of our spending policies on those revenue streams. This is truly amazing.

A state is an economic entity. It raises and spends money. The manner in which these two functions operate needs to have financial integrity and transparency. Deficiencies in either function are not the fault of any one political party, but of the process. Let’s all take responsibility and fix the process.

When we question the financial integrity of government, we question our belief in government, and that is a bad thing. It makes us stop working together.

We need a process that performs an economic analysis of how we spend taxpayer money. What investments create the best long-term economic return? The lack of a process is eroding our belief in government.

We hear pronouncements of deficit or surplus and we yawn. Let’s spend tobacco money on early childhood. Sure. Why not? Our corrections spending is understated at 34 percent. OK. Don’t fix it. What is a rainy day fund? Don’t know, but it has money. We have stopped paying attention and caring.

We need a process that analyzes what happens when we spend money in a certain area. Not a general reference to a 30-year-old study from a different state. What happened in Connecticut? Good result? Do more. It helps generate more revenue? Do more. There is a long term negative impact? Let’s stop.

Seems basic, but we can’t do it. We should.

Brian O’Shaughnessy of New Haven is a principal in the firm Community Impact Strategies Ltd. The mission of CIS is to facilitate the investment of public and private capital for the purpose of creating measurable improvements in human productivity and living conditions.

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OP-ED | State Needs to Prioritize How It Spends Transportation Money

by Suzanne Bates | Jul 18, 2014 1:00pm
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Posted to: Opinion, Taxes, Transportation

With Connecticut coming in last or nearly last on so many nationwide lists, we may be numb to another dose of bad news. But this week’s report that we are tied for last place for our poor road quality demands action.

The report, issued by the White House, said that 41 percent of Connecticut’s roads are in poor condition. Responses to the news stories on our state’s last-place finish showed that people are frustrated that we are amongst the most taxed people in the nation — including our sky-high gas taxes — and yet we still have a crumbling infrastructure.

The Malloy administration has tried to deflect blame for the poor quality of the state’s roads and other transportation infrastructure, blaming instead stagnant federal funding and (surprise, surprise) previous administrations.

What Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (who never seems to miss an opportunity to blame others) fails to mention is that the state does play a role in determining which projects take priority, and also that his administration’s policies affect how much our transportation projects cost. His generous concessions to public employee unions, and his administration’s favoritism of unionized labor on state projects, is making everything the state does more expensive.

The examples of poor prioritization abound. Malloy could have prioritized fixing the rail bridge in Norwalk, which, when it recently stopped working properly, delayed Metro-North commuters on one of the busiest mass transit lines in the country. But instead he prioritized funding the $570 million New Britain-to-Hartford busway.

And while Malloy has increased transportation funding, his latest budget still moves money from the transportation fund into the general fund.

Of the $552 million budgeted for transportation projects in FY 2013, more than half, or $285 million, went to bus and rail operations, most of which are not heavily used like Metro-North. The busway is a good example of how this money gets used up — even after riders start paying to ride the new line, the state will still carry about 75 percent of the $10 million yearly maintenance cost. All that money spent subsidizing underused public transportation systems means less money for the roads and trains people actually use.

From that same $552 million, $169 million went to pay for public employee benefits, including $108.3 million for pensions, which is up from $70.4 million in 2010. The longer we delay significant public employee pension reform, the more tax dollars state pensions will eat up every year, which will affect our ability to pay for other projects.

The cost of transportation projects also goes up when Democratic state officials write contracts for transportation projects that have a “Project Labor Agreement” rider, which means only companies that employ union members get to bid on the project. That means that the 80 percent of the state’s construction companies who don’t employ union labor don’t get to bid.

Christopher Syrek, vice president of Associated Builders and Contractors of Connecticut, said the PLA riders drive up the cost of a public project by about 20 percent.

“Given our state’s fiscal situation, it’s unfortunate that the taxpayers get stuck paying more just so the project can be completed with union-only labor,” he said.

It is somewhat ironic that the road quality report was issued by Gov. Malloy’s friends in the White House. The release of the report appears to have been intended to put pressure on Congress to hike up the federal gas tax, or at least find other ways to pay for existing road projects.

In a rare case for Connecticut, we actually get more money back from the federal government in federal gas taxes than we pay in. That’s because we have a lot of heavily traveled highways packed into a relatively small space.

However, the federal government plays too much of a role in deciding how the state can spend the money it receives in transportation funds. While each state knows about how much it will get for all transportation projects, it has to get each project approved for federal funds before moving forward. That feedback loop should end, and instead states should receive their transportation funds as block grants so they can spend it on their most pressing needs.

Hopefully the states know what their priorities are.

I say hopefully, because the Malloy administration’s priorities don’t appear to fit with the needs of our state’s residents. The busway is just one example — but a very visible, egregious example — of how the state ends up spending money on what will look good to certain constituencies, instead of what makes the most sense.

Suzanne Bates is a writer living in South Windsor with her family. While traveling across the country as an Air Force spouse, she worked for news organizations including the Associated Press, the New Hampshire Union Leader, and Good Morning America Weekend. She recently completed a research fellowship at the Yankee Institute. Follow her on Twitter @suzebates.

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UConn Settles Title IX Complaint for $1.3M

by Christine Stuart | Jul 18, 2014 10:35am
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Posted to: Courts, Education, Mansfield-Storrs

Christine Stuart photo

Gloria Allred and four of the five plaintiffs

(Updated 2:55 p.m.)The University of Connecticut has agreed to pay $1.3 million to settle the federal Title IX lawsuit filed last year by five female students who claimed that the school ignored their rape and sexual harassment complaints, according to a joint statement Friday from the university and the students.

The lawsuit was filed in November 2013 by four of the seven students who had already filed a Title IX complaint in October with the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights. A fifth plaintiff from the original group of seven later joined the lawsuit.

As part of the joint settlement agreement, both the lawsuit and the complaint to the U.S. Education Department will be dropped on behalf of the five women, who are represented by attorney Gloria Allred.

The Education Department complaint — which is confidential — is still pending on behalf of the two remaining students. The university, according to its spokeswoman, is complying with the investigation.

Based on the agreement, Kylie Angell will receive $115,000, Erica Daniels will receive $125,000, Carolyn Luby will receive $25,000, Silvana Moccia will receive $900,000, and Rosemary Richi will receive $60,000.

According to the amended federal complaint, Moccia, a UConn hockey player, was raped by a male hockey player and after she informed the university of the incident she was removed from the team and reimbursed her medical expenses related to the rape. Moccia was added to the complaint last December.

Moccia did not attend a Hartford press conference Friday with the four other plaintiffs, but Allred said she felt the settlements reached were fair and her clients were happy with the outcome.

“We are exceedingly happy with the result in this case,” Allred said.

Moccia’s settlement is higher than the others because the law had to be applied to the facts in each case and the damages each was able to show.

Allred said the settlements her law firm has previously reached with private colleges are confidential so it’s tough to compare those with this latest from UConn.

She said the university worked hard to protect its interests, but both sides realized they have quite a bit in common in terms of their goals.

In a joint statement, the women who filed the lawsuit said they “do not claim that the university was in any way responsible for any assault or for harassment directed at them. Instead, plaintiffs allege UConn’s response was in violation of Title IX.”

The statement goes on to state that “a trial would have burdened both UConn and the plaintiffs for years, fight over the past rather than working on the future. Accordingly, UConn and the plaintiffs have agreed to put to rest their factual disputes, settle litigation, and move forward.”

In a separate statement, UConn President Susan Herbst said even though the lawsuit was settled, the issue of sexual assault on college campuses has not been settled.

“UConn, like all colleges and universities, must do all it can to prevent sexual violence on our campuses, hold perpetrators accountable, and provide victims with the resources and compassion they desperately need during a time of intense personal trauma,” Herbst said.

Both sides acknowledged that a lawsuit would have been difficult.

“It was clear to all parties that no good would have come from dragging this out for years as it consumed the time, attention, and resources — both financial and emotional — of everyone involved,” UConn Board of Trustees Chairman Larry McHugh said Friday. “In order to do this, compromise was required on both sides, which is reflected in the settlement.”

As part of the settlement, the women “acknowledge that certain UConn employees provided compassionate care and assistance to them but allege that the overall response showed deliberate indifference,” according to a statement. “Plaintiffs also acknowledge that, had the case gone to trial, UConn would have introduced evidence of its support to the plaintiffs, contested the factual allegations of the complaint, and would have introduced evidence to dispute the claim that it showed deliberate indifference to the plaintiffs.”

Following the lawsuit, the General Assembly passed legislation that clarifies the sexual assault reporting process on college campuses. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy this summer.

The law includes a number of new reporting requirements that instruct public and private colleges to provide victims with clear, written information on their rights and options when they report an assault. It also requires schools to maintain trained Sexual Assault Response Teams and offers anonymous reporting options.

Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, who chaired the Higher Education Committee when the lawsuit was filed, said she’s glad it has been settled.

“I’m pleased that this lawsuit has been resolved, and I’m pleased that the plaintiffs were part of a process that has made lasting, systemic changes to the way that campus sexual assaults are handled in Connecticut,” Bye said Friday.

Richi, the only student who will be returning to UConn in the fall, said she is optimistic about the changes that have been made. She said she is furthering her work at the Women’s Center and will do what she can to make sure the changes are implemented.

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OP-ED | Why the ‘Outsider’ Argument is Bogus - And Why it Works

by Susan Bigelow | Jul 18, 2014 8:22am
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Posted to: Election 2014, Opinion

Stop me if you’ve seen this political ad before: Dark skies threaten, ominous music plays, and a picture of an opponent with the label “career politician” or “insider” appears. But then the scene shifts to the healthy blue-sky outdoors, we hear happy music, and we see our candidate, an “outsider” who will clean up politics in the corrupt, decadent capital.

It’s a tired, worn-out message, and yet some version of this ad gets made dozens of times per election cycle.

Our first entry this year comes from Tom Foley’s campaign, which claims that Foley is the outsider to Senate Minority Leader John McKinney and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s insiders. Here are the relevant bits of the transcript:

Dan Malloy. John McKinney.
Career politicians. Insiders.
Pushing failed policies — costing us jobs
. . .
Time for new leadership — new ideas.
Tom Foley. An outsider.

Foley returned to this line of attack during Thursday’s debate against John McKinney, slamming his opponent for votes he’s made in Hartford. This time McKinney had a ready defense, saying that he was proud of the work he’s done, and that if that’s what “insider” meant, he was glad to claim the label.

If this sounds familiar, Linda McMahon trotted out this line in her 2010 and 2012 senate races. “I am an outsider,” McMahon said in 2010, explaining, “What I hear over and over and over again is, ‘We want somebody with real-life business experience.’” Mitt Romney tried the outsider mantle on for size, as well. “I am the only candidate in this race, Republican or Democrat, who has never worked a day in Washington,” Romney told a crowd in 2012. He had, of course, spent four years as governor of a populous northeastern state.

But what does that mean? What makes someone an “insider” vs. an “outsider?”

It often seems to depend upon the candidate and the situation. McMahon painted herself as a total political outsider; Romney as a Washington outsider. Foley sees himself as an outsider to Connecticut state government. Voters love this — when confidence in government is low, there’s a “throw the bums out” mentality. They want someone new to come in and clean house.

Of course, it’s not like Foley is some naïve political neophyte, either. He was a major fundraiser for the George W. Bush campaign before heading up private sector development for Iraq’s occupation government, and becoming Ambassador to Ireland. He’s been deeply involved in politics for well over a decade, just not in state government.

It seems like being an outsider is partly code for someone with a lot of money coming from the business world. Being an outsider is a useful response to charges that one is incredibly wealthy and out of touch with reality.

But do “outsiders” ever actually get elected, and if they are, can they govern effectively? In short, not often, and very rarely.

One such outsider was Wilbur Cross, who was Dean of the Yale Graduate School in the 1920s. He edited the marvelous Yale Shakespeare, among numerous other works. After he left Yale, he ran for governor and won, going on to serve four two-year terms. He was responsible for our first minimum wage, though you probably know him best as the namesake of a highway.

Cross was an outsider on the model of Woodrow Wilson, who gained the presidency from his seat as president of Princeton University. Someone who might be more familiar to Foley would be Prescott Bush of Greenwich, who moved from the business world to run for U.S. Senate in 1950. He lost his first race, much like Foley, but did manage to come back to win in 1953. His son and grandson, of course, were U.S. presidents.

These are outliers. Precious few true outsiders have found success in the post-war era. Eisenhower was the last president who had never held elected office before; every president since has previously been a senator, a governor, or vice president.

Voters love the idea of an outsider, but in practice that inexperience can be a handicap. When true outsiders like Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger win governorships, they often struggle to find their feet.

The whole outsider schtick is just another way of trying to convince voters that inexperience is a virtue, and that anyone actually involved in government is irrevocably tainted. In a year of anti-incumbent anger a candidate can sometimes ride it to victory; but after the election is over, voters might find they regret it.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

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OP-ED | Reformers Beware: Tenure Elimination No Panacea For Failing Schools

by Terry D. Cowgill | Jul 18, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Education, Labor, Opinion, Falls Village

Like a prairie fire in the middle of a drought, the movement to repeal or reform the nation’s teacher tenure laws is spreading rapidly. Emboldened by a court decision in California last month that ruled tenure a violation of the state constitution’s prohibition against discrimination, parent activists are mobilizing elsewhere to launch similar challenges, with one filed recently in New York and another in the works here in Connecticut.

But before conservatives and education reform advocates get too fired up, they’d be wise to ask themselves how much the abolition of tenure would actually help their cause. And whether they’d be willing to live with the precedent of an activist judicial branch doing their bidding.

There is no question that bad teachers make for bad schools. And the bad teachers not only drag down the profession but they lower morale. Ask any great teacher how much she hates sharing space in the profession with someone who simply sleepwalks through his entire day.

But that’s really the least of the problem. Not only is the presence of bad teachers maddening and demoralizing for colleagues, but it can have a devastating effect on a child’s education, which is precisely why student and parent advocate groups are making so much noise about tenure — a cumbersome due-process mechanism that makes it time-consuming and expensive to fire chronically underperforming teachers.

So even as a former high school English teacher — and now as a parent — I take a back seat to no one in wanting to see tenure and seniority-based layoffs relegated to the dustbin of history. That having been said, how much will the elimination of teacher tenure actually improve underperforming schools?

In some cases, it will make a difference. There’s a handful of sloppy, low-energy teachers at my kids’ local public high school, Housatonic Valley Regional, but I’d say the overwhelming majority of them are dedicated professionals whose students are their highest priority. It’s a small and solid regional high school with favorable demographics. The biggest obstacle to attracting good teachers is probably the far-flung location — not the learning environment or the lack of support from parents.

But in the case of the impetus for the successful lawsuit in California, we’re talking about schools in poor neighborhoods. Indeed, in his 16-page decision, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled that tenure and the so-called first-hired-last-fired policy “imposes a disproportionate burden on poor and minority students.”

So if the bad teachers in a poor minority district are shown the door, who will replace them? It’s tough enough to find capable teachers to work in districts where poverty and social problems make instruction difficult and personal safety a question mark. Will the replacements for these troubled educators really be any better?

The problem with Judge Treu’s decision and those who filed the suit is they don’t get at the root of the problem, which is that the standards for hiring will always be lower in low-income districts. Firing bad teachers who will most likely be replaced by more bad teachers accomplishes nothing.

Gwen Samuel, president of the Connecticut Parents Union, which is preparing a similar suit over tenure, told the Associated Press that 200,000 children are stuck in low-performing Connecticut schools.

“Teacher tenure doesn’t ensure that those kids have an effective teacher,” Samuel said. “Guaranteeing a person a job regardless of their performance is irresponsible.”

Fair enough, but neither does the elimination of tenure “ensure that those kids have an effective teacher.” Implicit in Samuel’s statement is the notion that the replacements willing to work in places like Hartford, Bridgeport, and New London are bound to be better than those who were cashiered — and I’m not betting on that.

And if the uncertainty surrounding Treu’s decision wasn’t enough, hypocritical conservatives who typically object to “activist judges” are left applauding as a court decides a matter that rightly belongs at the bargaining table.

Here in Connecticut, teacher tenure is a matter of state law. Why this is the case I do not know. Why isn’t tenure a matter of negotiation between teachers unions and individual school districts? Did the powerful Connecticut Education Association really need to strong-arm the General Assembly to set the table for lifetime employment for its members?

Notwithstanding the recent scandals in Connecticut’s charter school community, reformers and conservatives would be well advised to focus on expanding school choice initiatives that will allow kids in failing schools to escape them. For the abolition of tenure won’t fix failing schools any more than the banishment of shoddy parts from cheap cars.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is news editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

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Black & Puerto Rican Caucus Asks The Governor To Reconsider Housing Immigrant Children

by Christine Stuart | Jul 17, 2014 6:13pm
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Posted to: Immigration, Housing, Law Enforcement

CTNJ file photo

Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven

The legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus wrote Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Thursday to ask him to reconsider his decision denying the federal government’s request to house some of the thousands of immigrant children fleeing Central America.

Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, said they understand the Southbury Training School, which houses developmentally disabled adults, may not be suitable but urged the governor to find another location in Connecticut.

“While the rhetoric of blame for the current situation of these innocent children rises, we ask you to reconsider your refusal to provide assistance to the federal government in alleviating this humanitarian emergency,” the caucus wrote in their letter to Malloy.

The humanitarian emergency Candelaria is referring to is the crisis at the U.S. border with Mexico, where unaccompanied minors in the tens of thousands have been detained by immigration officials.

“We understand your concerns with the Southbury Training School and do not pretend to minimize them. However, we cannot keep our arms crossed while these detention centers continue to overflow and these children suffer in the direst of conditions through no fault of their own,” the caucus wrote.

Candelaria said this is not a time to be pointing fingers or waiting until Congress can decide whether to consider President Barack Obama’s supplemental request for comprehensive immigration reform. He said these children are here now in the United States and they need help.

The Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance made a similar request of Malloy in a press release Thursday.

They said Malloy’s decision not to house the children means Connecticut is the only New England state that hasn’t accepted the federal government’s proposal. On Thursday, the Cape Cod Times reported that Massachusetts Gov. Patrick Deval was considering using Camp Edwards as a place to house these children.

“We are disappointed by his actions and demand that he reverse course and seek alternative sites to house these children. This would come at no cost to Connecticut taxpayers — all that would be required is for the governor and his administration to be compassionate and lend a helping hand,” the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance said.

Mike Stroebel, a lease contracting officer with the U.S. General Services Administration, told the state earlier this month that if Connecticut was able to provide a site and approval, “the federal Government will fund the necessary improvements and maintenance of the facilities in the rent paid to Connecticut or by extension OPM.”

The cost to Connecticut for agreeing to make the facility available “would be associated with maintaining the viability of the facilities while in use,” he said.

The Connecticut immigrant Rights Alliance argued that an overwhelming number of Connecticut individuals and religious organizations have reached out to us expressing a desire to house and help these immigrants. In fact, some Connecticut groups already are assisting Central American children, adolescents, and women who have arrived in our state fleeing violence and have cases pending in immigration court.

But the Malloy administration, in email correspondence with the federal government earlier this month, made it clear that it does not have the capacity to help these individuals.

“The vacant property that the State of Connecticut has is too small to accommodate your needs (which clearly must be at least several hundred thousand square feet of building space alone) and typically in a state of disrepair to the point where a certificate of occupancy would be difficult to obtain,” Patrick O’Brien, of the Office of Policy and Management, told the federal government on July 14.  “Indeed, many existing structures are beyond salvage and require environmental remediation and demolition.”

O’Brien goes on to explain that under Connecticut law even if the state had surplus property it wasn’t using it would be forced to make sure no other state agency or municipality was interested in acquiring it. Then, the property would go out to public bid.

“Obviously, our hearts go out to the children in this situation,” Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba said Thursday in response to the caucus’ letter. “But we don’t currently have the ability to meet this request. What this really speaks to is the absolute necessity for Congress to pass the President’s emergency supplemental request and comprehensive immigration reform.”

Read more about the experience of a handful of children from Guatemala who made the journey to the United States and are now living with relatives in New Haven.

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McKinney and Foley Debate Over Who is the Political Insider

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 17, 2014 3:52pm
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Posted to: Election 2014

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Tom Foley

John McKinney took aim at Tom Foley’s presidential appointment as Ambassador to Ireland during a Thursday Republican gubernatorial debate in which both candidates tried casting the other as a political insider.

