MMA Supporters Look To Ease Health Care Requirement
Mixed martial arts supporters are seeking changes to a liability clause the legislature created last year when it legalized the sport, which puts organizers on the hook for the health care expenses of injured fighters.
Last year, the policy was viewed as a trade-off between supporters and opponents for permitting the popular but violent fighting sport. It makes anyone who hires an MMA fighter liable for the fighter’s health care costs relating to injuries sustained during the match.
Supporters say the law has discouraged promoters from hosting MMA events in Connecticut outside the state’s two tribal casinos where it has been permitted all along.
“As the legislation is written at this point the promoters have not been able to come to places like Bridgeport and the Hartford XL Center,” Sen. Andres Ayala said Tuesday. “What we’re hearing from promoters is that the language that was inserted requiring further insurance coverage makes it very difficult for them to come to Connecticut and put on these events.”
The Public Safety Committee is considering a bill that removes language specifying that organizers are liable for health care costs “for the duration of such injury, illness, disease or condition” and it adds language which calls for MMA to be treated and regulated like boxing and other fighting sports.
Ayala, a Bridgeport Democrat who pushed last year for the sport’s legalization, said the bill would put Connecticut policies more in line with the other 48 states that permit mixed martial arts.
However, Senate President Donald Williams, a longtime opponent of mixed martial arts, urged the committee to reject the new bill and stick with the existing law, which he saw passed last year as the sport was being legalized. In written testimony, Williams said the bill was an attempt by MMA organizers to duck their responsibilities.
“The corporations that reap significant profits from mixed martial arts know that it is an inherently dangerous sport and they have sought to minimize and avoid liability — even when they are negligent — through contract law. It is our obligation as legislators to provide balance,” he said.
Given the nature of the sport, Williams said injuries are a certainty.
“In mixed martial arts, the question of injuries is not whether they will occur, but when they will occur and how severe they will be,” he said. “. . . There is one reason and one reason only as to why the MMA corporations object — they do not want to be responsible for the full costs of injuries that they know will result in this sport.”
Tags: Mixed martial arts, andres ayala, don williams, dh
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Malloy Creates Education Task Force Prior to Public Hearing
One day before a public hearing on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy used his executive authority to create a 25-member task force to identify the challenges presented by the standards.
Last month, the Republican Party used a parliamentary maneuver to get a public hearing on legislation that would pose a moratorium on the Common Core State Standards, which were adopted by the state Board of Education in 2010.
The committee bill that will receive a public hearing at noon on Wednesday calls for the Education Department to study the Common Core State Standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test. The General Assembly would receive the results of the study no later than Jan. 1. 2015, which is well after Nov. 4, 2014 election.
“We have an obligation to ensure that all children in the state of Connecticut receive a quality education that will provide them with the necessary tools to lead successful lives in today’s global economy,” Malloy said. “Seeking the input of the teachers and education professionals who are directly involved in the day-to-day activities of our public school system, along with parents, will help the state in our efforts to improve our schools.”
The task force created by Malloy’s executive order includes 12 teachers, four principals, four superintendents, two parents, two members of local boards of education, and Dianna Roberge-Wentzell, chief academic officer at the Education Department. Malloy’s task force is expected to be done with its work by the end of June.
“Connecticut teachers and education professionals have raised legitimate concerns that preparations for the implementation of Common Core State Standards and the incorporation of Common Core State Standards into the teaching curriculum have been uneven across the state,” Malloy wrote in the executive order. “I respect and understand the concerns raised by Connecticut teachers and education professionals and believe that the implementation of Common Core State Standards can be improved by establishing a task force to share lesson-learned, and that Connecticut teachers and students alike will benefit.”
A few weeks ago, the state’s largest teacher’s union called implementation of the standards “botched.”
Of the 1,452 teachers surveyed by the Connecticut Education Association, CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg said 97 percent believed there should be some sort of moratorium on the implementation of the standards.
“Teachers are calling for a moratorium. Let’s basically say here that teachers are not saying we don’t want standards, what we’re saying is give us time to digest what we are being asked to do, to make sure we can get this done right before children are being judged improperly,” he said.
But there will be a group of superintendents, school board leaders, principals, business and community leaders who disagree with that assessment and are ready to defend the Common Core State Standards prior to Wednesday’s hearing.
“Unfortunately, we are witnessing confusion and misinformation about these standards that could prevent us from reaching these goals,” the group said in a press release promoting their 10 a.m. press conference on the topic.
The Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, Connecticut Council for Education Reform, Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Connecticut Business and Industry Association, the Connecticut Association of Schools, and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents plan on defending the Common Core State Standards.
The hearing on a bill to delay implementation of the Common Core State Standards and another to further delay the implementation of the new teacher evaluation system will be held at noon in room 1E of the Legislative Office Building.
Membership of the Educators’ Common Core Implementation Taskforce:
Twelve practicing teachers or education professionals who teach in elementary, middle or high school:
Four principals from either an elementary, middle or high school:
Four superintendents or district curriculum leaders:
Two members of local boards of education:
The Chief Academic Officer of the State Department of Education:
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Flexer, Williams Team Up To Reverse Police Dispatch Consolidation
Lawmakers pushed Tuesday to reverse the Malloy administration’s consolidation of State Police dispatch centers even as the process has been put on hold to allow a review by the new public safety commissioner.
The Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection began two years ago to reduce the number of state police dispatch centers in the state from 12 to 5 to create efficiencies. Recently, Troop D in Danielson, Troop K in Colchester, and Troop E in Montville merged their dispatch operations with Troop C in Tolland. Dispatch oeprations in the western portion of the state already have been consolidated.
The consolidations have been controversial, drawing staunch opposition from the Connecticut State Police Union and concerns from lawmakers whose towns have been impacted. The process was suspended after Commissioner Reuben Bradford retired and Dora Schriro took over as head of the agency. Schriro told lawmakers last week she was reviewing the merger plans.
The legislature’s Public Safety Committee is considering a bill that would require Schriro to report back on the process next year, but several lawmakers called Tuesday for a more immediate action.
“I’m afraid that we’ll be here next year talking about a real tragedy that’s occurred and that’s unacceptable,” Rep. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson, said after testifying at a public hearing on the bill.
Flexer was joined by Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, both said the consolidation of Troop D has directly impacted their constituents.
Williams, who has the authority to determine which bills are raised in the Senate for a vote, said he will work to have the Public Safety Committee’s bill amended to reverse the consolidation process rather than study it.
“The previous system of local dispatch was not broken. This new fix is not better and it should be reversed,” he said. “. . . I don’t think we even need a study. My advice is let’s go back to a system that worked.”
The lawmakers cited recent incidents which they said showed delays in state police response times as a result of the consolidations or difficulties reporting crimes because of reduced hours at state police barracks.
“At Troop D alone, these incidents have ranged from the inability to report a road rage incident to a sexual assault being unreported,” Flexer said. “These incidents have largely occurred because the Troop D barracks are now only accessible to the public between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.”
Other lawmakers are seeking to give Schriro, who was appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in January, time to get her bearings and decide how to best handle the consolidation issue. Sen. Joan Hartley, co-chairwoman of the Public Safety Committee, expressed confidence in Schriro, who has headed up correction departments throughout the country.
“[Schriro] has impressed me very much,” Hartley said. “. . . She has gotten the message. Her own assessment is leading her in another place than where we were previously going.”
In a Tuesday phone interview, Schriro declined to give her assessment of the consolidation effort after a preliminary evaluation, but said she believed the “top-to-bottom review” she has undertaken is the appropriate way to proceed. She said she expects to brief Malloy with her early findings soon.
“My review is moving with as much speed as possible. I’ve set a pretty high bar there. I’m committed to briefing the governor at the end of this month,” she said. “It’s clearly on the minds of folks in the legislature and people in various municipalities as well as my own staff.”
Schriro points out that, although it’s on hold, the consolidation process is in different stages of implementation in areas throughout the state. Even if she wanted to, she could not issue an order to abruptly reverse the mergers. Much of the equipment that was previously installed at merged dispatch centers has already been moved.
“My job right now is to get everybody the very best information possible so we can make the best decision,” she said.
Connecticut State Police Union President Andrew Matthews, who clashed frequently with the department brass under Bradford, said he has the utmost confidence in Schriro. But Matthews agreed with Williams and Flexer that reversing the consolidations can’t wait another year.
“We don’t have time for a study. We don’t. But we have full faith in Commissioner Shriro,” he said. “I’ve met with her more in three weeks than I met with Commissioner Bradford and [Col. Danny] Stebbins in three years.”
Matthews called Schriro a responsive leader and said he hoped she would take action on her own to remedy the situation and assure public and trooper safety. He was still critical of the decision making process that led to the consolidation effort in the first place.
In 2012, Matthews’ union members condemned the leadership of Bradford and Stebbins in an overwhelming vote of no confidence following their decision to consolidate the dispatch centers. On Tuesday, he said the growing support among lawmakers for reversing the mergers substantiated the union’s concerns.
“It was easy for the colonel to attack union leadership and criticize us and say we were over-reactive. It was easy for him to say that stuff, but I wouldn’t suggest that Senator Williams is over reacting,” he said.
Tags: state police dispatch, consolidation, mae flexer, Don Williams, andy matthews, state police union, public safety, dh
Dean Enters Governor’s Race
The 2010 Republican nominee for Attorney General, Dean seems to be a perennial candidate for one of the constitutional offices, but this year is different. Dean wants to be at the top of the ticket.
Dean has attended the announcements of almost all of the other Republican candidates for governor. She will hold a formal press conference to announce her candidacy next Tuesday. Since she has not filed any paperwork and has not returned a call for comment, it’s uncertain if she will be seeking the Republican nomination for governor or run as an independent.
Earlier Tuesday, Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, announced she was dropping out of the race for governor, leaving former Ireland Ambassador Tom Foley, Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, and Joe Visconti of West Hartford.
Despite Dean’s late entry in the race, the news was appreciated by the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, which has been searching for a gubernatorial candidate that supports repealing the stricter gun laws passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting.
“Dean has been one of the lawyers working tirelessly on our lawsuit against Governor Dan Malloy and the state of Connecticut for their unconstitutional gun laws. But that wasn’t enough,” CCDL wrote on its blog. “Now Martha is going after Malloy’s job too!”
Visconti supports gun rights, but has shown no ability to raise the money necessary to qualify for public campaign financing.
The Second Amendment crowd had been searching for a candidate to support. McKinney voted in favor of the stricter guns laws, and Boughton is a member of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
In 2010, Dean received 480,310 votes in the race for attorney general. That was about 44 percent of the vote. Attorney General George Jepsen received 591,725 votes and a third party candidate received 29,759 votes or about 3 percent of the vote.
Tags: Martha Dean, Tea Party, Second Amendment, dh
West Hartford Lawmaker Seeks Stiffer Knockout ‘Game’ Penalty
West Hartford Officer Tom Nagle said his 18-year-old son’s jaw was broken when he was sucker-punched by a stranger as he was walking across his college campus.
It’s attacks like this that state Rep. Joe Verrengia, D-West Hartford, is trying to stop.
Verrengia proposed a bill that would make knocking someone unconscious punishable by a Class D felony, where two of the five-year maximum prison sentence can not be suspended. It would also seek to transfer cases involving minors over the age of 16 who are charged with the crime from juvenile to adult court.
The knockout game is where a person surprises a stranger by knocking them out with a punch, but according to some it’s an urban myth that’s being spread by Internet videos and isn’t happening with the frequency that one might believe.
Verrengia, who is a police sergeant in West Hartford, admitted that the frequency of these incidents is difficult to track and he has no statistics.
Asked if it was a myth proliferated by videos on the Internet, Verrengia said, “if you ask a victim who has been victimized by one of these very serious crimes I think they would say otherwise. This is a real issue.”
What’s scary about the “knockout game” is that it can “happen to anyone, at anytime, at any place,” Verrengia said.
He said this is the first time the bill has been proposed and he’s opening to working with those who may have some revisions.
Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Timothy Sugrue told the Public Safety Committee Tuesday that “unconsciousness” is already recognized by Connecticut law to be a serious physical injury.
“So anyone who commits a knockout crime and causes unconsciousness has already violated general statutes,” Sugrue told the committee.
The bill makes the person who knocks someone unconscious subject to two separate statutes. He said the existing one carriers no mandatory minimum, but a new section of the bill creates a two-year mandatory minimum. He said that could cause charging distinctions among prosecutors if it passed.
Also, in order to avoid the new language of a bill which refers specifically to a one-punch knockout, criminals could use a one-two punch approach and avoid a two-year mandatory minimum.
Christine Rapillo, director of the delinquency defense and child protection division of Public Defender Services, said that the proposal is unnecessary.
“Public safety is already adequately protected by current criminal laws,” Rapillo wrote in her testimony to the committee.
Further, “proposing to make this Class D felony automatically transferred to the adult docket is unreasonably harsh and runs counter to every reform that has been accomplished in juvenile justice in Connecticut,” she added. “. . . A blanket rule that all such cases be transferred runs contrary to current knowledge that young people are more likely to rehabilitate and not re-offend when they are placed into developmentally appropriate rehabilitate services through the juvenile court system.”
In addition, second-degree assault is already a crime that can be considered for transfer from juvenile to adult court.
“Since this proposed offense would be based on the intent of the accused, it is much more appropriate to leave the decision to transfer to the prosecutor and the judge,” Rapillo added.
The committee has until March 18 to vote on the legislation.
Tags: Christine Rapillo, Joseph Verrengia, knockout game, Tom Nagle, West Hartford, Timothy Sugrue, dh
Boucher Bows Out of Governor’s Race
State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, announced Tuesday in a press release that she will run for re-election to her state Senate seat instead of continuing her bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.
Boucher was the only female in the race and, according to last week’s Quinnipiac University poll, she would have received about 2 percent of the vote in a hypothetical Republican primary against five other male opponents.
“Exploring a run for governor has been an extraordinary journey,” Boucher said. “I have been deeply moved by the outpouring of support from across my district and the state. I am struck by how many people feel that this administration’s policies have made Connecticut a place too expensive to live, run a business, or retire. They are clearly angry that high costs are forcing them and Connecticut jobs to move to other states.”
Boucher was able to raise about $66,400 during her exploratory bid, which she announced last August.
“While we have made considerable progress toward our fundraising goals, it is unlikely that we will be able to reach them in the time that remains,” Boucher said. “These past several months have also made it clear that there is substantial work that must be accomplished in the state Senate to address the serious economic problems plaguing Connecticut. Therefore, I have decided not to pursue the race for governor, and instead to continue my work in the state Senate to make Connecticut once again a place where people and businesses have every opportunity to succeed.”
Boucher did not say if she was throwing her support behind any of the remaining Republican candidates.
“Our party’s candidates for governor are excellent, and I look forward to lending my active support to our Republican nominee,” she said. “Because there are twice as many Democrats as Republicans in Connecticut, our gubernatorial candidate must be able to win more than just Republican votes. As a party, we must unite behind our gubernatorial candidate, as well as the Republican candidates for the General Assembly.”
Republicans remaining in the race include former Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, Joe Visconti of West Hartford, and Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney. According to the recent Quinnipiac University poll, Foley, the 2010 gubernatorial nominee, is leading the pack with 36 percent of the vote. Boughton received 11 percent and the rest are trailing in the single digits.
Watchdog Agencies Pan Proposal For Central Hearing Office
Some of the nine watchdog agencies who felt that they were under attack when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy consolidated them under the Office of Governmental Accountability were surprised this year when a bill called for further consolidation of their functions.
A bill proposed by the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee seeks to combine the regulatory hearing functions of a variety of agencies, including the Freedom of Information Commission, Office of State Ethics, Transportation Department, Elections Enforcement Commission, Judicial Review Counsel, Department of Children and Families, and the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.
At least four of the agencies are members of the Office of Governmental Accountability, which was created three years ago as a way to trim costs, reduce the size of government, and improve accountability. It put together nine previously separate agencies under one roof over the objections of some of the agency executives who worried that a governor-appointed administrator would hinder their ability to do their job.
This is the first year some of the watchdog agencies like the Freedom of Information Commission have been included in the bill to create a central hearing office
“In the past, these bills have wisely excluded the state watchdog agencies. For some reason, they are included this year, and thus the bill resurrects all the issues raised by previous attempts to undermine these independent agencies,” Claude Albert, legislative chair of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, said.
But unlike the initial consolidation of the watchdog agencies, the governor’s office is not behind the legislation. In fact, Luke Bronin, Malloy’s chief legal counsel, submitted written testimony against the bill.
“The administration believes that this bill goes too far in separating agencies’ policy-making function from their adjudicatory, investigatory, and prosecutorial functions,” Bronin wrote. “Agencies possess substantial subject matter expertise, and courts give administrative agency decisions great deference precisely because decisions by agency personnel are informed by such subject matter expertise.”
The Connecticut Bar Association is behind the push to create a central office where regulatory hearings at each of these agencies could be heard by an administrative law judge.
“A central office of administrative law adjudicators would consolidate support services and systems within one agency, thereby generating efficiencies in time and cost savings,” Mary Alice Leonhardt, head of the administrative law section of the Connecticut Bar Association, wrote in her testimony.
Leonhardt argues that other states that have implemented central hearing offices have saved money.
“In the second year of its operation of a centralized hearing unit, Maryland’s office saved the state almost $828,000. Our near neighbor, New Jersey spent only $7.5 million in its administrative hearings after implementing its central hearing units, as compared to the $20 million it would have spent in hearings,” she said.
But the idea was widely panned by the agencies that would be impacted.
“The proposed model disregards the core independent missions of the agencies such as the FOIC, the OSE, and the SEEC, and utterly fails to incorporate or take into account the practices and procedures under which these entities operate under existing statute and regulation,” Colleen Murphy, executive director of the Freedom of Information Commission wrote in her testimony.
She said there has been “no analysis of the caseload numbers, current procedures, time requirements, and conflicting processes preceding this proposal . . . In these times of economic uncertainty, why create a new costly entity when it has not been demonstrated that a need exists for such an endeavor?”
Carol Carson, executive director of the Ethics Office, told the committee Monday that the bill would weaken the independence of her agency and the Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board. She said it would also limit her agency’s ability to negotiate settlements as a way to enforce the Code of Ethics.
She said she doesn’t oppose the concept of a central hearing office for other state agencies, but including the Ethics Office in a central office would “further weaken the trust of Connecticut citizens and the integrity of state government.”
Shelby Brown, the newly nominated administrator of the Office of Governmental Accountability, had no comment last week on the legislation.
Tags: watchdog, FOIA, Ethics, GAE, Freedom of Information, Connecticut Bar Association, dh
Access Health CT Enrollment Reaches 152,561
With a little more than 20 days left to enroll in Connecticut’s health insurance exchange, Access Health CT is reporting that a total of 152,561 individuals have enrolled since Oct. 1.
Those who have not enrolled yet and remain uninsured have just three more weeks to shop for coverage in order to avoid tax penalties.
“The deadline to enroll is getting closer, and we’re working hard to reach as many residents as possible to help them enroll and avoid tax penalties,” Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan said in a press release. “If you haven’t signed up yet, there’s still time to visit our website, call our call center, visit an enrollment center or make an appointment for one-on-one assistance.”
The deadline to enroll is March 31. The tax penalty for going uninsured in 2014 is 1 percent of your gross household federal income tax filing or $95 per person, whichever is greater.
Connecticut’s enrollment for the first few months had bucked the federal trend, which saw more people signing up for Medicaid. That trend finally caught up to Connecticut in the last two months of enrollment.
According to Access Health CT, 60,534 people have signed up for plans with Anthem, Healthy CT, and ConnectiCare. The rest, or 92,027 individuals, have signed up for Medicaid plans that are funded by the federal government.
Of the Medicaid enrollees, 69,692 have signed up under Medicaid expansion, which increased the qualifying amount of income to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. About 22,335 have enrolled and would have qualified for Medicaid in the past because their income was under 55 percent of the federal poverty level.
Tags: Access Health CT, enrollment, data, connecticut, ACA, Obamacare, Medicaid, Anthem, HealthCT, ConnectiCare, Kevin Counihan, dh
Sen. President Urges Rejection of Task Force Bill
Senate President Donald Williams voiced strong opposition Monday to legislation restricting public access to recordings of 911 calls, calling the bill “unnecessary,” “counterproductive,” and “destructive.”
Williams was among the first to testify on the proposal Monday afternoon as two separate legislative committees simultaneously convened public hearings on recommendations from a task force to weigh the privacy of crime victims against the public’s right to open government.
“This legislation is unnecessary. It is not only counterproductive, it’s destructive,” Williams said. “. . . It will result in less transparency in our criminal justice system, less attention paid to the needs of families in poor, high crime neighborhoods, and will make it harder to discover flaws in our criminal justice system and bring about effective reform.”
The recommendations were drafted by a group created last year by legislation passed to shield family members of the Sandy Hook shooting victims from the disclosure of some public documents related to the incident.
After months of contentious meetings, the task force approved recommendations that would, among other things, prevent the release of records like 911 recordings under the Freedom of Information Act and place the burden of justifying the records’ release on the person requesting them.
Williams, who has the authority to determine which bills are raised in the Senate for a vote, has previously voiced concerns about the aspects of the task force report relating to restricting access to 911 recordings.
On Monday, he also spoke against a provision which would apply a federal definition of “invasion of privacy” to the Connecticut disclosure law. Applying the federal standard over the state’s longstanding standard will make it more likely that requests to release law enforcement records will be denied based on privacy concerns.
“This section, when fully understood, is an affront to just about everyone,” he said. “. . . Nothing else in this proposed language would indicate that we should be looking to other authorities than those that interpret Connecticut law.”
Williams said he believes that records pertaining to any homicide case will be a legitimate matter of public concern and therefore should be released. However, he said that release of pictures depicting deceased children are a “clear exception” to that policy. “That right to privacy has been upheld,” he said.
As Williams was opposing the bill before the Government Administration and Elections Committee, the two chairmen of the task force that crafted the recommendations were speaking in favor of it before the Judiciary Committee.
“The privacy concerns the task force addressed are real,” Rep. Angel Arce, one of the two chairmen, said. “. . . Many families and survivors have already been subject to harassment and intimidation by a number of cruel lowlifes.”
In written testimony submitted to the Judiciary Committee, the 26 families of Sandy Hook victims opposed the recommendations because they feel the bill scales back some of the exemptions lawmakers approved for them when they passed the bill creating the task force last year.
The task force recommendations permit members of the public to inspect pictures and other law enforcement records and petition government agencies to release those documents. The families said that change “flies in the face” of the bill passed last year.
“Under the raised bill, upon passage, anyone could look through the photographs taken inside Sandy Hook School on Dec. 14, 2012,” they wrote. “We understand the interest of the public in having access to public documents . . . However, to us and the families of all homicide victims, these are not public records — they are pictures of our family members in their horrific final moments.”
Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane, who also served on the task force, said the group anguished over finding a suitable balance between privacy and public disclosure. He told the Judiciary Committee that other states use the federal standard for deciding what constitutes an invasion of privacy.
“This is a good, fair compromise. It’s a compromise between two deep-seated, core issues that we have in the state of Connecticut today and I really do think it’s a very fair one,” he said.
Meanwhile in the Government Administration and Elections Committee, James Smith, another task force member and former newspaper editor, opposed the legislation. He said the group he served on should not have been trying to balance open government against the privacy of victims.
“This is the wrong balancing test. The traditional and still-available remedies to an invasion of privacy are lawsuits,” he said. “. . . The only balancing test for [Freedom of Information] should be the need for government secrecy and the people’s right to know what [their] government is doing.”
Rather than make it a crime to copy some records without permission, as the bill proposes, Smith said the legislature should consider making it a crime for government officials to illegally withhold public documents.
“Connecticut should not adopt the federal unwarranted invasion of privacy standard, making it easier to keep information secret, and shifting the burden of proof from the government to the people,” he said.
Tags: Angel Arce, Donald Williams, Don Decesare, James Smith, Judiciary Committee, right to know, privacy, Sandy Hook, dh
Knockout Game Bill Gets Hearing
It’s called the “knockout game” and at least one lawmaker wants to make sure the penalty for sucker-punching a stranger is stiff.
On Tuesday, the legislature’s Public Safety Committee will hear testimony regarding a bill that would increase a “knockout game” assault to a Class D felony. It’s punishable by one-to-five years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine.
At least one man who fell victim to the national phenomenon of punching unsuspecting strangers was from New Haven.
WFSB reported last year that Lawrence Hsieh, 35, was walking to a bus stop on Church Street in New Haven after leaving his research scientist job at Yale University. Three men approached and Hsieh was surprised when he was knocked out by one of the men.
The bill is supported by state Rep. Joe Verrengia, vice chairman of the Public Safety Committee and a police sergeant in West Hartford.
The public hearing begins at 9 a.m. in room 1A of the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.
Tags: knockout game, public safety, class d felony, dh
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Lanza’s Father Gives Interview to The New Yorker
The father of the gunman who took the lives of 20 students and six educators is speaking publicly for the first time in a 7,600-word article published today in The New Yorker.
Peter Lanza, who hadn’t spoken to his son Adam for two years before the shooting, opened up to author Andrew Solomon in September.
Mr. Lanza, a vice president for GE Energy Financial Services, was divorced from Adam’s mother Nancy, who Adam killed before he drove to the school and took the lives of 26 students and educators on Dec. 14, 2012. Lanza has largely avoided the press, but as the first anniversary of his son’s rampage approach, he contacted Solomon.
The two met six times for interviews that lasted up to seven hours, according to a press release.
What Mr. Lanza told Solomon is shocking.
“You can’t get any more evil. How much do I beat up on myself about the fact that he’s my son? A lot,” Mr. Lanza told Solomon.
According to Solomon, “The only reason Lanza was talking to anyone, including me, was to share information that might help the families or prevent another such event.” Mr. Lanza tells Solomon, “I need to get some good from this. And there’s no place else to find any good.”
But as much as he was trying to provide answers for Solomon and the victims’ families, he was also trying to get them.
According to Solomon, Mr. Lanza came to their meetings as much to ask questions as to answer them. “I want people to be afraid of the fact that this could happen to them,” Mr. Lanza says.
Mr. Lanza has also been cooperating with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s Sandy Hook Commission, which is looking to compile a report that includes recommendations on how to prevent such a tragedy from occurring in the future.
Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson, who chairs the commission, said that he met with Mr. Lanza in a public location in Stamford in January. At that meeting, Jackson said Mr. Lanza expressed his desire to help the commission get the necessary medical and educational reports it believes it needs to complete its analysis.
Some of the information about the Mr. Lanza’s attempts to get their son help were revealed in thousands of pages of police reports.
It is well-known that Adam was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, but in his interview with Solomon, Mr. Lanza reveals that it may have “veiled a contaminant” that was not Asperger’s. “I was thinking it could mask schizophrenia,” Mr. Lanza said.
According to Solomon’s article, Adam would not accept the diagnosis and also was resistant to therapy.
“He did not want to talk about problems and didn’t even admit he had Asperger’s,” Mr. Lanza says. Mr. Lanza and Nancy were confident enough in the diagnosis that they didn’t look for other explanations for Adam’s behavior. “In that sense, Asperger’s may have distracted them from whatever else was amiss,” Solomon writes. “If he had been a totally normal adolescent and he was well adjusted and then all of a sudden went into isolation, alarms would go off,” Mr. Lanza says. “But let’s keep in mind that you expect Adam to be weird.”
Mr. Lanza, who had been divorced from Nancy since 2009, remains convinced that if he were there that day that he too would have been killed.
“With hindsight, I know Adam would have killed me in a heartbeat, if he’d had the chance. I don’t question that for a minute. The reason he shot Nancy four times was one for each of us: one for Nancy; one for him; one for [his brother] Ryan; one for me.” Solomon asked Mr. Lanza what they’d done about a funeral for Adam. “No one knows that,” Mr. Lanza says. “And no one ever will.”
For Mr. Lanza, the anniversary of the massacre itself felt insignificant. “It’s not like I ever go an hour when it doesn’t cross my mind,” he tells Solomon. He has offered to meet with the victims’ families, and two have taken up his offer. “It’s gut-wrenching,” Mr. Lanza says.
“A victim’s family member told me that they forgave Adam after we spent three hours talking. I didn’t even know how to respond. A person that lost their son, their only son,” Mr. Lanza tells Solomon.
Solomon has also interviewed Tom and Sue Klebold, whose son Dylan was one of the perpetrators of the Columbine massacre.
Click here to watch Solomon’s interview Monday morning on the Today Show.
Tags: The New Yorker, Peter Lanza, Adam Lanza, Sandy Hook, Aspergers, dh
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National Popular Vote Clears First Hurdle
The National Popular Vote Compact got one step closer Friday to becoming law when the Government Administration and Elections Committee forwarded the bill to the Senate with a 9-4 vote.
Joining the National Popular Vote Compact has become a perennial issue in the Connecticut legislature but has yet to be passed into law.
Under the bill, Connecticut would join nine other states and the District of Columbia in an agreement that would become effective only if enough states joined so that 270 electoral votes, or enough votes to win the election, went to the winner of the popular vote.
Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, promised a lengthier debate on the bill when it reached the Senate floor, but gave his colleagues a more than 20-minute preview of his opposition to the bill during a committee meeting Friday.
“The National Popular Vote bill before us kicks aside the Republic of the United States in favor of democracy,” McLachlan said. “Now everybody thinks that democracy is a good idea. Well, of course it’s a good idea. But when you talk about the debate about why the United States of America has been successful versus some democracies that did not last as long as the United States did, some of that goes to the success of the Republic form of government.”
McLachlan went onto argue that “the National Popular Vote Compact is tearing away at the Republic form of government of the United States of America.”
He said the history of the constitutional convention makes clear why this one office of president is elected differently, “it was for a reason.”
But Rep. Ed Jutila, who supports a National Popular Vote and co-chairs the General Administration and Elections Committee, said “the Electoral College of today is not the one the founding fathers anticipated.”
He said Connecticut should join the compact because “everybody’s vote should be equal. Number two, every vote, in every state should be politically relevant in every election. Number three, the candidate for president who gets the most votes nationally should win.”
The issue received attention in recent years after the 2000 presidential election, which saw the Bush-Cheney campaign win the White House with a 271-266 electoral vote advantage despite polling 540,520 fewer popular votes than Gore-Lieberman.
Supports of the bill also believe it would inspire presidential candidates to visit the state and campaign because the votes in Connecticut would count as much as the votes in other states. Opponents don’t believe it would have any impact on how often presidential candidates visit the state.
The committee forwarded the bill to the floor of the Senate by a 9-4 vote Friday.
This year, the bill has the support of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who voiced his support for the measure last month.
Tags: National Popular Vote, Michael McLachlan, Government Administration and Elections, Republic, democracy
Consumer Protection Commissioner Says West Haven Marijuana Grower Can Proceed
The Consumer Protection Department will not revoke the marijuana growers license of a Fairfield company whose manager failed to disclose that he had a similar permit revoked in Boulder, Colo. two years ago.
Consumer Protection Commissioner William Rubenstein informed Advanced Grow Labs CEO David Lipton of the decision in a Friday letter. The lab was one of four companies awarded licenses in January to grow marijuana for Connecticut’s medical marijuana program. The company is currently building its facility in West Haven.
But its license came under scrutiny this week after the Boston Globe reported that its manager, John J. Czarkowski, had a permit to grow marijuana in Boulder, Colo. revoked in 2012 after the city found more than a dozen violations. Czarkowski did not disclose the license revocation during the vetting process in Connecticut. The Hartford Courant on Wednesday reported that Czarkowski had resigned from his job with Advanced Grow Labs following the revelations from Boulder.
After a factual review, Rubenstein said his department believes that the company as a whole was also misled by Czarkowski.
“Despite our concerns with Mr. Czarkowski, we have concluded that the best course of action for Connecticut’s medical marijuana program, and the patients it is designed to serve, is to allow Advanced Grow Labs to retain its medical marijuana producer license. We did not reach this decision lightly,” Rubenstein wrote.
“Our conclusion is based on our conviction — after factual review — that Advanced Grow Labs, which is primarily a Connecticut-based company whose principals have long-standing roots in the state, was equally misled by Mr. Czarkowski despite having done a thorough background check prior to retaining him,” Rubenstein wrote.
Rubenstein also cited the company’s decision to sever its relationship with Czarkowski after confirming the Colorado compliance history was accurate.
Even though he had marijuana production experience, Czarkowski was “not the entirety of its team.”
Rubenstein said they were convinced Advanced Grow Labs did its due diligence prior to retaining Czarkowski and if it wants to hire a new consultant it would need the Consumer Protection agency’s approval.
State Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said Rubenstein made an “appropriate decision” Friday by removing Czarkowski from the application.
But Candelora said the fact Czarkowski was able to “slip through the cracks,” calls into question the “entire vetting process.”
Candelora said state officials should take another look at everyone who received licenses to grow medical marijuana in the state.
“If he slipped through the process did anyone else?” Candelora asked. “From the beginning to the end of the process we need to make sure the people involved have the utmost integrity. The credibility of the process has been called into question.”
He said the state needs to ensure that all the growers and dispensaries abide by the regulations, which includes ascertaining whether “people have been sanctioned in other states.” He said applicants for medical marijuana licenses should be held to the same standard as someone applying for a gun permit, where they need to produce reference letters.
Candelora said in California and Colorado, two states that have legalized marijuana, the number of drugged driving accidents has increased along with the number of cases where children accidentally ingest marijuana.
“Going forward I hope they vette all the applicants to make sure no other grower has similar issues,” Candelora said. “It’s too important of an issue.”
West Haven Mayor Edward O’Brien said he learned of the state’s decision Friday afternoon. Advanced Grow Labs has secured its zoning permit from the city and is in the process of building its facility, the mayor said.
“We’re going to keep a close eye on them,” O’Brien said.
Tags: medical marijuana, West Haven, Czarkowski, Rubenstein, Advanced Grow Labs, Boulder, Colorado, dh
Dual FOI Hearings Remain On Schedule
Despite requests to reschedule by open government groups, two legislative committees are poised to move forward with simultaneous public hearings Monday on the same proposal impacting public access to records.
On Thursday the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association and the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information urged lawmakers to reschedule one of the hearings on task force recommendations that would, among other things, restrict public access to recordings of 911 emergency calls. Both the Government Administration and Elections Committee and the Judiciary Committee will hear public testimony on the issue Monday.
Government Administration and Elections Chairs Rep. Ed Jutila and Sen. Anthony Musto responded Friday in a letter to Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association Executive Director Chris VanDeHoef. They said the scheduling conflict was unintentional but asked him to look on the bright side of the situation.
“...we believe that it actually may be better for those wishing to testify. Unlike legislators and advocacy groups, our citizens cannot take multiple trips to the Capitol to testify on these bills due to their jobs, family commitments and simply inconvenience. Rather than make them come twice, they can come once and testify twice,” they wrote. “...Please consider this an opportunity to address the members of two separate committees on the same issue on the same day.”
In his Thursday statement, CCFOI President Jim Smith said he did not see the scheduling as a good opportunity.
“I simply don’t think two separate committees can expect to have the best hearings possible on such a vital topic if they’re doing it at the exact same time. How is this the most open they can be?” he said.
VanDeHoef said he was disappointed by the committee’s unwillingness to move the hearing.
“I’m going to do my best to be in two places at once,” he said.
Tags: Chris VanDeHoef, Anthony Musto, Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association, Government Administration Elections, Judiciary Committee
Foley Think Tank Walks Fine Line Between Politics & Policy
It was difficult to separate politics from policy Friday as a non-profit institute founded by Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley released a set of recommendations on urban policy after an introduction by the candidate.
The Connecticut Policy Institute’s report focuses on recommendations for job growth, crime reduction, neighborhood revitalization, and career education in the state’s urban centers. Ben Zimmer, the institute’s executive director, said his group works to formulate good policy and operates independently of Foley.
“In Connecticut and across the country, too often when we’re thinking about policy, it becomes submerged into the lens of politics,” Zimmer said.
Foley, the Republican nominee for governor in 2010 who lost a historically close race to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, introduced Zimmer at the press conference in the Legislative Office Building.
He said he was proud of the work of the institute, which he founded in 2011 just months after the gubernatorial election. He said the work has been non-partisan and research-based, but Foley did not discourage politics from entering the equation Friday. His campaign advised reporters of the event in an email under the “Tom Foley for Governor” letterhead.
Foley told reporters his presence helped bring exposure to the group’s report.
“I think it highlights the policy work they’re doing. If you’re sitting out there and you’re doing excellent policy work and nobody knows you’re doing it and nobody’s paying any attention, nobody’s writing about it, the cameras aren’t rolling—it doesn’t have any impact,” he said.
Zimmer said his group has always been upfront about its association with Foley and hoped that association would not make some people closed off to the ideas included in their reports. Zimmer pointed to the recent activity of Malloy, who is widely expected to run for reelection this year.
“Gov. Malloy spoke at the [Connecticut Business and Industry Association] event earlier this week,” he said. “Tom is here exclusively in his capacity as CPI founder and prominent official in this state…. People are going to perceive what they perceive. I can’t control the way people process information.”
When asked by a reporter, Zimmer said he did not believe the cost of putting together the report should be considered an in-kind contribution to Foley’s campaign. Last year Foley agreed to pay the State Elections Enforcement Commission $15,504, to cover the cost of a poll his campaign commissioned.
Malloy, who was in Rhode Island Friday, has stated that he does not intend to announce whether he will be a candidate this year until May, after the legislative session concludes.
In the meantime, he has kept an active public schedule by attending events throughout the state. He is currently engaged in a series of town hall meetings where he has been engaged with voters and on Wednesday spoke at a New Britain event with President Barack Obama aimed at shoring up support for raising the minimum wage.
James Hallinan, a spokesman for the Connecticut Democratic Party, called Friday’s press conference a “purely political” effort by Foley. But Hallinan would say little about the nature of Malloy’s frequent events.
“Sure, he’s out and about but I think attending an event held by the President of the United States is very different from the Connecticut Policy Institute,” he said. “[Malloy’s] made it clear that he’s out supporting Democratic ideals and Democratic causes as well. I think that’s a very clear difference.”
A poll released this week by Quinnipiac University suggested that voters were evenly split between supporting Malloy and Foley, who had the highest polling numbers among Republican candidates. Quinnipiac called the 42 - 42 percent matchup a “dead heat.”
Foley said Friday the poll results were good news for Republicans.
“To be this far out, and to be showing this even in a very blue state with a Democratic encumbent, I think this shows that the people are unhappy with where Connecticut is and where it seems to be going under this governor,” he said.
As for the Connecticut Policy Institute’s urban recommendations, Foley said he would not adopt them directly as part of his campaign platform but said they were a “good start” and represent a set of policies he may adopt.
“We need to talk to people in these communities, we need to talk to business leaders about whether these will work and which of them will work and make the most sense,” he said. “In terms of my campaign and developing an urban policy agenda of my own, this a good framework to start from.”
OP-ED | A Way Forward for Journalism? Benefit Corporations
It’s no secret these days that the news industry — which plays an absolutely crucial role in our democratic process at every level — has been badly disrupted. The cause of this is not only the rise of the Internet and the resulting destruction of print’s monopoly on distribution.