The debate was hosted Thursday by the Hartford Courant and WTIC-TV and will be broadcast Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox 61. Foley, the Republican convention-endorsed candidate, and McKinney, the minority leader of the state senate, are competing in an Aug. 12 primary for the nomination. Whoever wins will face Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

During the debate, the two candidate sparred on a wide range of topics and left behind the collegial tone that marked their first debate. And one day after a Foley campaign ad framed him as a “career politician,” McKinney sought to remind voters that Foley was a top fundraiser for former President George W. Bush, who later appointed Foley as Ambassador to Ireland.

“While Tom has earned a personal wealth and raising millions as a political fundraiser, in hopes there’s an ambassadorship at the end of the rainbow, I’ve been in the legislature working hard for real people across the state of Connecticut,” McKinney said in his closing statement.

McKinney’s closing remarks came after Foley’s, meaning Foley did not have a chance to respond during the debate. The senate minority leader went on to tout bills he helped to pass in the legislature, sometimes working across the aisle with Democrats.

“There was no appointment at the end of my work, I did that because I love Connecticut . . . Tom, you may call that being an insider, if that’s being an insider, that’s a badge I wear proudly,” he said.

After the debate, Foley told reporters he was surprised McKinney would choose to criticize him based on the ambassadorship.

“I was very proud to serve my country overseas. He made it sound like it was a political payoff. Actually ambassadors work quite hard for the country and there are many challenges that they face overseas. I was pleased to do it. I’m surprised [McKinney] would be taking me on for my service,” he said.

Foley maintained that he considers himself a political “outsider” in Connecticut and said he did not consider his service elsewhere “relevant” to that point. He said both McKinney and Malloy have long served in elected office in the state.

“I think voters will see them as part of the problem and not the solution,” he said.

Hugh McQuaid Photo During the hour-long debate the candidates covered a range of other topics.

Metro-North

Asked about ongoing problems with the Metro-North rail line, McKinney said Connecticut has to pursue looking for a new operator.

“Metro-North has a terrible record as an operator. Gov. Malloy has failed to hold them accountable. We need to look for a new operator. We need to take control over our own destiny here,” McKinney said.

After the debate, Foley said he would not seek to replace Metro-North and suggested that Malloy’s dealings with the the operator were part of the problem.

“I prefer not to change operators. If you can work with somebody who’s there. I don’t know how much John has interacted with this operator. I know that Gov. Malloy has shown that he doesn’t have a very good ability to work with people. It’s either his way or the highway. So I’m not sure it’s the operator that’s the problem. It could be the governor that’s the problem,” Foley said.

Common Core

The candidates were asked whether they would halt the implementation of the Common Core educational standards. McKinney said he would stop the Common Core. Meanwhile, Foley said he would only mandate the standards on schools which are not performing well.

However, Foley incorrectly accused McKinney of voting for the Common Core initially as part of an education reform bill proposed by Malloy.

“Sen. McKinney voted for Gov. Malloy’s education reform bill, which is what brought us Common Core,” Foley said.

In fact, the state Board of Education adopted the Common Core back in 2010. The legislature never voted on its adoption. McKinney pointed to the Board of Education vote during the debate.

“Look, Common Core was adopted before the governor’s education reform package passed. That’s a fact and why you fail to understand that is beyond me,” he said.

Gun Control

Asked about new firearm regulations adopted in Connecticut following the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting, the two candidates differed sharply. McKinney, who represented Newtown in the legislature, said he would not seek to change the gun control provisions in the new law. McKinney voted for the bill last year.

Foley faulted the legislation for not doing more to address mental health treatment in Connecticut and suggested some of the gun control policies unfairly inconvenienced state gun owners.

However, Foley would not specify exactly which gun control policies he opposes. After the debate, he was asked by a reporter to detail which of the firearm policies he would have seen removed from the bill. Foley simply answered “No.”

Recreational Marijuana

Both candidates said they would not support legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, which they called a “gateway drug.”

The state already legalized medical marijuana and the program is expected to get under way this summer.

Immigration

The Republican candidates were asked about a recent decision by the Malloy administration to deny a request from the federal government to temporarily shelter illegal immigrant children in the Southbury Training School. Neither said exactly how they would have handled the situation, but both were critical of Malloy’s handling. Foley criticized Malloy for quickly deciding against the request.

“I think when there are young people at stake, he probably should have thought about that decision a little more tactfully and a little longer,” he said.

McKinney suggested Malloy made the decision based on election-year politics. He pointed to the governor’s support of policies giving undocumented residents drivers licenses and better access to higher education.

“Now on the eve of an election, he makes a political decision at the height of hypocrisy to potentially abandon these kids,” he said.

Following the debate, Democratic Party spokesman Devon Puglia issued a short statement touting recently reported employment gains.

“Under the leadership of Governor Dan Malloy, Connecticut has made real strides, and the work ahead is too important to turn back to the failed policies offered by Tom Foley and John McKinney,” Puglia said.

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State Posts Job Gains In June

by Christine Stuart | Jul 17, 2014 2:18pm
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Posted to: Business, Economics, Jobs

The state, according to the Department of Labor, added 1,700 jobs in June and revised its job gains in May up from 5,800 to 6,000.

The unemployment rate in June was 6.7 percent, which is down two-tenths of a percent from where it was in May and was the lowest it has been since December 2008.

“Connecticut’s unemployment rate continues to decline for all the right reasons, such as broad industry job growth coupled with declining unemployment, and an expanding labor force,” Andy Condon, director of the Office of Research, said. “Summer seasonal hiring seems to have begun at expected rates.”

Only 500 of the 1,700 jobs added in June were in the private sector, a majority of 1,200 were in the government sector.

Peter Gioia, an economist with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said the bulk of those government jobs are likely seasonal, but five straight months of job gains is good news.

He said the good news is only tempered by the fact that the state has recovered 61.7 percent of the jobs lost in the recession whereas the nation overall has added back more than 100 percent of the jobs lost during that same time period.

Now at 1,667,400 jobs for June, the state needs to reach the 1,713,000 level to start a true employment expansion.This will require an additional 45,600 jobs going forward. A total of 29,400 additional private sector positions are needed to have a fully recovered private sector, according to the Department of Labor.

Don Klepper-Smith, chief economist and research director for DataCore Partners LLC, equated watching the progress of the Connecticut labor market to “watching paint dry.”

“We’ve only gained about 1,400 jobs each month in recovery,” Klepper-Smith said in an analysis. “Therefore, current Connecticut job figures are still clearly underperforming when taken in the context of the year as a whole, up only 0.5 percent.”

But it should be noted that employment rarely grows in a linear fashion on a month-to-month basis, Klepper-Smith said.

A 0.5 percent gain is still a gain and the state is moving in a positive direction, but “the bad news is that growth is running half that of prior economic expansions,” he added.

Klepper-Smith is predicting that the state will add 12,000 to 15,000 new jobs in 2014 and another 10,000 to 12,000 in 2015.

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Lieutenant Governor’s Race Gets Heated

by Christine Stuart | Jul 17, 2014 12:00pm
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Posted to: Election 2014

Christine Stuart File Photo

Heather Bond Somers and former Republican Party Chairman Dick Foley talk to delegates

If anyone was still wearing gloves this week in the three-way race for lieutenant governor, they came off on Monday when one of the candidates released a radio attack ad criticizing the Republican Party’s endorsed candidate.

Heather Bond Somers of Groton accused state Rep. Penny Bacchiochi of Somers of being an “insider” who accepted money to lobby for medical marijuana and who more recently called another candidate “racist” before being forced “to retract her ugly comments.”

“Don’t let Penny Bacchiochi blow Republicans’ chances to take down Dan Malloy’s job-crushing agenda,” the narrator says in the ad.

Bacchiochi makes no apologies for lobbying for medical marijuana, the only drug that eased the terminal cancer pain of her now-deceased former husband. And she believes she’s apologized for the comments she made about David Walker, the third candidate in the race, prior to the May convention.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of campaigns and if you’re losing you go on the attack and if you’re winning you don’t,” Bacchiochi said Wednesday.

She said she’s confident in her record and experience. Bacchiochi said she’s focusing on her vision for the state.

Bacchiochi said her campaign will be releasing their first radio ad next week.

Walker, who has teamed up with Senate Republican Leader John McKinney, released his first television ad this week.

The ad features a photo of him and former President Ronald Reagan.

“I’m a CPA and a Reagan presidential appointee,” Walker says in the ad. He goes onto explain how he was the top auditor of the United States government and was featured on 60-Minutes.

“Making government more efficient and growing our economy is what I do best,” Walker adds.

He doesn’t mention his two female opponents in the race and has for the most part tried to remain above the fray. However, he may have jumped the gun in announcing the first televised debate at a Republican Town Committee meeting in Bridgeport Tuesday.

According to sources the debate was in the early planning stages and the television station hadn’t reached out to all the candidates before the news of the debate was leaked, causing some confusion.

It’s still unclear at the moment, but it’s likely WFSB will host a debate between the three candidates later this month or early in August. The television station declined to comment Wednesday.

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50 Legislative Seats Go Uncontested By Major Parties In 2014

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 17, 2014 10:55am
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Posted to: Election 2014

Despite high turnover in the legislature this year, more seats are going uncontested during the 2014 elections than were uncontested in 2012, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said Thursday.

“It is a bit surprising to see so many General Assembly seats not contested by a Republican or Democratic candidate this election season,” Merrill said in a press release, which reported that 50 out of 187 House and Senate districts were not being challenged by a major party candidate this year.

That’s a 56 percent increase in the number of uncontested seats from the last election cycle when 32 seats went unchallenged. Generally, Merrill said that number of contested seats has risen steadily since 2004 as public campaign financing has become available.

Although this year’s spike in unchallenged seats is still lower than the number of uncontested seats 10 years ago, before the launch of the public financing program, Merrill said she was surprised by the results.

“One would expect more candidates stepping up to run this year, given all of the turnover in the Connecticut General Assembly,” she said.

This year saw the retirement of about 20 legislators, a turnover which some lawmakers said has been not seen since after the contentious debate and enactment of the income tax in 1991.

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OP-ED | A Better Retirement Future

by Martin Looney & Joe Aresimowicz | Jul 17, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Opinion, Pension

CTNJ file photo

Sen. Martin Looney at the podium with Rep. Joe Aresimowicz to the left in the photo

As our citizens approach retirement, far too many of them rely exclusively on Social Security as retirement income. While Social Security has lifted many senior citizens out of abject poverty, it does not in fact provide a decent living for those with no other source of retirement income. This problem will become one of extraordinary urgency as more and more baby boomers reach retirement age.

But change is on its way. We are proud to say that Connecticut has taken a crucial step forward to address this crisis. On June 17, the Governor signed Public Act 14-217 which appropriates $400,000 to create the Connecticut Retirement Security Board. Chaired by the State Treasurer and State Comptroller, the Board will conduct a market feasibility study which will lead to the creation of a cost-effective, state-run retirement option for private-sector workers by April 2016. It is the largest investment that any U.S. state has made toward resolving this crucial problem.

The plan will consist of voluntary contributions from employees made via payroll deduction which will be deposited into a professionally-managed retirement fund. All workers will be provided the chance to enroll in a retirement savings program for which employers would not bear any fiduciary responsibility or be required to pay administrative fees. Moreover, several studies have shown that employees are far more likely to contribute to retirement savings if payroll deduction is an option. The program is designed to be self-sustaining and low-risk due to the modest guaranteed rate of return and long investment horizon. In addition, the state would have no liability due to the requirement that the Board secure private insurance to protect the returns earned by program participants.

The percentage of private sector Connecticut employees whose employers offer a retirement plan has fallen from 68 percent in 2001 to 58 percent in 2012. It is not just older residents who are affected; the statistics for younger workers are equally alarming. In 2010, as many as 43 percent of Connecticut workers age 25-44 weren’t enrolled in any kind of retirement plan. Without action, once that generation ages, taxpayers will acquire an unsustainable burden. The three-legged stool (employer-provided pensions, Social Security, and personal savings) is losing one leg.

Many Connecticut citizens whose employers do not offer retirement plans are moderate income workers who are most in need of income beyond Social Security, for which the average benefit is only $15,228 annually. In addition, most workers of moderate income struggle to set aside adequate amounts in personal retirement savings since their earnings and ordinary expenses barely balance. It’s unfair for these workers, who have worked hard for years, to be forced to choose between living in poverty and working well into old age.

This plan is the first step toward rebuilding the third leg of the stool for all of our retiring workers. It is the bold move Connecticut needs. If we wait, we will be forced to address a retirement security crisis; the outcome will be better if we make a plan now.

Sen. Martin Looney is the majority leader in the Senate and Rep. Joe Aresimowicz is the majority leader in the House.

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Debate On Women’s Health Turns Into A Debate on Connecticut’s Exchange and Religious Freedom

by Christine Stuart | Jul 17, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Congress, Health Care

A Wyoming Senator used his time on the Senate floor Wednesday to pick apart Connecticut’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, said even though Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy highlighted a couple who benefited from the Affordable Care Act, there are many more in Connecticut who have been harmed.

The two were debating a bill that would have restored contraceptive coverage guaranteed under the Affordable Care Act. The bill would have reversed the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, but the motion to move forward with debate failed 56 to 43, just shy of the necessary 60 votes. 

Murphy talked about Sean and Emily Hanon, two freelancers from Weston, who before the Affordable Care Act were only able to buy insurance for $1,500 a month. Under the Affordable Care Act they are paying $309 per month.

“This is a fairly young couple — a savings of nearly 80 percent compared to what they used to pay,” Murphy said during the floor debate. “That is the story that can be replicated millions of times over all across this country. We would be wise this week to restore this protection to women across this country so that they have access to affordable prescription birth control.”

Barrasso said that while the Hanons may have been helped, there are “clearly people in that state that are being harmed by the healthcare law.”

He said newspapers in Connecticut have reported that two of the three insurance carriers in the health insurance exchange have proposed increasing their premiums on average by more than 12 percent.

“I didn’t hear the Senator from Connecticut make reference to that,” Barrasso said.

Barrasso also went on to cite news reports regarding a security breach by a call center worker. A backpack of notebooks with names, addresses, and Social Security numbers was left on a Hartford Street. The backpack belonged to a call center representative who works for a vendor that contracts with Access Health CT, Connecticut’s health insurance exchange.

The nearly 400 consumers impacted by the incident were offered credit monitoring, fraud resolution, identity theft insurance, and security freezes of credit reports.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York who followed Barrasso, brought the issue back to women’s health.

“This body must set the record straight about the law the Supreme Court used to make their decision — the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” Schumer said. “As one of the original authors of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, I was the lead sponsor in the House of Representatives, Senator Kennedy was the lead sponsor in the Senate, I can say with absolute certainty that the law has been unwisely stretched by the Supreme Court.”

He said the bill they were debating Wednesday simply clarifies what happens when the Religious Freedom Restoration Act comes into conflict with another federal law like the Affordable Care Act.

But Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, disagreed.

“This issue before this body is not about access to contraceptives,” Cruz said. “Despite a whole lot of politicking by Senate Democrats to suggest to the contrary.”

He said there’s no one in the Senate who would restrict access to contraceptives.

“There is no one in this body, no one I am aware of across this country, who is advocating restricting anyone’s access to contraceptives,” Cruz said.

Following defeat of the bill, Murphy said the debate Wednesday was absolutely about women’s access to contraceptives.

“The immediate effect of last month’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. is that a woman’s boss can call the shots about her health care decisions — an outrageous intrusion into a woman’s personal life that needs to be reversed,” Murphy said. “But despite that, Senate Republicans blocked our legislation that would have allowed women to take back control of their health care decisions.”

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Last Major Party Candidate For Gov. Gets His Campaign Cash

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 16, 2014 4:27pm
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Posted to: Election 2014

Election regulators approved a $1.35 million public campaign financing grant for Republican gubernatorial candidate John McKinney and his running mate, David Walker, during a meeting Wednesday.

McKinney, the state senate minority leader, is running in a primary race against 2010 Republican nominee Tom Foley, who was endorsed by party delegates in May. Foley’s application for public financing was approved two weeks ago.

Walker is running in a primary election against convention-endorsed candidate Penny Bacchiochi and former Groton Mayor Heather Bond Somers. Both candidates previously qualified for public funds.

“Our campaign has gained significant momentum over the last two weeks. Today’s good news will allow us to continue making a case for real change,” McKinney said in a statement.

In addition to McKinney and Walker, the State Elections Enforcement Commission approved public financing applications for the re-election campaigns of Reps. Al Adinolfi, Larry Butler, Linda Gentile, Tony Guererra, and Laura Hoydick.

The panel also approved grants for state representative candidates Mike France, Katherine Pugliese, Kathleen Richards, and Michael Vickerelli. Regulators approved the applications of state senate candidates Kim Fawcett, Emily Bjornberg, John French, and William Satti.

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Hartford Gun Buyback This Weekend

by Jhansi Katechia | Jul 16, 2014 2:40pm
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Posted to: Law Enforcement, Local Politics, Public Safety, Hartford

Jhansi Katechia photo

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra and a group of local organizations are teaming up with the Hartford Police Department to offer a gun buyback program in an effort to get guns off of Hartford’s streets.

“The Big Gun Buy Campaign” will buy back guns with the intention of curbing gun violence and making Hartford’s streets safer.

Hartford has had several gun buybacks in the past, but this year’s buyback is unique, according to Segarra.

“It prioritizes the guns from within our neighborhood,” Segarra said Wednesday during a press conference to promote the event.

Segarra said that the city needs to reach into its neighborhoods and get these weapons off the streets, mainly because most gun crimes are committed by a very small percentage of individuals in the city’s neighborhoods.

“Eighty percent of gun crimes committed in Hartford are committed by only one percent of its residents,” Hartford Deputy Chief Brian Foley said.

The city will buy back working firearms on Saturday in exchange for gift cards to Stop & Shop Supermarket. Residents will receive a $200 gift card for a handgun and a $50 gift card for a shotgun or rifle.

“A handgun is our nemesis. A handgun is the one who that breaks the hearts of our families here in the inner city,” Pastor Samuel Saylor said. Saylor lost his 20-year-old son, Shane Oliver, to gun violence in 2012.

“Your guns are not worth $200, but your life is,” Saylor said. “Two hundred dollars is not buying back your guns, but affording you opportunities to increase life in our inner cities.”

Henrietta Beckman, president of Mothers United Against Violence , said that the buyback is an opportunity to save a life. Beckman lost her son to gun violence.

“You never know whose life will be taken next,” Beckman said.

The buyback will be held 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, July 19, at the Stewart Johnson Community Center, 127 Martin St., Hartford.

Guns collected through this buyback will be turned over to the Raise the Caliber Foundation, which will shred the guns and create a sculpture from them. The sculpture will be displayed somewhere in Hartford in September.

According to Hartford Police Department statistics, shooting incidents are up 5 percent over where they were in 2013. There were 60 shooting incidents and victims in 2013, and 63 shooting incidents and victims in 2014, according to the most recent statistics on the Hartford Police Department website.

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Foley Goes After McKinney And Malloy In Latest Ad

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 16, 2014 11:54am
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Foley campaign ad

The Republican gubernatorial primary race took a sharp turn into negative territory Wednesday when Tom Foley released a new ad likening his opponent, John McKinney, to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and accusing both of raising taxes.

The 30-second ad frames Foley, the 2010 Republican nominee for governor, as a political “outsider,” while calling McKinney, the senate minority leader, and Malloy “career politicians.” The ad was produced by Doug McAuliffe Strategic + Creative, a firm based in Virginia.

The attack ad comes just a day before Foley and McKinney are expected to debate in a forum sponsored by the Hartford Courant, and represents a full departure from the agreeable tone the candidates set during their first debate. During that debate, both Republicans chose to criticize Malloy’s policies rather than attack each other.

Foley’s new ad, called “Outsider,” cast Malloy and McKinney in the same negative light. The first segment of the ad is darkly shaded with ominous clouds over the state capitol and pictures of Malloy and McKinney. The latter 15 seconds feature brightly colored snippets of Foley interacting with his family and people who appear to be business owners.

“Dan Malloy, John McKinney: career politicians, insiders, using worn-out policies that cost jobs and hurt the economy,” a narrator says.

The narrator accuses both men of voting for higher taxes. The ad cites McKinney’s support for a 2005 bill which has increased the gas tax in the years since. The bill had broad, bipartisan support including unanimous support in the Senate, and funded transportation infrastructure improvements.

Foley’s new ad, although it is decidedly more negative, could be viewed as a response to McKinney’s first 30-second spot, released Tuesday. That ad, narrated by McKinney, was critical of Foley for saying he did not intend to cut state spending if elected governor. Foley has stated that he will hold spending level. In the ad, McKinney says he is the only candidate who intends to cut spending and shrink the size of government.

The ad features a video clip of Foley saying, “I’m not going to cut spending.” The video rewinds then repeats before McKinney appears on screen and says, “That’s not going to fix the problem.”

Wednesday, Foley spokesman Chris Cooper said their ad “would have been different if Senator McKinney had not opened with his ad.”

In a statement, McKinney characterized his campaign commercial as an effort to highlight differences between he and Foley. He called Foley’s ad a distortion.

“Tom Foley’s new ad attacking me as an insider has come earlier than we anticipated, but proves what we have known all along — this is a real race that’s getting closer every day and momentum has shifted in our favor,” he said. “Within 48 hours of launching our first ad focused on the real differences between us, Mr. Foley has resorted to distorting the facts in order to avoid the real issue — I have a plan to fix Connecticut and Tom Foley does not.”

Republicans will go to the polls in less than a month on Aug. 12 to pick a nominee for governor. Foley won the endorsement of Republican delegates at the convention in May and has a clear lead over McKinney in the most recent public polling results. Polling also suggest that voters are evenly split between supporting Foley and Malloy, who defeated Foley by just 6,404 votes in 2010.

The Malloy campaign did not immediately return calls for comment on this story.

Malloy does not face a primary opponent but his campaign began airing its own TV spot this week highlighting his handling of the natural disasters that have impacted the state, along with the Sandy Hook School shooting, and the $3.67 billion, single-year budget deficit he inherited when he took office.

“Through it all, Dan Malloy has been strong . . . steady . . . by our side,” a narrator says in Malloy’s ad.

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McKinney Brings Pizza, Talks Health Care With New Haven Residents

by New Haven Register | Jul 16, 2014 10:40am
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Posted to: Election 2014, New Haven

Keldy Ortiz — New Haven Register Gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. John McKinney fielded questions about health care and business from residents at the Bella Vista apartment complex Tuesday — and brought them pizza.

The Republican state Senate minority leader from Fairfield arrived with 10 pies from Capotortos APizza Center in East Haven, a promise he believed current Gov. Dannel P. Malloy didn’t hold up during a visit of his own. The tab Tuesday was $175, including tip.

One resident related that her health insurance provider was dropped from Yale-New Haven Hospital. Going to get blood work became a bigger problem when she found out her insurance was not taken there, she said.

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OP-ED | Attack Ads May Actually Be Benefiting Obamacare Enrollment

by Wendell Potter | Jul 16, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Health Care, Opinion, Health Care Opinion, Reprinted with permission from the Center for Public Integrity

Positive Or Negative, Publicity Seems To Be Increasing Awareness

It’s encouraging that something positive can come from something so unrelentingly negative.

Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed in 2010, its opponents have spent an estimated $450 million on political ads attacking the law, according to Kantar Media’s CMAG, which analyzes spending on advertising. Supporters have spent a tiny fraction of that amount. Kantar says opponents have outspent those who favor the law by 15 to 1.

Tabitha Kaylee Hawk / Flickr While those attack ads likely cost some Democratic members of Congress their jobs in 2012, a new report indicates that, crazy as it sounds, those ads may have contributed to the success of the health care legislation this year.

The Obama administration had hoped that at least seven million Americans would sign up for coverage on the federal and state health insurance exchanges during the six-and-a half-month enrollment period that ended in April.

Because of the difficulty most people had with the exchanges’ websites last fall, that goal seemed unattainable. But as those problems were resolved, the enrollment numbers rose steadily. By mid-April, more than eight million people had signed up.

Last week, a researcher at the Brookings Institution released a report suggesting that all those negative ads actually helped the Obama administration blow past its enrollment projections.

After analyzing the negative spending and ACA enrollment on a state-by-state basis, Brookings Center for Technology Innovation Fellow Niam Yaraghi found a striking, counterintuitive correlation: there has been a positive association between anti-ACA spending and ACA enrollment in many states. It turns out that the more negative ads people were exposed to, the more likely they were to enroll in a health plan.

It seems that P.T. Barnum’s maxim — “I don’t care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right” — is at work here.

After controlling for state characteristics such as low per-capita income population and average insurance premiums, Yaraghi said he found a positive association between the anti-ACA spending and the ACA enrollment.

“This implies that anti-ACA ads may unintentionally increase the public awareness about the existence of government-subsidized service and its benefits for the uninsured,” Yaraghi wrote in his report, “Have the Anti-Obamacare Ads Backfired?”

Perhaps not surprisingly, the four states with the highest per capita spending on anti-Obamacare ads so far are Kentucky, Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina, where hotly contested Senate races are under way. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is hoping to hold on to his seat while Democrats Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina are facing serious re-election threats.

The balance of power in the Senate could be determined by the outcome of those contests. In at least two of those states — Arkansas and Kentucky — enrollment in Obamacare plans exceeded expectations. Although Yaraghi said that the negative ads had the most positive impact in terms of enrollment in blue states, there were impressive gains in several red states in addition to Arkansas and Kentucky.

His findings were consistent with another state-by-state analysis released last week by the personal finance social network WalletHub, which looked at the rates of uninsured in each state before and after Obamacare. WalletHub found that nationally, the uninsured rate has fallen 3.66 points, from 17.87 percent before Obamacare to 14.22 percent now.

WalletHub found that he biggest changes for the better were in a mix of red and blue states. Arkansas’s uninsured rate decreased 7.10 points, Kentucky 8.35 points, Rhode Island 8.73 points and Oregon 10.54 points. Red West Virginia saw its rate drop the most: 10.74 points.

Yet another study, this one by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which tracks public opinion on the ACA every month, found that in June, more Americans said their opinions of the law were based on their own experience or that of their family and friends than on what they’ve heard in the media. KFF president Drew Altman wrote in a Wall Street Journal column last Tuesday (“Why the Political Heat on the ACA is Cooling”) that the enrollment success and changes in public opinion — and the decline in media interest in Obamacare — seem to be contributing to a change in the tone of Congressional campaigns.

“Some Republicans seem to be shifting their midterm strategy to focus less on the ACA and more on other issues they have with the president and the direction of the country,” Altman wrote.

That could change, of course. Obamacare likely will be back in the headlines when health insurers announce their rates for 2015 a few weeks before the November elections. But as more time goes by, running against the law will diminish as a winning strategy.

Former CIGNA executive-turned-whistleblower Wendell Potter is writing about the health care industry and the ongoing battle for health reform for the Center for Public Integrity.

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National Group Organizing Against Common Core Is Coming to Connecticut

by Madeline Stocker | Jul 16, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Education

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Conservative media personality Glenn Beck will host a program next week to help communities across America organize against the Common Core State Standards.

Beck’s “We Will Not Conform” program will be livestreamed from Texas to 11 Connecticut movie theaters on Tuesday, July 22.

Click here for a list of locations.

The program is designed to help activists launch their own grassroots campaign against the Common Core State Standards, which were adopted initially by about 45 states, including Connecticut.

Common Core is a set of standards that were written by the National Governors Association, the Council for Chief State School Officers, and Achieve, Inc.

According to the event’s press release, the “We Will Not Conform” broadcast will serve as an individual strategy session in which viewers will act as participants, and “engage with education experts to craft a comprehensive plan to defeat Common Core.”

FreedomWorks Spokeswoman Jackie Bodnar said she expects “a lot of interaction with the audience. Using social media, the activists in the movie theaters can actually give feedback real time to the activists and experts giving the presentation.”

During the broadcast, Beck, will be joined onscreen by several other personalities, including conservative syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin, WallBuilders Founder and President David Barton, and two representatives of FreedomWorks, a conservative and libertarian lobbying group based in Washington. The event is being sponsored by Freedomworks, which is charging $20 per person for admission.

“To Common Core supporters who thought they would win through silence, this night will be a very loud wake-up call,” the ‘We Will Not Conform’ website http://www.wewillnotconform.com/ states. “If you are sick of the endless rhetoric, futile debates, and useless advice about changing the system at the ballot box, then WE WILL NOT CONFORM is the event you’ve been waiting for.”

Although there is a basic framework for the presentation, attendees can expect an evening full of unscripted discussion, Bodnar said.

“Say Michelle Malkin is speaking, and a bunch of people are tweeting at her and asking her [specifics about] what she is saying. She may answer them right then, or she may take the time to answer the questions later,” Bodnar said. “These next steps are going to be shaped largely by what the audience has to say.”

Aside from being able to interact with the hosts of the broadcast, attendees will be given a chance to interact with each other too, Bodnar said. Nothing formal has been organized for each location, but Bodnar predicts informal discussions will take place after the event.

“It’s pretty organic how our community organizes,” Bodnar said. “This is something that will definitely be a platform and a springboard for meetings to evolve in the future.”

Although the broadcast will only feature prominent conservative voices, opposition to the Common Core Standards has consistently transcended party lines. Both right- and left-wing activists have denounced the standards as unnecessary federal intervention, and voices across both parties have called for Common Core to be revoked.

In Connecticut, there was little to no opposition when the state Board of Education adopted the standards in 2010. However, the past several years have seen a change in opinion, with Connecticut citizens presenting hours of testimony against the implementation of the standards to the Connecticut legislature’s Education Committee earlier this year.

While no legislation to repeal the standards has moved forward, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has publicly voiced his support for the standards, created a Common Core Task Force to review implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

The Task Force released it’s recommendations earlier this June.

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Malloy Highlights Efforts To Combat Urban Crime

by Christine Stuart | Jul 15, 2014 4:30pm
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Posted to: Election 2014, Bridgeport

Susan Bigelow map Looking at a map of the 2010 race for governor it’s easy to see why Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has been very visible in Connecticut’s major cities this summer.

It’s been reported that he’s been a frequent guest in New Haven, and on Tuesday he made a trip to Bridgeport to learn more about what that city is doing to combat crime under a project based on the work of renowned criminologist and John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor David Kennedy.

Project Longevity, as it’s known, is based on the premise that 3 percent of the population in any city is responsible for 90 percent of the violence. The idea is to target the individuals committing the majority of the violence and offering the ones who want to get away from the street a full range of services from housing to job training.

Project Longevity was launched in New Haven in November 2012 and Bridgeport got involved in October 2013. Hartford also is participating.

“I want you all to understand that this is far from my first stop in Bridgeport to speak about homicides, about shootings, about assaults,” Malloy said. “I’ve been here on a regular basis working with your police department and with your mayor and I’m proud of the efforts.”

Malloy said Bridgeport has seen an impressive decline in crime statistics, but “young people are continuing, unfortunately, to kill other young people.”

Bridgeport Assistant Chief of Police James Nardozzi said homicides are down 33 percent over where they were this time last year, and shootings are down 12.12 percent.

Christine Stuart photo Bridgeport Project Manager Charles Grady said 79 individuals have come to one of the city’s three call-in events where people with criminal histories are given a chance to obtain services if they agree to follow the rules. He said they’ve had some drop out of the program because they’ve returned to doing drugs, specifically PCP or “wet-wet,” which is a cigarette dipped in formaldehyde.

Grady said the services requested by the individuals who attend these events vary from job assistance to housing to education. He said there’s also a large majority who need help obtaining a state ID card.

“These numbers that I’m giving you, they may not sound mighty and big . . . but when you look at the individuals that we’re dealing with and the obstacles that they’re facing, these numbers are tremendous and it’s all because of the service-provider network,” Grady said.

Malloy said the state’s crime rate is the lowest its been in decades and it’s because of programs like Project Longevity.

“With initiatives like Project Longevity, we can reduce gun violence,” Malloy said. “Project Longevity has the potential to lower violent crime here in Bridgeport, New Haven, and Hartford. But we need to do more than simply having police programs. We need to have service programs and that’s what we’re talking about here today.”

Malloy was quick to point out that Bridgeport service providers involved with anti-violence programs received $671,000 this year. One of the groups that received the funding was the Regional Youth Adult Social Action Partnership, which was the audience Tuesday for Malloy’s press conference.

“It’s about making growing up just a little bit safer,” Malloy said. “It’s about keeping people out of trouble and out of jail. It’s about keeping people safe and alive.”

Malloy said combating violence with opportunity needs to be a sustained effort in the state’s urban centers.

Christine Stuart photo

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy

Republican Tom Foley, who lost to Malloy by 6,404 votes in 2010 and is seeking to challenge him again this year, has been focusing on the cities. He announced his exploratory committee in the same building in Bridgeport that Malloy visited Tuesday and he officially launched his candidacy at a V.F.W. in Waterbury.

Chris Cooper, Foley’s campaign spokesman, said Foley outlined an urban agenda that includes the reduction of crime and great opportunity for employment. The think-tank Foley founded after losing in 2010 released a paper earlier this year detailing four strategies to combat crime in urban areas.

Cooper said Foley is focused on reducing crime, fixing urban schools, reducing unemployment, and figuring out ways to improve the deteriorating housing stock.

“He believes the fate of the cities is important to the state of Connecticut that’s why he’s pledging to focus more resources on them,” Cooper said.

Asked about the interest one of his potential Republican opponents is expressing in urban areas, Malloy danced around the question.

“Republicans don’t have a candidate yet,” Malloy said. “I’m happy to compare my urban track record with what they would call their proposals. In point of fact, if Republicans cared about urban environments in Connecticut, some of our cities wouldn’t be in the terrible shape they are in. After all they had, in essence, Republican governors for, in essence, 20 years.”

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, a Democrat, expressed confidence that Malloy would carry that city again this year in an election that isn’t creating as much excitement as it did four years ago.

He said Democratic voters in Bridgeport realize Malloy is a Democratic governor who has been fighting for their interests.

“If you want a governor who is going to fight for cities, fight for jobs in the cities, fight against gun violence, this is your guy and you gotta keep him in,” Finch said. That’s the message he said he would be spreading to voters.

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McKinney Comes Out Swinging

by Christine Stuart | Jul 15, 2014 11:00am
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Posted to: Election 2014

Sen. John McKinney pledged from the beginning of the campaign that he wouldn’t attack his Republican opponent, but in his first campaign ad he takes a jab at Tom Foley’s budget plan.

“Tom Foley says he won’t cut spending,” McKinney says in the ad.

The statement is followed by video of Foley saying “I’m not going to cut spending.”

McKinney then goes onto explain in the 30-second ad that not cutting spending isn’t going to solve the problem.

In the ad, McKinney tries to differentiate himself from both Foley and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who he says raised taxes and increased spending.

The ad is produced by Jamestown Associates of New Jersey , the same firm that created ads for former Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele in 2010. Fedele’s 2010 attack ad criticized Foley’s management of the Bibb Co., a now-defunct textile company in Georgia. Foley beat Fedele that year, but Republicans were critical of the ad because they say Fedele handed the Democratic Party too much material. The Democratic Governors Association later used the Bibb Co. narrative in a similar attack ad on Foley.

McKinney’s campaign said Foley’s personal life is off limits, but criticizing his policies is fair game.

McKinney is the only gubernatorial candidate who is saying he will seek to renegotiate the state’s relationship with its labor unions, and he is the only one who is saying he will cut spending in order to overcome what is expected to be a $1.278 billion budget deficit in FY 2016. McKinney said he also plans to make modest reductions in the sales and gas taxes.

The ad is part of a $160,000 media buy, according to the McKinney campaign, and it was scheduled to begin airing on TV today.

McKinney is the last of three gubernatorial candidates to qualify for public financing and the amount of money he spent making the ad has not yet been reported. McKinney and his running mate, David Walker, are expected to qualify for public financing later this week.

Foley was the first to release a campaign commercial last week. The ad featured his wife, Leslie, reintroducing Foley to the voters. Malloy’s campaign followed with its first ad this week touting his leadership abilities.

McKinney and Foley will square off Aug. 12 in the Republican primary. The winner of that contest will challenge Malloy in November. Republican Joe Visconti and Education and Democracy Party candidate Jonathan Pelto are both attempting to get on the ballot as third-party candidates.

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State Healthcare Advocate Questions ConnectiCare Rate Increase

by Christine Stuart | Jul 15, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Health Care, Insurance

Hugh McQuaid photo

State Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri

State Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri was successful in getting the state Insurance Department to hold a public hearing on Anthem’s proposed 2015 rate increase, but it wasn’t until the last day of the public comment period in June that she learned ConnectiCare’s rate increase was higher than initially estimated.

According to documents filed with the Insurance Department, ConnectiCare Benefits, which offers individual plans on the exchange, had proposed a 2015 rate increase that averaged out to about 11.8 percent more overall, depending upon which plan you bought. However, in a subsequent filing on June 23 — the final day of the public comment period — the company said the average increase was 12.8 percent.

Neither of those increases would have been high enough to trigger a public hearing under the informal agreement Veltri has with the Insurance Department, but the change to 12.8 percent from 11.8 percent was information consumers didn’t have before the final day of the public comment period.

Veltri wrote the Insurance Department and ConnectiCare on July 2 asking for an explanation of the rate increase.

“ConnectiCare understands that the State Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri, has submitted a letter to Thomas Leonardi, Commissioner, Connecticut Insurance Department (CID), regarding ConnectiCare’s recent rate filing for on-exchange products. We will continue to work with the CID to address any questions that the CID may have with respect to ConnectiCare’s filings,” the company said in a statement.

Meanwhile, even though none of the individual rates under the ConnectiCare plan would increase more than 14.3 percent, it would be unlikely that the Insurance Department would have agreed to a public hearing even though Veltri would have liked to have one. But she said that by the time she saw the final rate increase, it was too late.

The Insurance Department did agree to have a public hearing on Anthem’s rate increase, which averaged 12.5 percent, but went all the way up on some plans to 17.38 percent.

After Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vetoed a bill in 2011 that would have mandated a public hearing for any rate increase over 10 percent, Veltri and other advocates pressed the Insurance Department to agree to four public hearings per year for rate increases over 15 percent.

“Because of the broad public interest in ensuring a full and transparent vetting of concerns about proposed rate increases, it is critical that the rate filings are subject to public scrutiny,” Veltri has said. “The viability of the Health Insurance Exchange also depends on ensuring that we use this opportunity to ensure that the policies sold are as affordable as they can be while also maintaining actuarial soundness.”

In its rate filing, ConnectiCare argues that it needs the increase because of “increasing medical costs and greater demand for medical services.” The company anticipates that those two trend factors will increase medical costs 10.7 percent. The company also is factoring in $14.68 per member per month for “fees associated with federal health care reform.”

The Insurance Department will make the final determination on rates for Anthem, ConnectiCare, and HealthyCT. HealthyCT, the new nonprofit insurer, is the only company to request a decrease in rates — an average decrease of 8.9 percent depending upon which plan — at the end of July.

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Blumenthal Calls On Hobby Lobby To Abide By Connecticut’s Birth Control Laws

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 14, 2014 2:42pm
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Hobby Lobby sign in Manchester

Christian-owned craft store Hobby Lobby won the right to limit the birth control coverage it offers its employees in a Supreme Court decision, but U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal asked the chain Monday to voluntarily offer full coverage in Connecticut.

Blumenthal wrote Monday to David Green, the company’s CEO, asking the company to honor Connecticut’s health insurance laws for employees in this state. Hobby Lobby was a plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 30 ruling that found some businesses can, because of their religious beliefs, choose not to comply with the federal health care law’s requirement that contraception coverage be provided to workers.

Hobby Lobby has a limited presence in Connecticut. It currently operates a store in East Haven and will be opening another in Manchester. Blumenthal held a press conference Monday in a parking lot outside the building being renovated to house the craft store.

“I’m here to call on them to do the right thing and respect Connecticut law, history, and policy by offering all of its employees full contraceptive coverage approved by the [Food and Drug Administration],” he said.

Blumenthal called the Supreme Court decision “immensely misguided.” He pointed to a state statute requiring all group and individual health insurance plans to provide coverage for prescription contraception. However, he said the company was not legally required to comply with the state law.