No, the news industry has been ravaged far worse by relentless corporate acquisitions and rapacious profit-taking. Across the nation, corporate-owned newspapers and newspaper chains have been repeatedly sold and stripped bare — cannibalized — by bean counters. The trend started well before the Internet and continues today. With each turn of the downward spiral they lose more staff, followed by diminished news coverage and fewer paid subscribers.
These acquisitions — too numerous to list in Connecticut — need not have occurred if the Benefit Corporation business structure outlined in SB 23 had been available sooner. Benefit Corporations provide additional layers of protection as well as a clearly defined, limited, arms-length relationship with shareholders rather than an obligation to line their pockets.
The concept — a company with a goal of providing a social benefit — also builds trust within a community.
Most casual observers don’t realize that corporations have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize profits for unknown shareholders — people who, for the most part, care nothing for the communities these newspapers cover. In nearly every instance, shareholder profits are maximized at the expense of the local news product, leaving thousands of communities without the watchdog services of a full-time, professional news reporter.
As a result and to the detriment of all, the United States has been hemorrhaging newspaper reporters, photographers, and editors. These jobs are the meat and potatoes of our industry. Local news coverage is where it all starts and the disciplined practice of thorough, unbiased news reporting is the most labor-intensive part of the industry. Reporters have gone from covering one or two towns to six or eight or more, and the impression they leave behind is accurate: my local paper doesn’t cover my town anymore.
How bad is it?
According to the Poynter Institute, full-time editorial newspaper jobs in the U.S. peaked at 56,400 in 2000. By 2012, those ranks had fallen to 38,000 nationwide, down a third. The 2012 figure also represented a 30-percent decrease in jobs just since 2006.
A high-profile example here in Connecticut is the Hartford Courant, the nation’s longest continuously published daily newspaper. A former staffer says the Courant peaked at 410 newsroom employees and is now below 100. Adding insult, those who are still on staff are now facing the hard-to-fathom reality of being cut loose by their current owner, leaving the Courant to pay rent in what had been its own newsroom because the company will no longer own the building.
Uncertainty reigns in every one of Connecticut’s legacy media newsrooms as their market shares dwindle and staff are furloughed or laid off. The survivors are simply hoping to hang on until they can begin what will likely be a meager retirement.
For the news industry, it is a once-in-a-lifetime shift. These collapsing organizations, and the people who do the work, need options. Fast. We believe the Benefit Corporation structure is one such option. It may or may not help older organizations like the Courant, but it certainly can help independent online news startups — which is where many unemployed reporters and editors are now setting up shop.
But while the Internet truly has democratized the distribution side of publishing, the revenue side is still catching up. We here at CTNewsJunkie and the Independent Media Network are continually researching and testing new revenue models in an effort to maintain as much news coverage as possible in Connecticut’s 169 towns.
Under the state’s current legal framework, however, we won’t be accepting investor capital any time soon because it means losing control of our product. As such, growth is slow — JOB GROWTH is slow. And we’re not alone.
As a founding partner of the Independent Media Network with LocalOnlineNews.TV, CTNewsJunkie has been sharing advertising revenue with independent publishers throughout Connecticut since 2010, working as a small business incubator to help “newly entrepreneurial” reporters get their websites and email blasts off the ground. In fact, we helped launch three new sites within the last few weeks: the HamdenTimes.com, AllAboutMonroe.com, and Milford-Now.com. More are on the way.
Our goal is to help reporters make the considerable leap from being unemployed to being their own employer.
The nonprofit model is probably the best for local news. The pioneering New Haven Independent, which generously helped fund the launch of CTNewsJunkie in 2005, proves that. But in many smaller communities there isn’t enough support even through a nonprofit model, and a 501c3 can be limiting in other ways.
It is clear to us, and the Social Enterprise Trust in Hartford that has been lobbying for SB 23, that a lot of new publishers would benefit directly from the establishment of the Benefit Corporation structure, as it would provide the opportunity to accept investment capital with added layers of protection, including a “legacy preservation provision” for the over-arching social mission of reporting the news.
How crucial is it for a community to have a full-time reporter whose job is supported by a sustainable enterprise?
In the 1990s, I was assigned to cover Andover, one of Connecticut’s smallest towns. It had gone for many years without anything more than limited news coverage. The First Selectman had been lobbying the paper for a reporter for quite a while because he needed to get the word out about the budget and various projects and issues. When I walked into his office for the first time, he looked at me stunned for a moment and said, “Are you the reporter from the JI?”
I said, “Yes, I’m from the JI,” and he threw his arms up and yelled “HALLELUJAH!”
I’ll never forget that. Certainly, reporters are not always that welcome in every Town Hall or Police Department, which is all the more reason that the news industry needs a viable way forward to make sure reporters are on the job. Quality news coverage builds civic engagement. Engaged citizens make for healthier communities. An investment in a Benefit Corporation whose mission is to provide professional, unbiased news reporting is an important ingredient in any recipe for a healthy community.
Lawmakers: please pass SB 23, An Act Concerning Benefit Corporations And Encouraging Social Enterprise, as soon as you can, and allow us to build sustainable local news startups as defined social enterprises with measurable goals. We’ll all be better off for it.
Doug Hardy is Business Manager of CTNewsJunkie, co-founder of the Independent Media Network, and a former JI reporter & associate editor.
Tags: news media, newspapers, acquisitions, downward spiral, democratic process, watchdog, social enterprise, b-corp, Benefit Corporations, dh
Blumenthal Rails On Rail Regulators
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said the testimony he heard Thursday from rail regulators like the Federal Railroad Administration and the NTSB was both “revealing and dramatic.”
On Thursday, Blumenthal chaired the first meeting of the Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation to examine the current state of safety on the nation’s passenger and freight rail networks.
What did he learn?
He said like the financial services industry before 2008 at some point the railroads “captured” the regulators.
“Federal watchdogs have basically been asleep at the switch,” Blumenthal said Friday during a press conference at the Legislative Office Building. “They have been laggard in holding accountable railroads like Metro North.”
He said he expects them to meet a higher standard of safety and reliability when it comes to both passenger and freight rail systems. A number of elected officials who attended the meeting Thursday were “from the Midwest, and many were Republicans,” he said.
Blumenthal painted the issue as a bipartisan one.
“Federal regulators bring asleep or absent are delaying rules and critical safety devices and upgrades and improvements in equipment,” Blumenthal said. Seven key rules have passed their statutory deadlines and are not issued.
He said some of the devices, such as positive train control, could have prevented derailments and possibility even some of the fatalities like the four at Spuyten Duyvil station in the Bronx.
“Very likely four people would be alive today if automatic train control had been implemented,” Blumenthal said.
The device would have slowed the train down automatically as it approached the curve in the track.
In the meantime, Metro-North Railroad, which operates the rails from New Haven to New York, has shared with Connecticut it’s 100 day improvement plan.
Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti agreed to a 100-day plan to improve the railroad’s safety and operational performance in a Feb. 17 meeting with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Blumenthal was not all that impressed since the plan didn’t admittedly offer a “scope, schedule or budget.”
“As it stands, this document is a plan in name only, more a set of aspirations than an actionable roadmap for concrete improvements,” Blumenthal said earlier this week. “Still, I am hopeful that this plan marks the start of long-overdue renewed focus on safety and reliability at Metro-North — both for passengers and workers.”
On Friday, John Hartwell, vice president of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, said the 100 day plan focuses on a “culture of safety,” but having a culture of safety doesn’t matter much if the rails and the infrastructure are “old and decrepit.”
It means “your very good people, and your very good systems are going to be fighting every day against the very equipment that they work with,” he said.
He said the tracks were laid during the Civil War era and there are swing bridges over rivers that pre-date World War I.
According to a January report by the Regional Plan Association there’s about $3.6 billion that needs to be put into the infrastructure of the New Haven Line above and beyond what is already budgeted, Hartwell said.
Blumenthal said there are larger investments that need to be made in order to bring the railroad into the 20th century.
OP-ED | Obama Visit a Political Bonanza for Malloy
The traveling circus that is a visit from the President of the United States arrived in town this week, and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy got to play the ringleader. It’s nice work, if you can get it, and it was the highlight of one of the better political weeks the governor has had.
Malloy, fresh off his extremely beneficial public spat with Gov. Bobby Jindal, started the week off with mixed but not necessarily horrible news from a Quinnipiac Poll. The headline was that he’s tied with Tom Foley (still), but that’s hardly a surprise. The real bad news is that Foley still far outpaces all his Republican rivals, meaning there probably won’t be a close-fought, messy, distracting primary in which someone like Mark Boughton does all of Malloy’s work for him for a few months.
The good news is that people really like the idea of raising the minimum wage, which was what Malloy had fought with Jindal over last week, and what had brought President Obama to New Britain on Wednesday. Some 71 percent supported raising the wage, and 48 percent said doing so would help the economy as opposed to 27 percent who said it would hurt. Malloy led a contingent of New England governors (absent Maine and New Hampshire) who backed the president’s call for a hike in the minimum wage at what looked and felt like a campaign rally at CCSU in New Britain.
The really good news was a presidential visit that produced plenty of photo ops of the president eating at Café Beauregard in downtown New Britain, a new restaurant that pays its four workers above the minimum wage, and no negative stories of traffic tie-ups, protests, or other nightmares. There were some traffic issues, sure, and there were a few protestors, but the whole thing looked more like a rolling party than a political event.
The politics of presidential visits are always a little risky, since there’s always the chance that the country or your state is about to turn against the commander-in-chief, leading to plenty of grainy photos of the governor and the president on opposition direct mail pieces. Gov. M. Jodi Rell was well aware of this, and tended to avoid George W. Bush whenever he came back to the state of his birth. Obama’s on the downslide these days around here, believe it or not. Malloy’s approval rating was actually higher than Obama’s for the first time ever, though you wouldn’t know it from the enthusiastic reception the president received downtown and from the students at CCSU.
The chances of a federal minimum wage hike are slim at best. The House isn’t about to go for it, especially after a damning CBO report suggested that up to 500,000 jobs would vanish should the president get his way. No amount of feel-good romping around a liberal northeastern state is going to change their minds.
So what was he doing here?
In part, he was showing his appreciation for Malloy’s willingness to step up to the plate on this issue, and in part he was trying to paint the Republicans as out-of-touch for opposing a wage hike that huge majorities of Americans favor on the friendliest possible turf. Obama was also here to generate enthusiasm, which in political speak means getting people so excited that they donate money to your campaign or party.
What Malloy is hoping is that the president had such a good time that he comes back in late October. A surge of voters generated by Obama’s visit to Bridgeport helped carry Malloy over the top in 2010, and if this race is anything near as close as that one was he’ll need all the help he can get. Malloy also wanted to be seen as the standard-bearer for the popular minimum wage increase. Tom Foley may have taken some of the wind out of his sails by agreeing that the minimum wage should be raised, but it’s still Malloy’s issue.
All of this leaves the governor in decent, if somewhat precarious, position for what was always going to be a tough re-election year. His numbers, as a follow-up poll released Thursday said, are still terrible in some key areas. Only 33 percent think he’s doing a good job on the economy, which is by far the voters’ top priority. He also scored poorly on taxes and the budget.
However, because with this governor there’s usually a silver lining somewhere, he scored well on his handling of snowstorms. We’ll see if anyone remembers when the fall comes around.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
Tags: Dannel P. Malloy, President Obama, minimum wage, minimum wage hike, New Britain, CCSU, Susan Bigelow, dh
OP-ED | Will Colleges And Hospitals Have To Fend Off The Sharkey Attack?
All the talk we’ve heard lately about how much to tax during an election year is hardly surprising, given the whopper of a tax increase Dannel Malloy signed into law not long after becoming governor. But an even more interesting question is whom to tax.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey did us all a favor last week when he floated a proposal to subject nonprofits such as private colleges and hospitals to local property taxes. Sharkey’s idea may never see the light of day, but he deserves credit for starting a conversation and shining light on a burdensome problem for the communities that host these organizations.
First of all, before we even confront the issue of whether to tax nonprofits on their real estate holdings, it would behoove us to consider what constitutes a charitable organization, especially one whose very existence could be threatened by having to pay property taxes.
The big boy on the block is Yale University, which is in effect a corporation with a $2.5 billion annual budget and an endowment of more than $20 billion. Yale does pay property taxes of more than $4.3 million to the city of New Haven on its golf course and its University Properties retail locations. And for more than 20 years, Yale has made voluntary annual contributions to the city of New Haven — $8 million this year and $82 million since the university started the program in 1991.
That makes it one of the five largest taxpayers in the city. Still, city assessors value Yale’s real estate holdings at $2.44 billion, which, if taxed at commercial rates would amount to more than $100 million in annual revenues for the city. Just down the road from the mayor’s office lies Yale-New Haven Hospital, which, unlike the university’s plush golf course, lies beyond the tax collector’s grasp. Even more aggravating for city officials is that only one in five patients comes from New Haven.
Many of these hospitals, their satellite offices and outpatient facilities are, as Sharkey puts it, “pure profit centers.” Why shouldn’t they pay some taxes on their holdings? It only seems fair after all.
Hospitals and universities say they’re large employers and net assets to their communities, which is all fine and true. But their skyrocketing costs are burdening students with mountains of debt and their relentless expansion is taking more property off the tax rolls and socking residential taxpayers with the bill.
Nonprofits also point to the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes program (PILOT) in which the state compensates municipalities for some of the lost revenues from nonprofits — typically about 32 cents on the dollar. Under Sharkey’s proposal, nonprofits could apply to the state for partial reimbursement under PILOT. But PILOT merely replaces lost local tax revenues with monies from state. Either way, taxpayers foot the bill.
And it’s a stretch to call some of these institutions charities, given the high salaries of their top-level executives. One of the favorite targets of taxpayer watchdog groups in my town is The Hotchkiss School, a private boarding school with assets and facilities that are the envy of many small colleges. Last year, Hotchkiss’ head of school, had a total compensation package of almost half a million dollars, while the school’s finance director was pulling down close to $350,000.
To tax nonprofits, the General Assembly would have to alter centuries of tradition and make changes to state statutes, which Sharkey’s proposal would do. In the case of Yale, it would take more than a change in the law since the university’s tax-exempt status is actually enshrined in the state constitution and therefore not subject to the whims of the legislature.
Be that as it may, I do think it would be fair to make some distinctions between large, well-heeled nonprofits and those that barely survive. After all, the neighborhood soup kitchen and the tiny house of worship shouldn’t have to play by the same rules as Wesleyan or Choate. Perhaps the first $1 million or $2 million in assessed value could be exempt.
Of course, aside from doing nothing, there is an alternative to Sharkey’s proposal. The city of Pittsburgh, which after the decline of the steel industry revived its economy with hospitals and universities, gave up trying to convince the state to change its laws. Led by an energetic and very young mayor, city officials seriously considered enacting a citywide sales tax on tuition payments at Pittsburgh’s 10 colleges and universities.
Pittsburgh’s unsuccessful scheme would have effectively passed the costs of the academies’ tax exemption onto weary parents already shelling out upward of $50,000 a year. Or, even worse, it would have forced beleaguered students to go into even greater debt to pay the taxes the colleges won’t pay.
My interest in Sharkey’s proposal stems less from a belief that municipalities aren’t spending enough money than from the fact that residential and commercial taxpayers need relief from high taxes. Either way, Sharkey’s proposal or the Pittsburgh model would face vehement opposition from special interests. If they’re successful in fending off the Sharkey Attack, then at least the idea will have died a noble death.
Tags: Brendan Sharkey, Yale, property taxes, nonprofits, New Haven, PILOT, Terry D. Cowgill, dh
Teacher Union Wants To Revisit Teacher Evaluation Method
The state’s largest teachers union announced Thursday that it no longer supports the teacher evaluation method it participated in creating two years ago.
Sheila Cohen, president of the Connecticut Education Association, said she was not a member of the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council that made the recommendations regarding the evaluation system to the state Education Board. She pointed out that none of her current colleagues were on the PEAC council in 2012, either.
Former CEA Executive Director Mary Loftus Levine was a member of PEAC and so was Sharon Palmer, the former head of the second largest teacher’s union, who now heads the Labor Department.
“It is my understanding that what happened there was not necessarily so much of a percentage, as the fact that we had an ideal and we set forth guidelines,” Cohen said. She explained that between drafting the guidelines and meeting for the last time that summer what the state Education Department put in place “was the interpretation of the state department rather than what was strictly according to the guidelines.”
The state Education Board adopted the guidelines for the System for Educator Evaluation and Development model on June 27, 2012.
Kelly Donnelly, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said that CEA was an “integral member of PEAC throughout the process.” She said the union has participated “vocally and fully” in the process.
Under that system, standardized tests and other student indicators will make up about 45 percent of a teacher’s performance while the rest is made up by classroom observation, parent and peer surveys, and mutually agreed upon goals.
Cohen said she hopes the conversation about how much student performance should count toward a teacher’s evaluation continues to be part of the discussion.
“This didn’t happen overnight, it’s not going to be resolved overnight,” Cohen said. “But we’re looking for as much as we can do now to provide relief for our teachers but also for our students in the classroom this year.”
Already, the state has agreed to delay implementation of parts of the new teacher evaluation system offering districts some flexibility on how they conduct their evaluations. It also decoupled the evaluations from the new Common Core State Standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test, which will eventually replace the legacy Connecticut Mastery Test and Connecticut Academic Performance Test.
Daniel Long, an assistant sociology professor at Wesleyan University, said he believes the state relied heavily on one-sided academic research to come up with its evaluation system in 2012.
“The National Academy of Science study, which is sort of a summary of all of the kind of best research, from educators, economists, psychologists, sociologists and so on — wasn’t even cited,” Long said. “It would be useful to revisit this.”
Long believes the study he did for more than year in Hamden schools further proves a need to revise the teacher evaluation method.
Long tracked 11 teachers through four Hamden schools and concluded that the Connecticut Education Association’s teacher evaluation system, which relies less on quantitative measures such as standardized test scores, was superior to the teacher evaluation the state adopted.
Long said the field study they did with the CEA model gave teachers more time to focus on their students rather than spend endless hours on paperwork and compliance associated with the state method.
Rebecca Coven, one of Long’s former research associates, said that because educators were allowed to set their own goals and participate more in the evaluation process, their motivation and morale increased.
Hamden teacher David Abate said that through the CEA model of evaluation he was able to provide a complete “photo album of a student’s academic growth rather than just a snapshot in time.”
He went onto explain what he meant by the word photo album. If a student takes a pre-test and scores a 4 out of 20, but by the end of the lesson that same student scores a 12 out of 20 there’s no way to show that growth under the current model.
“The bottom line is this: Did the student show growth? The answer is yes. There is no way to show this on a standardized test,” Abate said. “The teacher and student have no way to show, in some cases great improvement holistically, instead both of us get scored as improvement needed, which is unfair and unjust.”
Cohen said going from 4 to 12 is a huge improvement, but it would mean under the current system that both the teacher and the student would be “deemed as needing improvement.”
Donnelly said the system already supports and requires “the use of non-standardized measures of student growth, which certainly can include the use of student work over time.”
“The evaluation is based on multiple factors and not solely on a standardized test score,” Donnelly said. “That said, we look forward to receiving a copy of the CEA’s study, which we welcome and which has the potential to make a contribution to our dialogue and our continuing collaboration.”
Tags: Kelly Donnelly, CEA, PEAC, teacher union, student performance, teacher evaluation, Sheila Cohen, Daniel Long, dh
OP-ED | The Brave New World of being ‘College and Career Ready’
One of the oft-stated goals of education reform is to ensure that students are “college and career ready.” Like “excellence,” it’s probably one of the most over-used phrases in the education reform movement.
But as I’ve asked before, what does this phrase really mean? Do our policy makers even know? Judging by their actions of late, I’m starting to think they don’t.
On March 18, the window opens for field tests of the new Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, the computer-based adaptive test that will go live next year to replace the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) and Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT).
SBAC, or the Smarter Balanced Consortium, is one of the two consortiums that states have signed up with to develop new assessment systems for the Common Core State Standards. Funded by a four-year, $175 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education (which runs out in September of this year), SBAC claims its system “will measure mastery of the Common Core State Standards and provide timely information about student achievement and progress toward college and career readiness.”
But there’s a slight catch. They haven’t yet defined “college and career ready.”
“The Consortium also will establish performance benchmarks that define the level of content and skill mastery that marks students as college- and career-ready. These performance benchmarks will be determined through a deliberative and evidence-based standard-setting process, which will include input from K-12 educators and college and university faculty,” the website says. “Preliminary performance standards will be established in 2014 after student data have been collected through pilot and field testing. Following the Field Test in spring 2014, the Consortium will conduct standard setting for the summative assessments in grades 3-8 and grade 11 in ELA/literacy and mathematics. These performance standards will be validated in July/August 2015 using spring 2015 operational data.”
So basically the people who are pushing Common Core — Mssrs. Gates, Obama, Duncan et al, need our kids to be lab rats for this project, while their kids are safely ensconced in private schools, immune from such pedestrian concerns.
What does being an unpaid test subject for SBAC entail, exactly?
According to a parent presentation from Branford Public Schools, the field test will take 3.5 hours per subject.
That’s a lot of time taken away from learning — for what, exactly?
The Branford Public Schools presentation included this statement from Deborah S. Delisle, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education.
“A field test is not designed to be a valid and reliable measure of student achievement; rather, it is designed to help the test developers evaluate whether the tests, individual items, and the technology platform work as intended before the first operational administration.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, parents nationwide aren’t reacting well to the idea of their children being treated as unpaid lab rats for the educational testing complex. They are already seeing the negative effects of too much standardized testing on their kids, with too little of the promised benefits — and that’s before we even start looking at the excessive per pupil costs of implementing all these magical ed tech “solutions.” In what’s being termed the Education Spring, there’s a growing movement of parents seeking to opt their children out of standardized testing.
“Unless we are able to field test students, we will not know what assessment items and performance tasks work well and what must be changed in the future development of the test . . . Therefore, every child’s participation is critical.
For actively participating in both portions of the field test (mathematics/English language arts), students will receive 10 hours of community service and they will be eligible for exemption from their final exam in English and/or Math if they receive a B average (83) or higher in that class during Semester Two.”
I think I’m beginning to see what the alleged adults at the state Board of Education see as “college and career ready” by the actions they are modeling for our children — because we all know that what we do influences our children far more than what we say.
They are modeling that there are shortcuts when you are in power, that if you are powerful you can offer . . . let’s call them “incentives” . . . to the less powerful to get your way. They are modeling that “community service” isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things, really.
What is “community service” after all? My mother and late father brought me up to believe that it was physically volunteering my time and effort on the behalf of the community in order to benefit the greater good. In Judaism, the word for “charity,” Tzedakah, is derived from the Hebrew root for righteousness, justice, or fairness.
As for exempting kids from taking finals — like most things edreform, it flies in the face of actual research. A three year study, Defining Promise: Optional Standardized Testing Policies in American Universities and Colleges found that high school grades remain the best predictor of college success as opposed to standardized test scores. So it makes little sense to exempt kids from taking finals so they can play guinea pig for a test consortium.
The message from the corporate interests seems pretty clear, as the Bethel school system tells its students. Just follow directions, perform an unnecessary task to help the corporate community, and we’ll let you off the hook when it comes to serving your fellow citizens through real community service.
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.
Tags: SBAC testing, CCSS, Common Core, dh
Same Proposal Scheduled For Hearing In Two Committees At Same Time
Recommendations drafted after months of contentious meetings by a task force on balancing privacy and public disclosure will get public hearings in two key legislative committees Monday. Both hearings are currently scheduled for 1 p.m.
Lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee and the Government Administration and Elections Committee will hear public testimony on identical bills that would prevent the release of records, including 911 recordings, under the Freedom of Information Act, and place the burden of justifying the records’ release on the person requesting them.
The simultaneous scheduling of the two hearings prompted a statement Thursday from the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association and the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information. Both groups plan to testify in opposition to the bill and urged lawmakers to move one of the meetings.
Chris VanDeHoef, executive director of CDNA, said the bills deserve public hearings but said holding them at the same time ran counter to encouraging public access to government.
“However, the irony that two bills which ‘recommend’ how to balance privacy and the public’s right to know will be heard simultaneously in two separate committees doesn’t go missed on us. It’s my hope that the Co-Chairs will discuss this with one another and one of these committees will move one of these bills off Monday’s agendas to a later date and agenda.”
Jim Smith, president of CCFOI and a former member of the task force that essentially wrote the legislation, agreed.
“I simply don’t think two separate committees can expect to have the best hearings possible on such a vital topic if they’re doing it at the exact same time. How is this the most open they can be? It’s our hope they’ll see this as a simple error and move one of the dates for this particular issue,” he said.
Sen. Eric Coleman, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, did not immediately return calls for comment.
The proposal applying to 911 recordings is one of several recommendations approved in December by a task force, created under a hastily-passed law intended to prevent the disclosure of crime scene photographs and certain audio recordings collected by police following the Sandy Hook shooting and other homicides. The law, approved on the last day of the 2013 legislative session, never received a public vetting.
However, that proposal did not restrict public access to recordings of 911 emergency calls. The recordings of calls made during the Sandy Hook incident became the subject of a court dispute last year, which ended with a Superior Court judge ordering their disclosure.
Although they would prevent the release of 911 recordings, the task force recommendations would allow a member of the public to listen to them at the police department keeping the records. The group’s report recommends making it a crime to copy the records without permission.
Some members of the task force, which was made up of of both open government and victim advocates, viewed this policy as a compromise but it is unclear how it will be received by the legislature.
Senate President Donald Williams has said he believes adopting the recommendations would be a mistake.
“Certainly limiting the access to the 911 phone calls raises a red flag. I think that’s something that I believe the public expects to have access to and the news media expects to have access to. So I think that would be a mistake,” he said last month.
During the last-minute negotiations over the bill that created the task force, Williams told reporters he believed that the bill should not prevent the release of 911 recordings.
In February, Williams said Senate Democrats had not had a chance to discuss the issue as a group but hoped lawmakers in both chambers would tread lightly on the issue. He said it remained to be seen whether the legislature would take some action based on the task force recommendations this year.
“I think we should proceed with caution when it comes to limiting access to information when it comes to our criminal justice system,” he said.
However, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said lawmakers should continue to grapple with the issue this year.
“Fundamentally, we have to come up with a balance between transparency and the public’s right to know and the rights I believe victims should expect and the rights to privacy their families should be able to expect,” he said.
Sharkey said he believed the task force had managed to strike the appropriate balance between government transparency and victim privacy when it drafted the recommendations.
“No one would ever be deprived of the right to hear the audio,” Sharkey said. “. . . I think that’s a pretty reasonable compromise that would maintain public access to information but would prevent potentially emotional and painful communications from being broadcast without any restrictions.”
Tags: freedom of information, victim privacy, Task Force on Victim Privacy and the Public's Right to Know, dh
Rating Agency Says Outlook For CT Bonds Still ‘Negative’
Fitch Ratings maintained its AA rating for Connecticut bonds in anticipation of the sale of $400 million in general obligation bonds later this month. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Fitch also maintained its negative outlook of the state based on “budget vulnerability.”
Fitch Ratings lowered the outlook for Connecticut’s bonds from stable to negative in July 2013.
In its recent report, Fitch stated that the negative outlook “reflects the state’s reduced fiscal flexibility at a time of lingering economic and revenue uncertainty.”
Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, stressed that the rating remains unchanged from last year and that the state is making progress putting money aside and paying down its debt.
“We have a surplus, and we are making payments to address the state’s long-term debt,” Doba said. “In fact, the governor has reduced the state’s overall debt by more than $11.5 billion. The fact that it takes a long time to fix what took a long time to create should be surprising to absolutely no one.”
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, called the report “troubling.”
“The negative outlook is troubling because, despite all the rhetoric, Connecticut continues to pile on debt and is failing to meet its obligations without borrowing and budgetary gimmicks,” Cafero said. “Fitch also warned that we are in danger of having our credit downgraded when the agency stated, ‘An inability to meet or exceed budgeted forecast expectations could lead to a downgrade.’’’
If the markets are concerned, then lawmakers should be concerned, Cafero said.
Fitch also pointed out that the state relied upon several one-time gimmicks in order to balance the two-year budget.
“The adopted budget for the current biennium relied on one-time items and anticipated little near-term progress in rebuilding fiscal flexibility,” Fitch states. “Recent revenue momentum, if it continues, may allow the state to materially improve its reserve position.”
The rating agency frowned upon one-time items such as a carry forward of $221 million from 2013 to 2014, restructuring the Economic Recovery Notes for $276 million in savings, shifting funds from the special transportation fund to the general fund, and a delayed start to amortizing the state’s Generally Accepted Accounting Principles deficit.
Fitch analysts state that Connecticut has been hampered by the slow economic recovery in building up its rainy day fund over the past two years. But the state has improved its fiscal flexibility in trying to improve its reserves.
State Treasurer Denise Nappier has said that a “negative outlook” generally means that a credit rating will be under review for one to two years, and “is less concerning than a credit watch.”
Fitch said Connecticut’s AA rating reflects “vast wealth and income resources, tempered by a comparatively high burden of debt, retirement liabilities, and other fixed costs.”
But Fitch didn’t completely ignore the progress the state has made.
“The governor’s proposed mid-biennium revision recognizes the recent, significantly improved revenue collections year-to-date but otherwise makes few significant changes to the adopted biennium plan,” Fitch said.
The report goes onto state that Connecticut’s debt burden and other liabilities are high compared to other states.
“Net tax-supported debt as of Dec. 2013 totals $20.2 billion, or 9.2 percent of 2012 personal income, including current bonds,” Fitch said. “Three-quarters of net tax-supported debt is GO, a large share of which has been issued for local school capital needs. Borrowing also includes $573 million in ERNs [Economic Recovery Notes].”
Still, Fitch said the Connecticut “has continued to demonstrate the ability and willingness to absorb the comparatively high fixed costs posed by its liabilities.”
It applauded the state’s effort to pay the actuarially required contribution to its state employees’ retirement system and the teachers retirement fund accounts even though the unfunded portion is among the highest for the states rated by Fitch.
Tags: Fitch, Wall Street, general obligation bonds, Andrew Doba, dh
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Voters Approve of Aid-In-Dying, Pan Malloy Refund As ‘Political Gimmick’
A majority of voters support the idea of allowing a doctor to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to a terminally ill patient, even though they don’t necessarily believe it would help them. That’s according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.
The poll found 61 percent support for the concept, but when asked if they would seek to end their lives given that they had a terminal illness and six months left to live, 53 percent of voters said they would not. The number increases to 73 percent when told they had six months to live and were in “severe pain.”
Voters are closely divided on whether they would ask a doctor to help them take their own life, as 39 percent say “no” in all cases, while 33 percent say they would if they were terminally ill, and another 12 percent would if they were terminally ill and in pain.
“Public support for allowing assisted dying in Connecticut is a very personal issue, crossing partisan, gender and age lines,” Douglas Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac University poll, said in a press release.
Another issue being debated by the legislature this year is the bingo-style game of keno, which is played in bars, restaurants, and convenience stores in surrounding states. Again, 65 percent of voters oppose keno. In two previous polls, 59 percent and 70 percent of voters opposed it.
This year, there’s a movement to repeal the game, which was passed in the final hours of last years legislative session in an effort to close a budget gap.
And even though they appreciate his handling of snow storms, voters don’t approve of how Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is handling the budget or the economy.
The poll found that a majority of voters, or 63 percent, believe the $55 tax refund to residents, which was part of the governor’s budget proposal in February, is a “political gimmick.” About 45 percent of those polled had heard nothing about the $155 million Malloy wants to give back to taxpayers in the form of a refund and only 22 percent believe it’s good public policy.
About 53 percent of voters disapprove of the way Malloy is handling the budget, 60 percent disapprove of his handling of the economy and jobs, 63 percent disapprove of his handling of taxes, and he gets a divided rating on his handling of education policy — about 41 percent approve and 43 disapprove. The poll has a 3.2 percent margin of error.
When it comes to Malloy’s handling of storms, voters overwhelmingly approve of his handling of winter snowstorms. About 86 percent of voters approve of his storm performance, including 84 percent of Republicans.
There are another 47 percent who approve of Malloy’s handling of gun laws in the state. Following the Sandy Hook massacre, the state legislature passed stricter gun control laws. About 43 percent of voters disapprove of how Malloy has handled gun policy in the state.
About 57 percent of voters approve of the new stricter gun laws, while 39 percent are opposed. The poll also found that 36 percent say the new gun laws went too far, 30 percent say they didn’t go far enough, and 29 percent believe the state got it about right.
The poll also found that voters are divided 47-47 percent on whether they approve or disapprove of a 2012 law that replaces the death penalty with life in prison with no chance of parole. Fifty percent of women approve the new law, while 52 percent of men disapprove.
“Support for the death penalty has dropped 10 points in three years, from a high of 67 percent to a low of 57 percent. Perhaps this is a case of opinion following policy, as Connecticut abolished the death penalty in 2012,” Schwartz said. “As we’ve seen in our past polls on the death penalty, when voters are given the choice of the death penalty or life in prison with no chance of parole, support for the death penalty drops. When asked the question this way, voters are evenly divided.”
Tags: aid-in-dying, political gimmick, tax refund, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, death penalty, gun policy, snowstorm, Quinnipiac University, Douglas Schwartz, dh
Consumer Protection Commissioner ‘Disturbed’ By Allegations Against Marijuana Grower
Consumer Protection Commissioner William Rubenstein said Wednesday he is “very disturbed about what is alleged” against the manager of a company selected by the state to grow medical marijuana in West Haven.
John J. Czarkowski, a manager of Advanced Grow Labs LLC, of Fairfield, had his permit to grow medical marijuana in Boulder, Colo. revoked on March 2, 2012, because of more than a dozen violations there.
But despite a lengthy application process in Connecticut, state officials were unaware of the status of Czarkowski’s license in Boulder and approved his permit. The news was first reported by the Boston Globe on Tuesday morning, where Czarkowski and his wife, Diane, are listed as members of the executive teams of companies planning to open marijuana dispensaries in Dennis, Haverhill, and Quincy.
“We’re very concerned about the status of the license in Colorado and that this was not disclosed to us by the applicant,” Rubenstein said Wednesday.
Czarkowski, who is listed as one of five key managers for Advanced Grow Labs, represents one of four companies chosen to legally grow medical marijuana in the state.
Rubenstein said an investigation is ongoing, and he’s uncertain what will happen to the approved medical marijuana facility at 400 Frontage Road in West Haven if the permit is revoked.
The commissioner said when Czarkowski filled out the “comprehensive” application to the state of Connecticut, he did so under penalty of perjury. A personal background check including a criminal review was completed on all “key employees,” the commissioner said.
Rubenstein said the state was aware Czarkowski had a Colorado state issued license, but was “unaware” of the separate municipal license and subsequent violations in Boulder. He said Colorado state officials were contacted as part of the review process, but not local Boulder officials.
“We were unaware of the municipal license,” Rubenstein said. “It should have been disclosed to us.”
Rubenstein said the state has received reams of documents from Boulder.
“We will gather the facts as quickly as possible,” Rubenstein said. “I can’t say what the timeframe will be. This is an important process for us to clear up very quickly.”
Rubenstein declined to speculate on what could happen to the company’s application in West Haven if the license is revoked. While Rubenstein declined to speculate, he did say a “key focal point of our evaluation was a history of regulatory compliance in this industry.”
West Haven Mayor Edward O’Brien said he is “concerned” by what happened in Boulder. He said the company’s application is still pending and will be scrutinized much closer.
The Boulder violations
On March 2, 2012, the city of Boulder notified Boulder Kind Care LLC, a marijuana dispensary and production facility, that it was revoking its license. Czarkowski was a co-owner of Boulder Kind Care LLC.
The following are some of the violations found in Boulder according to documents obtained by CTNewsJunkie:
1. The company had its building permit suspended on Jan. 23, 2012, because the other co-owner lied on an application regarding who the contractor was, documents state.
2. During a site inspection in February, marijuana was located outside of the licensed premises.
3. Useable forms of marijuana were not in sealed, labeled containers.
4. Prior requests to inspect the premises was denied.
5. Marijuana plants were found in unlicensed portions of the building.
6. No safe was on site as required.
7. Surveillance cameras were not operational.
8. A six-pack of beer was found in a break room and one bottle was missing on Feb. 2.
9. Medical marijuana was not weighed, measured, or labeled prior to being placed in large trash-like plastic bags and plastic storage containers.
10. A co-owner appeared to be under the influence of marijuana and had a “dry mouth, white lips, coated tongue and sunglasses that he would not take off.”
11. A total of 260 plants had to be destroyed because of incorrect record-keeping regarding the number of reported patients.
The city attorney’s office supported the local government’s decision to deny and revoke the company’s permit, according to documents.
The company’s response to the violations
In a court filing, the company including Czarkowski, alleged they took corrective action and wanted to work with Boulder officials to resolve any concerns. They claimed their correspondence went unanswered.
The company claims the city never worked with them and when their license was revoked there was no opportunity to respond or defend themselves against the allegations.
In court filings, the company stated Boulder officials usurped the state’s power to regulate marijuana dispensaries, and they alleged the penalty handed down by local officials was too harsh. Company officials claimed they lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to court documents.
But the district court ruled on March 23 that Boulder officials had the power to suspend and revoke the medical marijuana license. The courts found that Boulder provided due process protections that were required. Additionally, the courts determined the company had ample notice to respond to the city’s concerns prior to the city taking action and revoking the permit. The case was dismissed.
The Boston Globe article said that Czarkowski and his wife had sold the Boulder marijuana business two months after receiving the city’s license-revocation notice.
Advanced Grow Labs also is seeking a dispensary license in Connecticut under the name CT Wellness Center LLC. Those licenses have yet to be granted by the Consumer Protection Department.
Tags: John Czarkowski, Advanced Grow Labs, West Haven, William Rubenstein, Boulder, medical marijuana, dh
Remarks By President Barack Obama On The Minimum Wage
Below are President Barack Obama’s remarks at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain today. They were transcribed by the White House.
2:20 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Connecticut! (Applause.) Go Blue Devils! (Applause.) It is good to be back in Connecticut. (Applause.) I want to thank your wonderful Governor, Dan Malloy, for that introduction. (Applause.) I want to thank your President, Jack Miller, for inviting me here today. (Applause.)
We’ve got members of your student government behind me. (Applause.) I couldn’t help but notice your Student Government Association logo, which has a gavel –- and a pitchfork, which is pretty intense. (Laughter.) And I wish some folks in Congress used the gavel more. (Laughter.) Less pitchfork. (Laughter.)
We also have some members of your non-student government. One of our finest members of our Cabinet, who just cares so much about working families and is working tirelessly every single day, Secretary of Labor, Tom Perez, is here. (Applause.) We’ve got all five of Connecticut’s representatives in Congress—including CCSU alum John Larson, in the house. (Applause.) Another proud CCSU alum, Erin Stewart, your mayor, is here. (Applause.) Along with Mayor Segarra and the other mayors and legislators from all across Connecticut.
And today, we’re doing something a little different than usual. Usually, when I hit the road and talk with folks like all of you, I’ve got a governor with me. But you are special. (Applause.) So we decided one governor wasn’t enough. (Laughter.) So in addition to Governor Malloy, we’ve got Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, Peter Shumlin of Vermont. (Applause.) This is like a governor supergroup. (Laughter.) It’s like the Justice League of governors. (Laughter.) I’d call them the New England Patriots, but that name is already taken. (Laughter.)
STUDENT: We love you, Mr. President!
THE PRESIDENT: I love you back! I love you. (Applause.) But we can’t just spend the whole day talking about how we love each other. (Laughter.) That’s not why I came. We are here today—we’re here today because each of us cares deeply about creating new jobs and new opportunities for all Americans. And we’re at this interesting moment in our economy—our economy has been growing, our businesses have created about eight and a half million new jobs over the past four years. The unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in over five years. (Applause.) Those are all things that we should be proud of.
But there are some trends out there that have been battering the middle class for a long, long time—well before this Great Recession hit. And in some ways, some of those trends have gotten worse, not better. The nature of today’s economy with technology and globalization means that there are folks at the top who are doing better than ever, but average wages have barely budged. Average incomes have not gone up. Too many Americans are working harder than ever just to keep up.
So as I said at my State of the Union address, we’ve got to reverse those trends. It is a central task for all of us to build an economy that works for everybody, not just for some. (Applause.) That’s what every one of these governors and Tom Perez believes in—that’s what we got into public service for. I hope Dan and Peter don’t mind me sharing this—while we were driving over here, they were talking about the fact that when they were growing up, both of them had dyslexia. And because of the incredible fierce love of their parents but also because there were some folks there to help them, they achieved—made these extraordinary achievements. Now, I wasn’t in the car with Deval, but Deval is a close friend of mine. He’s got a similar story—grew up on the South Side of Chicago. (Audience member cheers.) South Side! (Laughter and applause.) And came from a very modest background. But somebody gave him a chance. (Applause.) Me, Tom Perez—so many of us understand that at the heart of America, the central premise of this country is the chance to achieve your dreams if you work hard, if you take responsibility; that it doesn’t matter where you start—it’s where you finish. (Applause.)
And in America, we believe in opportunity for all. We believe that our success shouldn’t be determined by the circumstances of our birth. It’s determined by each of us. But also by a society that’s committed to everybody succeeding. So that it doesn’t matter what you look like, where you come from, what your last name is, who you love—what matters is the strength of your work ethic; and the power of your dreams; and your willingness to take responsibility for yourself but also for the larger society. That’s what makes America the place that it is, why it continues to be a beacon, attracting people from all around the world, the idea that you can make it here if you try.
Now, there’s been a lot of news about foreign affairs around the world over the last several days, but also for the last couple years. And one of the things that you see, a trend you see—it doesn’t matter whether it’s in Central Europe or in the Middle East or Africa—individuals want a chance to make it if they try. And what makes us special is we already do that when we’re at our best. But we’ve got some work to do to match up our ideals with the reality that’s happening on the ground right now.
And the opportunity agenda that I’ve laid out is designed to help us restore that idea of opportunity for everybody for this generation, the generation of young people who are studying here and are about to enter the workforce. And it’s got four parts. Part one is something that I know the seniors here are very interested in, which is more good jobs that pay good wages. (Applause.)
We can’t be satisfied with just recovering the jobs that were lost during the recession. We’ve got to rebuild our economy so it’s creating a steady supply of good jobs today and well into the future -– jobs in high-tech manufacturing, and in energy, and in exports, and in American innovation. So that’s job number one.
Job number two is training more Americans with the skills they need to fill those good jobs, so that our workforce is prepared for the jobs of tomorrow.
Part three: guaranteeing every young person in this country access to a world-class education -– from pre-K all the way to a college education like the one you’re getting here. (Applause.)
And that’s why over the past five years, working with the outstanding congressional delegation from Connecticut, we’ve been able to make sure that grant dollars are going farther than before. We took on a student loan system that gave billions of taxpayer dollars to the big banks, and we said let’s use those to give more students directly the help they need to afford to go to college. (Applause.)
That’s why—that’s why we’re offering millions of young people the chance to cap their monthly student loan payments at 10 percent of their income. So you need to check that out. (Laughter.) Go to the website of the Department of Education and find out how you may be eligible for that.
And today, more young people are earning college degrees than ever before. (Applause.) Of course—and I know your president won’t disagree with this—we’ve also got to do more to rein in the soaring cost of college and help more Americans who are trapped by student loan debt. (Applause.)
The bottom line though is whether it’s technical training, community college, or four-year university, no young person should be priced out of a higher education. Shouldn’t happen. (Applause.)
Now, there is a fourth part of this agenda. By the way, I just noticed, if you’ve got chairs, feel free to sit down. (Laughter.) I know the folks here don’t have chairs, but I don’t want you—and if you’re standing up, make sure to bend your knees so you don’t faint. (Laughter.) All right, I just wanted to check on you. (Laughter and applause.)
Now, point number four, the fourth component of this opportunity agenda is making sure that if you are working hard—if you’re working hard, then you get ahead. And that means making sure women receive equal pay for equal work. (Applause.) When women succeed, America succeeds. (Applause.) I believe that. You happy with that, Rosa? Rosa agrees with that. (Laughter.)
It means making sure that you can save and retire with dignity. It means health insurance that’s there when you’re sick and you need it most. (Applause.) And you guys are doing a great job implementing the Affordable Care Act here in Connecticut. If any of you know a young person who is uninsured, help them get covered at healthcare.gov. The website works just fine now. (Laughter.) They’ve got until March 31st to sign up, and in some cases it’s going to cost less than your cellphone bill. So check it out, healthcare.gov.
And making work pay means wages and paychecks that let you support a family. (Applause.) A wage, a paycheck that lets you support a family. (Applause.)
Now, I want to be clear about this because sometimes in our debates with our friends on the other side of the political spectrum, this may not be clear, so let me just repeat it once again, as Americans, we understand that some folks are going to earn more than others. We don’t resent success; we are thrilled with the opportunities that America affords. Somebody goes out there, starts a business, invents a new product, provides a new service, that’s what drives our economy. That’s why this free-market economy is the most dynamic on Earth. We’re thrilled with that. Everybody agrees on that. But what we also believe is that nobody who works full-time should ever have to raise a family in poverty. (Applause.) That violates a basic sense of who we are. And that’s why it’s time to give America a raise. (Applause.) It is time to give America a raise. Now is the time. Now is the time. (Applause.)
A year ago I asked Congress to raise the minimum wage, the federal minimum wage. Since that time six states have passed laws to raise theirs, including right here in Connecticut. (Applause.)
On January 1st, tens of thousands of folks across this state got a raise –- and Governor Malloy is working to lift their wages even higher. (Applause.) Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Washington State, other states, counties, cities across the country are working to raise their minimum wage as we speak.
The governors here today –- Governor Chafee of Rhode Island;, Governor Malloy; Governor Patrick of Massachusetts; Governor Shumlin of Vermont; and a Governor who couldn’t be here today, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire –- all are fighting to give hardworking folks in these great New England states a raise of their own. And they’ve formed a regional coalition to raise the minimum wage. If they succeed in their efforts, New England will have some of the highest minimum wages in the country. (Applause.)
And they’re not stopping there -– these four governors are here in support of raising America’s minimum wage, the federal minimum wage, to $10.10 an hour—$10.10 an hour. (Applause.)
Now, raising wages is not just a job for elected officials. In my State of the Union address, I asked more business leaders to do what they can to raise their workers’ wages -– because profitable companies like Costco have long seen higher wages as good business. It’s a smart way to boost productivity, to reduce turnover, to instill loyalty in your employees. And, by the way, they do great. Their stocks do great. They are highly profitable. It’s not bad business to do right by your workers, it’s good business. (Applause.) It’s good business. (Applause.)
Two weeks ago, the Gap decided to raise its base wages, and that’s going to boost wages for 65,000 workers in the United States. (Applause.) Last week, I read about Jaxson’s, it’s an ice cream parlor in Florida that’s been in business since 1956. They just announced they would lift workers’ wages to at least $10.10 an hour, without cutting back on hiring. (Applause.) Two weeks ago, an Atlanta small business owner named Darien Southerland wrote me to share a lesson his Granny taught him: If you treat your employees right, they’ll treat you right. (Applause.) Vice President Biden paid Darien’s business a visit just yesterday. You got to listen to your grandmother. (Laughter.) That is some wise advice.
And I agree with these business leaders as well. So what I did as President, I issued an executive order requiring federal contractors—if you’re doing business with the federal government—pay your employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour, which will be good for America’s bottom line. (Applause.)
And let me tell you who was affected. When I was signing the bill, or the executive order, we had some of the workers who were going to be affected. You’ve got folks who are cooking the meals of our troops, or washing their dishes, or cleaning their clothes. This country should pay those folks a wage you can live on. (Applause.)
So this is good for business, it is good for America. Because even though we’re bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States, creating more good jobs in education and health care and business services, there will always be airport workers, there are always going to be fast-food workers, there are always going to be hospital workers, there are going to be retail salespeople, hospitality workers—people who work their tails off every day. (Applause.) People working in nursing homes, looking after your grandparents or your parents. (Applause.) Folks who are doing all the hard jobs that make our society work every single day. They don’t have anything flashy out there. And you know what, they’re not expecting to get rich, but they do feel like if they’re putting in back-breaking work every day, then at least at the end of the month they can pay their bills. (Applause.) They deserve an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.
Working Americans have struggled through stagnant wages for too long, so my goal is—and the goal of everybody on this stage—is to help lift wages, help lift take-home pay in any way I can. And that’s why I’ve done everything I can to lift wages for hardworking federal contractors, it’s why I’ve asked business owners to raise their wages, it’s why I’m supporting elected officials at the local level, governors. What every American wants is a paycheck that lets them support their families, know a little economic security, pass down some hope and optimism to their kids. And that’s worth fighting for. (Applause.)
But I want to make one last point. If we’re going to finish the job, Congress has to get on board. (Applause.) Congress has to get on board. And this is interesting—this should not be that hard, you’d think. (Laughter.) Because nearly three in four Americans, about half of all Republicans, support raising the minimum wage. The problem is, Republicans in Congress oppose raising the minimum wage—now I don’t know if that’s just because I proposed it. (Laughter.) Maybe I should say I oppose raising the minimum wage and they’d be for it, that’s possible. (Laughter.)
But right now, there’s a bill in front of both the House and the Senate that would boost America’s minimum wage to $10.10. It’s easy to remember—$10.10—ten dollars, ten cents an hour. Just passing this bill would help not only minimum wage workers; it would lift wages for about 200,000 people just right here in Connecticut. (Applause.) It would lift wages for about one million New Englanders. (Applause.) It would lift wages for nearly 28 million Americans across this country. (Applause.) It would immediately raise millions of people out of poverty. It would help millions more work their way out of poverty, and it doesn’t require new taxes, doesn’t require new spending, doesn’t require some new bureaucracy. And here’s one last point. It turns out—what happens if workers got a little more money in their pockets?
AUDIENCE: They spend it!
THE PRESIDENT: They spend a little more money, which means that suddenly businesses have more customers, which means they make more profits, which means they can hire more workers, which means you get a virtuous cycle—
AUDIENCE MEMBER: It’s common sense!
THE PRESIDENT: It’s common sense—that’s what I’m trying to say. (Laughter and applause.) Common sense, exactly. It’s just common sense—that’s all it is. It’s common sense. (Applause.) Common sense. It’s just common sense. (Applause.) That’s all I’m saying. (Laughter.)
Now, right now, Republicans in Congress don’t want to vote on raising the minimum wage. Some have actually said they just want to scrap the minimum wage. One of them said, “I think it’s outlived its usefulness…I’d vote to repeal the minimum wage.” One of them said it’s never worked. Some even said it only helps young people, as if that’s a bad thing. I think we should want to help young people. (Laughter and applause.) I’d like to see them try putting themselves through college on a low wage work-study job. (Applause.) But actually—or I’d like to see them supporting a family, making less than $15,000 a year.
But here’s the truth about who it would help. Most people who would get a raise if we raise the minimum wage are not teenagers on their first job—their average age is 35. A majority of lower-wage jobs are held by women. These Americans are workiong full-time, often supporting families, and if the minimum wage had kept pace with our economy’s productivity, they’d already be earning well over $10 an hour today. Instead, it’s stuck at $7.25. Every time Congress refuses to raise it, it loses value because the cost of living goes higher, minimum wage stays the same. Right now, it’s worth 20 percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan took office. And over the last year, since I asked Congress to do something and they didn’t do it, that was an equivalent of a $200 pay cut for the average minimum wage worker, because it didn’t keep pace with inflation. That’s a month of groceries for the average minimum wage worker. That’s two months’ worth of electricity. This is not a small thing, this is a big deal. It makes a big difference in the lives of a lot of families. (Applause.)
So members of Congress have a choice to make, it is a clear choice: Raise workers’ wages, grow our economy—or let wages stagnate further, give workers what amounts to another pay cut.
Fortunately, folks in Connecticut have really good delegations, so your senators and representatives are already on board. (Applause.) They’re all on board. They’re fighting the good fight. (Applause.) But anybody who is watching at home, you deserve to know where your elected official stands. So just ask them, “Do you support raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour?” If they say yes, say, “thanks.” (Laughter.) “Great job.” We need encouragement too, elected officials. (Laughter.) If they say no, you should be polite—(laughter)—but you should say, “why not?” Ask them to reconsider. Ask them to side with the majority of Americans. Instead of saying no, for once, say yes. It’s time for $10.10. It’s time to give America a raise. (Applause.)
I want to close by sharing a story of a guy named Doug Wade, who is here today. Where’s Doug? I’m going to embarrass Doug. Stand up. This is Doug, right here. (Applause.)
Doug had a chance to meet Secretary Perez in Hartford last week. Doug is the president of Wade’s Dairy down in Bridgeport. (Applause.) His great-grandfather, Frank—is that right? Frank?—started the family business in 1893—1893. One of the secrets to their success is that they treat their employees like part of the family. So Doug pays his own workers fairly.
But he goes a step further than that—he writes editorials, he talks to fellow business leaders, he meets with elected officials to make the case for a higher minimum wage for everybody. And keep in mind, Doug spent most of his life as a registered Republican. This is not about politics. This is about common sense. (Applause.) It’s about business sense. (Applause.) And Doug, we were talking backstage, Doug showed me a paystub because it describes his own story. When he was flipping burgers back in 1970, his employer paid him the minimum wage—but it went 25 percent farther than it does today. So Doug speaks from experience when he says that, “Things like the minimum wage raise the bar for everybody.” And he’s still got that paycheck. And it looks like the paycheck I got when I was working at Baskin-Robbins. (Laughter and applause.)
The point that Doug and his family, and his business represents is we believe in hard work, we believe in responsibility, we believe in individual initiative, but we also come together to raise the bar for everybody; to make sure our fellow citizens can pursue their own dreams as well; that they can look after their kids and lift them up. We look out for each other. That’s who we are. That is our story. (Applause.)
There are millions of Americans like Doug, and like all of you, who are tired of old political arguments, ready to raise the bar a little higher. Let’s move this country forward. Let’s move it up. Let’s go further. That’s what I’m going to do as President as long as I have the honor of serving in this office, and I need your help. Let’s go out there and give America a raise.
God bless you. God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
2:50 P.M. EST
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OP-ED | In Defense of Family Court Judges
The Honorable Leslie Olear came before the General Assembly for reappointment on Feb. 26, having served the previous eight years with a stellar record. By all accounts, she is the type of judge that Connecticut deserves and needs: smart, hardworking and committed to doing what is fair and just.
But Judge Olear had the misfortune of being a sitting family law judge when the vote was cast, and thus became a pawn in a highly charged, politically sensitive debate over structural issues in family courts — a debate in which a small number of family court critics appear to be using the reappointment process as a means to give voice to their dissatisfaction about the functioning of that all-important docket within the Judicial Branch.
Family cases are, by their very nature, extremely emotional, extremely volatile and, often times, extremely distasteful. There were 32,987 family cases filed in the last fiscal year in Connecticut. Those cases are assigned to the family docket consisting of judges, magistrates, guardians ad litem, family services counselors, and mental health professionals, all working within the limited means of the Judicial Branch to resolve these most difficult cases.
Of the 32,987 family cases, well over half involve children and the inevitable question of which parent will retain custody of those children and what visitation rights will be granted to the other parent. Too often, those children become leverage in a fight over how the assets of the marital estate will be divvied up and what obligations will continue in the future. Because the children’s interests are at issue (and many would say their interest ought to be the most important issue), the court will occasionally involve guardians ad litem or other professionals to protect the children’s interests. Those individuals have a thankless job. They must advance the interests of the children in a situation where warring parents cannot themselves agree on what is best for their family.
To be certain, the system is not perfect. Limited resources, time constraints and unrepresented litigants all contribute to make an already emotionally difficult situation even more so. These difficulties led to the creation in 2013 of the Task Force to Study Legal Disputes Involving the Care and Custody of Minor Children, whose job it was to study the myriad of issues the courts are asked to address when dealing with the children of a divorcing couple and to make recommendations as to how the system might be improved. The task force held a series of public hearings and released its report on Jan. 31. The Judicial Branch is in the process of reviewing that report and will soon advise the General Assembly as to those steps it will implement to address the issues covered by the task force.
Unfortunately, some in our General Assembly did not have faith in the very task force they established to address the concerns with the family court. Rather than embrace the task force recommendations and confer with Chief Justice Rogers and her colleagues as to how best to remedy some of the problems that have been raised, they decided instead to use the reappointment process as a forum to express support for criticisms raised by a group of former family court litigants left embittered by their experiences in their individual cases.
So, when Judge Olear’s nomination came to the House for a reappointment vote with the full support of the Judicial Branch and the Judiciary Committee, the compliments of the attorneys and litigants who appeared before her, and an exceptional record, she nonetheless barely passed the House by a 78-67 vote. That vote had nothing to do with her record as a judge.
The judicial reappointment process is designed to ensure that a sitting judge has demonstrated over the previous eight years the qualifications deemed necessary to dispense justice. It should not be an occasion for the Legislature to make a political statement about the way the third branch of government performs its constitutional role.
If the Legislature has concerns, they should be addressed in the normal give and take that happens between the three branches of government; ironically, the kind of give and take exhibited here in the formation of the task force and rendering of a report that Chief Justice Rogers is in the process of considering and acting upon.
Using the reappointment process to promote a political point of view runs the risk of creating a very real sense in sitting judges that no matter how well they do their job, they can still be ousted by those with a political agenda. That is no way to run a government or a court system.
Kimberly Knox is president of the Connecticut Bar Association.
Tags: Kimberly A. Knox, Judicial Branch, family court, guardian ad litem, Judiciary Committee, nomination, dh
Obama: Raising the Minimum Wage Is ‘Common Sense’
NEW BRITAIN — President Barack Obama is unlikely to get a hike in the minimum wage through Congress, but he encouraged states and businesses to take the lead during a half-hour speech Wednesday at Central Connecticut State University.
Costco, Gap, and even Cafe Beauregard in New Britain — where the president ate lunch Wednesday — have increased their employees’ wages to $10 an hour or more.
“Nobody who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty. That violates a basic sense of who we are. That’s why it’s time to give America a raise,” Obama told a packed auditorium.
The president’s push for an minimum wage increase is widely supported by Connecticut voters. Legislators and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy are pushing this year to boost the state’s wage to $10.10 by 2017.
The president’s trip to the Nutmeg state comes a day after Quinnipiac University poll found, for the first time, that Connecticut voters disapprove of the president. But Obama was flanked on stage by the governors of Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island, as well as Malloy, who stepped into the national spotlight last week as a prominent supporter of Obama and his push to raise the minimum wage.
Malloy defended Obama last week against comments from Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who accused the president of “waving the white flag of surrender” by supporting a minimum wage hike.” Malloy recalled the incident Wednesday as he introduced Obama.
“Let me say, as I look around this room, I don’t see anyone ‘waving a white flag.’ Bobby Jindal did not make it to Connecticut,” he said.
During his remarks, Obama called for better job training opportunities, increased access to affordable higher education, and equal pay for women, but much of the speech centered on boosting the minimum wage.
The president praised Malloy and the other governors on stage for their support of minimum wage increases but urged people watching at home to contact their representatives and pressure them to support a federal increase.
‘If we’re going to finish the job, Congress has to get on board. This should not be that hard, in effect, because nearly three-fourths of Americans and about half of all Republicans support raising the minimum wage, but Republicans in Congress oppose it,” he said.
He joked that it’s because he proposed it that the Republican-controlled House opposes it.
“I don’t know if it’s because I proposed it. Maybe I should oppose raising the minimum wage,“ he quipped.
Obama said increasing the minimum wage would boost the economy by putting more money in the pockets of working people, who would spend the money at local businesses, who could then hire more workers.
“It’s common sense!” a woman in the crowd shouted.
“It’s common sense, that’s right,” the president answered.
After the speech, Lori Pelletier, head of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, said the woman in the crowd “hit it right on the head.” Pelletier said it was great that Obama was in Connecticut to highlight pro-labor policies being adopted in New England, but wished he had taken the opportunity to show support for organized labor unions.
“The only thing I wish he had said was that the real ticket to the middle class is a union card and that collective bargaining brings you to the middle class,” she said. “Ten-ten an hour is terrific — it gets a lot of people out of poverty — but we still have a ways to go.”
Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, praised Obama’s speech for stressing that there are many who earn the minimum wage besides young people.
“People want to think that the majority of people earning the minimum wage are teenagers. [Obama] pointed out that that’s not true,” Tercyak said.
The Congressional Budget Office reported that 12 percent of those who make the minimum wage nationally are teenagers, and 13 percent of those earning the minimum wage are over 55.
Tercyak co-chairs the legislature’s Labor Committee, a panel that approved Connecticut’s minimum wage proposal during a meeting Tuesday. He acknowledged that the state’s Democratic-controlled legislature did not need a presidential visit to get the bill passed.
“We don’t need him to help us with the heavy lifting or anything but we’re the state that just proposed $10.10 . . . it makes perfect sense for him to come here and for the other governors to be here too. In some ways it wasn’t just a Connecticut event,” he said.
Connecticut Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. said a minimum wage increase isn’t going to improve the economy in Connecticut or the rest of the nation.
“We all agree that more must be done to help those who struggle to make ends meet, but as long as the cost of doing business in Connecticut remains among the highest in the nation, good-paying jobs will continue to flee our state,” Labriola said.
There was no Republican support for an increase in the minimum wage last year when state lawmakers approved a bill that would bring it up to $9 an hour in January 2015. This year’s legislation would boost it to $10.10 an hour by 2017.
According to a Quinnipiac University poll, 53 percent of Republicans surveyed oppose a hike in the minimum wage, even though it remains popular with Democrats and unaffiliated voters. The poll found 71 percent of those surveyed supported an increase.
Malloy: No New Taxes, No Deficit
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told a group of business leaders Wednesday that there’s not going to be a budget deficit in 2016 and he’s not going to raise taxes if there is. That’s assuming he runs for re-election and is elected to a second term.
The Office of Fiscal Analysis predicted last November that the state would have a deficit of more than $1 billion starting in fiscal year 2016.
“If we did have a deficit we’re not going to raise taxes. We’re done,” Malloy said. “I gave.”
He said in 2011 when he took office he faced a $3.6 billion budget deficit and there was no other way to fix that problem without taking a look at everything from tax increases to changes in the state’s relationship with its workforce.
“I think we’re entering into a phase where over the next few years revenues will rise—not cause we’re adding new taxes—but because the economy is slowly but surely getting better,” Malloy said.
He said the state is also at a point where state government isn’t growing. He promised to keep spending at 2. 8 percent. He said those two indicators combined make him feel confident there’s no need for a tax increase in the near future.
That’s not to say the current tax code doesn’t need some work. Malloy said there are places the state charges too much money and the tax structure needs to be investigated more.
John Rathgeber, president and CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said he thinks there should be changes in the revenue structure “but overall we shouldn’t be increasing taxes.”
“We can live within a sustainable growth rate and make the investments necessary,” he said. “Particularly, if we see a growing economy.”
Rathgeber said one of the things lawmakers tend to underestimate is the benefit of economic growth.
“If people are going back to work, if businesses are investing, revenue sources grow and not just the ones that are dependent on financial stock markets,” he said. “To me the more important thing here is the organic growth in revenues based on a stronger economy and it’s something, quite frankly, people don’t appreciate in this building as much as they should.”
How many of you are paying more than 2 percent of your workers minimum wage? Malloy asked the group of more than a 100 business leaders.
Only three hands in the audience went up.
“The reality about the minimum wage in Connecticut is that on a seasonally adjusted basis somewhere between 70,000 and 90,000 employees earn the minimum wage,” Malloy said.
He said the total pool of workers in the state is about 1.7 million people.
A vast majority of those earning the minimum wage work “in the food service industry,” Malloy said. “Most of us don’t cross the border to get our food. It’s just a reality. So lifting people out of poverty is what we’re trying to do.”
Malloy will appear with President Barack Obama later today in New Britain to promote an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2017.
The Connecticut Business and Industry Association is opposed to a hike in the minimum wage.
“His question was how many people pay it, not how many people support it,” Rathgeber said responding to a question about the response in the room to the governor’s informal survey. “A lot of people don’t pay the minimum wage in Connecticut nevertheless they are concerned about the impact that it has on other cost structures.”
He said the real issue is getting people the preparation they need to take jobs that don’t pay the minimum wage.
An insurance broker, who does employee benefit plans, told Malloy the one concern he’s hearing from his clients is the difficulty they are having finding and retaining good quality employees.
“There’s a limit to how many liberal arts degrees we need without associated actual job preparation,” Malloy said. “You can do both, but we weren’t doing both well in the state of Connecticut.”
He said they’re working to use the community colleges in a way that guarantees Connecticut has a workforce that’s prepared to make 900 to 1,000 jet engines per year. Malloy said that’s the amount of business United Technologies Corporation believes it will do after it expands with the help of the state, which announced last week that it will allow the company to use $400 million in stranded tax credits to lower its tax liability.
Tags: CBIA, business day at the capitol, John Rathgeber, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, minimum wage, taxes, jobs
Could Regulation of Movie Theater Noise Violate the First Amendment?
A Motion Picture Association of America executive told the Public Safety Committee on Tuesday that its attempt to regulate noise levels in movie theaters would violate the First Amendment.
The legislation seeks to create a standard that says movie theater owners would not be allowed to show a movie or movie trailer with noise levels that exceed 85 decibels. The Commissioner of Administrative Services would be responsible for making sure the theaters are in compliance.
“There are serious First Amendment implications raised with this legislation because if it were to be put into law, the state would be saying how a motion picture or how speech could be presented,” Van Stevenson, senior vice president of government affairs for the MPAA, said Tuesday.
He said once the state starts regulating the noise level of movies, it would have regulate the noise levels at concerts and sporting events.
“What do you do with any kind of activity where there would be loud noises?” Stevenson said.
The National Association of Theatre Owners and the MPAA reached an agreement in 1999 that movie trailers could average no more than 85 decibels.
“Yes, there are sometimes spikes,” Stevenson admitted. “Art imitates life.”
He said there are going to be situations where there is music and a “crescendo in the symphony, explosions, jets taking off and landing.” But he said the industry has gone to great lengths to make the decibel in the theater “safe and secure.”
He said the bill is unnecessary because of the voluntary standards already established.
But William Young of Stamford testified that it’s not enough.
He explained to lawmakers that 85 decibels is only an average. There are noises like explosions that go beyond 85 decibels.
In an October 2013 editorial Young said the movie previews were consistently between 75 and 100 decibels with sustained bursts as high as 100 to 110 decibels. On the other hand, feature films averaged about 15 decibels lower in each case, or only one-third of the perceived loudness vs. the trailers.
Young said he’s heard the argument that noise levels have been addressed by the Trailer Audio Standards Association, the MPAA, and the National Association of Theater Owners, “but we strongly believe the result is terribly lame.”
The results of the voluntary standard are applied unevenly, Young said.
“That means trailers with more quiet portions can have loud explosions and still comply to pass the standard,” he said. “This is equivalent to driving from Danbury to Hartford at an average speed of 55 mph with periodic sustained bursts of 100 mph. We certainly have our doubts that the trailers’ loudness is consistent with the standard of 85 decibels.”
Rep. Janice Giegler, R-Danbury, asked if any other states have taken it upon themselves to implement similar legislation.
Stevenson said in his 25 years with the MPAA “this is the first bill I’ve seen like this in any state.”
He said he has no idea how the state would monitor 64 movie theaters in Connecticut.
Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, said when “we can come to agreement on a voluntary basis I’m not one to be mandating or legislating, but I think that this is a conversation worth having.”
She said she believes there is a problem with the noise level in movie theaters.
“I for one have been in movie theaters and blocked my ears,” Hartley said.
But Stevenson said there aren’t a lot of complaints in the area of movie theater noise. Hartley shot back that she doesn’t believe the complaints are a good indication that the standard the industry set for itself is working.
“Who is the watchdog?” Hartley asked.
“It’s ultimately the theater owner,” Stevenson said.
Doug Murdoch, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Theater Owners, testified that the viewing public would lose the “hum and swish of the light sabers” in movies like Star Wars, if the legislation passed.
Hartley reminded Murdoch that not everyone in his industry always follows those standards and there has to be a system set up to enforce them either voluntarily or by state statute.
OP-ED | In Desperate Need of Good Publicity, States Mull New Branding for Common Core
The Common Core State Standards have been taking a beating lately in the court of public opinion.
One concern is their developmental appropriateness. Stamford Advocate columnist Wendy Lecker asserted on Feb. 21 that “the drafters of the Core ignored the research on child development. In 2010, 500 child development experts warned the drafters that the standards called for exactly the kind of damaging practices that inhibit learning: direct instruction, inappropriate academic content, and testing.”
Then, on Feb. 26, Connecticut Education Association Executive Director Mark Waxenberg revealed that 97 percent of 1,452 state teachers surveyed “believed there should be some sort of moratorium on the implementation of the standards.”
Connecticut House Republicans quickly followed with news that “they’d managed to force a public hearing on legislation to delay the standards.”
The very next day, the group Parent-Teacher Save Our Schools Alliance called upon lawmakers “to pass legislation to enable parents to opt their children out of statewide [Common Core] standardized tests.”
Clearly, the Common Core State Standards could use some positive press right about now.
“Teachers are not saying we don’t want standards,” said Waxenberg. “What we’re saying is give us time to digest what we are being asked to do, to make sure we can get this done right before children are being judged improperly.”
To me, “doing it right” means paring down the unwieldy bundle of standards into a focused and manageable set of principles that have been researched and proven effective — attributes glaringly absent from the current CCSS.
One standard I believe would make the cut is ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.3, which requires students to “evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.”
What could the students in my Media Literacy class learn, for example, by investigating the rhetoric surrounding the current Common Core controversy? They could start by reviewing this news item:
“In the face of growing opposition to the Common Core State Standards — a set of K-12 educational guidelines adopted by most of the country — officials in a handful of states are worried that the brand is already tainted,” reports the Washington Post. “They’re keeping the standards but slapping on fresh names they hope will have greater public appeal.”
Thus, “Arizona Governor Jan Brewer used an executive order to strip the name ‘Common Core’ from the state’s new math and reading standards for public schools.” Officials in Iowa, meanwhile, have begun calling the Common Core State Standards “the Iowa Core.” And some legislators in Florida would like to change the official name of the CCSS to “Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.”
My students could investigate this issue by focusing on “word choice.” First, they could consult resources such as the book “The New Doublespeak” in which author William Lutz defines doublespeak as “language that pretends to communicate but really doesn’t.”
Specifically, students could survey Lutz’s four types of doublespeak — euphemisms, jargon, inflated language, and gobbledygook (aka, “bureaucratese”) — to see if any apply.
As an example, students might focus on the phrase “Next Generation Sunshine State Standards” as a potential example of inflated language — that is, words “designed to make the ordinary seem extraordinary, the common, uncommon.”
After relating the specific types of doublespeak to the Common Core debate, my students could identify literary and historical examples, such as George Orwell’s invention of “newspeak” in the novel “1984” or his essay “Politics and the English Language.”
So there you go: a lesson aligned with one Common Core standard that makes sense, courtesy of the Common Core controversy itself.
Of course, I didn’t really need the CCSS dispute to inspire this lesson because I’ve been teaching these very concepts in my Media Literacy class for the past 15 years — long before the Common Core State Standards even existed. The current controversy simply provided the latest news event to which I could connect my lesson.
You might say it’s a lesson I teach to meet the “Honest Communication in the Nutmeg State Standards.”
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Lottery Chairman Thinks There’s Hope For Keno
Despite widespread political support for repealing keno this year, the chairman of the Connecticut Lottery Corporation’s board of directors said Tuesday he’s still optimistic lawmakers will choose to allow the corporation to implement the game.
“Absolutely not,” Frank Farricker said when asked if keno was bound for repeal this year. “I think that many people are discovering or remembering or referring back to the fact that this is a lottery game and this is something that is positive for raising revenue for the state.”
Keno was added to last year’s budget as a revenue generator late in the session and to the surprise of many lawmakers. It was passed without the benefit of a public hearing. This year, the state has an estimated $504 million surplus and lawmakers are considering a bill to scrap the state’s plan to implement keno.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey favors repealing the game, Sen. President Donald Williams has said he welcomes the conversation, and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has indicated he would sign such a repeal if it were passed.
Farricker testified at a public hearing Tuesday before the Public Safety Committee, which is considering a repeal bill. He told lawmakers that the Connecticut Lottery Corporation has already spent about $50,000 preparing for the game and believed it was well-situated to implement it.
“I believe that we have keno positioned in a responsible way,” he said. “. . . Keno is in an excellent position for launch.”
Many lawmakers on the Public Safety Committee were critical of the game and the prospect of its implementation in Connecticut. Rep. Steven Mikutel, D-Griswold, called keno’s legalization in last year’s budget “the most distasteful rat” he had ever voted for.
“We’re finally having a public hearing and debate about repealing it because the people of Connecticut have told their legislators that they don’t like what we did and they don’t want to see Connecticut engage in a significant and dangerous expansion of state-sponsored gambling,” Mikutel said.
However, Farricker said that keno is not a new consideration for the Connecticut Lottery Corporation. He said the issue came up at his first meeting as chairman of the board in 2011 and has been keeping tabs on the game for much longer. Since 2011, Farricker said the Malloy administration requested that the lottery corporation estimate the revenue impact of the legalization of keno “at least three or four times.”
During his testimony, Farricker sought to align keno with other types of lottery games and resisted the idea presented by lawmakers that the bingo-like game’s video elements will appeal to the state’s children and young people.
“Keno is a lottery game . . . It’s the exact same experience of playing the lottery that has existed since the 70s,” he said.
Rep. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, disagreed. He said he has been in restaurants in states where keno is legal and watched the game’s video displays.
“You have a multicolor, dancing ball that is visually queued to capture the attention of vendors in your restaurant. It is not a static experience,” he said. “You’ve got young children, all of the sudden in the middle of a meal, being entranced by a colorful screen.”
Rep. Daniel Rovero, D-Dayville, said he had never seen children captivated by keno in other states. He said that gambling is already present in Connecticut and represents income for the state.
“I don’t like gambling . . . but I might be the only friend you have sitting here,” he told Farricker. “Gambling is already here and unless somebody can prove to me how it’s going to make a bad situation worse, I’ve got to say, I’m not against putting keno into restaurants.”
Minimum Wage Hike Clears First Hurdle
The Labor Committee approved legislation to raise Connecticut’s minimum wage Tuesday on the eve of a presidential visit to the state in support of the policy.
Tuesday’s 8-3 vote by the Labor and Public Employees Committee advances a proposal that would raise Connecticut’s minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017, making it the highest in the nation. The bill is in line with a national proposal by President Barack Obama, who will make remarks Wednesday at Central Connecticut State University on the subject.
In a statement, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy praised the committee’s vote. He said the proposal would help lift some working families out of poverty and boost the economy.
“When workers earn more money, businesses will have more customers. This is an important public policy issue that clearly has had bipartisan support in the past, and there’s no reason why there should not be bipartisan support for it now,” Malloy said.
However, Republicans on the Labor Committee opposed the bill. Rep. Richard Smith, R-New Fairfield, said the bill was “feel good” legislation that doesn’t solve the economic problems that contribute to poverty.
“It sounds good, it feels good, but it doesn’t resolve the underlying issues and until we start addressing the underlying issues and throwing the money there, helping those in need . . . and making them part of the workforce to earn a better wage, we’re going to be dealing with this minimum wage issue forever,” he said.
But the committee’s Republicans acknowledged the political momentum behind this year’s legislation, especially in light of the presidential visit.
“I’m not blind to the importance of this bill both to the administration and the nation,” Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, said. “I think what will be in evidence here over the next day or so is clearly an indication that there’s momentum behind doing something.”
Miner said he still wanted to have a conversation about the proposal and hoped some Republican ideas would be incorporated.
Not all Republicans oppose the minimum wage increase. Gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley released a statement Tuesday afternoon calling the wage hike “a fairness issue” that he supports nationally.
Tags: minimum wage, labor committee, dh
Malloy, Lawmakers Get Second Chance At Dispatch Consolidation With New Commish
The appointment of a new Emergency Services and Public Protection Department commissioner gives lawmakers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration a second chance to look at the police dispatch consolidation.
At the end of last October, Troop D in Danielson, Troop K in Colchester, and Troop E in Montville moved their dispatch operations to Troop C in Tolland. The changes are part of a larger effort to reduce the number of state police dispatch centers in the state from 12 to 5. In the western part of the state, dispatch functions for Troops A and B were moved to Troop L in Litchfield.
The Central District was supposed to be consolidated next, but several state lawmakers raised concerns in November and former Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner Reuben Bradford retired in December.
During the confirmation of Dora Schriro, who headed the New York City Correction Department before being appointed by Malloy to replace Bradford, lawmakers wanted to know what was happening with the dispatch consolidation effort.
At Schriro’s confirmation hearing Tuesday, Sen. President Donald Williams wanted to make sure that Schriro understands there is a unique quality to some of the police barracks in the eastern part of the state. He said Troop D operates more like a local police department because none of the towns in its region have local police departments.
Last year, the state police moved dispatchers from the barracks in Colchester, Danielson and Montville into their Tolland facility in an effort to save money and put more officers on the road.
“I strongly believe . . . those barracks that serve as local police departments, we ought to look at those barracks in that context. And preserving local dispatch is a very important component of that,” Williams said. “I would like to look at these barracks and their function according to their true function.”
The consolidation of 12 statewide dispatch centers down to five caused the Connecticut State Police Union to take a symbolic vote of no confidence in Bradford and his second in command, Col. Danny Stebbins. It also has created some friction between the administration and Democratic lawmakers who represent eastern Connecticut.
Schriro told Williams she has taken a preliminary look at the operations, but that she needs another month to dive a little deeper into the issue and explore all options before she makes her recommendations to Malloy. Those recommendations could come as early as the end of March.
“The centralization of dispatch is well-intended,” Schriro said. “It was intended to get more troopers out on the road, but that of course means moving them out of the barracks, which has additional ramifications.”