Hugh McQuaid Photo “There’s no question that there are technical legal reasons that enable Hobby Lobby to, in effect, flout the Connecticut law,” he said. “That’s our state mandate. It applies to all the corporations in this mall, all the corporations that employ people across the state of Connecticut. Hobby Lobby can be the outlier but we hope it won’t be.”

State Healthcare Advocate Vicki Veltri said the decision undercuts medical findings that the full range of contraception should be available to women.

“The decision … really puts the employer between a consumer—the patient—and the patient’s provider. We’ve argued for years that the decisions made between a patient and a provider need to be respected. This decision really undoes that protection,” she said.

Blumenthal has co-sponsored legislation to reverse the court decision, but the bill is unlikely to pass through Congress. In the meantime, the senator declined to call for a consumer boycott of the supply store.

“I’m not going to tell consumers what to do. They’re smart enough to make their own decisions,” he said.

Susan Yolen, a vice president for public policy and advocacy at Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, also declined to call for a boycott.

“We’d like to see people use their own judgment. I think most of the people who probably walk in the doors of Hobby Lobby are women and so I think they are the most likely to be affected by this decision,” she said.

Calls for comment to a public relations firm representing Hobby Lobby were directed to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the company in the case. A spokeswoman for Becket Fund did not immediately issue a statement.

Hugh McQuaid Photo A lone protester attended the Manchester press conference and opposed Blumenthal’s comments. Nicole Stacy, a Hartford resident and member of the Family Institute of Connecticut, said she finds it offensive when people assume women “toe the party line on birth control.”

“I’m a Catholic woman, I hold to the official teachings of the church. If I were to want to run a business like Hobby Lobby, I wouldn’t want the government coercing me to go against my conscience, to violate my most dearly-held beliefs,” she said.

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Malloy’s New TV Ad Touts Challenges, Progress

by Christine Stuart | Jul 14, 2014 10:40am
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Posted to: Election 2014

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“Strength. Conviction. Progress” are the three words Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s re-election campaign wants you to remember about him, according to his first campaign ad.

Malloy’s campaign purchased more than $254,500 television time between today and July 20.

The 60-second ad titled “Tough Times” highlights the natural disasters that have impacted the state, along with the Sandy Hook School shooting, and the $3.67 billion budget deficit.

“Through it all, Dan Malloy has been strong…steady…by our side,” a male narrator says over somber musical tones.

When he first took office, Malloy’s message was “change is hard,” but over the past year as things, including the economy, haven’t improved as much as he would have liked it’s become “change takes time.”

The latest television ad is a reflection of his new “change takes time” motto.

“Connecticut’s been through some very difficult times over the past few years, but under the strong, steady leadership of Gov. Dan Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, we are finally making progress,” Jon Blair, Malloy’s campaign manager, said in a press release. “No one is declaring victory.  As Gov. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Wyman say all the time, there’s a lot more work to do. But we are making progress and we can’t afford to return to the failed policies of the past.”

The advertisement was produced by AKPD Message and Media of Chicago, a firm founded by David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s campaign strategist.

According to the most recent campaign report Malloy spent more than $37,000 on the ad.

The ad is not the first of the 2014 season. Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley released his first television ad last week, which features his wife Leslie reintroducing him to the voters.

Malloy beat Foley in 2010 by 6,404 votes. Foley is looking for a rematch this year, but first he will have to defeat Sen. John McKinney, who is challenging him for the Republican nomination.

McKinney filmed his first television ad last week, but so far has not purchased any television time.

The Malloy campaign ad was released the same day as the Connecticut Republican Party created a Tumblr page titled “Wrong Way Malloy.”

The page, according to Republicans, will aggregate news stories and a variety of other content from various sources that highlight Connecticut’s performance under Malloy.

“Almost every day a new story surfaces or a new ranking is released that shows Connecticut lagging far behind the rest of the nation,” Connecticut Republican Party Executive Director Elissa Voccola said. “Clearly willing to do or say whatever it takes to get re-elected, Gov. Malloy has spent the past three years misleading voters about his record on jobs and the economy. This page will allow people to easily see the real story.”

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Blumenthal to Lead Protest of Hobby Lobby

by Christine Stuart | Jul 14, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Congress, Courts, Health Care, Manchester

Google maps image of the East Haven store

Later this morning U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and advocates will gather outside the Hobby Lobby in Manchester to call on the company to offer its employees full contraceptive coverage.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s June 30 ruling found that some businesses can, because of their religious beliefs, choose not to comply with the federal health care law’s requirement that contraception coverage be provided to workers. Hobby Lobby was the plaintiff in the case.

Blumenthal said Connecticut law mandates that all health insurance coverage through group or individual policies must provide “coverage for prescription contraceptive methods approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.”

“Religious liberty is about the right to practice your own religion, not the right of bosses to impose religious beliefs on employees,” Blumenthal said. “I am calling on Hobby Lobby to do the right thing and provide full contraceptive coverage to its Connecticut employees. Connecticut residents have enjoyed a long history of respect for individual rights and I urge Hobby Lobby to comply with our state laws.”

The Manchester location is not opened yet, but it will be located in a building previously occupied by Sports Authority. The only other Hobby Lobby store in Connecticut is located in East Haven.

The Oklahoma-based company sells arts and crafts and has 561 stores nationwide.

Blumenthal will be joined Monday by Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri, Chris Miron of NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut, Susan Yolen of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, and Christine Palm of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women.

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Connecticut’s U.S. Senators Defend Opposition to ‘Sportsmen’s Bill’

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 11, 2014 2:55pm
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U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy

Connecticut’s U.S. senators were unapologetic Friday for opposing legislation — that would have aided Democrats facing difficult re-elections — in an effort to debate domestic violence and gun control policy.

During a Hartford press conference, U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy explained their recent procedural vote against the so-called “Sportsmen’s Bill,” a now-defeated piece of legislation that would have expanded hunting and fishing on federal land.

According to Politico, the bill was a “political boon” to Democrats facing re-election battles in conservative states like North Carolina, where its Democratic co-sponsor — Sen. Kay Hagan — is seeking re-election. However, the bill fell victim to a battle over amendments on gun control and although many were proposed by Republicans, Blumenthal and Murphy tried amending the bill as well.

“We may not be the most popular senators among our colleagues today but we took a stand to make sure that there would be no expansion — none — of firearms on federal property . . . without changes in federal law to better protect people from the ongoing scourge of gun violence and domestic violence in this country,” Blumenthal said Friday.

The senators wanted to amend the bill with legislation that sought to prevent people who are the subject of temporary restraining orders from obtaining guns. Although the law bars the subjects of permanent restraining orders from possessing firearms, it does not apply to temporary orders. Blumenthal has named that bill for Lori Jackson, an Oxford resident who was shot to death by her estranged husband in May. Jackson had a temporary restraining order against her husband at the time.

Murphy said the debate over the Sportsmen’s Bill was their best chance of getting the restraining order bill passed.

“Our message was clear this week — if the senate was going to spend a week debating gun policy, then we should be talking about how to reduce gun violence, not expand gun use on federal lands. Time is precious . . . and if we have a week to talk about guns we should talk about saving lives rather than increasing gun rights,” he said.

Murphy said he agreed with some of the provisions of the Sportsmen’s Bill and considered the expansion of gun use on federal land to be relatively minor. Blumenthal said that opposition from he and Murphy was not the only reason the bill failed.

“This is not — here’s a newsflash — the first time a fairly innocuous bill or maybe even a good bill has failed because of an inability to compromise on the amendment process,” he said. “. . . The effort, increasingly as you know, is to load amendments onto a bill that looks like it may be going somewhere.”

Although both senators have been critical in the past of lawmakers using the senate’s procedural rules to halt the progress of legislation, they said their amendment was pertinent to the subject matter of the Sportsmen’s Bill.

“There are very legitimate bills that come before Congress that are held up for procedural reasons as a means of avoiding the substance,” Murphy said. “We truly objected to the process in this case. Our objection was that the senate was going to spend a week debating a bill that increased gun rights rather than spending a week on a bill that addressed gun violence.”

Both senators said they hope the chamber’s leadership will allow more time to debate the restraining order bill after Congress recesses next month. Murphy said they have several Democratic cosponsors for the legislation, but believes it will pass if given a floor vote.

“Ultimately, while Republicans may not co-sponsor it, I do not believe they are going to vote to effectively arm-up domestic abusers,” he said.

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Hartford Taxpayers Won’t Be Completely On The Hook For The New Stadium

by Christine Stuart | Jul 11, 2014 2:03pm
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Posted to: Business, Economic Development, Hartford

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra backed away from plans Friday to have Hartford taxpayers build a $60 million minor league baseball stadium for the Rock Cats.

In this letter to the Hartford City Council, Segarra said he withdrew those plans and is soliciting new concepts for the area. Under the new proposal, the stadium would still remain the catalyst for redevelopment, but it calls for the stadium to be financed through a public-private partnership.

“We are committed to pay for the costs associated with the ballpark construction with private investment and revenues generated by the redevelopment of the entire Downtown North area,” Segarra said in a statement. “This approach is consistent with feedback from the community, City Council, and other stakeholders.”

In a press release, Segarra maintained that his goal was always the complete redevelopment of an area known as Downtown North.

“What was needed was a spark, a catalyst to drive further interest and development, and we believed the ballpark would be that spark,” Segarra said.

In his letter to the council, Segarra said, “The partnership will create a mixed-use development in Downtown North to include, housing, retail, and commercial space, including a supermarket, open space, parking, and a minor league baseball facility.”

Earlier this month, Segarra defended the stadium proposal at a Hartford Public Library forum where most of the public spoke against the proposal.

At that forum, Hartford Councilwoman Cynthia Jennings said that she and her fellow councilors would refuse to pass the proposal if certain guidelines regarding employment and taxation were not met.

“This council is committed to this stadium only if Hartford residents don’t have a tax increase because of this, if Hartford jobs are identified for Hartford residents, and if Hartford businesses get the business that’s coming to them,” Jennings said.

The new proposals are due by Aug. 1.

Segarra said he would review them and present them to the City Council by Aug. 11.

Under the original plans, the city was expected to have the stadium built by April 1, 2016 — the start of the baseball season.

Hartford officials have said that the construction of the stadium would create the equivalent of 665 full-time jobs and more than 900 construction jobs, and also generate 23,700 hotel room stays annually.

But there are several reports disputing the credibility of the assumptions used in order to compile those estimates.

Click here to read a report from WNPR on the stadium math and why a lot of people would have to start attending games in order to make it work.

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More Campaign Grants Approved

by Jhansi Katechia | Jul 11, 2014 12:57pm
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Posted to: Election 2014

CTNJ file photo Two Democratic candidates vying for a state senate seat representing Hartford, Bloomfield, and Windsor received their public grants Thursday from the State Elections Enforcement Commission.

Sen. Eric Coleman and his challenger, Hartford Town Council President Shawn Wooden, will each receive $83,000 for the Aug. 12 primary. Another Democrat, Len Walker of Windsor, has not received a grant yet for the race. He has until July 18 to raise the necessary $15,000 in order to qualify for the full grant amount, but as of Thursday reported that he has not raised in excess of $1,000.

CTNJ file photo The Democratic primary in Hartford, Bloomfield, and Windsor is thought of as the election because generally there are no Republican candidates to challenge the winner of the contest in November.

In addition to Coleman and Wooden, state senate candidates that received program grants include Democrat Sen. Joseph Crisco of Woodbridge and state Rep. Betsy Ritter of Waterford. Republican candidates include Henri Martin of Bristol and former state Sen. Len Suzio of Meriden.

Several state representatives also received their grants Thursday, including Reps. David Arconti, D-Danbury, Henry Genga, D-East Hartford, Russell Morin, D-Wethersfield, Bruce Morris, D-Norwalk, Chris Davis, R-East Windsor, David Yaccarino, R-North Haven, and Hilda Santiago, D-Meriden.

Candidates running for state representative who received their grants include Republicans Gennaro Bizzaro of the 24th District, Aundre Bumgardner of the 41st District, Victoria Lanier of the 23rd District, J.P. Sredzinski of the 112th District, and Patty Stoddard of the 21st District. Democratic candidates to receive their grants included Dennis Bradley of the 128th District, Jeffrey Currey of the 11th District, and David Watts of the 137th District.

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OP-ED | Tom Foley’s Time in Iraq, And Why it Matters

by Susan Bigelow | Jul 11, 2014 10:00am
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Posted to: Election 2014, Opinion, White House

In 2003, President George W. Bush, fresh off the conquest of Iraq, needed a director of private sector development for the new Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which would govern the country from Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone. He found an old Harvard classmate running a business specializing in corporate “turnarounds,” and offered him the job. Thomas C. Foley of Greenwich accepted.

Foley’s hire, given that he’d raised a ton of money for the 2000 Bush campaign, drew some speculation that it was a reward. Foley saw it instead as his skills being put to use. “[President Bush] knows that I have been involved in operating companies and particularly had done some turnaround work and managed companies in high-stress situations,” Foley told AFP at the time. “Does this sound [like] a reward? It sounds like the short straw.” And so off he went.

It’s surprisingly hard to pin down specifically what Tom Foley did in Iraq. Major sources on the CPA or the war in general tend to gloss over or ignore him. His campaign, when I contacted them for information, said that in addition to creating a privatization plan for Iraq’s state-owned businesses, “Mr. Foley [oversaw] 160 or so of Iraq’s state-owned enterprises. He was also responsible for restoring the foundations of a private-sector economy including a new stock exchange, a new commercial code, new credit-based lending, for example.”

Mostly it seems that Foley was concerned with the plan to privatize Iraq’s creaking state-owned enterprises — a plan that was eventually torpedoed by the Iraqis over fears the companies would be sold to foreign firms, among other things.

Other than that, was he successful? A RAND Corporation report from 2009 argued that the CPA was at least partially successful in reviving Iraq’s economy, pointing to vast growth in post-conflict GDP. “The CPA achieved these results,” says the RAND report, “By curbing inflation, issuing a new currency . . . reducing external tariffs, reforming the banking system, expanding liquidity, and stimulating consumer demand.”

Foley clearly played a role in some of this. “Mr. Foley’s team accomplished a lot while there,” his campaign said, including “. . . a modern stock market, a well-functioning, western-style commercial code, restored sources of credit for businesses and individuals, and so forth.”

But that isn’t all there is to the story. The book Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post portrays the CPA as hopeless bunglers, and Foley as incompetent. “After Foley had been in Baghdad for a few months,” writes Chandrasekaran, “Bremer concluded that he wasn’t the right guy for the job, but he was a friend of the president. Bremer told people in the palace that Foley was ‘untouchable.’” The book also suggested that Foley actually stood in the way of the re-opening of the stock market, wanted to privatize everything within 30 days, and when told that seizing state companies would violate international law, he said “I don’t give a s*** about international law.”

Foley denied Chandrsekaran’s accusations during a 2010 interview with the Connecticut Post, calling the book “fiction.” Imperial Life in the Emerald City won the 2007 BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, and is still one of the most-cited works on the CPA.

As for whether his Iraq experience ties into how he might run Connecticut, Foley’s campaign said that there are “few lessons that could be applied to Connecticut.” One lesson could be that “. . . centrally planned economies and over-involved government do not work, but that lesson was obvious before Mr. Foley’s arrival.”

So why do we care?

Mostly, it’s relevant because it helps us understand the kind of man who might be our next governor. How does he work in incredibly high-pressure situations? Can he deliver?

It also matters because Iraq has bubbled back up into the American consciousness lately. Sectarian extremists have taken over many cities, leaving the U.S. and the feeble Iraqi government scrambling for a solution. “Mr. Foley believes the hope he had for the long-term outcome in Iraq . . . has been dashed by President Obama’s desertion of the Iraqi people and our interests there when he withdrew all our troops in 2012,” Foley’s campaign said.

Of course, there are those who see the invasion of Iraq, and the rise of sectarian violence that happened under the CPA’s watch, as the ultimate cause of today’s bloodshed.

In the end, Foley was part of one of the most controversial chapters of our recent history. For that reason alone, it’s worth knowing the facts about his time in Iraq.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

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OP-ED | Charter Advocates Give New Meaning To ‘Chutzpah’

by Sarah Darer Littman | Jul 11, 2014 8:00am
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Posted to: Education, Opinion, Taxes, Transparency

Chutzpah: unbelievable gall; insolence; audacity

The traditional definition of chutzpah is someone who kills his mother and father and then claims being an orphan as a mitigating circumstance.

I’ve been reminded of this word constantly as the FUSE/Jumoke charter scandal unfolded over the last two weeks.

L’Affaire Sharpe has been quite astonishing, because as a mere mortal, not a Crony of Dan Malloy or part of of the Charter Chicanery Circus, I underwent more due diligence than Sharpe to become a creative writing instructor for an after-school program at one of the local elementary schools for the non-hefty fee of a few hundred bucks.

To teach this Afters program, run by the Cos Cob Elementary School PTA, I had to undergo a criminal background check.

Last year, when I was hired as an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU (and we know how well adjuncts are paid), before my appointment was confirmed I underwent another criminal background check, and also had to have my transcript sent from the institution where I’d received my Masters Degree. Funnily enough, it was New York University, the educational establishment where Michael Sharpe received his fictional doctorate.

Yet the members of the state Board of Education, all appointed or re-appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, required no such due diligence before forking over $53 million of our taxpayer dollars to “Doctor” Sharpe’s organization. Just to make things even cozier, Gov. Malloy appointed FUSE’s chief operating officer, Andrea Comer, to the state Board of Education. Comer resigned earlier this week, in order to avoid being a “distraction.” I’m afraid it’s a little too late for that.

Rep. Andy Fleischmann, D-West Hartford,  the co-chair of the legislature’s Education Committee, told the Connecticut Mirror’s Mark Pazniokas: “This is a pretty unique situation. Michael Sharpe had been tremendously successful at Jumoke Academy since about the year 2000 . . . So I think it’s fair to say it came as a big surprise to many of us that someone who had achieved so much would be claiming to have degrees that he lacks and have a past.”

Unique situation? One has to ask oneself if Rep. Fleischmann has been living under a rock. Maybe he missed the comprehensive report by the Detroit Free Press on charter improprieties in Michigan. Or the scandals in Florida. . Or New Jersey. Or California. Or Louisiana. The list goes on.

As a taxpayer, a literacy advocate, and a parent, I find it frightening that someone this out of touch with the reality of what’s happening on the national education scene is the co-chair of the state’s legislative education committee.

But the surefire winner of the Connecticut Chutzpah Crown has got to be Jennifer Alexander, CEO of ConnCan, who told Pazniokas:

“I think it is an important moment that signals a need to revisit and update Connecticut’s charter law so that it keeps pace with best practices nationally, including clarity around areas of accountability and transparency — but, I think, also flexibility and funding,” she said.

Translation: “Oops, one of our guys was caught lying, so we should make a show of ‘best practices’” Don’t you just love the reformy lingo for what the rest of us call “good government?” Orwell would have a field day with Ms. Alexander. “But in the meantime, give us more money and less regulation.”

Yes folks, I think Ms. Alexander just gave us a new definition of chutzpah.

A close runner up has got to be the acting co-CEO of FUSE, Heidi Hamilton, who, in response to requests for information from the Hartford Courant, responded: “It is my understanding that FUSE is a private non-profit company and we are not subject to the Freedom Of Information Act.”

Although both Rep. Fleischmann and his education co-chair, Sen Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, are now feigning outrage over the charter organization’s lack of respect for the state that feeds them, they clearly haven’t been paying attention to what has been happening right next door in the state of New York.

You see charter schools want to have it both ways. They claim to be “public” when it comes to taking taxpayer dollars, but “private” when it comes to accountability. Witness how the Empress of the New York Charter Movement, Eva Moskowitz, went to court to deny N.Y. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli the right to audit charter schools. Her court action was supported by the North East Charter School Network, which was brought to Connecticut by none other than . . . you guessed it, “Doctor” Michael Sharpe, cheered on loudly by . . . yes, you guessed it again, the Chutzpah Queen herself, Jennifer Alexander of ConnCan.

It’s all so very, very cozy, isn’t it?

Back in January, when I wrote about the fiscal irresponsibility of funding short-term technology for SBAC testing with construction bonds, I noted: “The Jumoke Academy Charter Schools network, which are operated by an organization called the Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE), received a $260-per-pupil grant, whereas the districts in which its charters operate, Hartford and Bridgeport, received $30 and $45 respectively.”