Williams said he hopes the dispatch consolidation effort can be handled administratively, but if it can’t there is legislation that would roll back the consolidation effort.
Prior to the dispatch consolidation efforts, the hot button public safety issue was how many troopers comprise the right number for the state.
The General Assembly approved legislation in 2012 that eliminated the 1,248 minimum state trooper staffing mandate and called for a study of police staffing and response times. The state police union sued the state for not having enough troopers and it won, based on the previous mandate.The state was getting ready to appeal that ruling when the General Assembly passed the legislation removing the minimum staffing mandate, making the issue moot.
Schriro said she has a meeting scheduled with all the master sergeants who handle the administrative functions for the state police, and plans to get some information about whether their staffing levels are adequate.
She said she wants to be using the time and talent of all of her employees efficiently and where there are deficits she will raise that issue.
There are six divisions, including the Connecticut State Police and Emergency Management and Homeland Security, in the Emergency Services and Public Protection Department.
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said if she believes the department needs more state troopers “that you’ll fight for them, regardless of the finances or the politics.”
Schriro said she “commits to all of you to be the best public servant I can be.”
Schriro started the job at the end of January. Her nomination was forwarded Tuesday by the committee to the state Senate for final approval.
Tags: Dora Schriro, state police, dispatch consolidation, nomination, Donald Williams, John McKinney, dh
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Poll Finds Support For Minimum Wage Hike
A Quinnipiac University poll found 71 percent of the 1,878 voters surveyed support another increase in the state’s minimum wage.
The measure receives support from both parties, but Democrats overwhelmingly support the measure 93-6 percent and unaffiliated voters support it 73-23 percent. Republicans oppose it 53-41 percent. Women, who make the minimum wage in larger numbers than men, support it 78-18 percent, and men support it 64-32 percent.
The polls found 25 percent support no increase in the minimum wage and 42 percent want it increased to the proposed $10.10 an hour. About 8 percent of voters want to see a lesser increase and 20 percent want to see a higher increase.
Forty-seven percent of voters say a minimum wage hike will help Connecticut’s economy, and 57 percent of Republicans say it would hurt the economy.
The poll surveyed 1,878 registered voters and it has a 2.3 percent margin of error. The margin of error when it comes to the questions for Republicans voters increased to 4.5 percent. It was conducted between Feb. 26 and March 2.
Tags: Q-Poll, quinnipiac poll, minimum wage, Connecticut, dh
Poll Finds 2014 Race for Governor Is A Dead Heat
(Updated with video 11:25 a.m.) The 2014 race for governor is in a dead heat. Republican Tom Foley is tied in a hypothetical match up with Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, according to the a Quinnipiac University poll released today.
Malloy has not yet announced that he will seek another term, but he has signaled that he will be announcing in May sometime after the end of the legislative session.
The poll found first-term governor still struggles with his approval ratings. He gets a 48 percent, while 45 percent disapprove and voters are divided about whether he should even seek re-election. Malloy’s approval rating hasn’t broken through the 50 percent mark in any poll, but the 48 percent is a high-water mark for him.
Malloy received a 48 percent approval rating a year ago in the polls and his lowest rating approval rating, 35 percent, came in March 2011 after his first three months in office.
“For Malloy, perhaps the biggest worry is that he’s never been able to get over 50 percent in job approval — a danger sign for any incumbent,” Quinnipiac University Poll Director Douglas Schwartz said in a press release.
Looking at Malloy’s personal qualities:
· 60 percent of Connecticut voters say he has strong leadership qualities;
· 59 percent of Connecticut voters say he is honest and trustworthy;
· 50 percent of Connecticut voters say he cares about their needs and problems.
In a hypothetical match-up with Foley, his 2010 opponent, Malloy wins the female vote. The poll found a large gender gap as women back Malloy 45-37 percent while men back Foley 48-39 percent.
“We have tried to be consistent in not saying much about polls because, what’s there to say? Polls come and go, numbers go up and down,” Malloy’s spokesman Andrew Doba said in an emailed statement. “The governor always does what he thinks is best for the state and the right thing to do.”
The statement is similar to past statements following the release of polls by Quinnipiac University, which had Malloy’s 2010 Democratic primary opponent beating him by three points just one day before that contest. Malloy went on to best Ned Lamont by a sizable margin.
On the Republican side where there’s likely to be a primary this year, Foley continues to dominate the pack with Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton as his closest competition. If the Republican primary were held today Foley would receive 36 percent of the vote and Boughton would receive 11 percent of the vote. The rest would be split between Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, Joe Visconti, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, and Sen. Toni Boucher. None of those four candidates break into double digits. And 35 percent of Republican voters remain undecided.
“Foley dominates other Republicans vying for the nomination, who have little statewide recognition,” Schwartz said. But there’s a risk that Foley “gets bloodied during the primary process,” and Malloy sails to victory. It’s a scenario that Malloy seems to be counting on, describing the Republican primary race as a “donnybrook.”
Foley, the former ambassador to Ireland, who lost the 2010 election by 6,404 votes, was happy with the results of the poll.
“Voters understand that with the right leadership and better policies Connecticut can have the promising future we thought it had before Governor Malloy was elected,” Foley said. “That is why I am running for governor and why a challenger is running neck and neck with a Democrat incumbent in a very blue state.”
Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. said the poll shows that Malloy’s attempts to win public support over the past few months have failed.
“Despite going on the offensive over the past few months, proposing cheap election-year gimmicks in a desperate attempt to save his re-election chances, Governor Malloy has been unable to convince voters that he deserves a second term,” Labriola said.
For the first time ever, Connecticut voters have abandoned their approval of President Barack Obama, who will visit the state Wednesday to pitch an increase in the minimum wage.
The poll found voters disapprove of the job Obama is doing and gave him a negative 45-51 percent approval rating. There’s still a gender gap with men disapproving 57-40 percent and women divided with 49 percent approving and 47 percent disapproving.
He even gets a lukewarm 49-43 percent approval from voters 18 to 29 years old, who have been largely supportive of the president.
Obama’s highest rating came in May 2009 when he received a 71 percent approval rating from Connecticut voters. Last March, he had a 53 percent approval rating in the poll.
The poll surveyed 1,878 registered voters and it has a 2.3 percent margin of error. The margin of error when it comes to the questions for Republicans voters increased to 4.5 percent.
Both Supporters & Opponents of Juvenile Sentencing Bill Are Tired of Testifying
Barbara Fair is sick of traveling to Hartford year after year to testify on a bill that would give juvenile offenders an opportunity to reduce their sentences.
“There’s so much work that needs to be done on the laws we have on the books that I don’t want to have to come back and talk about the same old thing,” Fair, of New Haven, told the Judiciary Committee on Monday. “I’m hoping you have the courage to pass this bill and make an opportunity for these children who are now adults . . . and have turned their life around.”
The legislature came close to approving a similar bill last year, but it didn’t get called in the Senate when Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, promised to speak for a long time on the bill toward the end of the legislative session.
Kissel has expressed concern that the legislation is more focused on the offender than the victim.
However, advocates in favor of the legislation, including the Sentencing Commission, say is stems from a growing body of caselaw from U.S. Supreme Court upholding the position that juvenile criminals are less culpable and therefore less deserving of severe punishment than are their adult counterparts.
Sen. Ed Meyer, D-Guilford, said the bill stems not only from U.S. Supreme Court rulings, but a growing body of scientific evidence regarding juvenile brain development.
Abby Anderson, executive director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, told the committee that “science now has proof that a teenager’s brain is still developing until the age of 25; those who commit crimes as juveniles are very different from adults.”
She told the committee that children as young as 14 years old are serving long sentences for crimes, including the maximum of life without the possibility of parole. She said some of those children with lengthy sentences were not charged and tried for murder.
Leslie Aponte, whose son is serving a long sentence for being present during a murder that was committed when he was 17, said the system needs to look at the ones who have changed. She said even though he’s behind bars her son has been able to accomplish so much.
“He never let those prison walls consume him,” Aponte said.
She said he’s the smartest person she knows and is always looking to see how he can be a mature and become productive member of society. She said she just wants to see him get a chance at release.
But even the potential of release was untenable to John Cluny of Norwich.
“I’m making the assumption that the potential for release is there,” Cluny said. “And they shouldn’t even have the potential.”
In 1993, Cluny came home from work and discovered the bodies of his wife, Elaine, and 14-year-old son, David. They had been murdered by a neighborhood kid, Michael Bernier, who was 15 at the time. Bernier was sentenced to 60 years in prison.
Over the years, Cluny has voiced opposition in Hartford to similar legislation and he too is sick of having to testify on the bill.
Meyer told Cluny that he thinks it’s wrong to put everybody in the same basket. He said based on the description Cluny gave of Bernier it sounded as if the parole board wouldn’t release him, but Cluny said “you can’t be sure of that.”
“That’s why I don’t want to see him even eligible,” Cluny said. “...Politics changes, people change, parole boards change, 15 years down the road 10 years down the road you don’t know who is going to be on the board.”
Sandra Staub, legal director of the ACLU of Connecticut, said the Sentencing Commission has put a great deal of thought into the legislation.
She said the bill “balances the need for safety, deterrence and rehabilitation while accounting for brain science and constitutional law.”
In the meantime, there are several complicated juvenile sentencing cases currently in a holding pattern in anticipation of legislative action on the bill.
“It is important to keep in mind that litigation is expensive, time-consuming, and unpredictable and that it may yield unbalanced results,” Staub said.
State Victim Advocate Garvin Ambrose testified in opposition to the legislation. He said it would give criminals infinite opportunities at release by forcing the Board of Pardons and Parole to reassess the criminals every time after a denial.
Ambrose also pointed out some drafting errors with the bill. He said the bill considers a lengthy sentence to be 10 years, but it provides that someone sentenced to an aggregate term of 20 years receive a mandatory hearing at the 12 year mark.
“There lies the inconsistency in the proposal; if we are to keep this concept, then the aggregate range should be amended to those serving 20-50, and those serving 50 or more . . . not those serving 10 years,” Ambrose said in an emailed statement.
Merrill Newsletter Didn’t Violate State Statute
State auditors concluded that Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s office did not violate any laws when it sent newsletters to around 5,400 residents, but they declined to weigh in on whether the emails were political in nature.
The auditors published a report on the issue Monday afternoon. Merrill requested a review after she discontinued the newsletters in October. The official emails were criticized as appearing political because many of the recipients had connections to the Democratic Party, and many of the email addresses came from her 2010 campaign list.
The auditors found that Merrill’s office did not break any laws in the process of sending out the newsletters.
“However, there may always be a question as to whether the e-newsletters were emailed to individuals to inform them of what your office is doing, or to get your name out to those individuals for partisan political purposes,” the report said. “We found no substantive documentation to positively support that the e-newsletter project was for clearly political purposes, although it could be perceived that it was.”
Merrill apologized in October for the perception that the emails were politically motivated. She said the newsletter was designed to keep people informed about the work of her office.
The informational newsletter sent through SwiftPage cost about $400 per month in labor, Merrill’s spokesman said. All five issues, which started in June, also were shared on her social media sites for anyone to see. The newsletter sent on Oct. 1 featured Merrill’s voter registration drive in New Haven and information about a union convention.
On Monday, Merrill said she was relieved by the auditors’ findings but not surprised by them.
“It’s pretty much what I expected and what I said at the time. There’s no state law that’s been broken, there’s no political content, there’s no intent to do anything wrong. So essentially I feel relieved that they’ve come to the same conclusion that I did,” she said.
Merrill said she understood why the auditors said the newsletter could have been perceived as political.
“In a sense, almost anything that anyone in office can do can be perceived as political so you have to be very careful. I think the only thing they were saying is that there could have been an impression that it could have been political. But you can say that about a lot of things,” she said.
Asked if she was considering doing another newsletter, Merrill said she was not. In December, she filed paperwork to run this year for a second term as Secretary of the State. Public officials seeking re-election are subject to more stringent restrictions on using their office for self promotion within one year of the election.
“I think not,” Merrill said of another newsletter. “Especially now that I’m an announced candidate. [The discontinued newsletter] was well before any deadline. I’m now an announced candidate so I will certainly make sure that there’s no impression that I’m doing anything political on the job.”
In October, Republicans said that as Secretary of the State, Merrill has taken a number of actions that left many people with the perception that she’s engaging in political activity while serving in a non-partisan office.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero pointed to billboards featuring Merrill, which her office paid for in 2012 to encourage people to vote. He also referenced disputes between Merrill and Republicans over election policy issues.
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State Hires Company To Release Raw Data
For the past five years the Connecticut Data Collaborative has been trying to get the state to give it access to its raw data. Last month, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed an executive order making that possible.
“We want to get public data that’s useable and accessible in the hands of consumers,” Michelle Riordan-Nold, executive director of the CT Data Collaborative, said Monday at an open data forum at the Hartford Public Library.
She said going from agency to agency to collect the data was time consuming and difficult. The CT Data Collaborative, a project the New Connecticut Foundation, manages CTdata.org, which gives users access to data from federal, state, local and private sources relating to the health, well-being, and economy of the residents of Connecticut.
Two months ago, the Office of Policy and Management inked a $256,000 deal with a company called Socrata that will help state agencies gather the raw data and make sure it’s in a format that can be shared with the public. Socrata’s products are issued under a proprietary, closed, exclusive license.
The idea that the state would decide to hire a company that doesn’t make its code transparent, under the guise that it’s increasing transparency by releasing all of this information, rubs some in the open government movement the wrong way.
But Riordan-Nold isn’t bothered by the decision. She said there’s ways the CT Data Collaborative can grab and translate the information from Socrata to CKAN through an application programming interface.
“I’m sure they had a good team that looked at all their options and chose the one that worked best for their model,” she said, referring to the state’s decision to give the contract to Socrata.
Office of Policy and Management’s Chief Data Officer Tyler Kleykamp said they didn’t go out to bid for the contract because they used an existing contract to complete the transaction. He said they spoke with other states and looked at other platforms, but some of those would have required additional development and would have taken more time to get up and running.
“It’s like purchasing off-the-shelf software,” Kleykamp said.
He said each state agency will be able to publish its raw data sets on their websites for the public to view in about four to six weeks.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said when she was co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee they were always looking to get their hands on data to be able to make good decisions about what state agencies and programs should continue to receive funding. She said often times that information didn’t exist because it was collected in different forms in every state agency.
“Moving government agencies in the right direction and getting information to the public can be slow and tedious,” Merrill said. “But there’s one thing you need to keep government moving and focused on these innovations and well I guess you could guess it might be patience, but no that’s not it. Although it helps. What you need is steady, committed leadership from the top.”
She said those in public service can’t be a resource to the public “if we’re a government of secrets where only those who know the right people or the right questions to ask can have access to the most interesting information.”
She said if anyone understands that, it’s Malloy.
When Malloy took office in 2011 he was appalled at the condition of the state’s information technology infrastructure. He told the group gathered Monday at the Hartford Public Library for the open data forum that the technology he had when he was mayor of Stamford was far superior to what he found when he took over the state.
In addition to systems so antiquated they were last updated in 1989, Malloy also found there were silos created by certain state agencies.
There seemed to be the mentality among state agencies that if they paid for information and data to be collected then they owned it and didn’t have to share that information with anyone else, he said.
“This isn’t just government against the people,” Malloy said. “This is like government against government.”
He said the release of this information will help create a more efficient government.
“We may find that we’re collecting insufficient information, the wrong information, or we’re not asking the right questions,” Malloy said. “Until you lay it all out there it’s tough to know.”
Tags: Socrata, CKAN, open source, open data, executive order, dh
Hypertension: Disparities Widen For Black Women
Hypertension rates among women in all eight Connecticut counties increased from 2001 to 2009, with disparities widening for African American women compared to whites and Hispanics, according to a C-HIT analysis of data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
In fact, nearly one out of every two African American women living in Connecticut suffers from hypertension, a life-threatening condition that can lead to heart attack, stroke and kidney disease, research shows.
The rising trend in hypertension coincides with increasing adult obesity rates in Connecticut and the nation, as stepped up efforts focusing on wellness—from Michelle Obama’s national physical activity campaign “Let’s Move!” to serving healthier meals at local public schools—look to stem the tide in future generations. The state findings on hypertension mirror national statistics showing black women with the highest rates.
Click here to continue reading C-HIT’s report.
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Spotlight Theatres Packed for AIDS Connecticut’s 20th annual Red Carpet Experience
The 20th annual Red Carpet Experience event at the Spotlight Theatres in Hartford was a raucus success on Sunday, with wall-to-wall people decked out in their best Oscar nominee-themed costumes and black-tie fashions. The event featured a silent auction to benefit AIDS Connecticut. CHECK OUT THE PHOTOS HERE!
New England Govs, Obama Team Up to Promote Minimum Wage Hike
A group of New England governors, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, are teaming up to prove that increasing the minimum wage as a region will have a positive impact on the economy.
In a White House conference call Sunday, two of the three New England governors who will join Malloy and President Barack Obama to promote an increase in the minimum wage at Central Connecticut State University on Wednesday discussed the benefits of increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
“The most damning statistic that I’ve heard of late is not just 55 percent of minimum wage earners are women — and that’s estimated to be even higher in Connecticut — but that 13 percent of the individuals who earn the minimum wage in the United States are 55 years or older,” Malloy said. “In fact, more people over the age of 55 earn the minimum wage than teenagers.”
Malloy was citing statistics from the Congressional Budget Office report released last month that also concluded an increase in the minimum wage would cost 500,000 Americans their jobs.
“What the president understands and what we understand is that this economic recovery is leaving too many middle class and working Americans behind,” Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said. “The president has it absolutely right when he says if we can raise the minimum wage we can ensure that no one in our states or in our nation works 40 or 50 hour week and remains living in poverty, often on government assistance.”
Shumlin said during a meeting with Democratic governors at the White House last week that they discussed the value of “regions of governors working together to raise the minimum wage to help working Americans.”
He said there are states fearful of raising the minimum wage because other states around them might not.
“We have a real opportunity to do the right thing for our states,” Shumlin said. “The right thing for the middle class and working Americans, and to get this right as a region if we have enough governors participate.”
Shumlin said Vermont has a plan to increase its minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over the next three years. That’s similar to the legislation proposed in Connecticut, which would increase the minimum wage to that same level over the same period of time.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who was on the conference call Sunday with the governors, tried to paint an increase in the minimum wage as a bipartisan issue. He said the last time the minimum wage was increased was back in 2007 under former President George W. Bush.
“There clearly has been a history of bipartisan support for raising the minimum wage in the past,” Earnest said. “And there should be strong bipartisan support for it now.”
Shumlin said raising the minimum wage is a policy choice that should be made on a bipartisan basis even though the reality is that’s not the case.
“I don’t think there’s an American who believes you should be working 40 to 50 hours a week and be living in poverty,” Shumlin said. “That does not meet anyone’s sense of justice or fairness.”
But Democrats both in Connecticut and nationally have begun to make a hike in the minimum wage, a campaign issue. The increasing partisan nature of the issue was highlighted last week with the exchange between Malloy and Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.
“Republicans have been against this from the very get-go,” Malloy said. “Even back to last year’s discussion about trying to get any raise at all, so let’s be very clear it’s not Democrats who have made this a partisan issue, it’s Republicans.”
He said he thinks a group of Republicans “have wrongly painted themselves into a corner.” He said some of the Republicans in Congress voted for an increase in 2007 under a Republican president, but now are automatically against it because the president is a Democrat.
“Quite frankly, it’s not Democrats who are making this a partisan issue,” Malloy said.
Malloy has not announced yet whether he’s seeking re-election, but he’s expected to say he’s running after May 7 — the end of the legislative session.
Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, the independent-turned-Democrat who is not seeking re-election next year, said he doesn’t believe it’s a partisan issue. “I see this as a broader issue of standing up for the middle class and this is just one component of doing that,” he said.
With the Tea Party taking over the Republican Party in Congress “you see that the Republican Party is not there for the middle class,” he added.
Chafee, Shumlin, Malloy, and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick will join Obama at CCSU Wednesday, March 5, for a rally to increase the minimum wage.
Bond Commission Meeting Sparks Borrowing Debate
The state Bond Commission approved $510 million in general obligation bonds Friday for a variety of projects, which sparked a debate over whether the state is borrowing too much money.
“We are borrowing at what I would consider an alarming rate, which doesn’t mean that any of these projects are bad,” Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, told Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. “But it does raise the question about how much can the state sustain going forward.”
Malloy tried to reassure Frantz that his self-imposed bonding cap would be in line with where it was last year without tying it to a specific number. Last year, Malloy said the state wouldn’t borrow more than $1.8 billion.
In 2013, it came within $10 million of the cap after canceling six scheduled meetings, including one in October shortly after Republicans pointed out how close Malloy was to his self-imposed cap.
On Friday, Malloy said he is concerned about what the state did to drive its bonded indebtedness to the point where it is today and his administration has begun to address that by trying to lower different types of long-term debt.
“I look at bonding . . . as really taking care of the gutters,” Malloy said.
He said he thinks they can agree on the need to reduce debt, but he doesn’t necessarily believe that means there has to be a reduction in bonded debt. According to a report released earlier this year by his own budget office, the reduction in the state’s long-term debt by $11.6 billion comes mostly from the restructuring of retiree health benefits as part of the 2011 labor agreement.
“Some folks would like to draw more attention to bonded debt, as opposed to the overall indebtedness. That’s what got us in trouble in the first place,” Malloy told Frantz Friday. “I know prior administrations made promises in contractual agreements that they also agreed not to fund.”
Malloy was referring to the administration of former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, which decided not to fund about $300 million in state employee pension obligations. The decision was made with union cooperation.
“I’ve worked tirelessly, at least my own description, to make sure that those mistakes of the past are not repeated in the future,” Malloy said.
He said he just met with a bond rating agency this week and he’s confident they understand Connecticut is “putting its house in order.”
Some of the $510 million in projects on Friday’s Bond Commission agenda included $31.2 million on capital improvements at the XL Center in Hartford, $57 million to resurface 200 miles of highway, and $3 million for Newtown to help finance ongoing design costs for the new Sandy Hook Elementary School. About $200 million of the bonding approved Friday is for the Connecticut Bioscience Innovation Fund will be distributed through 2022 with about $10 million being distributed in 2014 and $15 million in 2015.
Asked about why the state is spending $31.2 million on the XL Center in Hartford instead of building a new one, Malloy said he’s trying to stretch the life of the building. He said he’s trying to get another 8 to 10 years out of it.
“There’s no way that we could build a replacement facility overnight or quite frankly in the next two years,” Malloy said. “So either we close it and have no functions being run in Hartford, or we put some money into it and stretch its life.”
The state Bond Commission also approved about $16.1 million in manufacturing assistance grants to five companies, including at least one that is considered a “First Five” company.
CareCentrix, the home healthcare company the state helped move from East Hartford to Hartford, will receive $4.7 million. That’s the third payment the Bond Commission approved for the company as part of its $24 million state assistance package.
The company will get a $12 million grant if it retains its current staff of more than 200 jobs for a five-year period, and another $12 million if it adds close to 300 positions.
Rep. Sean Williams, R-Watertown, was the only member of the Bond Commission to vote against the item.
“I voted for the ‘First Five’ at its inception thinking that it would help jump start the economy,” Williams said Friday. “I didn’t know it would become a big corporate welfare program.”
He said he made a mistake voting for the concept, which was the centerpiece of bipartisan legislation approved in October 2011.
“It’s not beneficial to the taxpayers,” Williams said Friday. “And we shouldn’t be funding it.”
Tags: Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, L. Scott Frantz, Sean Williams, Hartford Civic Center, Bond Commission, dh
Malloy Welcomes Continued Discussion on Minimum Wage, National Spotlight
After days in the national spotlight and looking forward to a presidential visit on the subject next week, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Friday he enjoys the politics of the debate over the minimum wage.
Malloy, who is pushing legislation to raise Connecticut’s minimum wage for the second consecutive year, received national attention Monday after a National Governors Association press conference outside the White House. Malloy came to the defense of President Barack Obama, who was criticized during the event by Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal.
After Jindal accused Obama of “raising the white flag” by supporting a minimum wage hike, Malloy interjected to call Jindal’s comments “insane.” During the next few days, Malloy was featured as a guest on two national talk shows and Connecticut Democrats quickly used the incident to ask for donations from supporters.
On Wednesday, Malloy’s office used its Twitter account to announce that Obama plans to travel to the Hartford area March 5 for an event supporting legislation to raise Connecticut’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2017.
At a Friday press conference, the governor sidestepped questions over the timing of a presidential visit. He was asked whether his defense of Obama in the wake of Jindal’s comments influenced the president’s decision to visit the state.
“You know, what I would say to you about this is that any questions about the president’s timing or decisions where he’s going are better directed to them. Let me assure you, I’m more than happy to receive him in the state of Connecticut,” Malloy said.
The governor also took the opportunity to reiterate his contention that Jindal’s comments regarding the minimum wage “made no sense.”
“Let me point out that the minimum wage applied in Louisiana is $7.25. And they have the second highest proportion of people in any state living in poverty. Like the rest of the country, most of the people earning the minimum wage in Louisiana are trying to raise a family,” he said.
Malloy was asked whether he would support a policy that would link Connecticut’s minimum wage to rise with the Consumer Price Index, which would eliminate the need for periodic debates over the issue. The legislature’s Labor Committee unsuccessfully proposed a similar policy last year. The governor said he rather likes the debates.
“Well, you know, I think this political process is working pretty well right now, to tell you the truth,” he said. “We’ll take a look at it and have that discussion.”
Malloy has not always been such a vocal advocate of increasing the minimum wage. He signed into law the stepped increase that hiked the wage from $8.25 to $8.70 in January and will increase it again next year. But earlier in the debate over that bill Malloy was lukewarm on the legislation, saying he would prefer to see an increase in the national minimum wage rather that the state wage.
“The best way to do this would be to do it on a national basis. It would be the fairest way. It would lift up all of our citizenry,” he said last February.
Asked Friday about his stance on the subject over the last few years, Malloy said he always liked the idea of raising it, but wanted to let other new policies sink in before increasing the wage.
“Actually, I’ve always been for increasing the minimum wage. There was a time when, having passed an earned income tax credit as well as … mandatory paid sick days, we felt it was time to absorb those changes before we absorbed other changes,” he said. “. . . I think we’ve digested a lot. I think the economy is making progress.”
Tags: minimum wage, gov dannel malloy, obama, dh
OP-ED | Malloy May Reap Political Dividend From Jindal Spat
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has been making a splash on the national stage this past week, fueling speculation that he has his eye on something beyond Connecticut. At the very least, he’s putting himself in good position for help from national Democrats for his re-election campaign this fall.
Malloy was down in Washington over the past week attending the annual meeting of the National Governor’s Association. The NGA is supposed to be the sort of organization where everyone leaves partisanship at the door, but likely presidential candidate Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal opted to use a press conference at the event to make a rather bumbling attack on President Obama’s proposed minimum wage hike. “The Obama economy,” said Jindal, “is now the minimum wage economy.” He’d earlier accused Obama of “waving the white flag,” though what he meant by that is a mystery.
A visibly irritated Malloy wasn’t having it, and muscled up to the microphone to first call out Jindal on the breach of bipartisan protocol before rebutting his argument. “What the heck was that reference to ‘white flag’ when it comes to people making $404 a week?” Malloy said, while governors behind him grinned. “That’s the most insane statement I’ve ever heard.”
Jindal’s argument was pretty ridiculous; the idea that raising the minimum wage is the same thing as becoming a “minimum wage economy,” whatever that is, doesn’t really make sense.
Malloy’s strident defense of the minimum wage, though, won praise online and gave him a moment in the national spotlight. Malloy went on his favorite choice of national morning show, MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” to pound the point home the next day. Articles appeared in national publications, and cable news played the footage.
So who was right, Malloy or Jindal? It doesn’t matter — they both got on TV.
Giving a very public rebuttal to a potential GOP candidate for president in 2016, while backing what has become the president’s signature legislative issue, is great news fodder as well as smart politics. It doesn’t matter if Malloy meant it that way, or that his support for minimum wage hikes has been less than enthusiastic in the past. And, of course, it adds fuel to the rumors circulating in the less reliable corners of the Internet that Malloy is looking for some kind of job in Washington to save him from bad poll numbers and, presumably, Tom Foley.
There’s no actual proof anywhere that he’s doing this. In fact, much the opposite: Malloy neatly pierced the possibility of a presidential run himself when asked last week, saying “I am not going to be a candidate for president.” There’s plenty of other offices open, of course, so the rumor mill will grind on, but mostly this is fantasy. Malloy is instead looking like he’s gearing up for a tough re-election campaign.
That’s where his moment in the spotlight could pay off. After the spat, President Obama announced that he’s headed to Connecticut this coming week to talk about the minimum wage. National money may flow into a tight race in Connecticut, and if Malloy is lucky Obama will return to try and rally the troops before Election Day. In 2010 Obama visited Bridgeport only days before the election; Malloy won in part thanks to very high turnout in the Park City.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t expect to see Malloy on the national stage more often. In fact, if he can win re-election in what is likely to be another punishing midterm cycle, Democrats across the country may be looking more closely at him. The great thing about statements like “I am not going to be a candidate for president” is that they can be taken back, and nobody really minds. He may have some work to do, though; both TIME and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews referred to him as “Daniel” Malloy.
What about the minimum wage itself? There’s so much conflicting information out there that it’s very, very hard to separate truth from propaganda. The truth itself is depressingly murky: the minimum wage, according to various meta-studies, probably doesn’t have a huge negative impact on jobs — unless it’s set at the federal level. Then it has some effect. How much of an effect? No one has any real idea.
The only thing the federal minimum wage increase is absolutely certain to do is allow people in desperate poverty a chance to earn slightly more money. That is, if they can find a job.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
Tags: minimum wage, minimum wage hike, National Governors Association, Dannel P. Malloy, Bobby Jindal, President Obama, Susan Bigelow, dh
OP-ED | Connecticut Should Not Increase its Minimum Wage Again
When Gov. Dannel P. Malloy grabbed the microphone away from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal the other day to defend President Obama’s proposed minimum wage hike, liberals across the country swooned.
Raising the minimum wage is a policy that plays particularly well among the Democratic base, but if we want to help the poor in Connecticut we should not support another hike in the minimum wage.
When Gov. Jindal criticized President Obama for encouraging a “minimum wage economy,” Malloy stepped up to the mic and called Jindal’s comments “insane.” Sounds like our governor.
What is insane is raising our minimum wage at a time when the state’s economy is performing tepidly at best, when our cost of living is sky-high, and when our state already has a reputation for having a hostile business climate.
President Obama wants the federal minimum wage upped to $10.10 an hour from $7.25 an hour — something that is unlikely to happen while Republicans control the House.
Meanwhile, here in Connecticut, lawmakers currently have a bill on the table that would raise the state’s minimum wage from $8.70 an hour to $10.10 an hour by 2017. Under legislation passed last year, it is already scheduled to increase to $9 an hour next year.
Our neighbors in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island have minimum wages that range from $7.25 to $8 an hour.
I don’t believe that this is simply a ploy for votes. I think most Democrats really do believe this will help the poor, but I also think most of them are aware that this move has the potential to do real harm to the state’s economy, making this a truly irresponsible bill.
And will it really help the working poor? Not likely. Many minimum-wage earners are young, and those who aren’t receive government benefits that offset their low incomes — benefits that may decrease as their wages increase.
In response to a proposed federal minimum wage hike, the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office released a report cautioning that an increase would lead to job losses. Here in Connecticut, job losses would likely hurt the working poor first.
An increase could also perpetuate the idea that Connecticut is a bad place to do business.
In testimony last week, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association asked lawmakers not to raise the minimum wage again, warning it would further erode business confidence in the state and lead to price inflation and job losses.
In his testimony, Andy Markowski of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, warned that another minimum wage hike would especially hurt small businesses in the state. Latino business owners also recently expressed their reservations about the proposed increase.
Are more job losses something we want to risk here in Connecticut?
Gov. Malloy keeps saying the number of jobs in the state has increased since he took office, but the numbers tell a different story. In the years since he was elected, the number of people working in the state has dropped by 65,000.
Another minimum wage increase could speed job losses, and likely will lead to a rise in prices, pushing the cost of living here even higher. That is a real threat to poor and middle-class families.
It could also speed up the automation of low-wage jobs. It isn’t hard to imagine using a computer screen to order a meal in the drive-thru lane instead of talking to a person.
Democrats have the power to make this happen, and with Gov. Malloy basking in the national spotlight this week, the pressure to make it happen may be on the rise, despite all of the warning signs that have been raised.
We have some real problems in Connecticut related to poverty, and we all — left and right — need to be looking for solutions. But this isn’t the right solution.
We know, for instance, that if people get a high school diploma, work full time, and wait until they are 21 and married to have children, they have only a 2 percent chance of being poor.
Maybe when President Obama visits the state next week, he — and the media accompanying him — should take some time to visit our cities to see the effects of the liberal economic policies passed by our state legislature and local city leaders.
Three of our cities — Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford — are ranked as some of the most dangerous in the nation. Our wage gap between the richest and the poorest is one of the highest in the nation.
This is in one of the bluest states around. When are liberals going to admit that their economic policies are failing not just the poor, but all of us?
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, New Hampshire Union Leader and Good Morning America Weekend. She recently completed a research fellowship at the Yankee Institute. Follow her on Twitter @suzebates.
Tags: op-ed, opinion, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, minimum wage, CBIA, President Obama, jobs, Suzanne Bates, dh
Road Salt Usage To Be Debated Today
Lawmakers will hear public testimony Friday on a bill that would make the Transportation Department reconsider the corrosive effect of the salt spray its using to melt ice and snow on Connecticut’s roadways.
Most agree the combination of salts the DOT has been spraying state roads with has been highly effective in keeping highways clear of ice. However, Rep. Pamela Sawyer, R-Bolton, said the “super salt” is also highly corrosive to vehicles and infrastructure.
“The problem is that it causes a lot of rust, we’ve heard a lot of complaints about rust on brake lines. Mechanics are saying they’re replacing brake lines every three years as opposed to every eight or 10,” Sawyer said.
The bill, which will have a public hearing in the Transportation Committee Friday, would require the department to study the rust issue and report back to lawmakers next year with ideas for alternatives or ways to mitigate the corrosion.
Sawyer said she is also concerned about the effect the solution may be having on Connecticut’s aging bridges, which she said the state has not allocated adequate resources to maintain.
“Oh, and by the way, we’re salting them. It’s just causing a much faster deterioration, not only on the top but as you go down into the metal substructure of the bridges they’re rusting out much faster,” she said.
Michael J. Riley, president of Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, said the salt has improved the conditions of the roads but it’s also caused significant damage to trucks.
“These substances have corroded electrical components, deteriorated brake parts and even caused corrosion on the main frame of many vehicles. The problems created by these chemicals are well documented and have become an additional burdensome cost of doing business. And, they may well have compromised the safety of the motoring public,” Riley said in a prepared statement.
Riley said some truckers are questioning how the substances will impact the metal used in bridges and other types of transportation infrastructure.
Writing to Riley last month, Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said his department’s primary responsibility was to maintain the 5,700 miles of roads in Connecticut and has chosen the most efficient and cost-effective ways to do that. He said the salt the department uses also has less environmental impact than some of the alternatives.
“Consequences of road treatments are always a concern for the department, and we work to balance those consequences carefully, putting safety of the motoring public first. There is currently not an alternative application that works with any amount of effectiveness that is not corrosive,” Redeker wrote.
Redeker said the department has experimented with corrosion inhibitors and its experiences “were not positive.” He said the inhibitors did not noticeably reduce corrosion on the department’s equipment but received complaints sent to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection regarding the inhibitors’ impact on oxygen levels in water.
Riley said the truckers association was disappointed in Redeker’s response because other states use substances to mitigate the corrosion.
Sawyer said states like Maine and Colorado have begun using rust inhibitors because they have recognized the high cost of corrosion on their cars and bridges.
“Connecticut has to get very serious and come up with solutions,” she said.
Tags: road salt, Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, Transportation Committee, corrosive, brake lines, Pam Sawyer
OP-ED | Fever At The Capitol: GOP In Pain
Last week had to be an excruciating one for Republicans in Connecticut. As the Grand Old Party gears up for a race against a vulnerable Democratic incumbent governor, the specter of investigations hangs over the Capitol City like a New Year’s Day hangover.
On Wednesday, Feb. 19, (a busy day packed with committee hearings), federal agents descended on the Legislative Office Building — a familiar haunt by now — and gave a thorough grilling to Republican lawmakers who might know anything about a legislative staff member and a Florida printing company that produces campaign material.
As the Courant’s Kevin Rennie aptly observed, it has got to be terribly humbling when outsiders march into the workplace of the political class, disrupt the day of privileged lawmakers, and ask them questions they would no sooner lie on a bed of nails than answer.
If you follow politics, you know the layers of government that comprise our great nation have a distinct pecking order. Municipal officials are looked down upon by county officials, who are in turn made to feel inferior by state officials (you can eliminate the county layer in Connecticut since we were wise enough to eliminate it in 1960).
As someone who has witnessed firsthand the arrogance of state government toward locals, I must say that it gives me great pleasure to see the staties get their comeuppance when the blue-suited feds arrive, waving their badges and legal papers and demanding answers from irked lawmakers who until then had been lords of the manor.
The very next day, George Gallo, the longtime House Republicans chief of staff and a former state party chairman, resigned after determining that he was a “person of interest” after the grilling he and others had received at the hands of the FBI.
Then out came the subpoenas on Friday. The documents, which requested letters, emails, text messages, contracts and invoices, made it clear the probe was targeting the House Republicans — and perhaps one GOP senator. The words “Democrat” or “Democratic” were nowhere to be found.
On the same day that Gallo resigned, we learned that a key witness in the federal probe of convicted felon and former Republican Gov. John G. Rowland is cooperating with federal prosecutors. Brian Foley, a wealthy former owner of the Connecticut Pride basketball team, has agreed to testify if the feds decide to go after Rowland for campaign reporting violations.
You may recall that Foley also owns a nursing home business that paid Rowland $30,000 for a “consulting” gig, while Foley’s wife, Lisa Wilson-Foley, was running for the 2012 Republican nomination in the 5th Congressional District.
The feds’ suspicion is that Foley’s payment to Rowland was really a back-door way of compensating the former governor for helping his wife’s campaign. If so, the arrangement would be a concealment of campaign expenditures and violation of federal law.
Rowland’s legal problem is compounded by a serious ethical breach. From his perch as afternoon drive-time host on WTIC-AM, Rowland blasted one of Wilson-Foley’s Republican rivals, former state Sen. Andrew Roraback, without disclosing during the interview his financial arrangement with her husband.
It all adds up to trouble for the Republicans as they head into gubernatorial and legislative races this fall. The demise of Gallo, a close confidant, must have been a devastating blow to House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, who last year had considered running for governor but had to answer for his own ethical problems.
As it did almost two years ago, the New Haven Register called last week on WTIC to fire Rowland. And the left-wing media watchdog Media Matters recently took Rowland’s ethical problems national by reporting extensively on his misdeeds.