I guess no one in Hartford was watching the cookie jar — too much cronyism and not enough good government.

Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.

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Health Care Advocates Raise Questions About ‘Shared Savings’

by Christine Stuart | Jul 11, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Health Care

Christine Stuart photo

Mark Schaefer, director of Health Innovation, and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman

A group reforming how all medical care is paid for in the state butted heads Thursday with a group of healthcare advocates who are worried about steps the group is taking with the Medicaid population.

The group of advocates thought they reached a compromise with the State Innovation Model group back in December, but a second grant application to the federal government this month shows the state moving ahead with a “shared savings” model for the low-income Medicaid population.

The 25 advocacy organizations that signed this letter Thursday worry that under a “shared savings” model health providers would be tempted to deny Medicaid patients care or access to specialists because there would be a financial incentive to not provide that care.

Christine Stuart photo New Haven Legal Assistance Attorney Sheldon Toubman told the group Thursday that it was their “moment of truth.” Would they listen to the advocates or ignore them?

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman took umbrage with Toubman’s characterization of the choices and what those choices mean for the state.

“With all due respect, Sheldon, I believe the advocates are having their opinion heard,” Wyman said. “In fact, many are sitting on this board right now.”

She said she doesn’t believe the group was “going back on its words” in revising the application to include the Medicaid population in the “shared savings” model.

“There has never been a feeling that the grant was more important than the people that we serve,” Wyman said.

However, Toubman said at times during this process it’s felt like obtaining the $100 million federal grant was more important than the changes being made to the Medicaid population.

Christine Stuart photo Department of Social Services Commissioner Roderick Bremby said he knows the group worked really hard to reach what they thought was a consensus in December, “but sometimes things change.” He said the world changes with new knowledge and that knowledge must be used to give Connecticut the best possible outcome.

Mark Schaefer, director of Health Innovation, said he thought there was language in the application that said they would only move forward with the first wave of 200,000 Medicaid patients in January 2016 as long as the safeguards are in place to make sure patients are not denied care. What those safeguards are is still under discussion.

Advocates worry that the state will seek a waiver that would give it flexibility to implement a new payment method, but such a waiver comes with the risk of losing federal funds the state currently receives for the Medicaid population.

Generally, under this method the state would set a cap for how much it would spend on Medicaid and then come up with ways to stay under the spending cap. The advocates worry about what the state would have to do in order to stay under the cap because it may mean fewer services for Medicaid patients.

Bremby disagrees.

He said the idea of a waiver doesn’t necessarily mean there would need to be a global cap on how much is spent on the Medicaid population.

“A 1115 waiver can be an exceptionally broad tool whereby states can provide a global cap for expenditures for all of its Medicaid population and in exchange for that the federal government provides maximum flexibility,” Bremby said. “We do not intend to approach that style of implementation in any way shape or form.”

For example, in the Bridgeport area the state would focus on people with asthma and test whether certain expenditures — or treatments — not currently available under Medicaid could be used to enhance outcomes while reducing the cost of Medicaid expenditures. He said the use of the waiver would be targeted in specific locations on specific populations.

Frances Padilla, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation, warned that the state can’t “hang its hat” on receiving one of these waivers because things in Washington change and when they change so does the appetite for granting these types of waivers.

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OP-ED | Hillary’s UConn Hypocrisyfest A Blessing in Disguise

by Terry D. Cowgill | Jul 11, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Election 2016, FOIA, Opinion, Transparency

Madeline Stocker / CTNewsJunkie

Hillary Clinton speaks April on the UConn campus in Storrs.

UConn Foundation Has Become A Slush Fund For Frivolity, Shielded From Public Scrutiny

Why do people hate hypocrisy so much? After all, there are worse sins. Robbing a convenience store or gunning down a bunch of schoolchildren comes to mind, for example. Yet when public officials say one thing and do another, it gets the blood boiling like nothing else.

At the same time, hypocrisy in public life should come as no surprise. Having written about politics since my college years, I’ve come to the conclusion that most politicians are phonies — and the higher up the food chain you go, the phonier they are.

But alarms nonetheless went off when I learned last week that Hillary Clinton had earned a cool quarter of a million bucks for the task of doling out crumbs of wisdom to the UConn community for half an hour in April. Again, this should come as no surprise, as the Clintons’ speech-making prowess is now legendary. Former President Bill Clinton has made almost $105 million giving speeches since he left office in January 2001.

In this case, however, it was my ox being gored. How could a cash-strapped, taxpayer-funded university in my home state — an institution that’s raising tuition by 6.5 percent next year — fork over that kind of cash to a piggy-backing celebrity whose main claim to fame is that she’s married to a former president who gets paid even more to make a speech than she does?

At this point, UConn is hanging its hat on the university’s foundation, which officials say paid for Hillary’s Oprah-like chat with UConn President Susan Herbst. But we have no way of confirming that because the notoriously secretive University of Connecticut Foundation is exempt from the state’s Freedom of Information laws. Nevertheless, two gubernatorial candidates are saying it’s distinction without a difference anyway.

Independent gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Pelto, who was first elected state representative while still a UConn student, insists that the university has subsidized the foundation with $86 million out of the UConn operating budget over the last decade. Likely GOP nominee Tom Foley has also slammed the transaction as a “misappropriation.”

But even more troubling is the possibility, raised by The New Haven Register in a blistering editorial last week, that Hillary’s fee is tantamount to a tax-deductible campaign donation by the Fusco family, which established the UConn Foundation fund that paid her ridiculous fee.

And seeing as Hillary is in the middle of a much-noticed but disastrous book tour, how wise is it for the foundation to be paying her to appear before a highly educated university audience? If anything, Hillary’s publisher should be cutting a check to the university for the privilege of reaching a lucrative block of potential readers.

Then there is the matter of Hillary herself. As a capitalist, I don’t resent her ability to sell herself to the highest bidder. I’d love to make hundreds of thousands for a few hours of my time. But I’m not someone who complains a lot about income inequality or who brags about supporting the estate tax, while doing everything possible to protect my estate from it, using methods available only to the top one percent.

Nor am I a member of the academy who calls for social justice while happily supplying an obscene payday to a publicity-seeking politician with an eight-figure net worth.

Perhaps all this hypocrisy is a blessing in disguise. It has had the unintended effect of focusing attention on the UConn Foundation, which has also been used in recent years to fund the travels of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to such exotic places as China and Switzerland. Looks like anytime the state wants to spend money on something it knows it can’t get away with, it turns to the foundation as a sort of slush fund that shields it from the charge of using taxpayer funds for frivolous endeavors. Plus, using the foundation protects the state from those pesky Freedom of Information laws that torment the government.

If ever there’s a time for lawmakers to shine some sunlight on that foundation, it’s right now.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is news editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

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OP-ED | Latest News & Scandals Demonstrate Basic Fact: Perfect Schools Do Not Exist

by Barth Keck | Jul 10, 2014 11:19pm
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Posted to: Education, Labor, Opinion

School’s out for summer, but education is still making news:

* Parents in New York City sued their school board on July 3 because “tenure laws and protections for incompetent instructors deprive students of a constitutionally guaranteed ‘sound basic education’.” The lawsuit followed on the heels of a decision in which a Los Angeles judge struck down teacher tenure laws that allowed “incompetent instructors to remain in the classroom.”

* Bill Gates told Los Alamos National Laboratory employees on June 30 that “eradicating malaria, tuberculosis, and polio is easier than fixing the United States’ education system.” The Microsoft co-founder added that new educational technology will help, but it tends to benefit only those kids who are motivated — “and the one thing we have a lot of in the United States is unmotivated students.”

* Closer to home, Michael Sharpe, CEO of Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE) and Hartford’s Jumoke Academy, a charter school, resigned June 21 “after his criminal past was revealed in news reports.” In addition, two other administrators at FUSE resigned shortly after Sharpe’s departure.

What do all of these news stories have in common, besides the obvious focus on education?

In short, they all demonstrate the basic fact that perfect schools do not exist.

While I’m breaking no new ground here, the “educational experts” and “business leaders” would have us believe that there exist simple ways to “fix our broken schools.”

For starters, just eliminate teacher tenure, which supposedly prevents school boards from firing “grossly ineffective” teachers. Curiously, one teacher at the center of the Los Angeles court case, Christine McLaughlin, was simultaneously deemed “grossly ineffective” and “teacher of the year.”

So which is it?

Maybe charter schools — where unions and teacher tenure are largely absent — are the answer. Such schools routinely attract the brightest college graduates to teach in their classrooms, but they also have been known to exploit their teachers and students if they please.

Moreover, many of the recent graduates who start their careers as charter school teachers also leave those schools — and their careers — much earlier and more frequently than teachers in public schools. In fact, “charter networks are developing what amounts to a youth cult in which teaching for two to five years is seen as acceptable and, at times, even desirable.”

Not surprisingly, such teacher turnover results in lower student achievement.

Perhaps charter schools are not the answer, either.

Bill Gates was correct to recognize the challenges of “fixing” the U.S. educational system. Even if all students came to school rested, fed, and “motivated” — a missing factor that even Gates acknowledges — schools would be hard-pressed to meet the needs of every single student.

The United States is a diverse country with families of myriad cultures and economic positions. What might work in L.A. does not necessarily work in Hartford. What might work in Hartford does not necessarily work in Darien. What might work in Darien does not necessarily work in Winsted.

And this says nothing of the challenges facing individual teachers.

“The hard part of teaching,” writes teacher/blogger Peter Greene, “is coming to grips with this: There is never enough. There is never enough time. There are never enough resources. There is never enough you.”

Greene explains that “every day is still educational triage. You will pick and choose your battles, and you will always be at best bothered, at worst haunted, by the things you know you should have done but didn’t. Show me a teacher who thinks she’s got everything all under control and doesn’t need to fix a thing for next year, and I will show you a lousy teacher. The best teachers I’ve ever known can give you a list of exactly what they don’t do well enough yet.”

The life of a teacher, essentially, is a microcosm of public schools, where people work hard every day to serve all students despite the cruel reality that every kid will not succeed, regardless of what is done for him or her.

In the end, education is a daunting and complicated endeavor that has no easy answers. Or, as Bill Gates says, it’s not nearly as straightforward as finding a cure for tuberculosis.

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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‘Hartford Kids Can’t Wait’

by Madeline Stocker | Jul 10, 2014 5:34pm
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Posted to: Education, Hartford

Madeline Stocker photo

Hartford parents walk to the state Education Department on Capitol Avenue

(Updated 10:32 a.m. Friday) Hartford parents, children, and education activists marched Thursday on the state Department of Education to rally against what they defined as the “egregiously inadequate” educational opportunities for Hartford’s minority students.

The demonstration was meant to call attention to the lack of school choice that remains 25 years after the landmark Sheff v. O’Neill desegregation lawsuit was filed.

Out of the 20,000 applicants to the state’s charter and magnet schools, 6,377 are Hartford residents. Three thousand Hartford students remain on the wait list for magnet and charter school seats.

“How can we as a community, as a city, as a state, look at one child and say, ‘You deserve an education,’ and look at another and say, ‘There’s no opportunities for you at this time; maybe next year, maybe in two years, maybe by the time you’re finished with school and there’s no college that will take you, because you can’t compete?” Evelyn Richardson, a Hartford parent, said during the rally.

Richardson and other Hartford parents would like the state to make sure all Hartford students have access to a higher-quality education. They realize that their appeal may be met with opposition, but research shows that children who attend integrated magnet schools perform better than children attending Hartford public schools.


According to a report released in September 2013, the difference in performance between Hartford students who attend integrated magnet schools or suburban schools and those who remain in the isolated Hartford public school system is dramatic. The report says 41 percent of Hartford resident third graders attending magnet or suburban schools tested at/or above the 2013 reading level, and only 26 percent of third-grade Hartford resident students were reading at/or above the same level in Hartford’s public schools.

The difference in performance only increased as students progressed through the school systems to the 10th grade, with 22 percent of Hartford resident students attending magnet or suburban schools at above the 2013 reading level, and only 5 percent of Hartford public school 10th graders at or above the level.

Other reports have shown the benefits of an education from an integrated magnet school — or a school with a relatively diverse racial and socioeconomic constituency — is more expansive, with higher racial and socioeconomic diversity “contributing to higher literacy, behavioral climate, instructional organization, and high school graduation rates.”

Lourdes Fonseca, a parent of two former Hartford students who also is listed as a Community Programs Coordinator/Parent Organizer for the education reform agency Achieve Hartford, said she’s experienced the difference between the two systems first-hand. She said one of her sons attended Hartford public schools and one attended and graduated from a magnet school.

“My son [who attended the magnet school] graduated, went to college, and has a job,” Fonseca said. “My other son graduated from a regular high school, reading at the seventh grade level, and couldn’t make it through community college. He had to do all of the remedials over again, and he couldn’t do it. He gave up.”

Christian Ortiz, a recent graduate from the Hartford public school system, had a similar story, and told the crowd that he was “failed by the system.” Ortiz, who applied annually to magnet and charter schools throughout his elementary, middle, and high school career and was continuously denied, attended seven schools, was held back twice, and dropped out once.

“I wanted a school where the atmosphere and culture promoted learning rather than violence, and where the teachers held students to high standards and encouraged academic achievement,” Ortiz said. “I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

To both Ortiz and many Hartford parents, a “high-quality education” is one that is offered through Hartford-run magnet schools, the Capitol Region Education Council’s magnet schools, or the suburban school districts that have agreed to be part of the umbrella of the Open Choice Program. Open Choice allows public school students in Hartford to attend suburban schools.

In addition to voicing concerns regarding the achievement gap, parents with children in Hartford’s public school system have brought to light the difficulties that come with the wait list process. According to Hartford grandmother Debra St. Germain, the “convoluted” workings of the wait list process have prevented one of her two grandchildren from accessing kindergarten.

Madeline Stocker photo

Elizabeth Horton-Sheff

St. Germain said that because her family was never notified of the outcome of the 15-day lottery process, her 4-year-old granddaughter, Janessa, could not enroll in the public school system after being denied access to the surrounding magnet schools, as there was “simply no room left.”

St. Germain’s daughter, who wants to live in Hartford, may be left with no choice but to find an apartment in West Hartford in order to guarantee her children attend a good school.

Although St. Germain has expressed her frustration over the system’s inadequacy, thousands more have benefited from it. As it stands, approximately 41 percent of all minority students have gained access to integrated magnet and charter schools around the state. While many parents believe it to be too small a percentage, the figure shows a drastic increase in the number of integrated magnet schools available to Hartford students, who, up until 1997, only had one “reduced isolation” option.

The change in educational opportunity for Hartford students started with the Sheff v. O’Neill court case in 1989, when Hartford mother Elizabeth Norton Sheff challenged then-Gov. William O’Neill to put an end to the racial and socioeconomic isolation of Hartford school children.

Currently, Sheff’s attorneys are working to negotiate an expansion of magnet schools with the state.

“Parents want strong schools for their children,” Kelly Donnelly, a spokesperson for the state Education Department, said. “Charters and magnet schools are one part of our larger effort to ensure that all students, regardless of race or income, have access to a high quality public education that can help them reach their potential.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: We updated this story to reflect Lourdes Fonseca’s role as Community Programs Coordinator/Parent Organizer at Achieve Hartford!

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Prosecutors: Rowland ‘Ambushed’ Candidate On Radio

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 10, 2014 1:02pm
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Posted to: Election 2012, Legal

Christine Stuart File Photo

Former Gov. John Rowland

Former Gov. John Rowland took money to conduct an on-air “political ambush” of a congressional candidate during Rowland’s live radio show on WTIC, federal prosecutors claimed in new court documents this week.

Rowland got a job hosting an afternoon political talk show on WTIC following a 10-month bid in federal prison on corruption charges. Now the former governor is facing a new set of corruption allegations related to political work, which prosecutors say he arranged to do off-the-books for Lisa Wilson-Foley’s 2012 campaign for the 5th Congressional District.

He is accused of drafting a phony consulting contract to hide from election regulators the $35,000 paid to him by Brian Foley, Wilson-Foley’s husband.

In documents filed Tuesday, prosecutors argued that a jury should hear the testimony of Superior Court Judge Andrew Roraback, who in 2012 was competing with Wilson-Foley for the Republican nomination in the 5th District. Roraback eventually won the nomination but lost the general election to current U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, a Democrat.

In 2011, Roraback was a state senator and congressional candidate who had agreed to appear on the radio show hosted by Rowland, a fellow Republican who had been “friendly and politically helpful” during Roraback’s previous appearances on the show.

However, prosecutors say Roraback’s December appearance was “hostile” because it occurred three weeks after Rowland had been paid his first $10,000 by the Foleys. Almost immediately, Rowland hit Roraback with critical questions about votes he had taken in the state legislature, then he cut the line before Roraback had a chance to respond.

“These circumstances strongly suggest and the jury could infer that the defendant’s conduct on [Dec.] 6, 2011 and during the subsequent on-air attack relating to the death penalty was not legitimate opinion broadcasting, but a political ambush paid for by Brian Foley,” prosecutors wrote.

The allegations were part of an argument against a motion by Rowland’s legal team to stop the a jury from hearing the testimony of Roraback and another former congressional candidate during the trial scheduled to begin on Sept. 3.

A spokeswoman for WTIC declined to comment for this story. Rowland left his job at the station on April 3, days after the Foleys pleaded guilty to related charges and implicated the former governor. During that period many called for the station to remove Rowland from the air, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Prosecutors claim they have evidence suggesting some of Rowland’s work on the radio station was secretly paid for by the Foleys. They say Rowland coordinated his attack on Roraback’s anti-death penalty voting record with Wilson-Foley’s campaign. The candidate’s talking points on the issue mirrored Rowland’s on-air attacks. U.S. attorneys say Rowland coached her.

“Ultimately, Judge Roraback’s testimony about the defendant’s on-air conduct and its effect on his campaign bears directly on the nature of the defendant’s campaign work and its value,” they wrote. “Given that this case is largely about the work that the defendant performed for the Wilson-Foley campaign, nothing is more relevant.”

In addition to Roraback and Wilson-Foley, the government is seeking to put other former 5th District congressional candidates on the stand. Mark Greenberg, who is running for the seat again this year, is expected to testify that Rowland unsuccessfully pitched a similar consulting scheme to him in 2009.

Prosecutors argued this week that the jury should also hear from Mike Clark, another former candidate and retired FBI agent who worked on the corruption case that put Rowland behind bars in 2004.

Rowland’s legal team has argued that Clark’s testimony on the former governor’s original conviction could needlessly overlap with Foley’s testimony. Foley is expected to tell the jury how Rowland’s criminal history factored into the campaign’s decision to hide the former governor’s involvement.

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5,700 Dropped From ACA Plans In Connecticut

by Christine Stuart | Jul 10, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Health Care

Hugh McQuaid file photo

Sen. Len Fasano

A North Haven woman who was dropped from her Affordable Care Act plan even though she was paying her monthly premiums, is not alone.

According to Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan, there are 5,700 consumers who were inadvertently dropped from their plans for a variety of reasons.

Counihan told CTNewsJunkie Wednesday that they have been working on the issue on a case-by-case basis with consumers and insurance carriers, and will have a programming fix ready that will take care of a majority of the problems on July 18.

Continually touted as one of the more successful state exchanges with plans to sell its system to other states, Counihan admitted that the rollout hasn’t been without its glitches.

“I don’t think the issue is that there was a glitch,” Counihan said. “It’s about how quickly we are able to fix it.”

But one Republican lawmaker said admitting there’s a problem is the first step toward fixing it.

Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, who wrote a letter to Counihan in June asking about these types of problems on behalf of his constituents, was told that there wasn’t a problem.

“I appreciate your raising this issue to us as we have as yet to receive no such complaints of this sort,” Counihan wrote in the June 18 letter to Fasano and House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero.

That didn’t sit well with Fasano.

“He was trying to be too cute by half,” Fasano said Wednesday. “That to me is a lie.”

Christine Stuart file photo

Access Health CT Kevin Counihan

Counihan said he was referring to the cancellation of policies due to the nonpayment of federal subsidies. He said the federal government has not been avoiding its payment responsibilities to insurance carriers.