Democrats are hardly gloating since memories of their own relatively recent brush with the feds are still fresh. Where is former House Speaker Chris Donovan when you need him?
Still, most of the electorate suffers from an attention deficit and won’t remember Ray Soucy and the guys at the roll-your-own tobacco circus, which augurs poorly for the GOP. Presumptive Republican gubernatorial nominee Tom Foley, whose only scandal is his big mouth, must be feeling a tad uncomfortable, and so is distancing himself from the trouble in his own party. When asked by CTNewsJunkie about Direct Mail Systems, the Florida printing company at the center of the federal inquiry, Foley said he had hired them briefly in 2010:
“They didn’t perform very well so we stopped using them.”
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Salisbury, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. He has appeared on Rowland’s show several times. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.
Tags: House Republicans, FBI, George Gallo, John Rowland, brian foley, Lisa Wilson-Foley 5th District, Larry Cafero, wtic, Chris Donovan, Tom Foley, terry cowgill, dh
Parent Group Asks For Option To Opt Kids Out Of Testing
A group of parents and educators want the legislature to pass a bill ensuring that parents of school children have the option of pulling their kids out of required standardized testing.
Advocates calling themselves the Parent-Teacher Save Our Schools Alliance held a press conference Thursday and called upon lawmakers to pass legislation to enable parents to opt their children out of statewide standardized tests.
Terry Dickinson, an East Haddam mother, said she has pulled her son, Charles, from the town’s public school and enrolled him in a private school because of difficulties opting him out of the tests.
“Charles is a 16-year-old boy with a dream and goals for his future. He is not a test score,” she said. “For the first time in a year, he is happy now. He has teachers who are engaged. He doesn’t have to fill in bubbles anymore.”
Dickinson and others at the press conference reported attending events in Connecticut with hundreds of other parents looking for guidance on how to remove their children from the testing process.
The pushback against standardized testing comes as many of the state’s school children will be taking a new test called the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test, which is designed to assess new and controversial national education standards called the Common Core. This year school districts were given the option of taking the new test or taking the state’s traditional assessments like the Connecticut Mastery Test.
Kelly Donnelly, a spokeswoman for the state Education Department, said the law does not allow parents to opt their kids out of these assessments. She said there are state and federal requirements that children enrolled in public schools must participate in assessments at certain grades.
“These laws do not provide a provision for parents to ‘opt-out’ their children from taking state tests. These mandates have been in effect for many years and the State Department of Education, as well as all public schools, must comply,” she said.
Members of the parent-teacher organization disagreed and pointed to a December Education Department memo designed to offer school districts guidance in responding to parents who are seeking to remove their kids from a test.
The memo recommends several steps for administrators to convince parents not to pull their children from the process, beginning with referencing the state and federal laws. Eventually, if the parent insists in writing that their child will not be taking the test, the memo says the student will be counted as absent, which will hurt the district’s participation rate. But the document notes that the state has not done any follow-ups on such cases.
“There are no sanctions for opting out. That’s what we’re told,” Jesse Turner, a Central Connecticut State University professor, said. “It would be sort of like saying ‘Everybody should drive 55 [mph] but if you don’t, nothing is going to happen to you.’ We’d probably all drive 85, 90, maybe 100, I don’t know.”
With no individual consequences, some advocates are hoping parents will opt out in high numbers.
“My dream is that everybody will opt out and nobody will be given a test and teachers can really get back to educating children . . . not just preparing them for a test,” Gloria Brown, a retired Wolcott teacher, said.
If that were to happen, it would put school districts in violation of a federal law that requires that 95 percent of enrolled students take the standardized tests.
Donnelly said this year’s testing period represents a “low-stakes” environment because the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test is still being “field tested” and its results won’t count for toward formal evaluations of students and teachers.
“By participating in the field test, students also provide necessary input to ensure that future tests are a fair and accurate representation of Connecticut students’ knowledge and abilities,” she said. “Overall, the experience will better prepare students, teachers and schools for future administrations of the tests — and for reaching the new, higher Common Core standards.”
Dickinson said she was concerned about that “testing the test” process and was worried about what the state planned to do with the data collected from her son’s test results.
“These are serious concerns. They’re putting this stuff into place before it’s been thought through and I’m sorry, my son is not going your guinea pig,” she said.
State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, co-chairman of the legislature’s Education Committee, said Wednesday that local school districts were given wide latitude to decide which test to give their students this year. School districts were given a choice between the legacy Connecticut Mastery and Connecticut Academic Performance tests, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test.
“Connecticut has a long history of local control,” Fleischmann said.
As far as the concept of standardized testing goes, Fleischmann said without it, it would be difficult to compare how one district is doing with another. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests also will help Connecticut compare its students against students in other states.
“It’s not appealing, but I think it’s necessary,” he said.
Christine Stuart contributed to this report.
Rail Officials Tell Lawmakers They’re Working On It
Metro-North Railroad President Joseph Giulietti and Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Thomas Prendergast told the legislature’s Transportation Committee Thursday that 2013 was a “terrible year,” but they’re addressing the problems.
From derailments, a major power outage, a drop in on-time performance, and other issues, Metro-North Railroad has been in the hot seat with commuters and Connecticut’s elected officials.
“As a public transportation professional for over 35 years now, I know — as well as anyone — that you’re only as good as your last rush hour,” Prendergast told the committee.
Prendergast and Giulietti tried to assure lawmakers that it’s addressing the problems and waiting for the Federal Railroad Administration and NTSB to finish its investigations to see if there’s further action it should take.
In the meantime, the two rail executives said they’ve increased track inspections, organized a Blue Ribbon panel on safety, implemented speed controls, and started work with the Federal Railroad Administration on an anonymous safety reporting system for employees.
While safety is a top priority, lawmakers are getting an earful from the commuting public about on-time performance and other issues like getting stranded on a train in the cold of winter or the summer heat.
Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, said when there’s a credibility issue there’s no better way to address that than being “straight with your customers.”
He said now that there are these speed restrictions in place on the curves and bridges the commute into New York is longer, but that’s not something “that’s generally known among your ridership.”
Giulietti said they’re also trying to improve the way it communicates with its commuters. Aside from the new app with train times, it has moved its complaint box to a more prominent location on its website.
“Right now, in terms of customer communications, we’re still operating like a railroad that’s on-time 98 percent of the time, not 86 percent of the time, like we saw on the New Haven Line in January,” Giulietti said. “That must and will change — even after we improve our on-time performance.”
Rep. Antonio Guerrera, co-chairman of the legislature’s Transportation Committee, said what’s been happening here with Metro-North has been “appalling.”
“It might be coincidental when you’re talking about one or two or three items, but over the span since 2011 there have been multiple incidents,” Guerrera said.
In the past the committee tried to engage with officials at Metro-North and the MTA, but were unsuccessful. “We felt that Metro-North didn’t care,” Guerrera said.
He said there was a sense that Metro-North didn’t have to answer any questions because they were the “only player in town.”
He warned that if things don’t change, then lawmakers will have to think about making their own changes.
Prendergast and Giulietti urged lawmakers to be a little more patient with them. They cautioned against throwing away a 30-year relationship after one bad year.
“There’s a 30-year relationship. The last year-and-a-half has been very, very bad. We totally understand that, but there is a success story that’s second to none,” Prendergast told the committee.
He said there are about 25 commuter rail vendors in the United States and very few of them own their own right-of-way.
“For the older railroads that go back to the day that there was no public operation whatsoever, there are underlying agreements that help shape the evolution of the contracts we live in today,” Prendergast said.
He told lawmakers if they want to review the contract that’s fine, but “our focus is going to be on what we need to do in order to bring the performance back.”
Giulietti told lawmakers that it was a railroad that commuters used to set their watches to, and as soon as they get done with the safety issues they plan to handle the issues with the scheduling.
“I keep saying it. I need to look at the past to make sure we’re taking care of the problems that evolved,” Giulietti said. “But the focus has to be on first the safety end. Then I truly have to focus on a reliable schedule that will get people back to where the confidence comes back in, so that our conversations here are investments going forward.”
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Giving Adult Adoptees Access To Their Birth Certificates, Medical Records
The Public Health Committee will hear testimony Friday on a bill that would give adult adoptees access to their original birth certificate.
It’s a concept that’s been raised in the past, but has not made it very far in the legislative process. The one time it did make it through both legislative chambers in 2006 it was vetoed by former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
The bill raised for Friday’s public hearing would give adoptees access to their birth certificates and creates a voluntary procedure for biological parents to complete a form indicating whether they want to be contacted by their adopted children. The department also must attach to the certificate any completed health history form from a biological parent, according to this research report on the legislation.
In the past, the Public Health Department has opposed the bill due to the logistics of its record keeping operation and the Department of Children and Families testified that it would support a prospective bill.
In testimony last year, DCF also pointed out that if an adoptee wants access to the original birth certificate it can petition the probate court that finalized the adoption. There is a fee involved in petitioning the court and the determination to release the birth certificate is at the judge’s discretion.
Rep. Joe Diminico, D-Manchester, who supports access, said he thinks there’s a good chance a compromise can be reached this year.
There are some who fear giving adoptees access to their birth certificate violates the privacy of the birth mother, who made what was likely a difficult decision to give them up for adoption. But Diminico said there should be a way for the state to ask the birth mother if she wants the information to be shared.
“In many cases, the mothers just haven’t been asked,” Diminico said.
The legislative compromise Diminico foresees would essentially give the birth parents the right to veto a request for access to the birth certificate.
Rep. Bob Godfrey, D-Danbury, said he’s in favor of a prospective proposal because many of these mothers gave up their children with the expectation of privacy.
However, that’s not to say he’s opposed to figuring out a way to give them an option to disclose the birth certificate itself, or just the family’s medical history.
Adoptees often don’t have any family medical history, so aside from a desire to know where they came from there’s also a need to get access to the medical history of the biological parents.
Diminico and Godfrey said there should be a way to get the adult adoptees the information about the medical history, even if that means not getting access to the original birth certificate.
“Research consistently shows that sealed birth certificates are an anachronism from a time when unwed mothers were severely stigmatized and their children denigrated as bastards,” Adam Perlman, executive director of Evan Donaldson Adoption Institute, testified last year on a similar bill. “Time has changed that. Nearly all available evidence indicates these women desire some level of contact with or knowledge about their children.”
Perlman said a number of states have enacted similar laws in recent years with none of the negative consequences critics predicted.
At Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s town hall meeting in Norwalk last week, Barbara Montgomery of Access CT, a grassroots organization of adoptees and birth parents that supports the legislation, said Connecticut adoptees had access to their original birth certificate until 1975.
“What we propose is simply a restoration of what was taken away in 1975,” Montgomery said. “Several states including Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island have passed legislation virtually identical to what we are proposing.”
She asked Malloy for his support of the legislation. Malloy said he’s aware of the issue, but is not an expert on it at all and would be happy to meet with the group to learn more about it.
Montgomery, who is a birth mother, said it was extremely important for her son to be aware of diseases critical to his health, particularly a disease which killed his birth grandfather at the young age of 37.
Opponents often worry giving adult adoptees access to their records would discourage parents from choosing adoption, but Perlman argues that recent research has found that’s not the case.
This year there is already three times the amount of written testimony submitted on the bill than in previous year.
The Public Health Committee hearing Friday will be held at 10:30 a.m. in Room 1D of the Legislative Office Building.
Tags: adoption, access, birth certificates
OP-ED | Connecticut Medicaid – A Success Story, For Us And For Other States
You may not know it but Connecticut’s Medicaid program is improving – a lot. Access to care is up, quality is up, and costs are down – actually down. Medicaid costs per member dropped by 2 percent from fiscal year 2012 to 2013.
What other health coverage program saw an actual drop in spending per person?
And it’s not just the finances that are getting better. Over the last couple of years, the number of providers participating in Connecticut’s Medicaid program grew 32 percent, hospital admissions dropped 3.2 percent and days in the hospital were down 5 percent. Costs of non-urgent visits to emergency rooms, for the sort of problems that should have been treated in a doctor’s office, were down 12 percent. All of this happened in a growing program – enrollment increased by 79,229 people in the last two years.
Even more impressive are the extraordinary challenges facing the program as it achieved this success. Computer systems were beyond antiquated, staffing levels and program updates had been neglected for decades, excessive and random administrative hurdles for providers and consumers were common, resources were wasted, and too many opportunities were missed. Perhaps the worst challenge was a deep sense of fatigue among people, inside and outside state government, who’ve been running into brick walls for decades trying to fix the program.
So, what changed? How did we pull off this miracle?
Bucking the national trend, in January 2012 Connecticut moved away from paying insurance companies fixed, capitated fees per member regardless of whether anyone got care or not and moved to a self-insured model that gave state policymakers more control over the program. We also started building Person-Centered Medical Homes (PCMHs) in Medicaid where providers are paid for better quality and for coordinating care. Providers in PCMHs work in teams to give people the tools they need to keep themselves and their families healthy. PCMHs help people get appointments with specialists, are open after work hours, and follow up to ensure people get the care they need.
Children connected to a Medicaid PCMH are more likely to get well child visits, adults are more likely to get preventive health care, people with diabetes are more likely to get important eye exams, people wait less time for urgent care, and parents report that their providers are more likely to listen carefully and to know important information about their child’s medical history.
Connecticut’s Medicaid program is an important success story. For decades taxpayers were overpaying insurance companies for inferior service with little accountability. But in 2011 Connecticut policymakers looked at the facts, ignored the managed care industry’s hype, recognized that we weren’t getting what we paid for, and built a new program that focuses on value. And it’s working.
Ellen Andrews is the executive director of the Connecticut Health Policy Project
Two Hospital Bills Up For Debate Today
Two legislative committees will hold hearings Thursday on issues related to the conversion of nonprofit hospitals to for-profit models.
Lawmakers, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, and union officials have been wary of unknowns when it comes to for-profit hospitals and what they mean for the residents of Connecticut. Currently, the state’s only for-profit is Sharon Hospital, which converted in 2002 after it was purchased by Essent Healthcare.
Members of the legislature’s Public Health Committee will hear a presentation from representatives of Sharon Hospital during an informational hearing Thursday morning. Sen. Terry Gerratana, whose committee is drafting legislation to increase state scrutiny of the conversion process, said Connecticut’s current laws on the subject were written when Sharon Hospital was purchased.
“It will be interesting to hear about the process at that time and also to ask them some questions,” Gerratana said.
Representatives of Bristol Hospital and the Eastern Connecticut Health Network also are expected to address the committee. Both non-profits are considering acquisition offers from for-profit companies.
Gerratana said the bill her committee is working on will “beef up” scrutiny of the conversion application. She said the legislation, which will be modeled in part off similar policies in Rhode Island, will be aimed at protecting the people who use the state’s hospitals.
“We feel there should be some more protections, safeguard, requirements, and disclosure, and more transparency. These are all components we’re putting into our legislation,” she said.
Later in the day, the Labor and Public Employees Committee will hear public testimony on a separate bill, which lawmakers hope will protect hospital employees during conversions. Labor Committee Co-Chairwoman Sen. Cathy Osten said the bill addresses the “employee working condition side of the question.”
“We want to make sure that during a conversion . . . their rights are retained,” she said. “To make sure that issues revolving around whether it would be a continuation of the collective bargaining environment, protection of their pensions and wages, are all addressed. We’re looking at it comprehensively.”
The bill will require private companies looking to acquire a hospital to enter an agreement to maintain the current pay and benefit rates of the hospital employees, recognize the unions representing and honor the collective bargaining agreements already entered into. The legislation also requires the company to maintain the hospitals staffing levels for at least three years.
“We’re looking to make sure that what the workers in the company have worked on for so long don’t get destroyed just by converting it to a for-profit environment where making the profits for the hospitals come on the backs of workers,” she said.
Tags: hospitals, unions, nonprofit, for-profit, dh
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State Uses Stranded Tax Credits To Help Pratt & Whitney, Sikorsky & UTC
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and United Technologies Chairman and CEO Louis Chenevert want state lawmakers to approve a deal that allows the company to use up to $400 million in unused tax credits to reduce their tax liability and expand their facilities.
At an hour-long event Wednesday afternoon, Malloy and Chenevert, told employees and suppliers gathered at the Pratt & Whitney Hangar Museum in East Hartford that Connecticut doesn’t want to lose its critical mass of aerospace and engineering jobs. That’s why they said this deal is so vital to the state.
“Your kids will have an opportunity to work for this company because of what we announce here today,” Chenevert said.
The deal Malloy is asking the legislature to approve would ensure Pratt & Whitney stays in Connecticut for a minimum of 15 years. It also keeps Sikorsky’s corporate headquarters in Stratford for a minimum of five years. In addition it creates a customer training center at UTC Aerospace Systems in Windsor Locks and new labs at the United Technologies Research Center.
The company is expected to invest up to $500 million in capital improvements over the next five years and the tax offsets from the state of Connecticut will be extended over 14 years. The total income tax credits for the various entities cannot exceed $400 million.
The centerpiece of the new agreement will be a 425,000-square-foot global headquarters and world-class engineering building for Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford. UTC will also build a new 12,000-square-foot global customer training center at its Aerospace Systems business in Windsor Locks, and capital improvements at Sikorsky. Construction on the projects would begin this year and continue through 2018.
It’s unknown exactly how many unused or stranded tax credits the company has because the state considers that proprietary information and officials were not able to say.
Malloy called the proposal “dynamic,” but Republican legislative leaders remained skeptical.
“I didn’t hear anything about job growth,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said. “If they don’t grow one job they get to use 90 percent of those credits.”
According to the spreadsheet provided by the company Pratt & Whitney, UTC Aerospace Systems, and United Technologies Research Center currently employ 14,100 workers and 4,900 engineers. That’s the amount they need to retain in order to use 90 percent of the tax credits. In order to qualify for the full credit, it needs to employ 5,000 engineers and 14,400 workers.
Cafero said the deal also applies specifically to Pratt & Whitney, Sikorsky, UTC Aerospace Systems, and United Technologies Research Center and doesn’t apply to UTC, which is the parent company.
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney said he has a lot of questions he needs answered before he’s comfortable with the legislation, which at this point doesn’t exist.
The financing deal is unusual for the state. Department of Economic Development Commissioner Catherine Smith said over the first five years of the deal the company earns the right to use the $400 million in tax credits.
According to a chart, the Pratt & Whitney, UTC Aerospace Space Systems, and United Technologies Research Center is expected to use $80 million in the first year of the program, $100 million in the second and third year, $75 million in the fourth year and $20 million in the fifth year. There are another $50 million in credits available to Sikorsky, but it will be a race to see who uses them first because the deal won’t exceed $400 million.
McKinney pointed out that Sikorsky just laid off 600 employees.
Asked about the layoffs, Malloy blamed the federal government.
“The federal government has not done its job with respect to maintaining the orderly flow of orders for what’s made at Sikorsky in Connecticut,” Malloy said. “Hopefully, that’s in the process of turning itself around.”
He said the layoffs were “caused by federal government action, and not state action.”
Asked to comment on rumors that UTC is thinking about selling Sikorsky, Chenevert said he doesn’t “speculate on rumors.”
“Sikorsky is the best helicopter company on the planet,” Chenevert said.
Fred Carstensen, who heads up the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, praised the deal Wednesday.
“By converting retrospective tax credits into a prospective development credit, the state rewards companies (presumably UTC will not be the only company permitted to make this conversion) for renewing and often expanding their commitment to continuing to do business in Connecticut,” Carstensen said. “Because large companies such as UTC play such a powerful role in the health of the state’s economy, and because they have the option, over time, of moving some, much, or all of the operations elsewhere, designing a strategy that keeps a company here, even if the objective is to maintain steady employment, is vitally important.”
Even though job growth doesn’t seem to be the main objective of the deal, Smith said she thinks that “there’d be no chance of having this be a job-growing endeavor unless we did this deal.”
“By doing the deal, we’re solidifying and reaffirming their commitment to the state,” she said.
Tags: Pratt & Whitney, Sikorsky, UTC, Louis Chenevert, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, dh
Senate President Announces He Won’t Seek Re-Election
Senate President Donald Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, announced Wednesday that he won’t be seeking re-election in the fall.
After 21 years as a state Senator and 10 years as the leader for the third floor chamber, Williams surprised many of his colleagues when he decided to call it quits.
“After serving 10 years as President Pro Tempore of the State Senate, I look forward to pursuing other challenges at the end of this term,” Williams said in a press release. “The progress we have made when facing difficult challenges, particularly in the past four years with the help of Governor Malloy, has been substantial, and Connecticut is well positioned for new growth in the years ahead.”
Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said she was surprised by Williams decision. She said he had a wealth of institutional knowledge and a propensity for policy-driven decisions. She said his departure will be a loss for the Senate.
“I think we’re losing one of the greatest senators we have. He’s really so thoughtful and driven by policy more than politics. It’s a big loss for the Senate,” she said. “It’s been really great to work with him, as someone who loves policy.”
Sen. Joseph Crisco, D-Woodbridge, said Williams’ departure will be a “loss to the state of Connecticut and its people.”
He said Williams had the ability to bring the caucus together on important issues.
Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said Williams had a very “distinguished career” and has been on the forefront of many issues.
“His presence will be greatly missed,” Duff said.
Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, would be the next in line to succeed Williams as President Pro Tempore.
On Wednesday, Looney praised Williams leadership abilities. He said Williams’ actions during the debate over the repeal of the death penalty in 2012 illustrated his ability to bring people together. Williams organized a group of undecided senators to visit the state’s death row facilities so they could see the conditions for themselves. The bill passed through the Senate that year with more votes than expected.
“Don has been a superb leader,” Looney said. “He has led with a steady hand and helped bring people together.”
In a statement Gov. Dannel P. Malloy called Williams “a great ally and friend.”
“He works tirelessly for his constituents and fights hard for what he believes. I’m proud to have worked with him to find common ground on some of the most important issues of our day, including creating jobs and investing in our public schools. The Senate will no doubt miss his leadership and his passion. I wish him the best in whatever he decides to do next,” he said.
Williams succeeded Kevin Sullivan when Sullivan went to serve as lieutenant governor after former Gov. John G. Rowland resigned in 2004.
Williams did not indicate what his future plans are beyond not running for re-election. However, it may include writing. Williams spoke last week about a book he has spent the last six years working on about the national civil rights impact of state heroine, Prudence Crandall’s court battles. His book will be published by Wesleyan University in June.
GOP Use Parliamentary Rule To Get Public Hearing On Common Core
House Republicans swooped in Wednesday after a press conference where teacher union officials called the implementation of Common Core State Standards “botched,” to announce they’d managed to force a public hearing on legislation to delay the standards.
The announcement came directly after a Connecticut Education Association media event Wednesday morning in the Legislative Office Building. The state’s largest teachers union released the results of a member poll conducted this month, which suggest that Connecticut’s teachers are overwhelmingly critical of how Common Core State Standards have been implemented here.
Teachers, according to the poll, reported that schools are not adequately equipped to teach the standards and 96 percent believed its implementation had been rushed.
“Simply put, our teachers have not been afforded the time, they have not been afforded the resources and they have not been afforded the training and students are being tested on material that they have not been taught,” CEA President Sheila Cohen said.
Of the 1,452 teachers polled between Feb. 4 - 20, CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg said 97 percent believed there should be some sort of moratorium on the implementation of the standards.
“Teachers are calling for a moratorium. Let’s basically say here that teachers are not saying we don’t want standards, what we’re saying is give us time to digest what we are being asked to do, to make sure we can get this done right before children are being judged improperly,” he said.
As reporters and union officials were packing up, House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero appeared behind the podium and made his own announcement. Cafero said House Republicans had used a legislative petition process to force the Education Committee to hold a public hearing on two bills, including one to impose a moratorium on the implementation of Common Core.
Cafero said the chairs of the Education Committee had indicated they did not plan to hold any public hearings this year on bills pertaining to the Common Core and instead had opted to have an informational hearing on the subject. He said Republicans collected enough signatures from lawmakers to force a public hearing on the bills under legislative rules.
“We have circulated a petition which has been signed by 51 House Republican members which was filed moments ago with the House Clerk office which will force a public hearing on the two bills in question,” he said.
Cafero said lawmakers “have heard horror story after horror story about the inability for boards of education, teachers to prepare themselves” for the Common Core implementation. The other bill would codify changes made by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration last month to delay the implementation of elements of the state’s teacher guidelines.
“Those two bills now, by Joint Rule 11, will be having a public hearing. The scheduling of that hearing will be up to the chairs, but the issue as to whether or not there will be a public hearing is no longer an issue,” he said.
Cafero said it was “unacceptable” to have no public hearing on an issue impacting parents, students, and teachers.
Although Cafero criticized the Education Committee’s leadership for refusing to raise the bill for a public hearing this year, the petition seemed to catch one of the panel’s two chairs off guard.
Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, said Wednesday that he met with the committee’s Republicans at the beginning of the session and this issue was not something they agreed should be brought up in a short session. He said it would be impossible to get all of this addressed before the legislative session ends May 7.
Fleischmann said the bill the Republicans want to raise was stamped by the Legislative Commissioner’s Office three days after the Education Committee’s deadline for raising bill, so even if it had wanted to raise it, it couldn’t have raised it.
In addition, he said the bill doesn’t address revenues or expenditures so it doesn’t necessarily fit the criteria for a short legislative session.
“I’m not sure how there’s a proposed bill that’s not about revenue and expenditures that even got stamped by LCO. The whole situation seems curious to me,” Fleischmann said Wednesday outside the House chamber.
He said on Friday the Education Committee is holding an informational hearing where it will hear from experts at the state Education Department about exactly what the Common Core State Standards are all about. That hearing has been scheduled for several weeks.
Rep. Tim Ackert, R-Coventry, the ranking Republican member on the Education Committee, said his caucus raised this issue long before the deadline.
“I don’t know if there’s a bigger issue out there right now,” Ackert said.
He said there were 10 to 12 bills proposed that would have addressed the Common Core Standards and none of them were raised for public hearings by the committee.
“It’s curious how people who never discussed the Common Core with me at all in the last four years are suddenly in an Election year, desperately anxious for there to be a public hearing and a bill right away,” Fleischmann said.
Ackert disagreed with Fleischmann’s characterization of what happened during the bill screening process. He said he raised the issue several times both in public and in meetings with Fleischmann.
Tags: Teachers, common core, larry cafero, house republicans
Sharkey Gives Municipalities A Boost By Supporting Legal Notices Bill
Municipal governments are trying again to reduce the amount of information towns must pay to print in newspapers, this year with the support of House Speaker Brendan Sharkey.
For years, towns have pushed to change the state law requiring them to post legal notices in local daily newspapers, but the legislation has always failed to pass the General Assembly. Current law requires towns to advertise in their local newspaper to advise residents of things like town meetings, referenda, and ordinance changes.
In the months leading up to this session, Sharkey backed recommendations crafted by legislative group he commissioned to encourage regional cooperation and reduce burdens on towns. The group recommended passing the changes towns have requested to their requirements to publish the notices.
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is asking the state to allow towns to push summaries of the traditional notices with instructions for how to obtain the full document on the town’s website. The idea is to reduce the amount of newspaper space towns must purchase, while preserving the notification for newspaper readers.
“It seems like a reasonable compromise,” Sharkey said Friday. “Without imposing a huge cost on cities and towns.”
During a public hearing last week Leo Paul, first selectman of Litchfield, told lawmakers that his town, a small municipality with about 8,500 residents, has had to budget around $16,000 a year for newspaper notification in each of the last two years. He called it “a rather costly venture.”
“Local governments spend millions of dollars every year publishing lengthy documents in their entirety in local publications. In the 21st Century, the quickest, most transparent and cost effective way to get information to the most amount of residents is via the internet,” Paul said.
Sharkey said he believes it is critical that Connecticut residents are kept informed of what’s happening in their local governments, but said the public is looking increasingly toward the internet for updates.
“The way the public gets information on what’s going on in the community is changing,” he said.
Although the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association acknowledges the public notices are a significant revenue stream for the state’s financially struggling newspapers, the group has framed the debate over the years in terms of government transparency.
Chris VanDeHoef, the group’s executive director, argued against the bill in written testimony presented to the Government Administration and Elections Committee last week.
“Our society is founded on the premise that the public has access to its government and what that government is engaged in,” he said. “....We feel that public notices provide this information in an unadulterated and verified manner. A manner that the internet can not guarantee.”
During last year’s legislative session, daily newspapers throughout the state ran a series of full-page advertisements likening the proposal to an April Fool’s joke.
However, Sharkey said the current proposal preserves public access to documents without eliminating the notifications from the pages of newspapers altogether.
“If the issue is not about revenue to newspapers and is about maintaining the public’s right to know, I think the M.O.R.E. [Municipal Opportunities and Regional Efficiencies] commission recommendation accomplishes the latter,” he said.
It’s unclear whether the House speaker’s support will be enough to push the perennial issue over the legislative finish line during this year’s session. A spokesman for Senate President Donald Williams said supporters of the proposal will need to prove that it will not impact the ability of the public to easily obtain important information. He also said Williams has yet to discuss the issue with other Senate Democrats.
On Friday, Sharkey said he had not polled support for the proposal in his chamber either.
“I don’t know for sure if we’ll have the votes to get something done this year. If there’s not enough support we’ll maybe wait and try again next year,” he said.
Insurance Committee Amends Exchange Bill With One-Year Delay
The Insurance and Real Estate Committee removed the teeth from a bill Tuesday that would have directed Connecticut’s insurance exchange to actively negotiate with insurance carriers to lower the cost of monthly insurance premiums.
The amendment proposed by state Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, delayed the requirement that the insurance exchange negotiate with carriers for one year and made it permissive, instead of mandatory. The amendment was adopted on a voice vote and became part of the bill, which was later approved by the committee.
There’s been an ongoing controversy over whether forcing the exchange to negotiate with carriers would actually result in lower rates for customers. Advocates believe the six states that actively negotiate do much better than states that don’t, but some lawmakers believe there’s enough checks and balances in place with the scrutiny of the actuaries at the state Insurance Department.
Sampson said the exchange already has great authority over who can participate in the exchange and the Insurance Department did a good job of getting the rates lowered during the first year of the exchange. He said he understands the desire of advocates to reduce the monthly premiums, but doesn’t believe forcing the exchange to negotiate will yield better results.
“The question is where do those insurance premiums come from and how will this actually impact those premiums?” Sampson said. “I would argue the cost of insurance is most affected by the cost of healthcare, which this has no effect on whatsoever.”
In September, the White House released a report that showed Connecticut will have the 4th highest premiums in the country.
Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan has said that might have something to do with the fact that Connecticut “currently has the 4th highest medical costs in the U.S.” However, advocates say some is attributed to the decision not to negotiate with insurance carriers.
Ellen Andrews, executive director of the CT Health Policy Project, said she was very disappointed in the committee’s decision Tuesday to change the bill.
“It sends a strong signal to the HMO’s—Don’t worry nobody’s going to be trying to get your premiums down,” Andrews said in a phone interview.
Negotiating with the carriers “just makes sense,” she said. “Understandably, HMOs don’t want that happening.”
Under the amended bill, the Connecticut insurance exchange, is not required to negotiate, but Rep. Robert Megna, D-New Haven, said the exchange can decide to negotiate if that’s what it wants to do.
“In the past the exchange has expressed concerns about this bill when it was in front of the committee last year,” Megna said.
This year Access Health CT did not submit any written testimony or take a position on the bill. The Access Health CT Board of directors voted against the idea of negotiating with insurance carriers back in November 2012.
The amended bill wouldn’t impact the rate setting process for 2015 and Megna said he doesn’t know why anyone would want to “throw a wrench in the process” at this point.
But what Megna considers a wrench, advocates considered a negotiating a tool to help improve competition in the marketplace.
“What’s wrong with getting a better deal?” Andrews asked.
But the state Insurance Department called the original bill “unnecessary.”
“The existing premium rate review and approval process through the Connecticut Insurance Department has been successful and is working well. It is the Department’s position that no change is needed at this time,” the Insurance Department wrote in its testimony to the committee.
Keith Stover, a lobbyist for the Connecticut Association of Health Plans, said that the original bill was “without question a solution in search of a problem.”
He said with the medical loss ratios being regulated there’s no extras being added to the cost of a monthly premium. He said insurance carriers are working every day to lower medical costs by aligning provider networks and numerous other things to lower the cost of medical care.
“There are constant negotiations,” Stover said. “Every insurer is trying to figure out the secret sauce of how do you crank down costs.”
Rep. Mike Alberts, R-Woodstock , said the original bill was “like asking for the largest hot fudge sundae you can get that’s going to be free and without calories.”
He said his concern was that they’ve not setting up two systems of rate setting. The Insurance Department’s actuaries are required to look at the rates submitted by all the carriers.
Obamacare Appeals Getting Heard In Connecticut
The federal government has had trouble dealing with the tens of thousands of people who had difficulties signing up for plans under the Affordable Care Act, but Connecticut consumers have been swiftly making their way through an appeals process, according to state officials.
Since the Oct. 1 launch of Access Health CT, Connecticut’s insurance exchange, there have been 470 appeals filed by individuals who, for a variety of reasons, were unable to obtain coverage or were not able to get the appropriate premium tax subsidy applied to the plan they bought.
That’s compared to the 22,000 filed by Americans from the 36 states using Healthcare.gov. A Washington Post article from earlier this month says those appeals are sitting untouched in a government computer that no one was able to access. A spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services later told the paper that they were working on the problem and coming up with an appeals process. White House spokesman Jay Carney has said many of the appeals were resolved after problems with the website were fixed.
The website problems and the latest appeals process are problems Connecticut didn’t have, according to state officials in charge of the program.
“As with other aspects of the Affordable Care Act, Connecticut has moved swiftly to begin to ensure the due process rights guaranteed for applicants under the law,” Department of Social Services Commissioner Roderick Bremby said.
Of the 470 appeals filed in Connecticut, about 330 were resolved without a hearing. There have been 26 hearings held, and 114 hearings have been scheduled.
While they have been unable to share specific information about the appeals, state officials said that in general they include Medicaid denials based on excess income, application of the wrong premium tax subsidy, effective dates for coverage, and filing status issues with the Internal Revenue Services.
The appeals are being handled by the Department of Social Services Legal Counsel, Administrative Hearings, and Regulations.
The staff are helping to resolve the great majority of requests before they go to hearing, which is effective for both applicants and the programs, Bremby said this week. Hearing officers have begun to conduct hearings when resolution is not possible, with others scheduled over the coming weeks.
Of the 26 hearings that have been held, decisions have been rendered in 16 of the cases.
“We believe this joint process between DSS and Access Health CT will work well in balancing applicant rights with program eligibility criteria and access under the new law,” Bremby added.
Tags: Roderick Bremby, appeals, Obamacare, hearings, dh
Malloy, Jindal Bicker Outside White House
It only took a few hours before Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo was using C-Span footage of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy calling Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s comments about raising the minimum wage “insane” in a fundraising email.
“You have to watch this,” DiNardo wrote in the email. “Governor Malloy couldn’t stand listening to Governor Jindal’s outrageous GOP rhetoric at a non-partisan press conference for the National Governor’s Association.”
The fundraising email asks for $4 or $44 and goes on say “Jindal claimed that raising the minimum wage is like waving a white flag of surrender. What did our governor do? He stepped up to the microphones and said ‘that’s the most insane thing I’ve ever heard.’”
At the press conference following a weekend of meetings with the nation’s governors and the Obama administration, Jindal, who has been mentioned as a presidential contender, said the president “seems to be waving the white flag of surrender” on the economy by focusing on raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10, up from $7.25. “The Obama economy is now the minimum wage economy. I think we can do better than that,” Jindal said.
That’s when Malloy stepped in and took over the microphone.
“Wait a second, until a few moments ago we were going down a pretty cooperative road,” Malloy said. “So let me just say that we don’t all agree that moving Canadian oil through the United States is necessarily the best thing for the United States economy.”
Malloy said Jindal’s “white flag statement” was the most partisan statement he heard over the past weekend and he believes many governors support a minimum wage increase.
“What the heck was a reference to white flag when it comes to people making $404 a week?” Malloy said. “I mean, that’s the most insane statement I’ve ever heard.”
As if it was a school yard brawl, Jindal did not back down. He said if that was the most partisan statement Malloy has heard all weekend then he wants to make sure Malloy hears an even more partisan statements.
“I think we could also grow the economy more if we delay more of these Obamacare mandates,” Jindal said as Malloy walked away.
Prior to the press conference, the White House released a transcript of remarks Obama made to the group in closing the three-day conference.
“I’m committed to making sure that every single member of my Cabinet, every single person in the White House, every single member of my team will be responsive to you,” Obama told the governors. “We won’t agree on every single issue every single time, but I guarantee you that we will work as hard as we can to make sure that you succeed — because when you succeed, the people in your states succeed and America succeeds, and that’s our goal.”
But Obama acknowledged that partisanship and politics is just below the surface.
“I enjoyed watching some of you with your eyes on higher office size up the drapes — (laughter) — and each other,” Obama told the group of governors.
Tags: Bobby Jindal, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, White House, dh
Governor Throws Support Behind National Popular Vote
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy threw his support Monday behind a proposal to join other states in casting Connecticut’s Electoral College votes in favor of the presidential candidate who receives the most votes nationally.
The National Popular Vote Compact has become a perennial issue in the Connecticut legislature but has yet to be passed into law. Under the bill, the state would join nine others and the District of Columbia in an agreement that would become effective only if enough states joined so that 270 electoral votes, or enough votes to win the election, went to the winner of the popular vote.
Malloy announced his support for the concept in a press release Monday as the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee was hearing public testimony on this year’s National Popular Vote bill.
“I fully support a national popular vote for president. All Americans deserve to have their votes counted equally for the highest office in the country,” Malloy said. “... The candidate who wins the most votes should be President. An equal vote for every American citizen, regardless of in which state they happen to live, is the fairest and most democratic way to go.”
In addition to Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, Senate President Donald Williams released a statement Monday supporting the bill.
“We should choose our president in the way we chose every other elected officeholder - by the popular vote,” he said. “The person that receives the most votes should be elected. Determining our national elections with the popular vote can ensure that the candidates for president are talking to all Americans rather than just the people in a small number of battleground states.”
The legislation has passed out of the Government Administration and Election Committee and in 2009 passed the House of Representatives, but was never raised by the Senate that year. At the time, Rep. Brendan Sharkey, who is now the House Speaker, voted for the proposal. More recently, Sharkey has been undecided on the bill but said last year he would allow it to be raised in the House if his caucus supports it.
Proponents contend the compact will motivate presidential candidates to pay political attention to a greater number of states. Rep. Ed Jutila, the Government Administration and Election Committee’s co-chairman, said both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, his Republican opponent during the 2012 presidential election, visited between eight and 10 states and ignored the rest.
However, opponents say small states like Connecticut benefit under the current Electoral College system. Rep. David Labriola, R-Oxford, said the idea of electing the person who gets the most votes has a “kindergarten appeal,” but it ignores that the country has a republic style of government rather than a straight democracy.
“We’re a republic. We’re a nation of states, and particularly for a small state like Connecticut, shouldn’t we be that much more opposed to this idea?” he said.
Tara Ross, a Texas lawyer and the author of a book supporting the existing Electoral College system, agreed. She said without the current system, candidates would spend all their time appealing to big cities and population centers.
“I think the Electoral College… it sets up a certain set of incentives that force presidential candidates or political parties to reach out to a variety of people,” she said. “Versus just go to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston and hang out there and gather up as many votes as you can.”
The issue has received attention in recent years after the 2000 presidential election, which saw the Bush-Cheney campaign win the White House with a 271-266 electoral vote advantage despite polling 540,520 fewer popular votes than Gore-Lieberman.
In written testimony, Alison Rivard, a vice president of the League of Women Voters of Connecticut, said results like the 2000 election cause voters to question the legitimacy of our elections system.
“With a shift to the NPV Compact, voters across the country, including Connecticut, would have a greater sense that their votes do indeed count in a meaningful way and would have an incentive to pay attention, vote and participate in the electoral process,” she wrote. “The league believes that it is more important than ever that we preserve the democratic ideal of making each vote count.”
In past years the bill has been raised and has passed out of the General Administration and Elections Committee. The last time it was raised by the House was in 2009.
Lawmakers Hear Mixed Testimony On Unmanned Drone Use
Lawmakers want to create new penalties for crimes committed with unmanned aircraft and establish rules for how police use drones in investigations as part of a far-reaching bill governing drones in Connecticut.
The Judiciary Committee heard public testimony on the bill Monday at the Legislative Office Building. State lawmakers are looking to weigh in on the issue this year as the Federal Aviation Administration is working on establishing regulations for drones flying above 400 feet. Those new regulations could see the small, relatively inexpensive aircraft become much more common.
“With this kind of technology, there’s certainly propensity to do a lot of amazing things but at the same time there’s concerns about privacy. That’s what we’re trying to address,” Rep. James Albis, D-East Haven, said.
The bill would make “use of an unmanned aircraft” a crime. A conviction under the new statute could be as severe as a Class B felony if the drone was weaponized. Lesser degrees of the crime involve stalking, voyeurism, and harassment and would result in a Class C felony.
The legislation also sets rules for how police can use drones as tools for investigations. At its core, the bill requires law enforcement officials to get a warrant before operating a drone to collect information.
Lawmakers heard mixed testimony on the new legislation during Monday’s hearing. The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association opposed the bill and urged lawmakers to form a task force to take a closer look at the issue before passing law.
“The technology is so new, I’m not sure we’re taking everything into consideration, even use by citizens. I also believe there are enough statutes out there today to address some of the concerns this bill raises,” Cromwell Police Chief Anthony Salvatore said.
Salvatore said he did not know of any law enforcement agencies in Connecticut currently using unmanned aircraft, but said it is likely that some will in the near future because they are inexpensive.
“Due to the cost, you’re probably going to see more drones used. So studying this and looking at it now is certainly appropriate,” he said. “... I’m not necessarily opposed to everything in [the bill], I have a lot of concerns on behalf of law enforcement. If we could just slow down and put a good piece of legislation together, I’d be all in favor of that.”
However, the Connecticut American Civil Liberties Union supports the legislation and does not want to see the legislature wait another year to put something in place to define how police can use the aircraft.
“Something should get on the books now,” David McGuire, an ACLU staff attorney, told lawmakers. “It is much more difficult to regulate a technology in a meaningful and sensible way once its out of the bottle.”
McGuire said it is appropriate that police should be required to obtain a warrant before using a drone to gather evidence. He said the enactment of such standards will help to shield criminal cases involving drones from legal challenges.
“Truthfully, it’s in the benefit of law enforcement and prosecutors to have a clear standard. The first time a drone is used to get evidence of wrongdoing without a warrant there’s going to be a criminal defense attorney making an objection that this is inadmissible because it was obtained illegally,” he said.
While Salvatore likened the use of drones to how police already use manned aircraft like helicopters, McGuire said they should be treated differently because they are small, maneuverable and capable of being equipped with surveillance technology.
But Peter Sachs, a lawyer and author of the Drone Law Journal, said the legislation raises other problems. He said it is currently written far too broadly and would create a host of problems for law enforcement and the general public.
“The entire bill is a mess. It’s a complete mess,” Sachs said.
For instance, he said if a private citizen were using a drone and observed a body or some other sort of criminal activity, the bill would make it illegal for police to receive that information because it was collected through the use of a drone.
Sachs said the bill was well intentioned but would likely be unenforceable. He said there is a lot of anxiety about drones at the moment.
“People fear what they don’t understand and every time a drone story comes out in the paper or on TV, the very first thing you see is a picture of a big, scary Predator drone and not all drones are that. Some are nothing more than remote control model airplanes that have been around for decades,” he said.
Tags: drones, unmanned aircraft, faa, judiciary committee, Police, ACLU, dh
U.S. Labor Secretary Hears Minimum Wage Stories In Hartford
U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez might as well have been preaching to the choir Monday when he visited Hartford to promote an increase in the minimum wage.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed an increase of the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over the next three years, and U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal are both proponents of President Barack Obama’s initiative to do the same. The rest of Connecticut’s Congressional delegation also is on board with increasing the minimum wage, so why would Perez waste his time in Connecticut?
“These stories are compelling. We need to make sure we leave no person behind,” Perez said at a press conference following a round table discussion with four Connecticut residents who earn the minimum wage.
Suejournel Durham, Josh Griffin, Kevin Burgos, and Rhashim Campbell all shared their stories of working at minimum wage jobs and how they have to shuffle paying the bills in order to live paycheck to paycheck.
Murphy reminded the audience that a family of two living on the minimum wage is making $16,000 a year.
“Try living on $16,000 a year in the state of Connecticut,” Murphy said. “If you live and Hartford and don’t have a rent subsidy, your rent is likely to gobble up $10,000 of that $16,000.”
He said the movement to increase the minimum wage is an effort to restore the dignity and respect to families who are working harder than ever and deserve to be compensated for that work.
Perez said he’s confident that business leaders are going to look back at $10.10 an hour and “it’s going to look pretty modest.”
Douglas Wade president of Wade’s Dairy in Bridgeport said he has 48 employees he considers to be his family. He said he supports an increase in the minimum wage.
“The middle class is just getting eviscerated by wages that have not kept pace,” Wade said.
But there are others in Wade’s community who don’t support an increase.
Richard DeJesus, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Bridgeport, told CTLatinoNews that he can’t support such a steep increase in the minimum wage.
The current minimum wage in Connecticut is $8.70 an hour. That will increase to $9 an hour in January 2015, if the legislature doesn’t take action this year to phase in an increase to $10.10 an hour by 2017.
DeJesus said the chamber will be looking into how a $10.10 increase will affect businesses when it comes to all the factors that go along with a wage increase, such as having to pay more for insurance and unemployment taxes.
“The last time it increased was different. This is a substantial raise,” DeJesus told CTLatinoNews.
Jerry Brick, general manager of Lake Compounce Amusement Park, said last week that he doesn’t support an increase in the minimum wage because it would increase his costs.
During an average week in the summer of 2013 his employees worked an average of 23,440 hours. An increase in the the minimum wage by 25 cents would increase weekly payroll by $5,860.
“Spiraling minimum wages are not the solution to fixing issues at the local or state level,” Brick wrote in his testimony to the Labor and Public Employees Committee. “Each increase does have a negative impact on business.”
Eric Gjede, assistant counsel at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, told the Labor and Public Employees Committee last week that data shows individuals earning the minimum wage are “teens that live at home with one or more guardians, single individuals with no dependents, or individuals that hold a part-time job for the purpose of supplementing another income.”
Last week, the Congressional Budget Office released a report on an increase in the minimum wage and its conclusions were mixed. It found that going to $10.10 an hour could reduce total employment by 500,000 workers by the second half of 2016. However, it would lift 900,000 families out of poverty and increase the incomes of 16.5 million workers.
One of the notions that the CBO debunks is “that this issue of minimum wage is simply an issue for teenagers,” Perez said. “They again confirm what we know from the data, I think it was 10 to 12 percent of minimum wage workers are teenagers, the average age of a minimum wage worker is actually 35.”
The CBO report found that “of the 5.5 million workers who earned within 25 cents of the minimum wage in 2013, three-quarters were at least 20 years old and two-fifths worked full time.”
Perez said the CBO didn’t do a study of its own on the minimum wage and it didn’t look at studies done across the country that show a minimum wage increase has little to no detrimental impact on job loss. “There’s some relative overwhelming evidence-base suggesting that you can put money in people’s pockets, help businesses recruit more customers, and not have an impact.”
Tags: minimum wage, U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, Hartford Public Library, Chris Murphy, Richard Blumenthal, dh
Contractor Writes Another Check To Democratic Party
A contractor who was on a list of banned state campaign contributors when he gave $10,000 to the Connecticut Democratic Party has rewritten the check to its federal account.
The Connecticut Democratic Party refunded John F. Fish, who owns Suffolk Construction Company, in December. But he turned around and legally rewrote the check to the Democratic Party’s federal account, which is supposed to support federal candidates and state party operations.
That’s according to the party’s latest January filing with the Federal Election Commission.
Suffolk Construction is a general construction contractor that provides pre-construction, construction management, general contracting, and design-build services nationwide, with offices in Boston as well as Irvine, Calif., Miami, and both Naples and West Palm Beach, Fla.
One of its projects in Connecticut was 360 State Street, a 31-story, 500-unit residential tower in New Haven. It’s also working on the Lawrence and Memorial Cancer Center in Waterford.
“The Connecticut Democratic Party relies on the information provided directly by donors on our contribution forms,” James Hallinan, a spokesman for the Connecticut Democratic Party, said in a statement Monday. “Additionally, we cross-reference donor information for non-federal contributions with information listed on the SEEC’s Prohibited State Contractors and Prospective State Contractors lists. If we identify any irregularities, we issue a refund to the contributor. If we identify any irregularities involving contribution limits, we issue a refund to the contributor. The Connecticut Democratic party acts in good faith and follows all laws, rules and regulations, and will continue to do so.”
The only other person to write a $10,000 check to the Democratic Party in January was Herbert Newman of Herbert Newman and Partners. Newman’s firm is redeveloping the New Haven coliseum and a building on Wesleyan University’s campus in Middletown.
The Connecticut Democratic Party’s fundraising activities recently received an unsolicited advisory opinion from the State Elections Enforcement Commission, which without accusing the party of any wrongdoing tried to detail the nexus between state and federal party fundraising activity.
In general, “the federal account cannot spend its funds to make expenditures with the state account for Connecticut candidates for statewide office or the General Assembly,” the opinion from election regulators says. “The overarching principle to be followed is simple: Connecticut committees pay for their expenses with money raised within the Connecticut campaign finance system, i.e. from permissible contributions or public financing grants, properly reported under Connecticut law.”
However, there are some ways in which federal and state committees can share expenses on things such as staff and overhead. The federal fundraising report details how much time was spent by each employee of the party on federal campaign activity.
According to the filing, the party’s nonfederal share of its employees work was $110,524 and the federal share was $19,504.
The Connecticut Democratic Party raised $103,963 in January. Last year, it raised a total of $2.1 million to its federal account and about a quarter of that money came from $10,000 donors, some of whom do business with the state and its agencies.
Surplus Slips Slightly
It’s not by much, but the $506.1 million surplus has already dropped to $504.4 million, according to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget office.
In his latest letter to state Comptroller Kevin Lembo, Malloy’s Budget Director Ben Barnes, said the governor still plans on giving refunds to taxpayers, adding more to the Rainy Day Fund, and making an additional payment to the state pension fund. However, the contribution to the Rainy Day Fund will be reduced to $249.4 million, instead of the $250 million the governor had initially earmarked in his budget adjustments.
The $600,000 reduction in the Rainy Day Fund isn’t significant by itself. In an email, Barnes said $600,000 “is below our level of precision in these estimates.”
However, it may hint at what direction the Malloy administration will head if the surplus continues to shrink.
Asked on Jan. 30 what he would do if the surplus began to dwindle Malloy artfully dodged the question.
“I think they represent an appropriate percentage, but I want to draw one line, one line. And that is if the surplus grows I think that money should go exclusively—that additional money—to the Rainy Day Fund and to pay down our pension obligations,” Malloy said at Derby City Hall on Jan. 30.
A contribution of $249.4 million would still put the Rainy Day Fund balance at $550.1 million, according to Barnes’ letter to Lembo.
The $1.7 million drop in surplus funds between Jan. 20 and Feb. 20 is not attributed to a decline in revenues, but a change in spending related to some of the budget adjustments the governor made in his 2015 budget proposal.
The spending on those new programs didn’t come into focus until after the Jan. 20 report, according to Barnes.
The report predicts that $44.7 million of the $94.7 million in spending the Malloy administration planned to hold back from the legislative and executive branch agencies has been achieved. The $7.4 million in spending it asked the Judicial branch not to spend “will not be achieved.”
The February monthly forecast uses the Jan. 15 consensus revenue projections. The state revenue projections come into sharper focus after the April 15 income tax deadline.
“As is typical, more than fifty percent of income tax collections are received after January 31st and the current forecast anticipates healthy collections during the April filing season,” Barnes wrote.
Lembo will certify the budget projections on March 3.
Nonpartisan budget analysts predicted in November that if the state continues to spend at the current level and accounts for inflation then the budget deficit in 2016 and the next three fiscal years after that could range between $1.1 billion and $1.4 billion per year.
Malloy’s administration continues to argue that if revenues continue to rise and spending stays at 2.8 percent then there won’t be a deficit in 2016. Malloy’s Feb. 5 budget document goes as far to argue that “if we maintain Governor Malloy’s current spending trends, we will produce a surplus of over $400 million by 2018, when considering the proposed new tax cuts.”
Barnes characterized the latest report as “saying that our surplus projection is stable with several offsetting adjustments.”
Tags: surplus, budget, Ben Barnes, Kevin Lembo, dh
OP-ED | In Defense of The Public’s Right To Know
Crime is a problem in the United States and in Connecticut. A big problem.
The people hire police and other first responders to protect them from crime. It is clear in the deliberations of the Task Force on Victim Privacy and the Public’s Right to Know that law enforcement personnel have become too entangled with victims and the families of victims after crimes, horrendous crimes, are committed.
Aside from the duty to investigate and solve crimes, it is not the job of police to expend resources on victims and their families. The people pay the staff of the Office of the Victim Advocate to assist the families of victims. All the police personnel and time spent there, is time and resources not spent protecting the public – all the people – whom they are paid to protect. It is a disturbing trend to see police posted outside the homes of victims’ families, or to hear threats from officials that news reporters’ vehicles will be ticketed or jaywalking statutes will be strictly enforced.
Now, with this vote recommending more secrecy in law enforcement actions, the people the police are supposed to serve will be denied information they deserve to know about crimes and how they are solved or not solved.
The General Assembly leadership and the governor appointed this 17-member Task Force, of which I was a member, with a built in 9-member majority favoring privacy and secrecy. Although there was much expert testimony and many written submissions presented on the people’s right to know, there was very little analysis given to, or evaluation of that testimony and those viewpoints beyond a few questions asked of some of those testifying.
It is historic fact that police, particularly the state police, consistently violate the state’s Freedom of Information laws by refusing to release nonexempt information about ongoing criminal investigations. There are specific exemptions: signed statements of witnesses, investigatory techniques not otherwise known, uncorroborated allegations, for example. Otherwise, documents are presumed to be public, but the FOI Commission docket is clogged with complaints from citizens and the press seeking public information the police routinely withhold.
If the legislature adopts the recommendations of this Task Force, it will make it easier for law enforcement to keep secret what the people in a free and open society should know. In the name of sympathy for those families who have suffered from crimes against them, too many public servants are opting to deny the public its right to fully understand the violence being committed. It often has been the families of victims who need FOI access to law enforcement records to show malfeasance or misfeasance and to find justice.
We should not have to make judgments on public policy based on half-truths or partial truths or emotions. It is better to solve society’s ills knowing the whole truth or as much of the truth as we can know. So, for example, when this Task Force recommends putting 911 tapes off limits, tapes that have always provided first-hand knowledge to the public about criminal activity, it is a move away from accountability, away from understanding, and away from trying to solve the problems of violence in our culture.
The proponents of “privacy” have offered a small window into what historically has been open to the public – a place in a police department where someone can look at crime scene photos and listen to 911 tapes, but not copy them except through a long and laborious process.
The Task Force has proposed permanent harm to Connecticut’s historically highly-regarded FOI laws. It has turned the system on its head, for the first time pushing the burden of proof from the government to the people. It has always been in this democracy that the government must show why a document can remain hidden from the public. Now it is proposed that the people must show why it should be released to them. The Task Force recommends eschewing our long-held “Perkins” test in favor of the watered down federal “Favish” standard. An “unwarranted invasion of privacy,” (Favish) is a standard that makes it easier to keep something secret than our traditional two-pronged test (Perkins) requiring the government to show that the information sought is “highly offensive to a reasonable person AND does not pertain to a matter of legitimate public concern” in order to be withheld from public scrutiny.
I will venture to say, though I will let them speak for themselves, that the SPJ appointees voting with the majority did so to preserve at least that little crack of openness provided in the “compromise.” I cannot imagine they approved of the shift of burden of proof or the lower bar in the “unwarranted invasion of privacy” standard.
The federal FOI system has been recognized for decades as being inferior to Connecticut’s. Republican state Sen. Lewis B. Rome, rising to support passage of our FOI statue in 1975, called it “landmark legislation.” He observed that, “It is unfortunate that the atmosphere in Washington is . . . such that they would not consider adopting the very same kind of language . . . I hope that we would unanimously support the legislation as witness (to) our good intentions and good faith in the idea that government belongs to the people.”
Sen. Rome got his wish. The General Assembly unanimously approved our FOI statue and Gov. Ella Grasso, who had campaigned for FOI legislation with statements like “people are tired of a state government that hides its acts behind a curtain of secrecy,” signed it into law. She promised a government that is “open, honest, vital and concerned.” She won the election, the first woman in the United States ever elected in her own right to be a governor, by some 204,000 votes, the second highest margin of victory in the state up to that time.
The legislature should still heed Mr. Rome and Mrs. Grasso and reject the recommendations of this Task Force.
James H. Smith, president of the nonprofit Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, and a retired newspaper editor, was a member of the Task Force on Victim Privacy and the Public’s Right to Know.
Tags: James Smith, right to know, task force, privacy, Freedom of Information Commission, victims, open government
OP-ED | Don’t Let the Truth Get in the Way of a ‘Good’ Op-Ed
Students and parents of Bridgeport’s East Side and East End communities have waited many years for a replacement for the aging Harding High School. This project is one that is well-deserved, beautifully designed and long-awaited by the entire school community. For nearly two decades, Harding has been in major disrepair, and all possibilities to repair and renovate the current building have been exhausted. There is no alternative to new construction.
However, a recent Op-Ed on this site did not focus on these essential truths; instead it focused on perpetuating a wrong-headed perception of our City.
There’s the old saying: Don’t let the truth get in the way of a ‘good’ Op-Ed.
Truthfully, viewed objectively, this opinion piece should not even be dignified with a response, but it would be a public disservice to let such a skewed view of reality remain unaddressed. It is so frustrating because this new school would be such an amazing opportunity to upgrade deserving Harding High School students from a tired facility to one that truly is state-of-the-art.
Conspiracy theories about “secret” conversations have been mentioned. The truth is that when Bridgeport City officials first spoke with General Electric about contributing to Bridgeport’s aggressive and highly successful school construction program (Discovery Interdistrict Magnet, Fairchild Wheeler Interdistrict Magnet High School, etc.) with a donation of the company’s expansive Boston Avenue property, we simply didn’t know if this was a viable site. In fact, conversations have been ongoing amongst G.E., the State, the City and the School Building Committee, which has multiple Board of Education representatives, and the BOE and its staff during the past three years.
Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas met with Harding High School parents and the Harding High School community as a whole several times. The City and the Board of Education listened to their concerns and have had experts available to answer all of their questions. These conversations with the community have been overwhelmingly positive. Another community meeting was scheduled for late January of this year but was cancelled by the Board of Education for no apparent reason. My Administration is committed to continuing a timely and active dialogue on this project with the BOE and the entire school community.
The writer then cites EPA publications that reference both the environmental hazards, and the need for mitigation and remediation in urban environments where land is scarce, and may have potential identifiable hazards.
While the writer selectively lifted paragraphs from studies and documents that suited her intended message that this property is somehow dangerous , she failed to mention that the City has been working with the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CTDEEP) and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) very closely as we examined the viability of this plan. It is a gross distortion to suggest that the planned new high school will be constructed on anything other than land that has been fully remediated to residential standards in accordance with all applicable state DEEP and federal EPA standards. The law requires as much, and my administration with its nationally recognized leadership position in environmental matters and ‘green’ initiatives would never consider any lesser standard for our students.
Bridgeport’s goal is to construct a top-notch, new high school that our children so richly deserve on property that has first been fully to the satisfaction of the government regulators who are the experts in overseeing environmental remediation. It is also noteworthy that this plan has received the public endorsement of national environmental advocacy organizations such as the Sierra Club.
In order to move forward in a responsible manner with the possibility of using the G.E. site, the City and GE engaged the CT DEEP, the state arm of the federal EPA, to create a plan that would guarantee state regulatory oversight of the site remediation to ensure the safety of students to be educated there as well as the health and well-being of the surrounding community.
Until ALL the state and federal environmental requirements (EPA and DEEP) for the school site are met and approvals and permits issued, school construction will not begin.
This community has tried twice before, and failed each time, to bring a new Harding High School to the students and families who are in most need of a new facility. Neither of these prior attempts came to fruition, and the available grant money had to be returned to the State, due to the lack of a suitable location. In consultation with the Board of Education and the Superintendent’s Office, my administration successfully applied for a third grant to bring about a much needed replacement for Harding.
Bridgeport’s racially diverse school population deserves the same quality educational faculties and opportunities as those available to the resident of our far more affluent suburbs. I am honored and proud that my Administration is on the cusp of making this great ‘win’ for our public school student becomes a long-overdue reality.
The best suited location for the replacement for Harding High School is on the former General Electric site on Boston Avenue and Bond Street. The school site is being remediated to residential standards — the cleanest standards, with GE bearing the brunt of the cost. Once the school site is remediated, GE will donate this land to the City.
The current school is nearly 90 years old, and does not offer much in the way of facilities, including an inadequate playing field, which cannot be used to host school sporting events.
This administration has worked with the school administrators, including the Superintendent and the Board of Education members to ensure that this project moves forward in a deliberative manner:
Parents of the City’s East Side and East End could not be more enthusiastic about an opportunity to see a brand new, state-of-the-art school offering a modern campus which includes playing fields and community rooms that will be accessible to the neighborhood. This new campus will be on par with Fairchild Wheeler Interdistrict Campus, the newly opened high school in the North End. Along with access to the playing fields, the new campus will also be a significant improvement to the Mill Hill neighborhood.
This project has met many benchmarks. The schematic design and testing results of the site were brought to the School Building Committee and approved. The site was subsequently approved by the State Bureau of School Facilities in Hartford. We are now moving forward with Phase 1 of the site plan, which is currently before the Facilities Committee of the Board of Education.
As a parent and our city’s leader, nothing is more important to me than the safety and well-being of our students. I am certain that this school will provide both a completely safe and innovative learning environment that the children of the East Side and East End so richly deserve.
Obviously, there are thoughtful and concerned students, parents and other citizens who rightly want to ensure that our children are educated in a proper and save environment. As a leading environmental advocate, I appreciate and share those legitimate considerations, which is why my Administration in partnership with GE and the CT DEEP environmental regulators has worked tirelessly to guarantee a properly cleaned site.
Bill Finch is the Democratic Mayor of Bridgeport and a former State Senator.
Tags: Bill Finch, Bridgeport, Harding High School, General Electric, Brownfield, EPA, DEEP, education
North American Power Says It Notified Variable Rate Customers of Potential for Expensive Winter
At a public hearing Wednesday night in Milford, dozens of speakers expressed outrage over soaring utility rates.
Several singled out North American Power, which is one of the suppliers available through the state’s electricity exchange, as the biggest offender.
Other companies also were mentioned. Speakers said their variable rates almost tripled this winter and their utility bills more than doubled. They pleaded with state officials to help them.
Responding to the complaints, North American Power spokeswoman Tiffany Eddy said Friday that the company voluntarily informed its customers in December that rates could substantially increase this winter, and urged them to take a fixed rate. Eddy also said some of the people who complained about North American Power at the Milford hearing were not North American Power customers.
Public Utilities Regulatory Authority officials announced last week they have “opened a docket” to look into complaints from consumers, and scheduled five public hearings around Connecticut to learn about consumers’ experiences with electricity suppliers in the exchange.
Elin Swanson Katz of the Office of Consumer Counsel has said her office has received many complaints about skyrocketing electric rates from people who “felt they were taken advantage of.” Katz pledged that PURA is performing a thorough investigation.
Eddy said company officials anticipated prices would increase substantially this winter because of a lack of available natural gas resources in New England. She said the company emailed and mailed letters to all of its customers on variable rate plans, offering to switch them to a fixed rate.
Eddy provided CT News Junkie with a copy of the correspondence. The letter begins in all caps stating “IMPORTANT NOTICE ABOUT YOUR NORTH AMERICAN POWER ELECTRIC RATE.”
“Because your continued satisfaction is extremely important to us, we want to make you aware of a situation that is going to significantly impact the forecasted cost of electricity within the New England wholesale market this winter,” the letter states.
The letter goes on to state that because of record demand for natural gas this winter, prices are likely to increase.
“This increase will affect the winter electric supply rates of both the utilities and retail suppliers across the region,” North American Power’s letter states. “To minimize the impact to you, North American Power is offering its valued customers the opportunity to lock in on a fixed rate plan that will allow you to stabilize your energy costs and get through the winter with peace of mind knowing your rate is guaranteed not to change for the duration of the term.”
Eddy said the company’s mission is to “always make sure our customers are satisfied.”
“We wanted to protect our customers,” said Eddy, while adding North American Power has 280,000 energy customers, including 60,000 in Connecticut.
She said North American Power offers a Guaranteed Savings Plan, through United Illuminating Co. and Connecticut Light & Power, which is a variable rate plan “that is guaranteed to beat the utility’s rate-to-compare through June 30.
“Customers can leave this plan at any time, with no cancellation fee — so it provides both the stability of a fixed rate plan and the flexibility of a variable plan. In addition to this plan, we offered a fixed rate of 9.49 cents for 10 months. We notify customers in advance when each plan expires,” Eddy said.
During Wednesday’s forum, some speakers alleged that they even had fixed rates that would spike.
But Eddy said customers on a fixed rate plan pay the same price every month for the term of the plan.
“We do not change the rate over the term . . . we notify them in advance that the term is about to end, and that they can either contact us to switch to a new plan or they can do nothing and move to our month-to-month variable plan, per the terms of their original fixed price agreement. It’s important to note that this is not a requirement, and we do so voluntarily,” Eddy said.
A PURA official could not be reached for comment Friday. Commissioner Michael Caron has said utility complaints have more than doubled from a year ago.
State Sen. President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, and State House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, have proposed several ways of making the process more transparent.
Williams and Sharkey are seeking to require additional, prominently printed information on electric bills, including notification of rate increases, date of auto-renewal, and any cancellation fees.
The Democratic leaders are seeking to print standard offer rates on every bill next to the applicable private supplier rate, and require online bills to display the same information as required on printed bills.
And lastly, Democrats’ want PURA to establish an online marketplace where customers can easily compare all private electric supplier offers and purchase directly through the marketplace.
PURA has scheduled hearings for Monday 6:30 p.m. in Room 135, Brookfield Town Hall, 100 Pocono Road, Brookfield
Tuesday, 6:30 p.m. in the Norwich City Hall, 100 Broadway, Norwich
Thursday, 6:30 p.m. in the City Hall Building, Veterans Memorial Hall – 2nd Floor, 235 Grand St., Waterbury
Subpoenas Offer Glimpse At Federal GOP Probe
(Updated 5:13 p.m.) Subpoenas released Friday show that federal investigators plan to search through text messages, emails, contracts, and other correspondences as they scrutinize the relationship between top Republican staffers and two direct mail companies.
The federal subpoena dated Feb. 14 asks for “Any and all documents including, but not limited to, correspondence, memoranda, letters, emails, text messages, invoices, contracts, agreements, with any direct mail vendor utilized by the Connecticut House Republican Office.”
All four subpoenas ask for all correspondence House Republican staff had with George Gallo, the House Republican chief of staff, who resigned before news of the federal inquiry broke.
The subpoena also asked for information regarding The Vinco Group LLC, the consulting firm Gallo created in 2003 and used to do some of his political consulting work. In addition, it asked for any information pertaining to Direct Mail Systems of Florida and King Strategic Communications of Ohio, another direct mail company used by Republican lawmakers dating back to 2008, according to campaign finance filings. Direct Mail Systems has not returned calls seeking comment. Joe King, president of King Strategic Communications, responded today with a written statement:
“While none of the issues raised involve our company, we understand that authorities often need incidental data to help them do their job,” King wrote. “We will, of course, cooperate. We’re proud of the all the work we do and we always operate in a legal, ethical and above-board manner.”
The Office of Legislative Management also was subpoenaed. The language in that subpoena was exactly the same as that of the other three.
One of the subpoenas released Friday by House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero was for the New Friends PAC. Cafero and his staff inadvertently failed to mention that New Friends PAC was subpoenaed Thursday when he acknowledged the federal investigation and Gallo’s resignation.
All four subpoenas ask lawmakers and staff to appear before a grand jury to testify at 9 a.m., March 4, in New Haven.
“The FBI didn’t indicate exactly what they were looking for, what potential crime they were trying to investigate, so we don’t know the answer to that,” Cafero told a few reporters Friday morning outside his office.
Sources say about 10 Republican lawmakers who used Direct Mail Systems of Clearwater, Fla. also were questioned Wednesday afternoon in their offices at the Legislative Office Building.
Cafero said he was one of the lawmakers questioned, but was unable to say how many other lawmakers may have been questioned by federal authorities.
Cafero said it’s an ongoing investigation and federal authorities “have asked us not to talk about it.”
Thomas Carson, a spokesman for Connecticut U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly, declined comment.
Chris Healy, another former Republican Party chairman, said that during his tenure as chairman the Connecticut Republican Party used Direct Mail Systems because it was one of the direct mail houses that knew how to handle political mailings. From graphic design to postage, these firms handle everything for the candidate or political committee.
“There’s a lot more to this,” Healy said Friday referring to the intricacies of political mail.
There are about a dozen national direct mail companies that do business in the state of Connecticut.
Quinnipiac University Law Professor William V. Dunlap said based on the information that’s been released at this point “we don’t really know what the FBI is after.”
He said they seem to be looking into financial transactions regarding direct mail companies, but even if a candidate was directed to use a company it’s not necessarily a crime.
Dunlap also pointed out that a federal inquiry may not lead to criminal charges, and if there are criminal charges they won’t necessarily be against the candidates who used these companies.
Hugh McQuaid contributed to this report
Tags: Lawrence Cafero, subpoena, federal investigation, grand jury, Direct Mail Systems, King Strategic Communications, dh
Suffield Lawmaker Dies After Battle With Brain Cancer
Rep. Elaine O’Brien, D-Suffield, died Friday morning after a long struggle with brain cancer. She was 58 years old.
O’Brien, who also was Suffield’s town clerk, was first elected to represent her town and parts of Granby and Windsor in the General Assembly in 2010. She had been active in local politics since 1991. As a lawmaker she served on the Appropriations, Commerce, and Transportation committees.
O’Brien was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2012.
“Throughout her illness, she remained focused on the people of her district. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family, friends and constituents at this difficult time,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a press release. On Friday, Malloy directed the state’s flags to half-staff in O’Brien’s honor.
In a message posted on the House Democrats’ website, Rep. David Baram, D-Bloomfield, said he had recently visited O’Brien while she was being treated at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and at Hebrew Health Care in West Hartford.
“Elaine never once talked about herself. She only wanted to know how others were doing, and to discuss issues at the Capitol and in her District. She was so brave, driven and optimistic. During her last few weeks, Elaine kept saying how lucky she was, to have such a supportive family and so many friends. She cherished her very large family and her many friends. She missed being at the Capitol and at work. And especially to her constituents and friends in Windsor, Elaine never stopped thinking about you,” Baram wrote.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey also described O’Brien as a friend with a great sense of humor.
“Our condolences go out to her husband Justin [Donnelly], her children, and her entire family,” Sharkey wrote.
O’Brien’s House seat will need to be filled through a special election. The date of that election will depend upon when the governor issues a writ of election after he is officially notified of the vacancy by the Secretary of the State. The election will take place within 46 days of that declaration.
The last time a sitting lawmaker died while in office was in 2009.
Tags: Rep. Elaine O’Brien, obituary, dh
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Advocates Continue Push To Eliminate Sale of Commercially Bred Puppies
Animal advocates tried Friday to shore up legislative support for a proposal to ban the sale of commercially bred puppies for all future pet stores in Connecticut.
The policy was one of several recommendations by a task force that met for several months to curb the use of “puppy mills,” a term for commercial breeders where dogs are produced in high numbers and in inhumane conditions. Advocates contend that many of the animals sold in Connecticut pet shops were born at these commercial breeders.
Supporters are calling the ban on future pet stores a “phase out” of the use of puppy mills to source Connecticut pet shops.
“The fact is there is an abundance of puppies from other sources,” Debora Bresch, a lawyer with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said. “From rescue organizations . . . as well as reputable breeders. There’s simply no reason for pet stores to any longer sell commercially bred dogs.”
Bresch spoke at a “Voices for Animals” event in the Legislative Office Building. Rep. Brenda Kupchick, R-Fairfield, asked supporters at the press conference to contact their representatives and ask the to back the ban.
“They listen to you. They don’t really listen to other legislators. They listen to their constituents. When enough of you call and write and come up here and speak, they listen,” she said.
Kupchick tried last year to pass an outright ban on the sale of commercially bred dogs in Connecticut. The bill made it as far as the House of Representatives before being rewritten to establish a task force to explore the issue.
Although that group drafted recommendations including the prospective ban earlier this month, the panel was not without dissenting voices. Charles Sewell, executive vice president of Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, said the puppy mill problem was attributable to a small number of bad actors in a generally responsible industry.
At one meeting, Sewell called the idea of “grandfathering” current pet stores and banning commercial sales at future stores a “de facto ban” that only delayed the impact.
“Frankly, that would just be a slow death for pet stores over time,” he said. “You would be eliminating the ability for pet stores to operate.”
Enough lawmakers had concerns during last year’s session to stifle Kupchick’s bill. This year she is optimistic that her legislation has support in the Environment Committee.
“I feel good about that and I think that the advocates on this issue are very motivated to come out and share their opinion,” she said. “I’m feeling optimistic . . . Now it’s up to the public.”
The Environment Committee raised the concept to be drafted as a bill for a public hearing earlier this month.
Tags: puppy mills, Brenda Kupchick, Deborah Bresch, ASPCA, dogs, dh
Exchange Enrollment Up With One Month To Go
Of those, 53,673 individuals have chosen plans with one of the three private insurance carriers and 72,980 individuals enrolled in Medicaid between Oct. 1 and Feb. 18. That means about 4,670 individuals enrolled between Feb. 10 and Feb. 18.
Officials at Access Health CT are attributing the bump in enrollment to an advertising campaign they’ve been running during the Olympics. Compared with the week prior to the Olympics, the exchange saw a 31 percent increase in web traffic, a 24 percent increase in account creation, an 8 percent increase in call volume, and a 67 percent increase in daily enrollment.
Enrollment in the exchange is open until March 31.
In January, some members of Access Health CT’s expressed concern about the demographic information of those signing up for one of the three private insurance carriers.
A month later, not much has changed.
Individuals enrolling between the ages of 55 to 64 dropped two percent, while those ages 26 to 44 was up one percent to 25 percent. Those ages 45 to 54 increase one percent since Jan. 15.
Tags: Access Health CT, healthcare, Insurance, exchange, dh
OP-ED | Connecticut Must Learn from Metro-North’s Woes
Metro North’s passengers are not happy, and with good reason. The commuter rail system, which is one of the largest and busiest in the country, has had a very bad year, and riders on the New Haven Line have been bearing some of the worst of the burdens.
New Haven Line Commuters blasted Metro-North officials at a recent “commuter speakout,” complaining of delays, unheated trains, slow response and general frustration. This all follows a year that saw a tragic derailment, massive service disruptions, and all kinds of other problems. Meanwhile, fares continue to rise; a 5 percent fare hike went into effect this January. Commuters are fed up; they feel like nobody in Hartford or New York is actually listening.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has threatened to look elsewhere for someone to run the New Haven-to-Springfield Line if the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the massive, quasi-public company Connecticut contracts with to run and maintain the New Haven-to-New York line, can’t get back on the ball. He cited the case of Keolis, a French company, taking over management of the MBTA’s commuter lines in Massachusetts, and suggested that something similar could happen here. After all, Connecticut owns the rails the trains ride on all the way down to the New York border.
Is this the solution — to switch operators to someone who might be more responsive? After all, there’s no telling when the MTA will get their act together, and the only real hold Connecticut has on them is the ability to renew their contract every five years. We are in no way represented on their board, which is appointed by various New York officials.
Don’t hold your breath, though. As attractive as ditching the MTA for some other railroad operator may seem, it’s probably not going to happen. The MTA has been running this line for a long time, and any change of operators would likely cause even more massive disruptions without guaranteeing any future success. It’s also complicated; what would happen to trains after they crossed into New York? Would we still have to shell out huge amounts of money to the MTA for access to their system?
Therefore, things haven’t gotten to the point where it would make sense to switch out the MTA for another quasi-public corporation. Unfortunately, that means entrusting your ride to work to a company you have next to no control over and no real alternative to — unless you think driving on I-95 during rush hour is fun.
But at some point, we need to really think about how we run public transportation in this state, and whether the patchwork transit system we have now actually makes sense. For now, the MTA runs the New Haven Line. But in a few years the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail line will start running. Who’s going to operate that? The other commuter rail line in Connecticut, Shore Line East, is run by Amtrak. The state DOT’s CTTransit operates buses in most cities, but not all. New London County has its own system, as does Middletown, Bridgeport, and a bunch of other places. Heck, the town of Enfield runs its own two-line bus system.
The reason why this piecemeal system exists is partly because we like local control, but also because the state doesn’t have the money to run and maintain everything. The legislature raids the special transportation fund with regularity. This is supposed to stop in 2015, but I’ll be surprised if legislators don’t find some way around that.
New Jersey found itself in a similar position in the 1970s, and decided to create one single agency that runs pretty much everything — NJ Transit. Its board is appointed by the governor of New Jersey, and includes members of the general public.
The benefits of having a single public corporation that’s accountable to the people of the state like this include better transit planning and direction, easier access to different parts of the state, and hopefully better customer response times. New Jersey’s transportation fund, unlike Connecticut’s, is protected in the state constitution.
If we learn nothing else from Metro North’s catastrophic year, it’s that we have to plan better for the long term, and develop transportation plans that focus on the people who travel by rail and bus. It’s time to come to terms with the fact that public transportation is a big part of this state’s future, and that it can’t just be an afterthought anymore.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
Tags: Metro-North, commuters, commuter rail, New Haven Line, Susan Bigelow, dh
OP-ED | Where Does Common Sense Fit Into Common Core?