The problem was that there were changes made to the application that generated a new 834 form. Every time a person changes information such as their income or street address a new form is generated. The 834 form is then sent to the insurance carrier by Access Health CT and is used to convey the federal subsidy amount. The various changes to the application may have generated an inaccurate 834 form, and could have caused problems for about 5,700 consumers. There are an estimated 80,000 consumers enrolled in plans with one of the three private insurance carriers.

In the case of one of Fasano’s constituents, she was paying her portion of the premium and was still canceled. The insurance carrier even sent her back the check when they canceled her policy. It left her wondering if the federal government just hadn’t paid its half. That wasn’t the case, but it prompted Fasano to write a letter to Counihan asking about the situation.

In his letter, Fasano tried to convey the situation his constituents were explaining to him, but may not have used terms that meant the same thing Counihan believed they meant.

“He’s trying to play cute with words to avoid being embarrassed by the fact he knew there was a problem,” Fasano said.

Counihan said Fasano’s original letter was not clear. He said it’s a complex issue and it’s seductive to “draw broad conclusions.”

Counihan said they were aware of the problem and a majority of it is related to a “programming error” which is scheduled to be fixed on July 18.

In a follow-up phone call, Fasano said all he wants to know is that the problem is being corrected.

“I do believe he’s trying to fix the problem,” Fasano said Wednesday after talking to Counihan.

Their conversation came after Insurance Commissioner Thomas Leonardi responded to another letter Fasano wrote trying to get a better understanding of the situation.

The Insurance Department doesn’t regulate Access Health CT, but it does regulate the private insurance carriers that offer plans through the exchange.

In his letter to Fasano, Leonardi said the specific issue regarding the cancellation of coverage and the 834 forms was disclosed to the Insurance Department on May 9.

“At a regularly scheduled meeting on June 20th the Department was notified that the subsidy issues, and the resulting consumer impacts such as policy cancellations, were the result of enrollee’s self-reported changes in income or in some cases manual processing errors by AHCT’s vendor,” Leonardi wrote. “Furthermore, in some cases, a misrepresentation of enrollee’s citizenship occurred and policies were dropped in compliance with the requirements of the ACA. In other cases, a misrepresentation by enrollees of income had been discovered leading to the reduction or elimination in the federal subsidy.”

Leonardi went onto say that he believes Access Health CT is addressing the issue and his department will keep pressure on them to “ensure that any policyholder that was wrongfully dropped is made whole.”

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McKinney-Walker Grant Postponed Until Next Week

by Christine Stuart | Jul 9, 2014 5:16pm
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Posted to: Election 2014

CTNJ file photo

Sen. John McKinney and David Walker

Sen. John McKinney and David Walker won’t be getting their public campaign funds Thursday as planned, but they expect to receive approval from election regulators by July 16.

The two are rushing to produce a TV commercial they filmed Monday, the same day their Republican opponent Tom Foley began airing his first commercial of the campaign season.

McKinney and Walker, who were $4,600 away from reaching the $250,000 fundraising threshold prior to the Fourth of July weekend, said they were told by the State Elections Enforcement Commission that their campaign has successfully submitted the information it requested and will qualify for the $1.35 million.

“We have also received confirmation that we may expend funds immediately, subject to the overall grant cap and the required reimbursement rules. We intend, therefore, to commence our activities this week, as originally planned,” the campaign said in a statement.

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Pastor Makes Plea To Save New Haven Charter School

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 9, 2014 4:00pm
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Pastor Eldren Morrison

Looking to salvage plans to open a school in New Haven this year, Pastor Eldren Morrison asked the state Wednesday to fast-track its vetting process of a new charter school partnership.

Morrison had previously received approval from the state Board of Education to open Booker T. Washington Academy (BTWA) in New Haven this year with the charter school organization Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE) as a partner.

However, BTWA severed its affiliation with FUSE last month amidst a series of reports by the Hartford Courant on the charter school management group’s CEO, Michael Sharpe. The newspaper uncovered Sharpe’s undisclosed criminal conviction and published his admission that he had misrepresented his academic background and falsely claimed he had a doctorate.

Morrison appeared before the Board of Education again Wednesday and asked the panel to schedule a special session to quickly vet a replacement partner. The school’s board has submitted a new application to the state with Yardstick Learning, a Georgia-based consulting firm.

Morrison said he hoped to have the plan approved in time to open the school in August.

“We’ve submitted this plan and we are waiting. Every day that we wait, it pushes us back even further in the opening of this school,” he told the board. “. . . We have about 160-plus kids who have already registered for this school. Parents in our community are waiting for us to open the doors of this school. They believed in our vision, they believed in what Booker T. Washington would offer for their kids this year.”

In a written statement, Kelly Donnelly, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said the agency was reviewing the new proposal.

“We look forward to discussing this preliminary submission with the Booker T. Washington Academy board. Among the areas for further discussion are the size of the initial student body and the plan’s overall viability,” she wrote.

Donnelly said the BTWA’s amended plan likely will be presented at a special Board of Education meeting sometime this summer.

Morrison’s appeal came the same day in which Bridgeport Interim Superintendent Frances Rabinowitz announced plans to follow BTWA’s lead and sever Bridgeport’s contract with FUSE to run Dunbar School.

The Education Department also outlined plans to review its oversight policies for charter schools, which includes a greater emphasis on background checks for staff.

Asked whether the state required stronger oversight policies for charter school organization, Morrison expressed skepticism that more laws would solve the problem.

“I’m a firm believer that if you’re seeking to be dishonest, you will find a way to do it,” he said.

Morrison told reporters he was caught off guard by the controversy with Sharpe and FUSE. He said the organization, which oversaw Jumoke Academy and Hartford’s Milner Elementary School, brought a “tried and true curriculum and approach” to his five-year effort to open a school in New Haven.

“We had no idea. This partnership was really much encouraged and we thought it was a great partnership. There was no indication of any of this. I think it surprised everybody,” he said.

Morrison said he was happy the revelations about Sharpe happened before the school opened. He said he has shared the story with members of his congregation at Varick AME Zion Church.

“As a pastor, I teach my people that all things happen for a reason. You learn from everything. This is just a real-life example and I’ve been using it every week,” he said.

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Common Core Opponents Voice Their Opposition

by Jhansi Katechia | Jul 9, 2014 1:20pm
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Posted to: Education

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Common Core opponents

A handful of parents — some of whom were wearing red T-shirts that read “Stop the Common Core in CT” — expressed their opposition to implementation of the Common Core State Standards at the state Board of Education meeting Wednesday.

The topic wasn’t on the agenda, but they spoke during the public portion of the board’s meeting.

“We will have wasted billions of dollars on children’s education on an experiment which is not supported by any real evidence that it will succeed,” retired teacher Kathy Cordone said.

Cordone does not agree with the Common Core standards, which were written by the National Governors Association, the Council for Chief State School Officers, and Achieve, Inc. Instead, she would like for the rules to be written by Connecticut teachers.

“None of the writers were teachers,” Cordone said. “Everything was done behind closed doors, so even if some teachers saw the drafts, there’s no way to know if their input was included in the final product.”

The state Board of Education adopted Common Core in 2010 and at the time there was little opposition. But that’s changed over the past few years in Connecticut and across the country.

Earlier this year, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed legislation reversing his state’s adoption of Common Core. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin joined him last month by signing similar legislation repealing the Common Core in her state.

Connecticut’s Education Committee heard hours of testimony against implementation of the Common Core earlier this year, but no legislation repealing it moved forward for a vote.

Meanwhile, at least two gubernatorial hopefuls — Jonathan Pelto and Joe Visconti — have made getting rid of the Common Core a focal point of their campaigns. Both are running as third party candidates and both attended Wednesday’s meeting, but neither spoke.

“You are using our tax dollars to administer psychological assessments to our children, without telling parents and without obtaining our written permission,” Cheryl Hill, a member of Stop Common Core in CT, told the state Board of Education.

Hill publicly called upon the board to take action by telling parents what information is being collected from their children, where the information goes, and who may have access to it.

Hill said that until this is done, she believes that the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests are illegal and should be stopped. The new SBAC tests will eventually replace the legacy Connecticut Mastery and Connecticut Academic Performance Tests. This year, school districts were given a choice of which test to administer and 70 percent chose to the SBAC test.

And while a handful of individuals spoke out against the Common Core on Wednesday, not everyone opposed it.

Jeffrey Villar, executive director of Connecticut Council for Education Reform, pledged his support for the Common Core and said that the Common Core Task Force offered a rubric that will help track implementation of these changes.

This rubric, according to Villar, will consider the roles of the Education Department, school districts, parents, and the community, and will assign tasks to each.

“So if we collectively hold ourselves responsible for insuring that we follow this very clearly written roadmap written by the Task Force, I believe that Connecticut will be quite successful,” Villar said.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy created the Common Core Task Force through an executive order. The task force released its recommendations at the end of June.

The state plans to spend $2 million for 1,000 professional teacher training days, $2 million for professional development to enhance language arts and math instruction for all students, including those with special needs, and $10 million for school technology upgrades to support the transition to the new Common Core standards. Aside from the $10 million in technology upgrades, which will be added to the state Bond Commission agenda, the rest will come from the Education Department’s existing budget.

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OP-ED | The Current Model of Health Care Delivery is Unsustainable

by Evelyn Barnum | Jul 9, 2014 11:33am
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Posted to: Health Care, Opinion, Health Care Opinion

As noted in the recent editorial by Ellen Andrews, discussions are taking place in Hartford about how people receive health care and how health care providers should be paid. Requiring people across the country to have health insurance was an important step in changing how Americans think about health care, but our country still falls behind others in life expectancy, incidence of chronic diseases, and overall quality of life.

We have the most expensive health care system in the world, but we are not getting what we pay for. So, there is little disagreement that a large-scale effort is needed to reform the system — to (1) control costs, while improving (2) the patient experience and (3) our “population health.” One of the ways Connecticut can meet this “Triple Aim” is by investing additional resources in federally-qualified health centers (“FQHCs,” also called “community health centers”).

A federal grant called the State Innovation Model (SIM) can provide funding for this investment as one of its many related initiatives all aimed at improving the health of Connecticut residents.

Ms. Andrews raised some points of disagreement with the current SIM proposal, one piece of which aims to transform health care for about 200,000 HUSKY patients (about a quarter of the total HUSKY population). It will also change how providers are paid, including the FQHCs, which care for 30 percent of all HUSKY enrollees.

Collectively, FQHCs serve almost 350,000 people in CT each year — about one out of every 11 people in our state. They have it in their mission to provide comprehensive, high-quality medical, behavioral health, and dental care to all people, regardless of their ability to pay. In addition to health care, they also provide social services, such as help with transportation, enrollment in SNAP (formerly food stamps), and translation.

They are governed by and employ neighborhood residents. Because they are rooted in their communities, people who work at FQHCs really know what it is like to be on HUSKY, and, more generally, to live as a low-income person in Connecticut. Nobody understands the needs of HUSKY patients better than those who treat them every single day.

The committee designing our SIM grant proposal is charged with transforming health care in Connecticut, and to do that, part of the focus must be on HUSKY, both because of its size (more than 20 percent of our state population) and its cost to state taxpayers (more than 20 percent of our state budget).

Unfortunately, despite its high cost to taxpayers, the current HUSKY payment system does not cover the costs for any health care providers. So, from both the provider and taxpayer perspectives, the HUSKY program is ripe for a careful transformation.

The SIM proposal seeks to provide more resources “up front” for prevention. Additional resources will allow health care providers to help their patients understand their medications, have coordinated care across providers, better manage their chronic diseases, and overall be more empowered to get and stay healthy. Keeping people out of emergency departments and better managing diabetes, asthma, and other diseases are the right things to do — and also can lead to savings in HUSKY.

A piece of the proposal involves “sharing” some of these savings with health care providers. This change in how providers get paid can guide providers’ movement from thinking about “volume” of health care services to “value.”

The FQHCs as a group have been examining alternative methods of reimbursement, which would enhance existing efforts at improving both quality and access. The SIM grant proposal aligns with and supports FQHCs’ ideas for better health care delivery.

Another component of the SIM proposal is for the expansion of Teaching Health Centers, which will train the next generation of primary care providers in FQHCs across the state. There, they will learn how to practice in the community, with diverse populations, and will hopefully stay in Connecticut to practice primary care medicine, an area which has a projected shortage.

The SIM proposal also contains references to an 1115 waiver, which could have dramatic impacts on the HUSKY program and would necessitate careful consideration by all stakeholders. This issue needs further analysis and discussion in order to protect HUSKY enrollees and all health care services.

All agree that, unless something changes, the current model of health care delivery is unsustainable. The SIM proposal may not fully solve the problem, but the status quo is not the answer.

Evelyn Barnum, is the chief executive officer of the Community Health Center Association of Connecticut, which represents 13 FQHCs.

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Pelto, Visconti Prepare To Turn In Their Petitions

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 9, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Election 2014, Election Policy

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Jonathan Pelto signs Joe Visconti’s petition Wednesday at a state Board of Education meeting

With less than a month left to petition onto the gubernatorial ballot, third party candidates Jonathan Pelto and Joe Visconti both say they’re confident they will collect the requisite 7,500 signatures.

Pelto, a liberal blogger and former Democratic lawmaker, and Visconti, a conservative former West Hartford councilman, have both enlisted the help of volunteers to gather signatures.

Their efforts have potentially set up a four-way governor’s race in November. Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is seeking re-election while his 2010 rival, Tom Foley, has again won the Republican nod and is facing Senate Minority Leader John McKinney in a primary race on Aug. 12.

With Malloy and Foley virtually tied in the most recent Quinnipiac poll, the presence of third-party candidates on the ballot could have a significant impact on the election. Both third-party candidates say they are well on their way to collecting the necessary 7,500 signatures to earn a spot on the ballot.

However, the process of getting those signatures qualified is difficult.

Campaign volunteers must gather signatures and addresses from registered voters, and have their petition sheets notarized. After the volunteers turn the signatures over to the campaigns, the signatures have to be submitted to a registrar of voters in the town of the person who signed the petition. The registrars have two weeks to certify the signatures and the deadline to submit signatures is Aug. 6. 

Here’s where each candidate said they stood Tuesday with the deadline less than a month away:

Pelto

Christine Stuart file photo

Jonathan Pelto talks to a voter at the Working Families Party convention in June

Pelto estimates about 400 people are currently collecting signatures for his campaign. All told, he believes those volunteers have surpassed the 7,500 mark necessary to qualify. However, only about half the volunteers have returned their signature sheets to the campaign. He estimated the campaign has about 5,000 signatures “in hand,” and more still require notarization. Meanwhile, volunteers continue to collect more signatures to establish a “buffer” in case some are disqualified by registrars.

“I’ve taken off the word ‘cautiously’ out of ‘cautiously optimistic.’ Now I’m just optimistic. I think we’re there,” he said.

Pelto said his campaign began delivering signatures to individual town registrars on Monday. He expects they will deliver another batch on Tuesday and another later in the week. Pelto said the signatures have come from voters in “well over” 100 different towns.

Although he is focused on ensuring that his name gets onto the ballot, Pelto said the complexity of the signature collection process has highlighted the challenges he would face if he tried to qualify for a public campaign financing grant.

“It’s a major undertaking and the one thing it does do is cast a shadow on the next phase, which is, do we participate in the public financing system?” Pelto said. In order to qualify for the program as a third-party candidate, he would have to collect signatures from about 111,000 voters.

“It’s becoming clearer and clearer that’s not possible,” he said.

So far, Malloy and Foley have qualified for the Citizens Election Program. McKinney is still working to get his application approved.

Pelto said he is a supporter of public campaign financing, but believes the state’s program sets too high a hurdle for third-party candidates to participate. He said he is considering filing a lawsuit to challenge the requirements.

“I’m leaning more and more toward the notion that the law is just too restrictive. We’ll explore our legal options that it may be an infringement on our First Amendment right to have to collect 111,000 signatures,” he said.

In the meantime, Pelto said he expects to begin fundraising the “old fashioned way.”

Visconti

Christine Stuart file photo

Tom Foley and Joe Visconti at the Second Amendment rally in April

Visconti estimates he has about 125 people collecting signatures for his campaign. He estimated they had so far collected around 5,000. A staunch Second Amendment advocate, Visconti said many of his signatures have come from volunteers who have been fixtures at gun stores around the state, including Hoffman’s Gun Center in Newington.

Visconti had initially sought the Republican nomination to challenge Malloy, but did not win enough support from delegates at the party convention to appear on the August primary ballot. Following a short-lived effort to petition onto the GOP primary ballot, he began his third-party candidacy.

He said the signature collection process has been easier without the requirement that the signing voters be registered Republicans.

“We’ll definitely make it [to 7,500] and more, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel compared to looking for Republican signatures, which was like looking for four leafed clovers,” Visconti said.

Although his campaign has not yet begun submitting signatures to individual registrars, Visconti said he expects to begin that process next week but continue collecting signatures up until the August deadline. He said the campaign also plans to organize a “notarizing party” where volunteers can gather to notarize petitions.

Visconti declined to say how much money his campaign has raised, but said he has no desire to participate in the public campaign financing system.

“I’ll never do that. Wouldn’t do it even if I could,” he said.

Visconti said he looks forward to a four-way race. He said the added choices will drive up voter turnout in November. 

“Malloy and Foley are the big ones. We’re just spoilers over here. Well, I think it’s going to turn out different,” he said.

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OP-ED | Sort Out the FUSE Problems, But Don’t Forget the Kids

by Owen Francis | Jul 8, 2014 3:53pm
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Posted to: Education, Opinion, Bridgeport

We’ve seen a lot of news in the last few weeks about problems with Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE) and their operation of schools in Hartford. But in all of the coverage, there has not been much talk about the students, like my own kids, whose school districts had failed them and whose lives have been changed for the better by attending a Connecticut charter school.

I understand how parents at Dunbar Elementary School in Bridgeport feel. Every day, as I send my kids to school, I am not thinking about the politics of education, or FUSE, the organization currently running Dunbar. Like Dunbar parents, I’m focused on making sure that they have finished homework and have their lunchboxes. I think about whether they are being challenged in the classroom, and whether they are learning. And I think about their safety.

There has been a lot to like in the turnaround at Dunbar this year as part of the state’s Commissioner’s Network. Most importantly, students are coming to school every day and they are learning, and it shows.

Before the school turnaround began, Dunbar’s academic record was terrible. According to the results of the Connecticut Mastery Test, fewer than one in 10 eighth grade students was at grade level in math, science, and writing skills; and slightly more than one in four could read at grade level — some of the lowest scores in the city of Bridgeport and in our state.

At the same time, student absenteeism rates were some of the highest in the state, and more than half of all students had been suspended.

Our community came together to transform Dunbar because we understood that our children deserved better and that this failing school needed new leadership. That need has not changed with the recent news about the organization that runs the school.

Since the turnaround began in September 2013, we have seen a transformation at Dunbar. Chronic student absenteeism has dropped from 25 to six percent — well under the state’s 11.5 percent average, and staff attendance is the highest in the district. Suspensions are down from 130 students with two or more the previous year, to only 41 this school year. And the percentage of first- and second-grade students who are considered to be “on track” has jumped by 25 percent.

With the turnaround came a longer school day, new and energetic teachers, and a community-service requirement for every student. Students were taught to respect and value themselves and their peers. I hear many students say that they feel safe at Dunbar for the first time.

Our community’s children, particularly those who have worked hard this year to be part of the Dunbar turnaround, deserve a plan for the coming years that builds upon this early success and keeps moving forward.

The mismanagement of FUSE and its impact on schools like Dunbar is heartbreaking and, frankly, infuriating for parents like me. Like everyone else, we want to understand how and why it happened, and we want the problems fixed.

But, while we’re fixing the problem with FUSE, I hope we can stay focused on improving schools for all kids. We want to make sure that the best-possible leaders and organizations are running schools. We need more excellent choices and more accountability for results, not less. Parents expect the best from our kids, and we demand the same of our schools.

As a charter parent, I urge the state and city boards of education to act quickly to restore stability at Dunbar and every FUSE operated school in Connecticut. But, I also urge everyone to remember that the Commissioner’s network — and public charter schools — have been life-changing for kids like mine. Let’s figure out what went wrong and fix it, but let’s not forget our focus: our children, and the great schools we’ve chosen for them.

Owen Francis of Bridgeport is a father of four children. Three of those children attend a charter school, but not Dunbar.