As we place more and more emphasis on computerized algorithms and Big Data to help us make Big Decisions, one question lingers: Where does common sense fit in?
The Hartford Courant’s Kathleen Megan recently reported that “new research shows that high school grades — not standardized tests — are a much better predictor of college performance” for current high school juniors.
William C. Hiss, the principal investigator of the study, explains that good grades come from “long-term discipline, attention to detail, and doing your homework” — precisely the qualities needed for success in college.
As one of my colleagues quipped after reading Megan’s article, “I am completely surprised . . . said no teacher, ever.”
Put another way, isn’t this simply old-fashioned common sense?
Maybe so, but the current craving for more standardized testing in public education indicates a definitive lack of common sense.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 initiated this frenzy by requiring annual tests of all students in grades 3 through 8, and once in high school. Individual states were left to choose how to test their students.
By 2010, the future of standardized testing in schools became more complex through President Obama’s “Race to the Top” program in concert with the new Common Core State Standards.
“These new tests will be an absolute game-changer in public education,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the time. “They’ll be better, smarter assessments — the kind of tests our teachers want and our students need.”
Indeed, these “better, smarter assessments” are not your run-of-the-mill “bubble tests.” Instead, they are “adaptive tests” that automatically change as a test taker provides answers.
“Computer-adaptive assessments,” explains an Education Week article, “rely on complex algorithms to feed students questions targeted to their individual skill levels based on their prior responses. The more questions a student gets right, the harder the subsequent questions will be.”
Scheduled for official implementation by 2015, these adaptive tests sound much more individualized than the traditional standardized assessments. What could be so bad about that?
Ask the folks in Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Oklahoma. Their initial foray last year into these new tests was hardly reassuring.
“Thousands of students experienced slow loading times of test questions, students were closed out of testing in mid-answer, and some were unable to log in to the tests,” according to another Education Week piece. “Hundreds, if not thousands, of tests may be invalidated.”
Moreover, one school official in Oklahoma termed the testing problems as “absolutely horrible, in terms of kids being anxious. It was heartbreaking to watch them. Some of them were almost in tears.”
Thankfully, states have another year to get the situation straightened out. In Connecticut, students this spring will be taking a field test — a “test of the test” — to help work out the kinks.
“The Field Test is a trial run of the assessment system that helps ensure the assessments are valid, reliable, and fair for all students,” according to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), the organization behind Common Core-aligned tests in 22 states.
“It also gives teachers and schools a chance to gauge their readiness in advance of the first operational assessment in spring 2015. Students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 — along with a small sample of students in grades 9 and 10 — will participate in the Field Test.”
For my school, that means three weeks of testing this spring — one each for 9th, 10th, and 11th graders — the results of which will be shared with neither the students nor the school. This spring’s test, after all, is testing the test, not the students.
College-bound juniors, no doubt, are thankful that their scores will count when they take the SAT around the same time they serve as guinea pigs for SBAC. You remember the SAT? It’s that other standardized test which research shows is a poor indicator of college performance.
Perhaps by next year, the algorithmically-enriched SBAC test will tell us if kids are — as the Common Core people would say — “college- and career-ready.”
Makes perfect sense to me — just not common sense.
Tags: Barth Keck, education, testing, common core, connecticut, dh
OP-ED | The Environmental Racism of Bridgeport’s Carnival of Corruption
If the window of government transparency in Connecticut has become foggy lately, in Bridgeport it’s turned into a funhouse mirror.
The latest to come from Mayor Bill Finch’s Carnival of Corruption was a vote Thursday evening to proceed with phase one of a deal to build a new Harding High School on 17.2 acres of a 78-acre brownfield site on Boston Avenue, currently owned by General Electric. This would enable Finch and his allies to sell the current Harding High site to Bridgeport Hospital.
According to federal law, a brownfield site refers to “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”
The aforementioned brownfield site is, according to a piece in the CT Post, “contaminated with lead, arsenic, petroleum hydrocarbons and volatile compounds.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers helpful information about School Siting Guidelines, and why they are so important:
“Children, particularly younger children, are uniquely at risk from environmental hazards. They eat, drink and breathe more in proportion to their body size than adults. In addition, environmental contaminants may affect children disproportionately because their immune, respiratory and other systems are not fully developed, and their growing organs are more easily harmed. This means they are more at risk for exposure to harmful chemicals found outside where they play and in the environment where they spend most of their time — school and home.”
As might be expected, parents and those representing the community have concerns — especially since most of the process for this deal (like so much of what goes on in Bridgeport) has taken place behind closed doors. Indeed, in the minutes from the Bridgeport School Building Committee meeting on Jan. 3, 2013, Finch Deputy Chief of Staff Ruben Felipe reports that GE asked the administration to keep their conversations confidential. Thus both the sunlight and the community were kept out. Helping to keep things under wraps was the fact that the School Building Committee failed to file their statutory notices with the town clerk’s office until February 2014, evidenced by this email from Frances Ortiz, assistant City Clerk.
There’s been some gob-smacking chicanery involved, because, let’s face it, this wouldn’t be Bridgeport if there weren’t.
A petition to the City of Bridgeport Planning and Zoning Commission was filed in the name of the City of Bridgeport Board of Education (File 13-74). It was signed on Dec. 3, 2013, by John Eberle of Stantec Consulting Services and on Dec. 18, 2013, by Marian Whiteman, executive counsel for Transactions & Brownfields at General Electric.
On Jan. 13, 2014, Sauda Baraka, chair of the Bridgeport Board of Education (in whose name the Planning Petition was apparently being made) wrote to Melville T. Riley, Jr. the acting chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, asking that the item not go forward with a public hearing for the application because the education board hadn’t voted to approve a site plan nor a special permit concerning that property. In what is a reflection of the incredibly sad state of affairs in Mayor Bill Finch’s Bridgeport, she was forced to ask the Planning Commission for copies of any application filed on the behalf of the Board of Education. How ridiculous is it that an elected Board of Education should have to ask another city body for copies of planning applications being filed in its name?
Probably as a result of Baraka’s letter, the planning application was withdrawn from the Jan. 13 meeting.
But by Jan. 16, the Finch administration was able to work magic with fairy dust — or White Out — and Lo! According to School Building Committee Chairman John Bagley, the exact same application with the exact same signatures (on the original you can see the correction fluid) and now guess what? It reads “City of Bridgeport School Building Committee”! Suggested new campaign slogan for Bill Finch: “If you can’t beat ‘em, erase them!”
On Jan. 16, Dennis Buckley, clerk for the Planning and Zoning Commission, sent notice to the magically created new applicant, the City of Bridgeport School Building Committee c/o consultant John Eberle, and informed him that the new hearing date would be Jan. 27.
The day before the Facilities Committee of the Bridgeport Board of Education was due to meet, Bagley sent a letter to Larry Schilling from O&G Industries, the program manager of the Bridgeport School Construction Program, detailing the history of the project:
“The history of this project illustrates the absence of community involvement and input in the decision making process. In an attempt to compensate slightly for this sad reality, I plan to set aside substantial time at the Feb. 11, 2014, meeting to hear from residents of the community and to illicit their ideas, input and concerns.”
Compare this to Mayor Finch’s description of what occurred in his Feb. 17, 2014, CT Post op-ed Bridgeport Needs A New Harding: “The committee chair allowed a small group of political operatives with ulterior motives to derail the process with innuendo and rhetoric and in some cases, completely inaccurate information.”
Mayor Finch needs to look in his funhouse mirror, particularly since prior to that meeting, the IBEW’s Peter Carroll (IBEW endorsed Finch) sent a flyer to members urging them to show up at the meeting and speak for the development. Who, exactly, were the “political operatives”?
It’s interesting that when we look at some of names that funded the ill-fated 2012 attempt to revise Bridgeport’s charter to give Mayor Finch the power to appoint the Board of Education, some familiar names pop up — like Bridgeport Hospital, for example.
It would make it so much easier for them all if these elected officials didn’t ask so many questions, wouldn’t it?
Environmental racism is defined as policy or practices that result in poor communities and residents of color experiencing the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards.
As Daniel Faber, Director of the Northeastern Environmental Justice Research Collaborative, Northeastern University explains:
“What you find in the United States is those communities with less political and economic power, with less resources, with less time and energy on the part of the residents to mobilize themselves and learn about the issues, that those are the communities that are most intentionally and most selectively victimized through the siting of ecologically hazardous facilities. In the sociological trade we refer to those communities as having lacking control capacity . . . they have less political and economic power; and the evidence is overwhelming that these are the communities that are targeted in the United States.”
It’s 2014 in Connecticut. We’re supposed to be better than this, aren’t we?
So parents of Bridgeport, the EPA offers a quick guide to Environmental Issues. Read it, and start asking questions. Ask your local paper why THEY haven’t been asking the same questions, rather than just reflecting the views of the monied and powerful.
Here are some other interesting reads about building schools on Brownfield sites:
A sobering lesson from New York City
As for the Finch Administration and its secretive allies — I suggest the EPA guide to “Meaningful Public Involvement” when choosing a school site: why it’s important and how one goes about building it. You’d think the mayor of a major municipality wouldn’t need such a guide, but the folks in Bridgeport apparently need a refresher course.
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.
Tags: Bill Finch, Sauda Baraka, General Electric, Harding HS, Bridgeport, Yale New Haven Bridgeport Hospital, Daniel Faber, Environmental Racism, John Bagley, Sarah Darer Littman, dh
OP-ED | Guess Why State Lawmakers Want To Expand the Bottle Law
Even as Gov. Dannel Malloy proposes some election-year generosity by giving us a $55 rebate courtesy of a newly found budget surplus, others are trying mightily to figure out how to take more money out of our wallets.
To wit, a bill that seeks to expand the list of containers subject to a five-cent deposit has cleared the General Assembly’s Environment Committee. Unfortunately, like the ugly legislation that approved Keno, the bill more properly belonged in the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee because I suspect increased tax revenue is what this is mostly about.
Sen. Edward Meyer, the environment panel’s co-chair, and ConnPIRG, a progressive public-interest group, last week presented a petition signed by 4,000 people touting the benefits of expanding the list from beer, soda pop and water to include juices, teas and sports drinks. Indeed, ConnPIRG representative Sean Doyle made it clear that his group would like to see the law cover any type of single-serving beverage, and perhaps even bottles of wine and liquor as well. Oh, and so that the poor don’t feel left out, ConnPIRG also wants to add the deposit to “nips,” those tiny bottles of booze favored by lower-income drinkers.
Now on the one hand, it does make sense to be fair about how we make consumers pay deposits for certain containers. Why pick on Pepsi and Bud drinkers and exempt those who enjoy Poland Spring or Perrier? The legislature solved that inequity by adding water bottles in 2009.
And I’ve often wondered, if we must have this deposit as an incentive to recycle or to deter littering, why other containers are also exempt. In the spirit of fairness, why shouldn’t we add not only wine, but pickle jars and laundry soap jugs as well? How about cereal boxes? Reams of office paper? They’re recyclable and, like bottles and cans, they also often wind up on the side of the road.
The problem with adding more items to the current deposit list is that retailers who must accept the used containers simply don’t want any more than they have now. And they seem unimpressed with ConnPIRG’s idea to boost their handling fee to three and half cents per container. Stan Sorkin, president of the Connecticut Food Association, told Meyer supermarkets currently “lose 2-to-4 cents on every bottle we handle.”
And, Sorkin added, the expansion of the deposits would surely raise prices for consumers. Some of the these proposed new containers might not fit into those grungy self-service machines, which would force retailers to make “major labor investments.”
Walk into any supermarket returnables room and you will see the challenges retailers face. Rows of shoppers feed bottles into noisy machines that crunch the containers into smaller sizes. The machines, which Sorkin charitably says “are difficult to keep clean,” sometimes break down and they must be must be emptied several times a day. The air in the returnables room is a cross between stale beer and flat Mountain Dew. Who knows what kinds of critters lurk behind the machines — or in them?
And if the goal is to encourage recycling, then how much of an incentive is five cents? I’m far from wealthy but I couldn’t be bothered with lugging the cans and bottles back to the store, and feeding them for several minutes into those putrid machines just to reclaim a couple of dollars.
But since I want to do the right thing, I do take them on my weekly trip to the Salisbury-Sharon Transfer Station and dump them along with the rest of my recyclables into the single-stream dumpster.
I’ve been doing that for at least 20 years. How much money have I pissed away? Well, you’d have to ask the state. They’re the ones who keep the deposits on the unreturned bottles and cans. And how much does that amount to each year? I could not find those numbers for Connecticut. But Massachusetts, which has about twice our population and also grabs 100 percent of unclaimed deposits, collected $33.5 million in 2011. For the state of Connecticut’s take, do the math.
Perhaps the best course of action would be to adopt single-stream recycling statewide and repeal the bottle-deposit law entirely, as the Connecticut Food Association has suggested. But if we must expand the law, it would only be fair to give retailers all or part of the loot from the state’s unclaimed deposits to compensate them for the added costs. The state doesn’t want to do that. Instead, ConnPIRG and the lawmakers want to increase the retailers’ handling fees, which are paid by the distributors.
Why? As my mentor always told me, “It’s easy to spend other people’s money.”
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com, is a former high-school English teacher who was an editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.
House Republican Chief of Staff Resigns Amid Federal Investigation
House Republican Chief of Staff George Gallo resigned after concluding that he is a person of interest in a federal investigation of the caucus’ campaign vendor mailings, which has seen subpoenas served at Republican offices in the Legislative Office Building.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero issued a written statement on the investigation and Gallo’s resignation Thursday afternoon a day after many GOP lawmakers were questioned by FBI agents.
“Yesterday the FBI came to the LOB to interview various members of our caucus relating to an inquiry into campaign vendor mailings,” Cafero said. “Our caucus is cooperating fully with the federal inquiry into House Republican activities.”
Cafero said Gallo resigned Thursday after offering his opinion that he is a person of interest in the feds’ investigation.
“As such, he indicated that he did not want to cause unwarranted distractions to the caucus that would take away from their legislative duties. For that reason, and for personal family considerations, he tendered his resignation and it was accepted, effective at midnight tonight,” Cafero said. “George has served as House Republican caucus honorably and with the highest level of professional standards since 2007. He will be missed.”
Gallo did not return calls for comment. Thomas Carson, spokesman for Connecticut’s U.S. Attorney Deidre Daly, declined comment Thursday on the investigation.
Cafero said that FBI agents asked that lawmakers “refrain from divulging the details to the investigation to the public and press” to the extent that they were aware of them. And lawmakers were hesitant to talk about it Thursday.
“They talked to a lot of people. So we’ll see,” Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, said.
Sources say federal investigators were asking about Direct Mail Systems of Clearwater, Florida, which handles the campaigns of several Republican lawmakers. Sources said they wanted to know if they were steered to the company, which is headed by Michael Milligan, a veteran Republican fundraiser.
Milligan did not return calls for comment.
Since 2008, Connecticut Republican candidates, Republican Town Committees, PACs, and the Republican House Campaign Committee have spent nearly $2 million with Direct Mail Systems, according to State Election Enforcement Commission filings.
Gallo, who headed the state Republican Party between 2005 and 2007, was in charge of running the House Republican caucus campaigns through the House Republican Campaign Committee apparatus. He owns a consulting company called Vinco Group, which was paid over the years by various Republican PACs.
The focus of the investigation is unclear, but former state Rep. Kevin Rennie was the first to report the presence of federal investigators in the state office building on his blog.
This isn’t the first time the House Republican caucus has found itself involved in a federal investigation. In June 2012, federal investigators informed Cafero that five straw donors contributed to Republican PACs.
Cafero promptly returned the checks. Then during the trial of Robert Braddock Jr., the finance director for former House Speaker Chris Donovan’s Congressional campaign, federal prosecutors showed undercover video of an informant attempting to put $5,000 in cash in his fridge in the Legislative Office Building after a meeting. Cafero was never charged by federal authorities.
Direct Mail Systems is one of a dozen national direct mail companies that does business in Connecticut.
Tom Foley, who is seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination, said he used the company briefly in 2010.
“They didn’t perform very well so we stopped using them,” he said Thursday.
Tags: George Gallo, direct mail, federal investigators, Lawrence Cafero, Legislative Office Building, mailings
Public Safety Tackles Keno Repeal, Mixed Martial Arts, & Movie Theater Noise Levels
The Public Safety Committee reached its deadline to raise bills Thursday, but not before raising proposals that could repeal keno, tweak last year’s mixed martial arts law, and regulate noise levels in movie theaters.
The panel had until Feb. 20 to raise concepts for action during this short legislative session and during their Thursday meeting they created a legislative vehicle to undo the legislature’s last-minute 2013 decision to legalize the bingo-style game, keno. At this stage the bills are only concepts without specific language.
That proposal comes in the wake of growing support from legislative leaders to stop implementation of the game. House Speaker Brendan Sharkey signaled Wednesday he wanted to repeal the law and Senate President Donald Williams suggested he was open to discussing the concept. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said keno was not his idea and has left the game’s future up to lawmakers.
Public Safety Co-Chairs Sen. Joan Hartley and Rep. Stephen Dargan were critical Thursday of the process that legalized the game in the first place. The concept never received a public hearing.
“We think it’s important to vet that process out because it seems like nobody’s taking ownership of it,” Dargan said. “... Where’d it come out of thin air? We don’t know who it came from.”
Hartley said keno was only discussed well after the Public Safety Committee’s deadline.
“Had it come earlier we would had the conversation we’re planning to have going forward,” she said.
Neither knew how much money has already been spent by the Connecticut Lottery Corporation on implementing keno.
Anne Noble, president and CEO of the Connecticut Lottery Corporation, said Thursday that her organization has spent about $53,000 in developing the game of keno. She said they’ve been largely in a “holding pattern” until they receive the agreement the state needed to ink with the two tribal run casinos.
According to the Office of Policy and Management the revenue sharing agreement has been sent to the tribes and they are waiting for it to be returned by at least one tribe.
Mixed Martial Arts
The committee also raised a bill to take a second look at mixed martial arts. Following several failed proposals, the legislature voted in 2013 to legalize the popular, but violent sport that includes elements of wrestling, boxing, and karate.
However, although he allowed the bill to see a floor vote in the Senate, Williams opposed the sport and ushered the passage of another bill that makes anyone who hires someone to fight in an MMA match liable for the fighter’s health care costs relating to injuries sustained during the match.
Williams said he felt that asking promoters to foot the bill for injuries sustained by participants was “the least we can ask of these folks.”
“This is a sport where the ultimate goal is not about scoring touchdowns or shooting baskets or shooting goals, it’s about whaling away on another person, hitting them and kicking them repeatedly. That is what the sport is about. I think it’s reasonable to assume there will be injuries,” he said.
Hartley said the committee’s Vice Chairman Sen. Andres Ayala, D-Bridgeport, asked that the panel raise a bill bringing MMA’s liability policies more in line with liability policies in boxing.
“The mixed martial arts folks are saying that we now have the statute accepted as functionally un-operable because of this part of it and therefore we won’t get any events,” Hartley said.
Noise Levels in Movie Theaters
Although there is no language yet for this proposal, it would place a limit on the maximum decibel levels at the state’s movie theaters.
“I have to tell you, I sit in the theater when I go with my kids and I go like this,” Hartley said, sticking her fingers in her ears.
Consolidation of State Police Dispatch Centers
Dargan and Hartley said they met with Dora B. Schriro, the new commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection, on her agency’s ongoing controversial merger of state police dispatch centers throughout the state. The process was begun under Schriro’s predecessor Reuben Bradford but is essentially on hold as she assesses the issue.
“We’re going to have a conversation,” Hartley said. “First and foremost it’s about public safety. Was the first approach working and do we need to refine this to make sure we’re providing stable public safety.”
No Gun Proposals
The committee does not plan on raising or acting on any proposals related to gun control, the chairs said.
“Nobody was really looking to do any gun-related bill this legislative session,” Dargan said. “And there was a number of them.”
Many of those proposals related to last year’s sweeping gun control law, either re-opening the registration period for now-banned rifles or repealing the law altogether. The committee opted not to take up the topic this year.
“It’s a short session and that’s a long conversation,” Hartley said.
Tags: keno, MMA, mixed martial arts, guns, movie theaters, public safety, dispatch
Probation Officers Seek To Keep Personal Information From Inmates
Probation officers asked lawmakers Wednesday to consider preventing the release of their employment records to people who are under court supervision or incarcerated in the state’s prisons.
Several officers testified at a hearing of the Government Administration and Elections Committee, which has raised a bill that would add an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act for probation officers, shielding their personnel and medical records from inmates and people under court supervision.
Sara Basford, a probation officer working out of the Judicial Branch’s Danbury office, told the committee that an inmate obtained her personnel records in 2012. She said her former home address—where her mother still resides—was released along with her records as well as enough information to piece together her Social Security number.
“Information about me from my personnel file was sent to an inmate. A year later I began receiving love letters from an inmate being held in the same correctional facility as the inmate that requested my information,” she said.
She attached a copy of the inmate’s love letter with the written testimony she submitted to lawmakers.
Basford, who previously worked as a correction officer, asked that the legislature pass a policy similar to the one that prevents inmates from using the public disclosure law to obtain information on correction employees.
“[Probation officers] deal with the exact same people after they’re released,” she said. “... I have close contact with offenders and have been harassed by inmates simply because I have done my job as a probation officer.”
Both the Freedom of Information Commission and the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut oppose the legislation.
Andrew Schneider, Connecticut ACLU’s executive director, said his group also opposed the exemption for correction officers.
Schneider pointed to a 1996 case involving Richard Straub, a probation officer who was convicted of sexual assaulting young men under his supervision. Schneider said police searched judicial offices and found records suggesting that co-workers suspected Straub was abusing teenagers and had reported him to supervisors.
“These are the very kinds of documents the bill seeks to conceal. The very documents the victims could have used to get help,” he said. “I remind you of this horrific story because it shows why an individual under the supervision of a probation officer, or in prison for violating probation, could have a legitimate and indeed crucial interest in such documents.”
Lawmakers on the committee seemed interested in taking up the issue this legislative session. Sen. Anthony Musto, co-chairman of the committee, asked Marshall Segar, a lawyer representing the Judicial Professional Employees Union, whether his group would be open to an alternate proposal which makes certain personal information exempt from release but still allows job-related information to be disclosed.
Although probation officers are seeking to have their files sealed from people currently under their supervision, Segar said his group was willing to work on a compromise.
“We do not seek to encroach or infringe upon FOI other than to provide protections for public safety professionals like probation officers. If we can agree on restricting information to job-performance appraisals, work-related documents, we do not have a problem with that,” he said.
The disclosure restrictions included in the bill would apply only until the inmates are no longer incarcerated or and are no longer on probation.
“Once they’ve served their debt to society their full rights as citizens are restored,” Segar said.
OP-ED | Balancing Act
The strong, specific recommendations of the Connecticut Task Force on Victim Privacy & The Public’s Right to Know have now been submitted to the legislative leadership. The votes for them were overwhelmingly affirmative, no less than 14-3 in a group where many observers thought the split would likely, at best, be 9-8.
Intense negotiations took place over many weeks. Indeed a true spirit of compromise between the side for more openness in government and the side for more consideration to victims families was required to produce these recommendations. They represent the best that both sides could achieve through mutual agreement. As such, they also represent the best hope for a more broadly acceptable public policy than the one so strongly criticized when the Freedom of Information Act was amended last year.
At that time, in reaction to a false rumor of the imminent release of horrifying images and sounds from the Sandy Hook school massacre, legislative leaders truncated the normal process for passing legislation so as to get exemptions on the books before the legislative session ended.That law is in effect today. Yet, tactfully that same law also created the task force whose recommendations for revisions to it are now presented for formal review. One must assume that leaders—more time for proper consideration being available—will assign the recommendations to the appropriate legislative committees. Public hearings should be scheduled. Members of the task force, expert witnesses, victim family members, and the general public should all have an opportunity to be heard. And there should be debate among legislative committee members too, all aimed at improving the 2013 law.
To be clear, the task force’s recommendations with regard to visual and audible homicide evidence apply solely to materials initiated by or collected within Connecticut by state and municipal law enforcement. We do not address, nor should we have addressed, materials created or collected independently by the citizenry at large. Whatever one may think of the propriety of publication or distribution of such materials, clearly, under the First Amendment, they are subject only to the judgment of the person or persons who created them. Our recommendations do not apply in any way to the First Amendment rights of any citizen.
For myself, I am most pleased that overwhelmingly the task force’s recommendations reaffirm the public’s right to inspect and review all official documents and materials, both audible and visual, associated with homicides. Working journalists on the task force voted for these recommendations despite the proposed necessity for material review to take place within the custodial agency. The prudent conditions we accept do not diminish our emphasis on maintaining the principle of full public availability. Indeed, we provide a prospective framework to allow the public access without the risk of the release and subsequent dissemination of horrifying photos and videos.
Several of us would, I am sure, have preferred a simpler means by which to gain access to these otherwise public materials. However, mindful of the certain public revulsion from the gruesome nature of some materials, particularly those from the scenes of multiple homicides, a large majority of the task force came to believe that guaranteed public access, albeit without immediate general distribution, is preferable to no public access at all, which is what the 2013 law provides. Within the recommendations we also foresee the need to protect against potential governmental misdeeds by inserting a reasonable appeal process. This could provide full public release through the already existing law and, if necessary, the courts.
Adopting the task force recommendations into law this year should again place Connecticut at the forefront among the states in providing guaranteed public access, even in the matter of heinous murder, to official documents, photos, and videos.
Implicit in our mission from the legislature last year was a plea for us to consider what had been passed in haste and to recommend any remedies we found appropriate. We worked for six months, held numerous public meetings, and several public hearings. We debated among ourselves frequently and sometimes heatedly. At the end a super majority of a most diverse and opinionated task force agreed it is possible to balance victim privacy and the public’s right to know and to do so in a way that protects both.
Don DeCesare was the co-chairman of the Connecticut Task Force on Victim Privacy & The Public’s Right to Know.
Tags: Don DeCesare, Right to Know, FOIA, Sandy Hook, task force
For Malloy, Town Halls Are Practice For The Campaign
NORWALK — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s town hall meeting in Norwalk was somewhat similar to dozens he’s held in past years, but Wednesday’s was different.
The formula was the same, but the stakes were much higher. The first-term governor isn’t expected to announce his re-election campaign until after May 7, the end of the legislative session, but there’s little doubt among Democrats that he’s going to run.
Wednesday’s town hall followed a familiar script. Malloy offered about five-minutes of opening comments regarding his budget proposal and he spoke about what he had to overcome when he took office.
“I don’t have a lot to pre-load or to start with,” Malloy said. “We collectively are doing the best we can. We collectively are dealing with a long period of time in which the state of Connecticut didn’t make some of the changes that it needed to make.”
He reminded the more than 100 who attended that Connecticut had the largest per capita deficit of any state in the nation in 2011.
“That’s going from a $3.6 billion deficit to what should be a $500 million surplus,” Malloy said to a round of applause. “The day I was sworn in all of the money in the rainy day fund had been spent down to zero.”
He said if the state is going to end this year with a surplus he wants to give $155 million of that back to taxpayers, use $250 million to boost the rainy day fund, and contribute an additional $100 million to the state employee pension plan.
Another part of the familiar town hall script involves Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman playing the role of Vanna White holding the microphone for the members of the public to question the governor. She assumed the role Wednesday and comforted those who were nervous while gently ushering the overly eager speakers away from the microphone at the appropriate time.
What was different perhaps than in years past is the presence of the executive director of the Connecticut Democratic Party, a party spokesman, and a video tracker.
James Hallinan, a spokesman for the party, declined to comment on the use of the video tracker. None of the video they captured would be allowed to be used in Malloy’s re-election campaign.
“We’re not going to comment on strategy like that,” Hallinan said.
As for the public, the comments and questions varied from a woman who runs a nursing facility that’s struggling to a woman who wanted Malloy to support a legislative proposal that would give adopted children access to their medical records.
Then there were those like Carmen Sargent of SEIU 32 BJ, a union representing janitors and cleaners, who praised Malloy’s budget and policies.
“As nice as you were, you probably just got me in trouble,” Malloy told Sargent, who the party said was not a “plant.”
Then there was Bob MacGuffie of Right Principles. MacGuffie is a member of the Tea Party, and was upset with Malloy’s comments at a Democratic fundraising dinner in September.
Malloy described the Republicans in Washington as the “barbarians at the wall” in his keynote speech.
MacGuffie was offended. “I’m a Tea Party activist. We don’t like being lied to and we don’t like being lied about,” MacGuffie said.
He said Malloy needs to stop “ridiculing” hundreds of thousands of residents who simply want Malloy to “change the trajectory” of spending.
“You ridicule us while Connecticut is ranked as the worst run state in the nation by Barron’s,” MacGuffie said.
Malloy let him finish before responding. He encouraged MacGuffie to look at the chart and calculate the spending growth of the state budget during his administration. Malloy claims he’s kept it to 2.8 percent.
Malloy went on to ask MacGuffie to calculate how much his administration has lowered the state’s long-term debt verses how much it grew under the past two administrations. He said he thinks the two can find agreement in that area. Where they won’t agree is on issues like health care.
“I happen to believe that citizens need to have insurance, that no person should fail to get a mammogram because they can’t afford it,” Malloy said.
The comment got applause. MacGuffie, referring to Junior Sierra, an undocumented student struggling to afford college, said he thinks he should have his college paid for “but it’s never going to happen.”
Malloy told Sierra, who won a scholarship to Quinnipiac University that he won’t be able to use because he doesn’t qualify for financial aid, that he would look into what he could do about creating unrestricted “governor’s scholarships.”
Connecticut already offers in-state tuition rates to undocumented students, but those students don’t qualify for federal financial aid which still puts higher education out of reach for many. Ultimately, the immigration issue has to be handled by Congress, Malloy said.
Tags: Malloy, town hall forum, Norwalk, Democrat, Tea Party, SEIU 32 BJ, dh
Consumers Give PURA Commissioner An Earful About Ballooning Rates
MILFORD — Gail Uberti likely summed up the feelings of the more than 75 people who packed City Hall to voice their displeasure Wednesday night over soaring utility bills.
“I feel held hostage by the power company,” Uberti testified to Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) Commissioner Michael Caron. “This hostage is hoping you will do something for me.”
Uberti, of Milford, and dozens like her, shared their horror stories over their utility bills, in particular singling out North American Power, which is one of the suppliers available in the state’s electricity exchange. People testified to Caron that their energy rates have been skyrocketing, and they are paying more than ever for energy consumption.
PURA announced on Friday it has “opened a docket” to look into complaints from consumers and had scheduled five public hearings around Connecticut to learn about consumers’ experiences with electricity suppliers. Wednesday’s hearing in Milford was the first of the five.
Office of Consumer Counsel Elin Swanson Katz has said her office has received many complaints about skyrocketing electric rates from people who “felt they were taken advantage of.” Katz pledged that PURA is performing a thorough investigation.
Caron said Wednesday night that the number of complaints has more than doubled from a year ago. He said his staff sometimes has difficulty keeping up with the sheer volume of complaints.
Kristie Lee, of Meriden, who works in New Haven, said she attended Wednesday’s hearing because she has been “hurt” by North American Power since selecting the company as her provider through the exchange. She said that her seemingly low fixed rate of 7.99 cents per kWh suddenly almost tripled to 20 cents per kWh.
Lee said her utility bill jumped from $50 a month to $300. She said she had a fixed contract that should have lasted her through March, and she has since filed a complaint with the State Attorney General’s office.
Karin Ascue, of Bridgeport, said she purchased electricity from a new supplier on the exchange and what started out initially as a good deal, quickly turned into a nightmare.
“My bill was $250 and then it went to $500 and now it’s $705,” Ascue said.
The company’s explanation was that it had to charge more in the winter time, she said.
“This is my mom’s electric bill,” Ascue said. “She can’t afford it. It’s outrageous.”
Dorothy Kosiewicz, of Milford, said she attended the hearing Wednesday because she’s heard the horror stories. She purchased electricity from Dominion Virginia Power, and her experience thus far as been good.
“I wanted to learn how they go about it,” Kosiewicz said. “Why can’t United Illuminating just give us the best rate? If UI is so big why can’t they purchase it for less?”
Cynthia Fox, of Milford, said her bill is “outrageous.” She purchased power through North American Power and the rates have since doubled. She is most angered that the company only told her rates could vary after she signed the initial contract.
Caron, who spoke before the hearing, said he was very pleased with the turnout. He said Wednesday’s forum was akin to a court hearing as everyone was sworn in.
Because the case is pending, Caron said he couldn’t comment on specifics. But he said PURA will look to determine if anything illegal occurred. He said PURA also will examine the kinds of contracts discount power providers are using to sign new customers.
William Soisson, of Stratford, said he’s been calling North American Power since September because he says he’s been consistently overcharged. He said each time the company admitted they made a mistake, but in December representatives stopped returning his phone calls and emails.
“I’m unhappy because I’ve been overcharged $68 in the past four months,” Soisson said.
Alan Natale, of Milford, said North American Power tripled his rates, which were supposed to be fixed. His bill increased from $241 to $498 a month. Changing providers will take one to two months, and he said he simply can’t afford to continue to pay those high rates.
“This is very concerning to me,” Natale said, adding that he received a flyer from North American Power today offering a low rate.
“It’s just not fair,” Natale said.
Tom Young, of Stamford, produced a $1,029 utility bill from North American Power.
“As of Monday, they are no longer my supplier,” Young testified, adding that Connecticut Light & Power Co. should be able to bid for power as well as any other company. “It’s crazy to have half the industry regulated and not the other half.”
Alan Parcells, of Madison, bluntly told Caron that he feels like the “victim of a scam.” Starion Energy almost tripled his rates and his utility bill more than doubled from $162 to $382 a month.
“They told me I can’t get out of my contract for another three months. They offered me a fixed rate . . . and told me I could terminate the contract after three months by paying a $100 termination fee.”
Reached Wednesday night about the complaints voiced at the hearing, North American Power Spokeswoman Tiffany Eddy emailed the following statement:
“North American Power is committed to providing an exceptional customer experience, which includes ensuring that our customers that have signed up for one of our fixed rates receive that rate for the specified fixed term. While instances of a customer receiving the incorrect rate are rare, when it does happen we do our best to correct the error with the customer, and work to prevent similar errors in the future.”
Meanwhile, the General Assembly has already been hearing from consumers. State Sen. President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, and State House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, have proposed several ways of making the process more transparent by requiring more disclosure by the suppliers.
Williams and Sharkey are seeking to require additional, prominently printed information on electric bills, including notification of rate increases, date of auto-renewal and any cancellation fees.
The two Democratic caucus leaders are seeking to print standard offer rates on every bill next to the applicable private supplier rate, and to require online bills to display the same information as is required on printed bills.
The also want PURA to establish an online marketplace where customers can more easily compare all private electric supplier offers and purchase directly through the marketplace. Currently, rate comparison information is already available at the ctenergyinfo.com website: www.ctenergyinfo.com/compare-energy-suppliers
Charles Walters, of Hamden, said he believes the process is backward.
“When UI raises its rates we are informed but these companies, we have little information about them,” Walters said, adding that he doesn’t understand why the new suppliers don’t report to PURA.
Additional hearings are scheduled:
Tonight (THURSDAY), 6:30 p.m. at the Farmington Community Senior Center, 321 New Britain Ave., Unionville
Monday, Feb. 24, 6:30 p.m. in Room 135, Brookfield Town Hall, 100 Pocono Road, Brookfield
Tuesday, Feb. 25, 6:30 p.m. in the Norwich City Hall, 100 Broadway, Norwich
Thursday, Feb. 27, 6:30 p.m. in the City Hall Building, Veterans Memorial Hall – 2nd Floor, 235 Grand St., Waterbury.
Brian McCready spent most of his career at the New Haven Register and is now editor and publisher of Milford-Now.com.
Tags: electricity, exchange, rate hikes, consumer complaints, PURA, Office of Consumer Counsel, North American Power, Brian McCready, dh
Advocates Hope This Is The Year For Social Financing
Government budgets may be shrinking and demand for social services may be growing, but a group of investors and advocates believe they’ve come up with an answer that addresses some of society’s problems and doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime.
They’re called social impact bonds.
The first Connecticut agency to take advantage of the bonds is the Department of Children and Families. Last week, the DCF released a request for proposal to provide “cost-effective services for families involved or at risk of becoming involved in the child protection services system and who are impacted by substance use.”
DCF is working with the Harvard Kennedy School Social Impact Bond Technical Assistance Lab to find investors for the project that will help prevent parents with substance abuse problems from losing their children. By avoiding the cost of a child entering the system, the state saves money and investors will see a return on their investment if that goal is achieved.
“The government commits to paying back investors if outcome targets are achieved based on an independent evaluation. If targets are not met, then the investors do not get repaid,” according to a DCF press release.
DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said the social impact bonds will “enable government to expand services for children and families” and “advances knowledge about how to best serve vulnerable populations.”
The model requires that these programs have measurable results.
“Just as important in our current fiscal climate, they ensure that taxpayer dollars pay only for services that work,” Katz said.
The Human Services Committee will hold a public hearing Thursday on a bill that would create an account the state could use in order to pay out these private investors for making these types of investments. Similar legislation died last year on the Senate calendar, despite a total lack of opposition to the bill on either the Human Services or Appropriations Committee.
New York and Massachusetts are among more than a dozen states that have passed social impact bond legislation.
Prior to the public hearing on the bill, a group of experts on the topic of social financing will gather at the Legislative Office Building at 10 a.m. in room 1C. The list of speakers includes Dr. Jeffrey Liebeman from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Janis Dubno of Voices for Utah Children, and Kristin Misner, who helps run the social impact bond program for juvenile offenders at Riker’s Island in New York.
The public hearing begins at 11:30 a.m. in room 2A of the Legislative Office Building.
Tags: social impact bond, social financing, DCF, Joette Katz, dh
Daycare Workers Ratify 12 Percent Pay Hike Over 4 Years
A new union of home daycare workers has voted to ratify a negotiated contract with the state that includes four years of pay raises.
The union includes about 4,100 home daycare providers whose pay is subsidized by the government’s Care 4 Kids program, which helps pay child care expenses for low- and moderate-income families. They were one of two groups of workers who unionized under a process begun by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in 2011 and completed by legislative action in 2012.
Last month SEA/SEIU LOCAL 2001 announced it had reached an agreement with the Malloy administration that represented the first pay increase that child care workers paid under the Care 4 Kids program have received in 12 years.
Under the contract, licensed daycare workers will see their general rates increase 12 percent over four years. The pay of unlicensed workers will rise based on the recent hike in the minimum wage.
According to a press release from the union, workers have ratified the agreement in a near-unanimous vote.
“This transformational contract is not only good for the providers and the children they serve, but for the taxpayers who will now see children ready to learn when they head off to school,” Patrice Peterson, CSEA president, said in a statement.
The contract will now go before the legislature for approval. When it’s in place, the contract will be effective from July 2013 to June 30, 2017.