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Federal Judge Refuses To Dismiss Rowland Corruption Case

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 8, 2014 2:57pm
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Posted to: Campaign Finance, Legal

Douglas Healey file photo

John Rowland leaves court in April with one of his attorneys

A federal judge declined Tuesday to throw out any of the seven counts against former Gov. John Rowland, denying a motion by his legal team to dismiss the campaign corruption allegations detailed in an April grand jury indictment.

Rowland, who previously served 10 months in federal prison on a conspiracy charge after resigning the governor’s office in 2004, is facing charges relating to consulting work he performed for 2012 5th Congressional District candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley.

That work and Rowland’s $35,000 compensation weren’t reported to election regulators. The charges also stem from unsuccessful attempts by the former governor to engage another candidate, Mark Greenberg, in similar scheme in 2009.

Rowland has pleaded not guilty to the charges and his attorneys filed a motion asking the judge to dismiss the case.

The former governor’s legal team, headed by high-profile attorney Reid Weingarten, attempted to pick apart each charge. They claimed that some of the former governor’s actions were not illegal and disputed prosecutors’ allegations that documents drawn up by Rowland could be considered “false contracts.”

Judge Janet Bond Arterton denied that motion Tuesday in a 23-page decision, ruling that none of the defense team’s arguments justified dismissing the case before it goes to trial in September.

“[A]n indictment need not refute potential defenses in order to be valid… and the Court cannot make inferences regarding what the evidence will show at trial on a motion to dismiss. It is sufficient that the Superseding Indictment alleges and details how Mr. Rowland participated in an agreement to make illegal campaign contributions without refuting every potential scenario under which this arrangement could have been legal,” she wrote.

Arterton, who recently handed down a series of lengthy prison terms in fundraising conspiracy case stemming from another 2012 5th congressional district race, offered little in the way of commentary on most of the arguments presented by Rowland’s attorneys.

However, she was dismissive of an argument from the defense lawyers contending that charging Rowland with a crime based on an unexecuted contract between he and Greenberg amounted to an “inchoate thought crime.”

“Defendant cites no authority for this proposition and the Superseding Indictment does not allege any ‘inchoate thought crime,’” Arterton writes, “but rather that Mr. Rowland actually drafted” and provided Greenberg with a fictitious contract.

Last month, prosecutors were more derisive in their response to the motion to dismiss. They characterized the arguments as based on “imaginary” premises, calling one an invitation to “enter a parallel universe and imagine” a scenario which the government was never trying to prove.

Rowland’s trial is scheduled to begin on Sept. 3 with jury selection starting in August. His lawyers have asked the judge for stricter juror screening tools based on the level of publicity surrounding the case.

Meanwhile, Wilson-Foley and her husband, Brian Foley, have already pleaded guilty to related charges and have been cooperating with prosecutors. The two have not been sentenced.

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23 Primaries In August

by Madeline Stocker | Jul 8, 2014 2:05pm
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Posted to: Election 2014

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Registered Republicans statewide will be able to cast their votes in the Aug. 12 primary, but there are at least 20 other primaries for General Assembly seats and probate judgeships, according to Secretary of State Denise Merrill.

“It is important that voters are fully aware of the primaries taking place on August 12th,” Merrill said in a press release. “We in Connecticut have a number of open seats in our General Assembly on both sides of the aisle, and many candidates lining up to replace outgoing legislators.”

There will be statewide Republican primaries for governor, lieutenant governor, and comptroller. There will also be primaries for legislative seats, eight of which include Democratic incumbents.

The top three primaries are dominated by the Republican Party. At the top of the ticket, Republican-endorsed candidate Tom Foley, of Greenwich, will run against Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney of Fairfield. The winner of that primary will go up against Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy and possibly third-party challengers Joe Visconti and Jonathan Pelto on Nov. 4.

In the race for lieutenant governor, state Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, the convention-endorsed candidate, is being challenged by former Groton Mayor Heather Bond Somers and former U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker, who is running with McKinney.

Democrats have four primaries to settle nominations for state Senate. Three involve challenges to incumbents in urban districts where the primary is generally thought of as the election since there is rarely a Republican opponent in November.

Democrats also have nine primaries to pick nominees in House districts, five of which involve incumbents: Reps. Douglas McCrory of Hartford, Christina Ayala of Bridgeport, Bruce Morris of Norwalk, Chris Perone of Norwalk, and Linda A. Orange of Colchester.

“I encourage registered Democrats and Republicans to find out about the candidates and make their voices heard on primary day by casting ballots,” Merrill said. “Critical issues such as our economy and our state budget are at stake and will be impacted by the decisions made by those we choose to represent us in Hartford.” 

While registered voters can cast their vote anywhere from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the day of the primary, the more than 800,000 unaffiliated voters in Connecticut would need to register with a party by noon on Monday, Aug. 11, in order to participate in the primary.

The following primaries reported to the Office of the Secretary of the State will be on the ballot on August 12, 2014 (* denotes party endorsed candidate):

Governor
Republican
*Thomas C. Foley
John P. McKinney

Lieutenant Governor
Republican
*Penny Bacchiochi
Heather Somers
David M. Walker

Comptroller
Republican
*Sharon J. McLaughlin
Angel Cadena

State Senate – 2
Democratic
*Shawn Wooden
Eric D. Coleman
Len Walker

State Senate – 20
Democratic
*Elizabeth B. Ritter
William L. Satti

State Senate – 22
Democratic
*Anthony J. Musto
Marilyn Moore

State Senate – 23
Democratic
*Andres Ayala, Jr.
Scott Hughes

Assembly District – 7
Democratic
*Douglas McCrory
Donna Thompson-Daniel

Assembly District – 23
Republican
*Devin R. Carney
Vicki Lanier

Assembly District – 32
Democratic
*Kathleen G. Richards
Anthony “Tony” Salvatore

Assembly District – 44
Democratic
*Christine Rosati
Michael Cartier

Assembly District – 47
Republican
No Endorsement
Doug Dubitsky
Noah Enslow
Michael P. Meadows

Assembly District – 48
Democratic
*Linda A. Orange
Jason Paul

Assembly District – 64
Republican
*Brian Ohler
Mark Lauretano

Assembly District – 122
Republican
*Ben McGorty
Michael C. Vickerelli

Assembly District – 124
Democratic
*Ernie Newton
Andre Baker

Assembly District – 128
Democratic
*Christopher Rosario
Christina Ayala
Dennis Bradley
Teresa Davidson

Assembly District – 133
Democratic
*Cristin McCarthy Vahey
Matt Waggner

Assembly District – 137
Democratic
*David Watts
Chris Perone

Assembly District – 140
Democratic
*Bruce Morris
Warren Pena

Assembly District – 142
Republican
*Emily Wilson
Fred Wilms

Probate District Plainfield – Killingly – 27
Democratic
*Andrea Truppa
Anna Zubkova

Probate District Madison – Guilford – 34
Republican
*William Bilcheck
Gail S. Kotowski

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Murphy Battles Super Pollutants

by Jhansi Katechia | Jul 8, 2014 11:31am
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Posted to: Energy, Environment, Milford

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Sen. Chris Murphy listens to environmental advocates

Sen. Chris Murphy joined advocates last week in Milford to discuss his bipartisan legislation to reduce “super pollutants.”

The Super Pollutants Act of 2014 is a bipartisan bill introduced by Murphy and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, last week. The proposal is aimed at reducing emissions of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), referred to as “super pollutants.”

These super pollutants are non-carbon dioxide greenhouse pollutants and can come from a variety of places, such as landfills, refrigerators, air conditioners, diesel engines, and cookstoves.

Super pollutants stay in the atmosphere for a relatively short amount of time, but they are responsible for around 40 percent of global warming, making them the second-largest contributor after carbon dioxide.

For example, methane is emitted into the air from leaking landfills and oil and gas exploration, and black carbon is emitted in the form of soot from diesel engines and traditional cookstoves. The legislation seeks to mitigate the release of these waste products by working with a variety of federal agencies.

“If I stopped emitting black carbon, it’d be gone in a year or two. If you turned off sources for methane, it would be gone in 10 years,” Director of Yale Climate and Energy Institute Mark Pagani said, adding that the timeframe makes it a short-term project.

“These are pollutants that comprise about 40 percent of total global warming capacity,” Murphy said.

While President Obama and the Congress focus on their plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, Murphy believes that dramatic reduction of the super pollutants can help to slow climate warming.

The bill seeks to reduce SLCP’s by regulating federal agencies and their adoption of SLCP-reducing technologies and strategies.

“Government agencies are big consumers of refrigeration and air conditioning, and big users of gas and oil,” Murphy said. “The government has jurisdiction across these agencies.”

State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, sees the gas flaring from wells in North Dakota as an opportunity to restrict the gas emissions. Murphy hopes that this will be part of what this super pollutant legislation will cover.

“We’re trying to push the state of technologies in different places on this issue,” United Technologies Chief Sustainability Officer John M. Mandyck said.

Mandyck explained that United Technologies has been making strides with refrigeration in supermarkets and marine container refrigeration, which is used on ships that transport food via ship. Mandyck said that where there are alternatives available, they should be using them.

“We don’t have alternatives in every area — the science just isn’t there yet. So we have to be practical about the way we want to approach this and this bill does that,” Mandyck said.

While Murphy was unable to quantify the exact impact of the legislation, he believes that it will reduce the growing issues of global warming.

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Hillary Clinton Speaking Fee Raises Questions About UConn Foundation Transparency

by Christine Stuart | Jul 8, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Education, Ethics, FOIA, Nonprofits, Taxes, Transparency, Mansfield-Storrs

Megan Merrigan file photo

Hillary Clinton

Last week, the Washington Post reported that former Secretary of the State Hillary Clinton was paid more than $251,250 to speak to 2,300 students at the University of Connecticut in April. The news has at least two gubernatorial candidates crying foul, while Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the foundation defended the decision.

At an unrelated event Monday, Malloy said it’s his understanding that the money was given to the University of Connecticut Foundation with the express purpose of paying Clinton’s speaking fee.

“They were private dollars and that’s how they got spent,” Malloy said.

University of Connecticut Foundation President Josh Newton said the money for Clinton’s visit came from the Edmund Fusco Family of New Haven. The family set up a special fund with the foundation to cover costs associated with its speaker series.

“No tuition or tax dollars are used to pay speakers who come to UConn as part of the series,” Newton said. “As with all donations, the foundation honors the intent of the donor; to use the funds for any purpose other than that specified by the donor would be a breach of the agreement.”

But not everybody believes him.

Jonathan Pelto, a third-party candidate for governor, said the claim that no taxpayer dollars were used to fund Clinton’s 30-minute speaking engagement is misleading.

He said the University of Connecticut Foundation is a private organization which is exempt from the state’s Freedom of Information laws. Without access to the foundation’s financials, it’s hard to know — beyond trusting what they say — where the money to pay Clinton may have originated.

“In a long standing deal between the University of Connecticut and its foundation, UConn uses taxpayer and students’ funds to subsidize the foundation so that it will look more successful,” Pelto alleged in a statement. He also pointed out that the speech came at a time when state support for the university has declined and tuition is expected to increase 6.5 percent in 2015.

“This year approximately $9 million will be shifted from UConn’s taxpayer and student-funded operating fund to the foundation,” Pelto said. “To suggest that none of that money helped pay for Hillary Clinton’s fee and visit to UConn is simply wrong.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley agreed with Pelto.

“Diverting funds meant to benefit UConn students to political purposes is a particularly egregious violation of the public trust,” Foley said in a statement last week.

However, in fairness Clinton did not speak about her potential bid for president in 2016, and University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst did not ask her about it.

Clinton spoke about the millennial generation, and did not shy away from topics like immigration, foreign policy, and whistleblower Edward Snowden. She was presented with UConn onesies for her future grandchildren.

Meanwhile, legislation that would have brought greater transparency to the University of Connecticut Foundation died in committee this year after a public hearing in February.

Paula Pearlman, a staff attorney for the Freedom of Information Commission, testified that under current law the UConn Foundation is not considered a public agency even though it clearly serves a public function.

“As its mission states the Foundation operates exclusively to promote the educational, scientific, cultural, research, and recreational objectives of the University of Connecticut. Thus arrangements between the UConn Foundation and the University of Connecticut are part of the conduct of the public’s business and not to be subject to greater public scrutiny under the FOI Act,” Pearlman told the Government Administration and Elections Committee in February.

The legislation also would have subjected the foundation to financial audits by the Auditors of Public Accounts.

Claude Albert, legislative chair of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, testified that his organization believes the foundation “acts largely as a surrogate for the university.”

“It manages hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of the school. It raises money on behalf of the school,” Albert told the committee in February.

Albert said disclosure of the information should inspire even greater confidence in the organization and its mission.

Malloy said he thought the foundation was pretty transparent and that for every dollar the state invests in staffing the foundation, $8 to $9 is returned.

“They’ve raised about $711 million over the last few years,” Malloy said. “That’s a very substantial commitment on the part of alumni, foundations, and employers in the state of Connecticut, so I don’t know what the rules to transparency are with respect to the foundation. Happy to take a look at them.”

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State To Invest $19.2M In Waterbury

by Christine Stuart | Jul 7, 2014 4:57pm
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Posted to: Election 2014, Local Politics, Waterbury

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Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary explains the projects to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy delivered some good news to the most distressed municipality in the state Monday when he announced that the state planned to spend about $19.2 million in Waterbury buying up properties, renovating old ones, and improving transportation options.

The project, which is being nicknamed “Waterbury Next,” includes a handful of ideas from redeveloping the historic Howland Hughes building for $5 million to demolition of the long-closed Prospect Street garage for $1.2 million. The project also includes about $4 million in infrastructure improvements, $1 million to purchase a brownfield, $1 million to purchase the historic Rose Hill campus, and $25,000 for pre-development of the Brown Building. The total cost of those projects is about $12.2 million.

Monday’s announcement was made under a tent on the city green.

The state also plans to spend about $6 million to $7 million on improving the signalization for the Waterbury branch of the New Haven Rail Line.

The Waterbury branch is the only portion of the Metro-North service area that does not have a signal system. That, combined with the fact that much of the branch only has one track, prevents more trains from being operated on the line.

“Without signals we can’t add any more services,” Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said. “And this line needs more service and this town deserves more service as the transit hub that it is.”

All the projects will be paid for through state bonding, according to state officials.

Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary said he expected the projects to “unlock significant private investment by all downtown property owners as we change the environment and economics to make it worth their while to do so.”

He said that at the end of the day, stakeholders throughout the region are working together “for the good of the City of Waterbury.”

Some of the projects that will receive state funding have been in the works for more than a year, while some like the demolition of the parking garage and the acquisition of the Rose Hill campus were just announced on Monday.

O’Leary said it has taken a long time to put some of the projects together and he was distracted with the failed merger of Waterbury Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital during the first 10 months of his tenure as mayor.

However, since getting elected in 2011, O’Leary said Malloy has had an open door and is willing to speak about investment in the city.

“Let’s be very honest, our older, urban environments in Connecticut bare the scars and the sweat of the industrial revolution,” Malloy said. “And it’s time to clean those up so that those spaces can be put back to good use.”

As far as Waterbury being a battleground in the 2014 election. . .

“The whole state’s a battleground for God’s Sake,” Malloy said. “We’re going to be all over the state in campaigns. That’s what campaigns are. It’s a battle for the future of the state of Connecticut.”

In the 2010 race, Malloy beat Republican Tom Foley in Waterbury by about 1,728 votes. He went on to win the election by a slim 6,404 votes.

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Blumenthal: Delays at VA Facilities Triple

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 7, 2014 4:00pm
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Posted to: Veterans Affairs

Hugh McQuaid Photo

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal

The number of cases delayed at Veterans Affairs healthcare facilities in Connecticut nearly tripled in the span of a month, according to data released Monday by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal.

The new data, offered by Blumenthal at a press conference in Hartford, are the latest indicators of problems in VA’s health care system.

The senator has been seeking facility-specific results of an audit conducted by the agency in May. The audit was conducted amidst revelations that staff within the VA system in Arizona falsified records to conceal the agency’s inability to meet deadlines in providing healthcare services to veterans.

Although the agency has yet to comply with Blumenthal’s request for the specific audit results of Connecticut facilities, information released in June suggested the facilities in Connecticut did not raise any red flags.

However, Blumenthal said Monday the last information shows that the number of veteran health care appointments that were delayed more than 30 days jumped from 998 in mid-May to 2,727 in mid-June.

“We were assured that these delays were not occurring in Connecticut, that Connecticut had been spared the deadly delays, falsification of records, manipulation of data that has been prevalent elsewhere in the nation,” Blumenthal said. “Now this data may signify, in fact strongly challenges the notion that Connecticut was somehow not involved in these delays.”

The senator said the increase in delayed cases was “astonishing” given that the VA healthcare system was under heightened scrutiny during the same period. He said the jump may be attributed to more accurate record keeping if perhaps staff abandoned efforts to conceal problems within the agency.

“In other words, the hidden delays have now been revealed and therefore the wait times, more accurately reported, seem longer. But again, for Connecticut, that’s bad news,” he said.

On July 1, Blumenthal wrote for a second time to acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson asking that the agency clarify the new information as well as release facility specific audit results. Gibson took over for former VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, who resigned his position at the end of May.

Blumenthal said he hoped the new revelations would increase support for legislation he helped to draft that aims to address some of the problems plaguing the VA healthcare system.

The bill would provide emergency funding for the agency to hire more doctors and nurses and set up scholarships and loan forgiveness programs for healthcare professionals who choose to work at the VA. It includes provisions making it easier for the agency to fire bad actors within its ranks. It would also enable vets to seek care from private medical providers if their care at the VA has been delayed.

Blumenthal said a “substantial” number of veterans have contacted his office since he began making public statements related to the VA controversy.

“The data we’re revealing or making available today reflects public outcry from veterans and from people generally,” he said.

Connecticut has two VA hospitals, which are located in Newington and West Haven, as well as six outpatient facilities.

In a Thursday statement, Gibson acknowledged veterans have had to wait too long for care at facilities across the country. But he said his agency was working to get vets off waiting lists.

“As of today, we’ve reached out to nearly 140,000 veterans to get them off wait lists and into clinics, and there is more work to be done,” Gibson said. “As we continue to address systemic challenges in accessing care, these regular data updates enhance transparency and provide the most immediate information to veterans and the public on improvements to veterans’ access to quality health care. We are fully committed to fixing the problems we face in order to better serve veterans.”

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Dems File Election Complaint Against Foley

by Christine Stuart | Jul 7, 2014 1:38pm
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Posted to: Campaign Finance, Election 2014

Screengrab of ad

Tom Foley and his wife, Leslie

(Updated 3:47 p.m.) The Connecticut Democratic Party filed an election complaint against Republican Tom Foley on Monday alleging that the campaign violated the clean election laws. Specifically, the Democrats say the Foley campaign spent more money than they could have had on hand, citing the campaign’s purchase of TV ads before it receive public funds.

Reserving time on TV with public funds isn’t against election laws, but the Democratic Party alleges that Foley’s campaign did it when most all of the $250,000 it raised in order to qualify would have been spent. Or at least that’s what they think happened.

According to the complaint filed with the State Elections Enforcement Commission, on June 28 the Foley campaign disclosed that it had spent about $259,081. That would leave the campaign with about $10,918 to spend between June 29 and July 2. On July 1, Foley’s campaign spent more than $50,000 reserving airtime on all four major TV networks.

The ad, which features Foley’s wife Leslie bragging about how smart she thinks her husband is and what a good father he is to his kids, started airing today.

The Foley campaign called the complaint a distraction from the record of Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

“The Foley campaign has worked closely with the SEEC staff since opening the campaign to assure that we are compliant with the Commission’s rules and regulations,” the campaign said in an emailed statement. “We are confident we have been and remain compliant with the SEEC rules and regulations.”

The Democratic Party disagrees.

“If you dissect Mr. Foley’s expenditure practices, he undoubtedly exceeded the $270,000 limit between June 28, 2014 and July 2, 2014. There are notable expenditures Foley for CT would have needed to pay prior to qualifying on July 2,” the complaint states.

The two large unreported expenditures that Democratic Party highlights in the complaint are payroll for Foley’s campaign staff and production expenses for the television ad the campaign created.

The complaint states that Foley did not report paying his six staff at all between June 1 and June 27. If he paid these staff the complaint alleges that the campaign would have exceeded the $270,000 spending cap prior to receiving approval for the $1.35 million in public funds.

In 2010, Foley spent about $11 million of his own money on his campaign against Malloy. Foley gained statewide name recognition when he came within 6,404 votes of Malloy. This year he decided to use public financing instead.

That means he had to raise more than $250,000 in small donations under $100 per individual in order to qualify for public funds. After three tries, Foley succeeded at qualifying on July 2.

Entry into the Citizens’ Election Program has been viewed as essential to making a gubernatorial run. Last month, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton abandoned his primary challenge of Foley when it became clear he would not be able to raise the donations needed to qualify for public financing.

When Foley announced last year that he would seek a rematch against Malloy, he signaled he would also be seeking to meet the public financing qualifications.

“Why should I pay for my own campaign?” Foley said. “I know I can, but why should I?”

He continued: “They’ve made the rules in Connecticut so that you pretty much can’t win unless you take the public financing or you write a huge check of your own.”

The Connecticut Democratic Party, which has become the attack dog for Malloy, is using the complaint as an example of why they don’t believe Foley is fit to be governor.

“We know Tom Foley has been cavalier in his fundraising, reckless in his filings, and incompetent in his organizational management, so this blatant campaign finance violation should come as no surprise. He’s trying to circumvent the rules,” Devon Puglia, a spokesman for the Democratic Party, said.

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McKinney-Walker Close To Qualifying

by Christine Stuart | Jul 7, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Campaign Finance, Election 2014

CTNJ file photo

Sen. John McKinney

The deadline for qualifying for public funds is fast approaching and at least one gubernatorial candidate is still waiting for his funds.

Republican Sen. John McKinney and running mate David Walker said Friday that about $4,600 of their more than $250,000 was called into question by election regulators. In order for a donation to qualify the donor has to disclose their name, home address, and employer.

However, the duo still believe they will qualify for the $1.35 million grant by July 10.

“This morning we received a report that the SEEC review of our application for grant funding will only require follow-up on about $4,600 in contributions in order to qualify for the state grant.  The required paperwork will be submitted expeditiously,” the campaign said.

The amount the McKinney campaign had to raise over the weekend was far less than the amount his Republican opponent had to raise in order to qualify after his audit.

The State Elections Enforcement Commission twice declined to approve Tom Foley’s application when only about $220,970 of the $264,000 he had raised met the standards necessary to qualify.

Foley, who largely self-funded his 2010 race for governor, submitted his application for the grant in June but found that some of the donors had given to the campaign twice. An individual is allowed to contribute no more than $100 to any publicly financed candidate. He eventually qualified for the funding on July 2.

McKinney faces Foley in the Aug. 12 primary and even though he’s pooled his fundraising with Walker, the lieutenant governor candidate will run separately in the primary.

Walker faces state Rep. Penny Bacchiochi and Heather Somers, who both qualified for $406,275 primary grant.

“We are pleased to be done with fundraising and look forward to the upcoming campaign,” the McKinney-Walker campaign, said. “We have a real plan to fix Connecticut that will bring major change to Hartford and reverse the disastrous policies of Dan Malloy.”

Meanwhile, Foley started reserving television ad time the day before receiving his public grant.

According to public filings, Foley reserved a number of 30-second TV spots that will begin airing today for $50,000.

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman already qualified for their $6.5 million grant for the general election.

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OP-ED | On Beer, Guns, and Freedom

by Suzanne Bates | Jul 4, 2014 10:30am
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Posted to: Civil Liberties, Equality, Opinion

There was an uneasy energy in Harvard Yard as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the attempt to stifle conservative voices on college campuses at Harvard and across the nation a modern form of McCarthyism.

“There is an idea floating around college campuses — including here at Harvard — that scholars should be funded only if their work conforms to a particular view of justice,” he said. “There’s a word for that idea: censorship. And it is just a modern-day form of McCarthyism.”

I was there on May 29 as he delivered the commencement address, which was met by mostly tepid applause, and sometimes by an uncomfortable silence.

It was not the address most of us were expecting, at least based on the response of the crowd, as he called out the “tyrannical tendencies of monarchs, mobs, and majorities.”

For those of us who are concerned with the direction of freedom of expression on college campuses, the effect was electrifying. Here he was, on the most elite Ivy League campus, calling out the professors and students who have effectively drowned out the voices they disagree with by opposing their right to speak on campus or by yelling them down when they do speak.

That there is a political bias amongst professors is obvious — Bloomberg cited Federal Election Commission data from the 2012 presidential race that showed “96 percent of all campaign contributions from Ivy League faculty and employees went to Barack Obama.”

“There was more disagreement among the old Soviet Politburo than there is among Ivy League donors,” he said.

His words bring to mind some of the recent actions of professors in Connecticut, including the University of Connecticut professor who shouted down Christians who were trying to do outreach on campus. And there was the Eastern Connecticut State University professor who went on an anti-Republican rant during class.

After lambasting the faculty for a while, Bloomberg then gave the liberals in the crowd something to cheer about as he spoke about guns and climate change.

Gun owners might find Bloomberg’s emphasis on freedom ironic given his vocal and committed advocacy to making gun ownership more difficult.

Many of our modern political debates hinge on our different conceptions of freedom, and how much of it we should surrender as members of a civil society. How much of our economic freedom, our individual liberties, do we surrender to benefit the greater good?

There are those who are ideologically rigid — anarchists, communists, and staunch libertarians — who are confident on where they stand on the issue of liberty and government. Some would see us surrender all to the will of the state, some almost nothing, and then there are those who see no place at all for a prevailing political authority.

The rest of us fall somewhere in between these extremes, trying to find a balance between giving up some freedom for the good of all, while maintaining the individual rights and liberties we cherish.

Our personal prejudices come into play when we decide what freedoms to restrict and what freedoms to champion.

We live in a state where a teenaged girl is deemed mature enough to handle the psychological and physical effects of an abortion without parental consent, but we won’t let our high school students see political websites on school computers.

Our prejudices are exposed as we decide what information we will listen to and what we will ignore. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy showed his own prejudice as he openly criticized gun manufacturers at the same time that he celebrated the opening of a new microbrewery, to add to the “Connecticut Brewery Trail.”

In 2010, guns were used in the deaths of about 35,000 people in the United States, and about two-thirds of those deaths were suicides. A new study published by the Center for Disease Control says alcohol use is to blame for about 88,000 deaths a year, but we haven’t heard our lawmakers calling for a registry of alcohol owners (nor am I advocating for one).

Every time our government grows and expands, every time a new law is passed, our freedom is restricted a little bit more. Sometimes those laws and regulations are necessary, but when there is a lack of clarity about a law or a regulation’s effects, we should err on the side of freedom.

As Bloomberg said, “Standing up for the rights of others is in some ways even more important than standing up for your own rights. Because when people seek to repress freedom for some, and you remain silent, you are complicit in that repression and you may well become its victim.”

Suzanne Bates is a writer living in South Windsor with her family. While traveling across the country as an Air Force spouse, she worked for news organizations including the Associated Press, the New Hampshire Union Leader, and Good Morning America Weekend. She recently completed a research fellowship at the Yankee Institute. Follow her on Twitter @suzebates.

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OP-ED | Clear Summer Sailing for Foley

by Susan Bigelow | Jul 4, 2014 8:30am
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Posted to: Election 2014, Opinion

Summer is finally here, and suddenly the political waters are calm and smooth for Tom Foley. He’s been having a great couple of weeks, despite — or perhaps because of —  having done next to nothing.

It didn’t start out this way. The beginning of Foley’s campaign was a comedy of unforced errors in which he threw bizarre accusations at Gov. Dannel P. Malloy without bothering to gather evidence for any of them. The state’s political press ground him into a fine powder for it, and deservedly so. Worse, he did it again in January; accusing two brothers who received state economic aid of being related to a Democratic lobbyist. It turned out this wasn’t true, and Foley, instead of looking like a sober, steady leader who could return economic order to the state, looked more like an impulsive and desperate political novice.

But since then Foley’s gotten smart, and, more importantly, he’s gotten quiet. His attacks against Malloy, while constant, stick to dry economic realities and vague, pro-business, GOP boilerplate instead of wild accusations of corruption. It’s as if someone reminded him that all he had to do to win was keep his head down and not screw things up, and he actually listened.

It’s paying off. After a few hitches, he eventually qualified for his share of public campaign financing, which nicely obscures the fact that he could buy and sell most of us with his personal fortune. He also found some room to breathe when his strongest Republican opponent, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, dropped out and endorsed him, leaving only the hapless John McKinney officially in the race.

Better still, Jonathan Pelto picked up enough signatures to get his third-party candidacy onto the November ballot — encouraged in part by Republicans who hope Pelto will draw away enough Democratic votes to let Foley sneak by. Pelto, who has made his loathing of Gov. Malloy clear in blog post after excruciatingly long blog post, likely will have no trouble playing the role of the spoiler right up till the bitter end. Captain Ahab must chase his whale, after all.

Foley’s good luck didn’t stop there. Former Gov. M. Jodi Rell popped out of retirement to shake a finger at Malloy. The popular Rell finally pushed back against what Malloy and other Democrats have been saying for years, that she’s responsible for the huge deficits the state faced in 2011, shifting blame instead to the Democratic legislature. There’s something to this, though it then becomes a little trickier to blame Malloy for the deficits looming in the next few years. Still, a revitalized and combative Rell would be a huge asset for the Republican ticket if she actually decided to get into the fray.

Speaking of Rell, her lieutenant governor, Michael Fedele, endorsed Foley this week. This is a big deal because Fedele was Foley’s strongest challenger during the close, bitter 2010 primary. Amazingly, Republicans are managing to pull their various factions into something resembling a real political party.

All of this leaves Foley in great shape as the summer wears on. If McKinney stays in the race Foley will beat him handily, giving him a win and positive press. On the other side, Malloy isn’t getting a lot of breaks; the fight over Common Core is damaging him, the economy remains sluggish, and the mood of the electorate remains as grumpy as ever.

There are some clouds ahead. Pelto has found nothing in the way of union support, which is something he seems to have been counting on. The SEIU and the AFL-CIO have endorsed Malloy-Wyman, and it’s unlikely Pelto will pick up any other unions. Democrats may not be able to convince Pelto to drop out, but they may be able to isolate him enough that he has next to no impact on the race.

Also, the Tom Foley that threw around baseless allegations without a shred of proof is still out there. He could still manage to shoot himself in the foot at a time when people are actually paying attention, and force people to think twice about him.

Lastly, Foley underestimates Dan Malloy at his peril. The governor may be down, but he is not the sort of person to back out on a fight. Malloy won last time in part by painting Foley as rich and out-of-touch; Republicans should be ready for a blizzard of similar ads in the fall. Foley could quickly find himself playing Mitt Romney to Malloy’s Obama.

But right now, this is Foley’s race to lose. Full speed ahead.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

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OP-ED | Rock Cats Move To Hartford Tainted By Secrecy And Incompetence

by Terry D. Cowgill | Jul 4, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Business, Opinion, Sports, Transparency, Hartford, New Britain

Distressed municipalities will often turn to anything they think will help with economic development.

Casinos and big-box stores, two Connecticut staples, offer the allure of jobs and increased tax revenues, yet they also come with their own sets of liabilities such as sprawl and assorted social problems. But those endeavors, flawed as they are, are typically financed with private capital and are open to some level of public scrutiny.

Professional sports franchises, on the other hand, often demand and receive taxpayer funds to build stadiums or relocate from ostensibly less desirable cities. Fortunately, they too operate mostly in the open when trying to get a favorable deal from a new host city. Such a level of transparency can benefit both parties as it can apply pressure on politicians to cut a favorable deal. Conversely, a lack of transparency can embolden public officials to simply give away the store.

One of the worst recent examples of a secretive process that got out of hand is right here in Connecticut. A month ago, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra announced — right out of left field, so to speak — that he would spend up to $60 million to build a 9,000-seat stadium for the New Britain Rock Cats to lure the team to the Capital City.

Mind you, Hartford is so short on cash that it’s selling off a parking garage this year to balance its budget, so this announcement not only took observers by surprise but it left many of them shaking their heads in disbelief that a nearly-broke city would spend millions to lure a Double-A franchise whose economic value to the depressed North End would be dubious at best.

Economists have overwhelmingly concluded that the economic benefits metropolitan areas experience from the presence of professional sports franchises are usually exceeded by the size of the subsidy needed to attract them in the first place. Team owners and politicians talk a good game about how the new franchise will reinvigorate cities, grow the economy, and create jobs.

But sports franchises, especially those in the minor leagues, don’t employ a lot of people. And the economic numbers for the Rock Cats sound wildly inflated. A study commissioned and paid for by the city projects the move to Hartford could generate $8.1 million in revenue in its first year — an amount that exceeds all but 11 minor league franchises in the country. Even the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox, located less than 40 miles south of its legendary parent at Fenway Park, generated only $6.2 million last year.

The most laughable statistic in the report is that 700 people will sleep in hotels near the stadium after a game. That’s four times as many as the number that stays in town when the UConn men’s or women’s basketball teams play in Hartford. And the Huskies have a much higher attendance than the Rock Cats could ever dream about.

That said, these types of overly optimistic assumptions are typical of consultants. As hired guns, they want to please the master and set the stage for more work down the road. So the overly rosy projections are de rigueur, if still unacceptable.

But there’s no excuse for the level of secrecy prior to the grand unveiling of the stadium plan at a dramatic news conference on June 4. Nor should we be pleased with Segarra’s pompous announcement a few days later on Face The State that the move was “a done deal.” Both should leave a far worse taste in our mouths than the rainbows and unicorns promised in consultant’s report.


Adding insult to injury, city officials made the boneheaded pro-forma move to hold a “public hearing” on Wednesday — a full three weeks after Segarra’s now infamous “done deal” proclamation.

And The Courant’s Kevin Rennie uncovered another gem. The Rock Cats deal includes a luxury suite for city officials. Perfect. Let’s give the little people one more reason to be angered by this dopey arrangement.

Segarra and his minions have handled this episode so poorly that it inspires little confidence in their ability to lead Hartford. It’s one thing to mismanage the Capital City but it’s quite another to lead state taxpayers, who foot the bill for half the city’s budget, on a wild goose chase. Perhaps members of the City Council will come to their senses and put the kibosh on a deal that benefits only themselves and the wealthy Boston real estate developers who own the Rock Cats.

I know. I know. I’m expecting too much of politicians. But can’t I dream?

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is news editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

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Connecticut Prepares For Arthur

by Madeline Stocker | Jul 3, 2014 9:19pm
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Posted to: Weather

Courtesy of the NOAA As 2.1 million New Englanders get ready to travel the East Coast, so too will another Fourth of July guest: Hurricane Arthur, a storm that is expected to reach Connecticut as early as Thursday night.

The storm was originally predicted to be a Tropical Storm, but is currently nearing level two hurricane status.

The latest forecast from the National Weather Service shows Arthur currently stationed off the coast of South Carolina. If the storm continues to hold it’s current northeast trajectory of 10 mph, it will reach Connecticut by midday Friday, with winds between 74 and 110 mph.

Though the heart of the storm is not scheduled to reach the state until Friday, the National Weather Service issued a Hazardous Weather Outlook, Severe Thunderstorm Warning and Flash Flood Warning for Thursday night.

“The Doppler Radar indicated a line of severe thunderstorms capable of producing quarter size hail and damaging winds in excess of 60 mph,” the National Weather Service reported. “These storms were located along a line extending from near Hartland to near Litchfield . . . and [were] moving east at 20 mph.”

Connecticut tides are expected to run one foot above normal, and rainfall is expected to total 1-3 inches across the state, which may cause local urban flooding.

Gov. Dannel P.  Malloy also has been monitoring the storm, and issued a press release Thursday reminding Connecticut residents to be watchful, but not overly concerned.

“Although the latest forecast does not have Arthur severely impacting the state, we need to continue to monitor the storm’s path,” Malloy said. “This storm is a great reminder that we need to be prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws at us as we move into the height of hurricane season.”

The Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, a division within the Department of Emergency Service and Public Protection, participates in ongoing National Weather Service conference calls to get the latest information on the storm’s track and provides updates to all municipalities and the tribal nations, according to the press release.

As far as festivities are concerned, some Connecticut towns remain optimistic, while others have already postponed their fireworks. According to city officials, fireworks have been postponed in New Haven, New Britain, Westport, Derby, Norwalk, Shelton, and Stratford, though some by only one day.

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Transportation Secretary Finds Support In Connecticut For Highway Trust Fund

by Christine Stuart | Jul 3, 2014 5:00pm
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Posted to: State Capitol, Transportation

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stopped in Connecticut for a few hours Thursday to solicit the help of state officials in encouraging Congress to shore up the U.S. Transportation Department’s Highway Trust Fund.

But there was little he needed to say to convince Connecticut’s Congressional delegation. U.S. Reps. Joe Courtney, Rosa DeLauro, and Elizabeth Esty attended the meeting in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office along with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, and each offered their support for the measure.

Foxx said he’s not just preaching to the choir in his quest to make sure the fund remains solvent. He was in Kentucky yesterday having a similar conversation with officials in that state.

“The reality though is we’re having the wrong conversation about infrastructure in America,” Foxx said. “Our country has been built on our infrastructure. We are the envy of the world . . . But to keep that place and frankly to pass it on to a younger generation, we have to do much more than we’re doing.”

DeLauro likened the situation regarding the fund to a government shutdown in the transportation sector. She said the Transportation Department finds itself in this situation as a result of a Republican majority in the U.S. House that “has manufactured a crisis. It threatens to destabilize our economy and it will cost us 700,000 jobs.”

Foxx said his state tour is partly about averting a crisis, but it’s also about signaling to the country “that we are not in a good place here.”

The fact that the “Highway Trust Fund is on the verge of insolvency should matter to every American,” Foxx said.

The fund has been kept solvent for the past five years by an estimated 27 legislative “patches,” but now it is down to about $4 billion. When the money runs out, it means the federal government will stop reimbursing the state for a portion of its transportation projects.

Foxx said states will see on average a 28 percent decrease in resources.

Malloy said Connecticut could survive without the federal funds for about 30 to 35 days, but it would be unable to go out to bid for about 85 projects.

Those 85 projects represent about $380 million worth of construction on the highway side and about $185 million on the transit side in Connecticut. All of them are in jeopardy if the fund becomes insolvent.

Malloy said he’s going to be having a conversation with governors from across the country next week in Tennessee at the National Governors Association meeting.

“I can’t imagine Republicans being so crazy — so crazy that they would allow this to cripple our economy,” Malloy said.

Connecticut’s Congressional delegation still has trouble comprehending Republican opposition to allocating money to the trust fund. Republicans have been willing to take a program that, for the last 60 years, has enjoyed wide bipartisan support to the brink of insolvency, Courtney said.

“The last thing we need is to have a cut-off of funds that are going to help a construction sector that is finally getting off its knees from the Great Recession of 2008,” Courtney said. “It is imperative that this external pressure . . . continues because that is the only way, if we look at the pattern of the last 18 months, that we can get this House Republican leadership shaken loose to simply allow a vote to take place.”

There are several competing proposals in Congress for shoring up the trust fund, including a plan by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy — who didn’t attend the press conference Thursday — that would increase the federal gas tax by 12 cents per gallon. The Obama administration’s plan unveiled in February would end the fund’s reliance on the gas tax and substitute savings derived from closing corporate tax loopholes. A Republican plan would use money from the U.S. Postal Service by ending Saturday mail delivery.

The money could run out as soon as Aug. 1.

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Guatemalan Children Who Crossed The Border Tell Their Stories

by Christine Stuart | Jul 3, 2014 12:42pm
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Posted to: Immigration, Hartford, New Haven

Christine Stuart photo

Luis Miguel Diaz Calel in the blue shirt on the right and Anabelia Maribel Diaz Hernandez on the left talk to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Rosario Caicedo

When Luis Miguel Diaz Calel and Anabelia Maribel Diaz Hernandez were picked up April 14 by immigration police at the U.S. border, they were taken to a detention center they called the “icebox.”

Calel and Hernandez, who are both 16, told their story Thursday to U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal after a press conference about the surge unaccompanied Central American children arriving at the border.

Once they got across the border, they were picked