Sharkey Adds Name To Growing List of Lawmakers Who Want To Repeal Keno
(Updated 3:45 p.m.) House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, is just the latest legislator to add his name to a list in favor of repealing keno.
Sharkey announced his opposition to keno at the annual conference of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns in Cromwell on Wednesday. Sharkey told the group of local officials that keno revenue is no longer needed to sustain a balanced state budget, and since the electronic lottery-type game has yet to be implemented, repeal now is appropriate.
“Keno was a late addition to the budget last year as a way to help fill a budget hole, but now the revenue is not needed so I don’t see a reason to go forward with it, particularly when it hasn’t even started,” Sharkey said. “There was never really a groundswell of support for keno, it was simply a revenue option that was put on the table during budget negotiations at the time and was acceptable to the governor.”
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney have both called for repeal and Sen. Andrea Stillman, a Democrat from Waterford, introduced a bill earlier this month seeking to repeal the game, which is often referred to as the “crack cocaine” of gambling.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said last week that keno wasn’t his idea and he didn’t have an opinion on whether it should be repealed.
“The legislature’s got a job to do,” Malloy said. “This was not done by me.”
Keno was brought to the state budget negotiation table after lawmakers killed Malloy’s plans to sell consumers’ electric bills to the highest bidder.
When it comes to keno, Malloy said his administration would do whatever it’s asked to do by the legislature.
“I will point out that keno is ubiquitous and is frequently run by lottery corporations in other states, but that’s a political decision,” Malloy said. “But I’m not a person who proposed keno.”
He said there seems to be agreement between the state and the tribes regarding revenue-sharing, but it still has to be formalized by at least one of the tribes.
Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, has said expanding gambling was not “ideal,” but it was necessary in order to balance the budget last year. Asked earlier this month if it would be something he would look to get rid of, Williams said the state needs a “reliable revenue stream.”
But on Wednesday, Williams said, “because of Connecticut’s improving fiscal outlook, we can now begin to have a conversation about budget options.”
“I think that it’s well known that I’ve have never been a supporter of Keno and I share many of the concerns first raised by Senator Stillman and now Speaker Sharkey,” Williams said. “I look forward to discussing this, as the session progresses, with the members of my caucus.”
McKinney applauded Sharkey’s pronouncement Wednesday.
“It is not surprising that the governor and speaker had a change of heart shortly after a political poll found that the vast majority of Connecticut residents oppose their plan,” McKinney said. “But, regardless of their motivation, it is in Connecticut’s best interest to stop keno.”
A Quinnipiac University poll in June found that 59 percent of voters oppose keno.
Lawmakers left it up to the Connecticut Lottery Corporation to establish the game. It’s unclear how much the Connecticut Lottery Corporation has spent on that effort. In September, it had planned to spend $5.4 million on game development.
Under the legislation, the Office of Policy and Management was in charge of negotiating with the two Indian tribes. As of Wednesday, it had a draft agreement awaiting the approval of the two tribes, which have a say over gambling in the state. Each tribe would each get a 12.5 percent cut of keno revenue, according to the state budget passed last June.
The two-year budget estimated that the state would raise about $31 million by the end of fiscal year 2015 in keno revenue, but the Office of Policy and Management said earlier this month that those estimates have dropped to $13.5 million based on the state’s ability to get the game up and running.
Tags: keno, gambling, revenue, Brendan Sharkey, Donald Williams, tribes, dh
Senate President Writes Book About State Heroine
Senate President Donald Williams was more than prepared for his remarks at a Wednesday ceremony commemorating Connecticut’s state heroine, Prudence Crandall. He has spent the last six years writing a book about the national legal impacts of her case.
Crandall, a 19th century school teacher, is considered a civil rights hero for her efforts to run an integrated school in the 1830s. She was jailed for refusing to comply with a law passed by the Connecticut legislature in 1833 known as the “Black Law.”
Williams’ book focuses on the far-reaching legal ramifications of her case. He told a small crowd at a commemoration ceremony at the state Capitol Wednesday that the 14th Amendment, which includes the right to equal protection, has its legal roots in the arguments made by Crandall’s lawyers.
After the ceremony, Williams said he has been researching the issue in his spare time for the last six years and has written a book that will be published by Wesleyan University in June. When he started researching the topic, Williams said he was surprised to find how much more there is to Crandall’s story beyond what he initially knew.
“Here’s this law review article from 1950 and the first paragraph he says the genesis for the 14th Amendment can be found in the arguments presented by the attorneys for Prudence Crandall in Crandall v. State — I mean the hair on the back of my neck stood up,” he said.
Williams’ legislative district includes the Prudence Crandall Museum in Canterbury, the town where Crandall once ran her school. He said he visited the museum for the first time after he was elected to represent the district.
“When I listened to the story, I thought ‘This speaks to us today. The lessons that can be learned from this story are not frozen in time in the 1830s.’ The whole issue of race and equal rights is still so alive,” he said.
The book will be called “Prudence Crandall’s Legacy: The Fight For Equality In the 1830s, Dred Scott and Brown v. Board of Education.” He said the text is about 400 pages long and that’s after he cut about 40,000 words from earlier drafts.
“I put down so much over the last six years and I learned so much,” he said.
Tags: prudence crandall, connecticut, civil rights, donald williams, book, 14th Amendment, integration, schools, education, dh
Connecticut Lawmakers Push Back Against Medicare Advantage Terminations
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., is working to reverse a decision in which UnitedHealthcare terminated more than 2,200 physicians across the state from its AARP Medicare Advantage network, a move that could impact up to 30,000 patients.
The practitioners include physicians from Hartford and Fairfield counties, who went to federal court to get an injunction to halt the terminations, as well as 1,200 specialists in the Yale Medical Group.
The latest problem for Greater New Haven is the lack of an agreement between the Yale-New Haven Health System and UnitedHealthcare over inclusion of Yale-New Haven Hospital in the network of hospitals available to UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage clients.
Click here to continue reading Mary O’Leary’s report.
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Labor Spars With Businesses Over Low Wage Worker Bill
Labor advocates and business associations disagreed Tuesday over a proposal to fine large employers if they do not pay their employees at a least a standard wage.
Progressive groups and labor advocates are billing the proposal as an effort to “hold large corporations accountable for low wages.” The legislation would fine employers with more than 500 workers $1 per hour for any workers who are not being paid a standard wage in addition to health care benefits or a 30 percent pay differential. The standard wage is calculated by the federal government by geographic area and occupation.
While announcing the bill, advocates targeted employers who pay their workers low wages. They argue that by not paying their employees better and offering them adequate benefits, large companies are passing costs on to taxpayers who foot the bill when those low wage workers receive state assistance.
Under the bill businesses, would have the option of either raising wages or paying the fees to help offset what their employees cost the state in subsidies, Tom Swan, executive director of the Connecticut Citizens Action Group, said at a Tuesday press conference.
“We just think the employers, if they’re going to pay their employees such a low wage that they’re eligible for these [programs], should be paying their fair share to help offset the costs instead of relying on the rest of us,” Swan said.
However, by citing the standard wage, business associations say labor advocates have proposed legislation that will impact far more than what is traditionally considered “low wage” employers. That’s because standard wage rates exist for every hourly occupation in the state—even those you might consider good paying jobs.
That means if the state’s utility companies or large manufacturers have some hourly employees who are working for less than what the standard wage rate is for their occupation, those businesses will either have to suddenly give those employees raises or get hit with a potentially hefty fine, Eric Gjede, an assistant counsel with the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, said.
“This bill dictates directly to employers the exact pay and wages they have to pay their employee. What is that going to tell businesses about Connecticut being a place to do business,” he said.
Paul Filson, political director of the Service Employees International Union, said the current language of the bill is not what advocates intended when they proposed the concept.
Instead, he said they were looking to impact only employers who are paying their workers less than the lowest standard wage rate in the state, which works out to about $11.31 an hour when the benefit differential is added. Basically, labor advocates want the minimum wage rate for large companies raised to $11.31 or impose penalties on them.
The bill comes as the state legislature is considering a proposal by the governor to raise the minimum wage for the second time in two years. If passed, the law would require that Connecticut workers be paid at least $10.10 per hour by 2017.
Several workers spoke at the press conference Tuesday and planned to testify at a public hearing of the Labor Committee later that day. Tina Conners, a 21 year-old McDonald’s employee, said it has been difficult to get by on the wages she earns and she often can not get enough hours. She said minimum wage is not enough to survive on.
“I’m currently living out of my car between Manchester and East Hartford because I can’t afford a place of my own. Most of my money goes to paying for gas to get to work or to stay warm on these cold winter nights,” she said. “Generally, I can only afford to eat McDonalds and some days I go without eating at all.”
The standard wage for fast food workers in the Hartford area like Conners is currently the minimum wage, according to the Labor Department, but the bill would fine her employer unless she was offered benefits or paid more money to buy them herself.
The law would be the first of its kind. The state of Maryland passed a similar concept that was more specifically aimed at the large retailer Walmart. That law was struck down by a federal court judge in 2006.
Advocates are hoping the proposal raised by the legislature’s Labor Committee will avoid the same pitfalls by applying to a wider group of employers. The bill does include exemptions for nonprofit employers as well as part time, seasonal workers.
Tim Phelan, president of the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association, said the proposal seemed aimed his industry, which he said makes up for one out of every five jobs in the state.
“It would send a fairly chilling message that our contributions to the community and economy aren’t being appreciated,” he said.
In addition to the direct impact on retailers, Phelan said the bill would also hurt their businesses indirectly.
“Bills like this are introduced if other businesses decide Connecticut’s not a good place to do business, that harms us if they don’t want to do business here,” he said. “We depend on a vibrant Connecticut economy. We need people with disposable incomes.”
Tags: labor, low wage workers, cbia, tim phelan, seiu
McKinney Challenges Republicans To Ambitious Debate Schedule
Sen. Senate Minority Leader John McKinney challenged his fellow Republican gubernatorial candidates to a series of 10 debates before the May 17 nominating convention.
“Connecticut Republicans deserve the opportunity to ask questions and hear first-hand from the candidates they will choose between for the Republican nomination,” McKinney said. “The nomination should not be decided by 30-second television ads, three sentence sound bites, and glossy oversized mail pieces.”
The number is ambitious, especially in the middle of a legislative session.
But Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, one of the four Republican candidates, said he’s up for 20 debates.
“Make it 20. I’m in,” Boughton said.
CT Residents Can Now Register To Vote Online
State officials launched a new website Tuesday that allows Connecticut residents, with a valid driver’s license, to register to vote online.
“It is all of our jobs to help make it easier for people to register to vote and increase our access to democracy,” Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said at a Capitol press conference announcing the launch of the new site.
There are an estimated 200,000 Connecticut residents with driver’s licenses who are not registered to vote, Merrill said.
The new system created by PCC Technology of Bloomfield will check the information the voter enters into the system against their signature on file with the Department of Motor Vehicles. The registration then gets sent to the local registrar of voters, who needs to accept it and verify it before a voter is certified to vote in a specific municipality.
Melissa Russell, president of the Registrar of Voters Association in Connecticut, said getting to Hartford from Bethlehem in the snow was more difficult than gathering the online registration information. She said the new system sends her an email confirmation that she verifies. She then sends a letter to the voter to let them know their registration was accepted.
Joe Singh of PCC Technology said the system is safe and secure. He said his company has built similar systems for about 11 states and has never had a problem. The website cost the state $330,000.
But Merrill stressed that it’s more than an online system because it relies on verification by local election officials.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who won a first term in 2010 by 6,404 votes, knows more than most that every vote counts.
Malloy has not said whether he will seek re-election, but he was happy to pose for pictures with the two young college students changing their voter registration as part of Tuesday’s demonstration. When part of the online registration of Lisette Rodriguez was blocked from a projection screen to protect her personal information, Malloy joked that he wanted to see her party affiliation.
Connecticut does not allow online voting, but it does allow a person to register to vote and vote on the same day. An estimated 2,900 voters took advantage of Election Day Registration in the 2013 municipal election last November. But since Merrill does not certify local election results, it’s still unclear exactly how many voters may have used that option to vote.
Still, one day after the November election, Malloy and Merrill were touting Election Day Registration as a success.
“The results coming in sometimes come by police car,” Merrill said. “We still have a long way to go in terms of our results reporting.”
She said the online voter registration will help create more accurate lists. Election result reporting has been a little bit more of a tough sell to local election officials, who have complained about the technology and having to enter the information into the system along with several paper forms required by the state. Reporting election results online is still completely voluntary for local election officials even though the state is trying to encourage its use.
For state and federal elections, Merrill said they will field test their election results reporting system in 2014.
“It takes a long time to break habits in Connecticut,” Merrill said.
The online voter registration system is the second step in a package of election reforms approved in 2012. The first was Election Day Registration.
Tags: pcc technology group, Denise Merrill, Election Day Registration, online registration, democracy, Registrar of Voters, Melissa Russell, dh
OP-ED | Behind the CMT Wizard’s Curtain
Connecticut’s standardized testing system ranks and labels public school students, schools, and districts in a way that purports to both evaluate student performance and identify students’ academic strengths and weaknesses. However, behind the Wizard’s curtain lie a lot of flying monkeys – flawed calculations that do very little to identify which skills students have and which they need to improve.
Consider the 2013 Connecticut Mastery Test, which was administered to all public school students in grades 3 through 8 in mathematics, reading, and writing. To simplify the discussion, consider only the most general case – students who took a common grade-level form of just these three tests, with no accommodations or exclusions.
Step 1. Translate each individual score into a scaled score of Advanced/Goal (100 points), Proficient (67 points), Basic (33 points), or Below Basic (0 points).
Step 2. Average all three scores to create an Individual Performance Index (Student IPI).
Step 3. Average all Student IPIs in a school to create a School Performance Index (SPI). Use the SPI, among other “indicators,” to label a school as Excelling, Progressing, Transitioning, Review, or Turnaround, not to mention a School of Distinction or a Focus school. And apply these fudge factors “to schools differently.” [Connecticut’s Accountability System: FAQ, p. 6]
Step 4. Average all Student IPIs in a district to create a District Performance Index (DPI).
While the CMT results do provide information elsewhere (Subject IPIs) about student strengths and weaknesses in subject areas, the indexing and categorizing of test results into IPIs, SPIs, and DPIs aggregates so much data as to make these figures meaningless for that purpose. As an analogy, a Grade Point Average for a student, a school, or a district is not very useful in assessing teaching or learning in any subject area. And, as with a GPA, one might question the precision of CMT results reported to the nearest tenth of a point when none of the input data was so precise.
Above and beyond the simple four-step case described above, the actual CMT arithmetic involves adding apples and oranges. Students in grades 5 and 8 take an additional test in science. Other students are exempted, or evaluated using different instruments and a different 100-50-0 scoring scale. Even more Wizard-like, the state Education Department “analyzed district-wide data and applied the results of those analyses to schools without tested grades.” [FAQ, p. 6]
To be sure, the Education Department cautions us that the “SPI should be interpreted not relative to the performance of other schools but relative to that particular school’s ability to make its annual performance improvement targets.” [FAQ, p. 5] However, it also states that the “index scores allow for appropriate peer comparisons among schools for accountability purposes, but may have limited diagnostic value.” [FAQ, p. 3] Which is it – a constructive system that aims to measure the progress of teaching and learning in a school or district, or a potentially destructive system that aims to rank schools and districts against each other in a race to some “top”?
Moreover, there are many ways to “game” this system, even legitimately. Consider the Electoral College system, in which presidential candidates concentrate their efforts on the states with the most electoral votes. So a school system might choose a future strategy of concentrating its efforts to raise these Wizard numbers on students considered to have the most academic potential, to the detriment of students considered to have the least academic potential, especially if the school systems were incorrect in identifying which students belonged to which group.
Could we do better?
Connecticut is spending a considerable amount of money on educational assessment, and, in particular, on out-of-state consultants. Unfortunately, in texting lingo, the IPIs, SPIs, and DPIs provide too much information without the information.
Improving student learning is too important an undertaking to focus funding on consultants to provide guidance to state and local administrators. The best guidance is already available from our public school teachers, who have the brains, hearts, and courage – and no flying monkeys – to collaborate on efforts to identify the basic materials, innovative ideas, or pilot programs that would promote the best teaching and learning in Connecticut, based on meaningful assessment results that identify those skills that need improvement. The IPIs, SPIs, and DPIs do not contribute to that worthy goal.
Margaret Cibes is a retired math and statistics teacher. She’s a contributor to the Media Clips department of the Mathematics Teacher journal and the Chance News wiki.
Tags: Margaret Cibes, math, standardized tests, CMT, wizard
Malloy Launches Town Hall Tour, But Not Campaign
(Updated 2:15 p.m.) He’s not officially running for re-election, but Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is not concerned about his party’s chances in November.
There are no Democratic candidates for governor at the moment, but “I’m not aware of any Democrat complaining right now,” Malloy said last week after meeting with a group of farmers.
Republican candidates have been lining up since last September to challenge Malloy, who has yet to form a candidate committee to start raising money.
At a press conference last week Malloy said he wants to get as late into the year as possible without making a decision about his re-election because he wants to avoid talking about politics as long as possible.
He then went on to joke that if he declared his candidacy then he fears reporters won’t show up at his press conferences on public policy and governing issues.
He said Republicans have a job to do and that’s to “beat each other up” to determine which ones move on to the primary.
“I have a job to do. I’ve got be governor and I want to do that job as long as I can,” Malloy said.
On Tuesday, Malloy said he doesn’t expect to be a candidate until the legislative session is over on May 7.
The nominating convention for the Connecticut Democratic Party will be held at the Convention Center in Hartford on Friday, May 16. That gives Malloy nine days to launch his campaign, or his party would have nine days to find another candidate.
The wall Malloy wants to build to keep the political away from governing may begin to crumble this week as he prepares for his first town hall forum Wednesday in Norwalk.
After his first budget proposal in 2011, Malloy decided to take the proposal on the road by hosting 17 town hall forums across the state. The last one was held in Middletown in April before the legislature finalized its budget proposal and long before he was able to reach a deal with the state’s labor unions.
That year, after the town hall forums, Malloy decided to modify his proposal to scrap the $500 property tax credit for middle income earners, instead reducing it to $300.
In 2012, his town hall forums turned from the subject of the budget to his 163-page education reform package. That year, angry teachers crowded school auditoriums and cafeterias to tell Malloy he was wrong when he said, “Basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years. Do that, and tenure is yours.”
Just last month, Malloy decoupled the implementation of the new teacher evaluation system from implementation of the Common Core State Standards.
“With respect to the politics of it, I’m really concerned that our teachers have the tools that they need to be successful in the classroom and folks are appropriately trained with respect to the Common Core,” Malloy told reporters in January. “Is it political to hear people? You might categorize it as that. But the reality is that’s the appropriate way to handle these things.”
In 2013, Malloy didn’t announce his budget tour until early March and ended up holding nine community forums. A Malloy spokesman said the number of town hall-style forums the governor will do this year is still unknown.
Malloy, who enjoys the verbal jousting with taxpayers, said he’s looking forward to what his staff is calling “community forums.”
“Being out there, accessible, and talking directly with people is fundamental to open government and helps us become more effective at serving the people we were elected to represent,” Malloy said in a press release. “I really do enjoy talking with our state’s residents directly and hearing their opinions on how we can make decisions that will best improve Connecticut.”
George Gallo, chief of staff for the House Republicans, said he understands what Malloy is trying to do by creating the illusion that he’s governing and not campaigning. He said that illusion may hold up if he stayed in his office and carried out his daily duties quietly, but now he is holding town hall forums. He is definitely “pushing the envelope,” Gallo said.
Gallo pointed out that there’s a moratorium on the mail legislators can share with their constituents and other rules that spell out what is and is not considered campaigning. Even though Malloy has consistently hosted these community forums over the past three years, “eyebrows are going to be raised,” Gallo said.
This year, doing these town hall forums and expecting people to suspend their sense of belief that Malloy is not a candidate will be difficult, he said.
“It’s an election year. Everything is political,” Gallo added.
The first community forum will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19 at Norwalk City Hall, 125 East Ave.
Malloy, Rail Officials Find Agreement Over Commuter Complaints
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy let Metro-North Railroad President Joseph Giulietti and Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast know that they had lost the trust of the rail commuting public in Connecticut.
After emerging Monday from a closed-door meeting, Malloy said the railroad was going to put in place a 100-day plan to begin to earn back the trust of the commuting public by providing reliable, on-time, and safe travel from Connecticut to New York. The plan is expected to be created over the next two weeks. The two sides also agreed to an independent review of any major projects like the recent replacement of an electrical cable in Cos Cob.
“We have stressed with them that the lack of communication, in so many ways, has led to this level of mistrust and distrust between their ridership in Connecticut,” Malloy said at a press conference outside his Capitol office.
He said part of the problem with the MTA is that for too long everybody has been willing to take credit for the wins without “sufficient owning up to the losses.”
Both Giuletti, who started the job last week, and Prendergast acknowledged that there’s work that needs to be done in repairing its relationship with commuters.
But pinpointing exactly how it got to this point was difficult.
There was the derailment in Bridgeport last year, followed by the death of the worker on the track in West Haven, followed by the power outage in September which halted traffic on the New Haven line, and then the fatal derailment in the Bronx in December. That all happened in 2013.
“I don’t know how they allowed it to get to this point,” Malloy said.
Prendergast said the incidents that occurred in 2013 happened over a period of time. He said each is being investigated by the NTSB.
When those investigations are completed, Prendergast said he believes they’re going to find that there was an exodus of key people who retired after being with the railroad for 30 years.
“There were also some issues with respect to track,” Prendergast said.
He said that’s why they brought in a company to look at their maintenance practices. He said there are also inspector general reports regarding employees who were off-the-job doing other things while they were supposed to be working.
“When you put that all together there’s a breakdown in management especially in that one area,” Prendergast said. “That kind of degradation occurs over time, but they manifest themselves generally down the road.”
He went on to say, “We have had a tremendous number of those instances. It’s not by coincidence. There’s something going on in the organization. There’s some management and cultural issues. We’ll find those and root them out.”
He said rooting out those problems starts by bringing in new management, like Giuletti. Prendergast has only been in the position since last June. Both promised to make the changes the governor was asking them to make.
He said there’s nothing they want more than to restore that performance to where it was when it was considered the best in the industry.
As part of that commitment, Prendergast said they’re going to be listening to commuters’ concerns.
“There’s a lot to be said for ‘listen to the customers concerns and respond to them’,” Prendergast said. “And we will commit to that. We have committed to that.”
But while acknowledging that there’s room for improvement, Metro-North and the MTA have little to worry about when it comes to its contract to manage Connecticut’s rails.
The 60-year contract is renewed every five years. If the two sides can’t agree to the terms, then it goes to arbitration. That leaves Connecticut with very little leverage to get Metro-North to voluntarily comply.
“We have gone to arbitration in the past,” Malloy said. “As a result, we pay some additional dollars, but I think we paid that without commensurate reliability. I have to say I think they were doing a pretty good job for a period of time, but have fallen off a cliff.”
The question is how quickly can the new leadership team restore that level of performance.
Malloy said the state will be asking for bids in the near future for the New Haven-to-Springfield rail line.
“I think that demonstrates our willingness to look at other options,” Malloy said.
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Blumenthal & Veteran Support Funding For Prosthetics Research
U.S. Marine Corporal Sgt. Greg Caron lost both his legs below the knee on Nov. 12, 2011, to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. Just nine months later, he was at Walter Reed National Military Veterans Center learning how to walk again.
Caron told a group of University of Hartford students planning to work in the prosthetics and orthotics field that it was a slow and painful process.
Accompanied by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal on Monday, Caron said he’s having trouble doing squats at the gym because his walking legs are pushing him forward and there’s not enough flexibility in the toe and ankle to keep him flat footed during the exercise.
He challenged the students to come up with a prosthetic device that would give him the ability to complete a squat with the proper form.
The Ellington resident said he has about six different legs that do different things, including a new golfing leg that allows him to pivot to a greater degree than his walking legs. He said he’s anxious to find out exactly how much his golf game will improve.
Caron, who served with one of Blumenthal’s sons, told the students that he would rather go through the pain of his initial injury than have to go through the nerve and phantom pain of trying to get accustomed to a prosthetic for the first time.
“These wounded warriors are heroes and they might have lost limbs, but they never lost hope,” Blumenthal, said. “We need to match their hope and courage with the best technology, the finest medical care this country can offer.”
He said that’s why he’s fighting for funding for the prosthesis center at the University of Hartford. The U.S. Senate is expected to take up legislation next week. The bill, which funds dozens of veterans benefits, includes about $10 million for programs like the one at the University of Hartford.
Blumenthal said that funding will help soldiers like Caron “renew their lives, not just restore limbs.”
But Blumenthal said the $10 million competitive grant is just a beginning. He said the lab at the University of Hartford is one of a dozen in the nation to provide for this type of training in prosthetics.
“I am relatively optimistic that we can cut through the gridlock and the unfortunate partisan paralysis because supporting veterans like Greg Caron, providing the health care they need and deserve, should not be about partisan politics,” Blumenthal said.
He estimated there are 600,000 veterans who could benefit from these types of prosthetics and orthotics.
Blumenthal said the Veterans Administration covers the cost of the limbs which range from $20,000 to $80,000 each.
“But the training and the innovation has to be supported as well and that’s the purpose of this bill,” Blumenthal said.
Caron said he would like to see amputees with more severe injuries than his own be able to get fitted with a prosthetic. He said some of the amputations have to happen above the hip, which make it impossible for some soldiers to get fitted with a prosthetic.
He hopes technology may be able to advance to the point where he can one day play soccer again. At the moment, it’s just not there.
Caron’s wife, Nina, and his parents accompanied him Monday to the university. Blumenthal, who visited Caron while he was at Walter Reed, said Nina never left her husband’s side while he was there. She encouraged the students to visit the hospital and see the work that’s done there.
One of the students wanted to know what they can say to their patients who may not have the support of their family as they work through the process of getting fitted with a prosthetic limb.
Caron responded with some comments about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and said many returning soldiers suffer from PTSD regardless of whether they have family support during the recovery process. He said PTSD can interfere with the fitting process and encouraged the students to recommend their patients find a counselor. He said finding a counselor made a huge difference in his life. He said his two brothers, who are also veterans, helped him seek the help he needed.
Blumenthal said most of the soldiers injured by a roadside bomb also suffer from PTSD, which he described as “an invisible wound” of war. He applauded Caron for having the courage to discuss it so openly.
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ANALYSIS | Connecticut’s Electric Marketplace Fraught with Unscrupulous Marketing Practices
Retail electricity suppliers aggressively market low fixed rates to Connecticut residents, but many consumers are finding those initial savings give way to expensive variable rates that have more than doubled their bills.
John Erlingheuser of the Connecticut AARP says that seniors in particular are being targeted by telephone, direct mail, and even door-to-door pitches from marketing companies hired by retail electricity firms.
He says the marketing activity has become more aggressive now that the “standard offer” rate negotiated by the state is more competitive with what many of these retail suppliers offer. Some companies are offering gimmicks like restaurant points and cash rebates to lure customers into fixed length contracts that come with early termination penalties. And for some there may never be any real savings.
Click here to read more from Lon Seidman at CTTechJunkie.
Tags: Lon Seidman, electricity, rates, consumer watchdog, dh
Fracking Waste As Road De-Icer?
There’s no shale deposits in Connecticut, which means there’s no hydraulic fracking for natural gas, but environmentalists believe the state legislature needs to take steps to prevent fracking waste from ending up here.
In New York, environmental groups say fracking waste is being used to de-ice the roads. In Connecticut, Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said last week that fracking waste had never been used to de-ice state roads and highways, but it’s unknown whether it’s been used by municipalities or private contractors.
It sounds almost too strange to be true, but environmentalists like Louis Burch of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, warn that the threat is very real.
Burch was at the Legislative Office Building last week educating lawmakers and the public about the dangers of fracking waste.
Production brine is the concentrated fluid that flows out of a gas well. That brine is five times more salty than seawater and could be used to de-ice roads. There are some counties in New York that have banned it while others have used it.
“Currently, there are no policies in place at the state level to protect Connecticut from spreading toxic production brine on roadways,” Burch said.
He said the companies doing the fracking in nearby states are looking to get rid of the waste and willing to do it at a very low cost. The road salt shortage in combination with tight state and municipal budgets could make this production brine an attractive alternative.
A few lawmakers were unable to comment on the issue because they had no idea the fracking brine could be used as a de-icer.
But the debate this year will be about more than production brine. Whether companies should be allowed to recycle or dispose of their fracking waste in the state will be part of the debate in the Environment and Energy and Technology Committees.
Last year, legislation that would have implemented a one-year moratorium on hydraulic fracking waste died on the House calendar. Proponents of the bill were told to wait for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to study the issue.
This month the agency recommended that “fracking waste” be regulated in the state just as hazardous waste, but the proposal submitted to the Office of Policy and Management is vague. It simply states any fracking waste be “appropriately regulated.”
What is clear is that fracking wastewater is not covered by the federal Resource Conservation Recovery Act, which tracks the movement of certain types of hazardous waste. Waste produced from the exploration and production of oil and gas are exempt from the act because there’s no requirement that companies disclose what types of chemicals they are using during the fracking process. That’s why environmentalists believe the legislature needs to take action.
There are no fewer than four bills this year in various committees seeking to stop the disposal of fracking waste in the state.
But there are some who believe legislation is unnecessary.
Steve Guveyan. executive director of the Connecticut Petroleum Council, has said there’s no need to regulate fracking waste since “already long-standing regulations in Connecticut bar their burial here.”
Connecticut law does allow for fracking wastewater to be recycled here and reused in Pennsylvania or New York, according to Guveyan. Although he believes it’s a long shot that companies would want to recycle their water in Connecticut so far from the drilling site.
According to the website FracTracker, Connecticut isn’t one of six states where this waste has been deposited.
Any attempts to keep the fracking recyclers out of the state could be viewed by some as a violation of the U.S. Commerce Clause. In 2012, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed legislation in his state that banned disposal of fracking waste.
But Burch said even trucking the material through the state could pose a danger to Connecticut residents. He said some fracking waste contains radioactive sludge.
Tags: fracking waste, road de-icer, environmentalist, Louis Burch, road salt, brine, dh
Malloy Will Offer Amnesty After All To Some Gun Owners
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration has concluded it can process without additional legislation some of the late-arriving firearm registration paperwork mailed in by gun owners attempting to comply with a new law.
The decision applies to a small group of gun owners who missed the deadline to mail in paperwork registering or declaring their possession of rifles and ammunition magazines banned by the state under a law passed last year in response to the Sandy Hook shooting.
Luke Bronin, the governor’s general counsel, said the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection has the authority to accept applications it has reason to believe were submitted before the deadline.
“For example, if an application to register a weapon was signed and notarized on or before January 1, 2014, or an application to register a high capacity magazine was signed and accompanied by an affidavit that was dated on or before such date, the department may treat such applications as timely submissions,” Bronin wrote in a letter to the DESPP commissioner.
“Similarly, if the department has reason to believe that an application was deposited in a mailbox or at a post office on Dec. 31, 2013, but the post office closed early or did not collect the deposited mail that day, then that application may be deemed a timely submission,” he wrote.
Under the decision, the department will accept certification forms for 160 rifles and 398 magazines which were notarized by Jan. 1 and postmarked by Jan. 4. The state received about 226 assault weapon applications and 506 high-capacity magazine declarations received by the state were postmarked shortly after the deadline.
The department will notify gun owners whose applications were not accepted because they were received after the dates with instructions on ways to dispose of their guns or magazines, Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner Dora B. Schriro said in a letter to legislative leaders.
The Malloy administration had been using the day the forms were postmarked as the threshold for processing the paperwork. Last month the governor said state police retained the late paperwork but he insisted the legislature would need to pass a bill in order for them to process the forms.
However, officials met Tuesday with lawmakers on the Public Safety Committee to discuss what to do with the late-arriving forms. Bronin also consulted with the Attorney General’s Office before deciding the department had the authority to accept some of the late applications, according to a press release.
While it’s far from ideal for most gun owners, the president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League praised the decision.
“This is good news for individuals that did their best to comply with the law,” Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said Friday. “Good for these people that will not be forced to surrender their firearms and components to the state.”
Advocates Seek To Expand Nickel Bottle Deposits
State lawmakers will receive Valentine’s Day-themed petitions Friday from environmental advocates looking to drum up support for a proposal to expand the 5 cent bottle deposit law to more types of containers.
“Every senator and or representative will be getting a Valentine today from their constituents,” ConnPIRG Associate Sean Doyle said this morning in the Legislative Office Building. “. . . They’ll be getting a little piece of candy, too.”
Doyle said his group has collected more than 4,000 signatures from residents all over Connecticut with some coming from each of all the state’s districts. ConnPIRG is hoping to build on a bill raised by the legislature’s Environment Committee to expand the types of containers upon which consumers would pay a deposit similar to bottles.
“I think that’s a pretty big statement from across the state,” Doyle said.
The deposits serve as an incentive to increase the rate at which people choose to recycle. Currently bottle deposits apply to containers of soda, beer, and water. The language of the raised bill would broaden the law to cover juices, teas, and sports drinks. ConnPIRG wants to see the language changed to cover any type of single-serving beverage. Specifically the group wants a 5 cent deposit charged to small bottles of liquor known as nips.
“Nips are a really common form of litter,” Ryan Cadigan, a ConnPIRG organizer, said.
Environment Committee Co-Chairman Sen. Ed Meyer said he is open to the expansion.
“I think we should. I personally favor it but I don’t know how the committee comes off on it,” Meyer said.
He said the panel’s support for the proposal may be influenced by the testimony they hear when the bill has a public hearing.
The group likely will hear opposition to the measure as well. The state’s grocery stores say they lose between 2 and 4 cents per container that’s returned to their redemption centers and do not want to see the law expanded to include more bottles.
“Our guys would say they’re inundated with bottles and cans but because of the law, they’ve made it work,” Stan Sorkin, president of the Connecticut Food Association, said.
Grocery stores must rent return machines and pay the labor costs of keeping them running and keeping their redemption centers sanitary. That’s not an easy task, he said.
“They are difficult to keep clean, even though you try to do it. There’s a lot of labor involved,” he said.
Sorkin said he doubts claims that added bottle deposits will increase participation in recycling programs. He said most people prefer to dispose of their recyclables through curbside pickup programs.
“It’s an inconvenience to consumers. It’s ridiculous in terms of the hassle of bringing back added products to the stores,” he said.
Salt Is On Its Way To Cities and Towns
As of noon, 22 cities and towns had requested additional salt from the state, but officials in the Emergency Operations Center warned that the number could grow. And it did. By 1 p.m. Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor, was sending a team to New Haven Harbor to pick up some salt.
He said he submitted the paperwork to the state Thursday, and any confusion about whether he had requested it seemed to be worked out on Twitter — officially putting an end to “saltgate.”
Boughton had Tweeted Friday morning: “Salt. We. Need. Salt…#Danbury”
Danbury road crews were on their way to pick up 200 tons of salt at New Haven Harbor by 2 p.m., avoiding what could have been a political battle in a statewide election year.
Members of the Malloy administration surveyed 122 cities and towns Thursday to ascertain how much salt each had left for the season and how much more they could access. They got responses from about 115 towns. Some complained about not being able to get in touch with their vendor, while others had placed orders that have not been fulfilled.
With more snow expected as early as 10 a.m. Saturday, the state Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said the state had enough salt for two more storms. He said that stockpile of salt allowed the state to give Friday’s 30,000 ton delivery to municipalities in need.
The governor said Thursday that the state had enough salt left for one more storm. However, upon further inspection of the salt supply, “we had a little more in bin” than initially thought, Malloy said Friday at a noon press conference.
Malloy said with today’s delivery the state has enough salt left for four more storms, but the state has decided to give the delivery to the towns instead. He said they expect another delivery on Feb. 22, which was moved up from Feb. 28.
Malloy said the state won’t take any more salt for its reserves until the needs of the municipalities have been fulfilled.
“We have plenty of salt,” Malloy said. “Municipalities don’t. We’re taking steps to make sure municipalities have salt.”
Two municipal lobbying organizations said they were grateful for the help.
“Although towns had enough road salt to get through this storm, a couple of major salt distributors had called it quits for the season, leaving many towns scrambling for supplies,” Betsy Gara, executive director of the Council of Small Towns, said. “With more snow on the way, our small towns and cities truly appreciate Governor Malloy’s plan to distribute salt to keep our roads safe.”
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities echoed Gara’s statement. They commended the governor for his response.
OP-ED | Opioid Overdose and What Can Be Done to Save Lives
In Connecticut, there were 2,231 opioid-involved deaths from 1997 to 2007. Nationwide, 18- to 24-year-olds are more likely to die from drug overdoses, primarily from prescription pain relievers, than from motor vehicle accidents.
Connecticut residents can be proud of the fact that we have a statute that allows for access to Naloxone for overdose reversal and we have a Good Samaritan law that protects someone from arrest if they call 911 to save a life while in possession of drug paraphernalia. Narcan has no street value, few if any side effects, can be administered either nasally or intramuscularly, and is much safer to administer than an Epi-pen. Narcan provides a 30- to 90-minute window of opportunity to call 911 and get someone to the emergency room.
Given the spate of recent, high-profile opioid overdoses and news media coverage of overdoses in Connecticut’s Northwest corner, it’s distressing that the antidote for opioid overdose (Naloxone) is missing from that discussion. Narcan © (Naloxone) is an opioid antagonist currently available through a prescription that is capable of reversing an opioid overdose and saving a life. Although the presence of a solution to the immediate, life-threatening problem of overdose would seemingly be popular, Naloxone overdose programs have not grown at a rate to prevent the tragic and unnecessary accidental deaths from opioid overdoses.
Why is Naloxone even necessary? Why not refer everyone to treatment? There are two problems with that conceptualization. First, there are insufficient treatment centers in Connecticut to handle the number of patients who require treatment for opioid dependence. Second, not everyone who is at risk for overdose is willing to accept treatment. A refusal to accept treatment should not result in a denial to access something that can reverse an overdose. Treatment for the diabetic is never denied if the patient wants to eat doughnuts. Possibly the young adult who is using heroin today and refusing treatment may live, with the help of Naloxone, to some day enter treatment.
There are highly successful Narcan distribution programs in neighboring states such as Massachusetts and Rhode Island that Connecticut would do well to emulate. Massachusetts has a model program in the Northeast where Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), police and firefighters are trained in administering Naloxone when responding to an overdose. Rhode Island and Massachusetts both have programs where people can obtain Narcan at participating pharmacies through a standing order from a medical provider or a collaborative agreement.
We have an opportunity to increase access to Naloxone by providing more information and education to medical providers, substance abuse treatment programs, pain management programs, pharmacists, family members, and others about the importance of this life-saving medication. If you are a person who takes prescription opioids or heroin, ask your medical provider about the risk of overdose and the availability of Naloxone.
There is no logical reason to fail to support the antidote to an opioid induced death and we have every reason to advocate for the expansion of something that could save your life or the life of someone you love.
Shawn Lang is the director of public policy at AIDS Connecticut.