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ECSU Professor’s Remarks Prompts Response From Lawmakers

by Christine Stuart | Apr 22, 2014 3:57pm
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Posted to: Education, State Capitol, Windham

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House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero reads the remarks of the ECSU professor

Eastern Connecticut State University Professor Brent Terry’s remarks during a creative writing class won bipartisan disapproval Tuesday from the state House of Representatives.

According to little over a minute of audio shared with Campus Reform by a student, Terry said that if the Republican Party took over the Senate in 2014 then “colleges will start closing up if these people have their way.” 

Terry went on to say that “there are a lot of people out there that do not want black people to vote, do not want Latinos to vote. Do not want old people to vote, or young people to vote. Because generally, people like you are liberal.”

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, used a point of personal privilege to rise on the floor of the House and comment on Terry’s remarks.

“I am a firm believer in academic freedom and I am a firm believer in that professors should have that freedom to express their views to their students,” Cafero said. “I find it offensive as a Republican, as a parent, and frankly as a citizen of the state of Connecticut that we would have in our public universities a professor who would make such a comment.”

He said today it was about Republicans, but tomorrow it may be about Democrats.

He called on the professor to apologize to his class, the university, and the state in general.

“I would also call upon the administration of Eastern Connecticut State University to demand that apology from its adjunct professor,” Cafero said. “. . .That kind of talk does no one any good.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the chamber applauded Cafero’s remarks.

Less than an hour later Terry offered an apology through a university spokesman.

“During my creative writing class yesterday, I allowed my own political opinions to color the discussion,” Terry said.” I regret the language I used and I apologize to any students in the room who were offended. As a liberal arts university, Eastern is known for encouraging debate and discussion about a host of social and political issues. My role in my own classroom is to keep the debate lively yet respectful. I did not meet that standard yesterday, and for that I am truly sorry.”

Aside from being a professor, Terry is the head cross country and track and field team coach at Eastern Connecticut State University. He’s been teaching and coaching at the university for about nine years.

Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Lakeville, said the comment was “unfortunate.” However, she deferred to the university for comment on the matter since the audio didn’t offer much in the way of context.

A spokesman for the university told Campus Reform that ECSU’s “faculty has academic freedom to conduct their classes in whatever way they choose, this is not a university matter.”

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Lawmakers Approve Wind Regulations Lifting Defacto Moratorium

by Christine Stuart | Apr 22, 2014 12:29pm
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Posted to: Energy, Environment

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Rep. Selim Noujaim and Sen. Andres Ayala

Ending what has been an informal three-year moratorium on wind power in Connecticut, a legislative committee unanimously approved regulations Tuesday paving the way for wind turbines.

The regulations, which were postponed for clerical reasons or rejected without prejudice at least four times prior to Tuesday’s meeting, finally met the approval of the committee and its attorneys. Prior drafts submitted by the Connecticut Siting Council, which oversees the location of transmission lines and cellphone towers, were rejected for a variety of reasons.

Legislative attorneys said the difference between previous versions and the one approved Tuesday was the way in which the turbines would be decommissioned by a certified engineer, and the new language specified that a waiver would apply to shadow flicker and setback distances, but not noise.

Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury, described the process of approving the regulations as “torturous.”

The regulations drafted by the Connecticut Siting Council were first rejected in December 2012 and last withdrawn by the council in November 2013.

O’Neill said the process the Regulations Review Committee goes through is often misunderstood and some of the assumptions about the motivations of the committee were “unwarranted.”

Some environmental advocates have speculated that approval was delayed based on the lack of support for wind power among committee members.

“This is a big deal,” O’Neill said. “It required attention by the Siting Council as well as the committee to get it right. I think we finally got it right.”

Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said the regulations approved Tuesday would have been approved months ago if the Siting Council listened to the committee’s recommendations regarding decommissioning. He said the Siting Council said the attorney general’s office had told them it couldn’t be done. But later — when the committee requested a formal opinion — the attorney general’s office said the decommissioning process could be written to abide by the committee’s recommendations.

Christine Stuart photo Robert Stein, chairman of the Connecticut Siting Council, dismissed the criticism saying “we had challenges and they had challenges.”

He said they spoke to people in the attorney general’s office, but not the attorney general. When the committee asked for a formal decision from the attorney general, the casual advice the Siting Council had gotten ended up being wrong.

But no one wanted to talk about those struggles on Earth Day.

Rep. Elissa Wright, D-Noank , said the new regulations provide the people of Connecticut with appropriate protections and give the state the opportunity to move forward with a clean, renewable energy source.

“There will be opportunity in the future, if necessary, to revisit the regulations and refine them further,” Wright said.

Christine Stuart photo Joyce Hemingson, president of FairwindCT, said that while they would have liked to see a greater setback distance she’s happy there are regulations in place.

“We wanted regulations that would be protective of the health and safety of the citizens,” Hemingson said Tuesday after the vote.

Derek Phelps, a lobbyist for Pioneer Green Energy, which is looking to site a wind turbine in the eastern part of the state, said his client is pleased with the action taken.

“It means what has been effectively a moratorium is now lifted,” Phelps said.

That means Pioneer Green Energy still has time to qualify for federal tax credits that will make the project commercially viable.

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OP-ED | Be The ‘Squeaky Wheel’ If Health Claim Denied; Industry Will Find Ways To Stay Profitable

by Wendell Potter | Apr 22, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Health Care, Opinion, Health Care Opinion

The good news from last week was that 8 million Americans have signed up for health insurance through the Obamacare-created exchanges. The not so good news is that because most of us have to buy coverage from a private insurer, we will always have to be vigilant to make sure our medical claims get paid and that an insurance bureaucrat miles from where we live doesn’t succeed in denying coverage for medically necessary care.

While we’ve heard a lot recently about the growing number of folks who are at long last able to join the ranks of the insured, we haven’t heard much at all about the important provisions of the law that make many of the previously common industry practices unlawful.

Among other things, insurers can no longer refuse to sell us coverage because we’ve been sick in the past or even take the status of our health into consideration when figuring out how much to charge us for a policy. They also can’t charge women more than men or older folks more than three times as much as younger folks. And they must allow young adults to remain on their parents’ health plans until age 26.

The reason health insurers discriminated against women and people of a certain age as well as anyone not in tip-top shape was because their discriminatory underwriting practices enabled them to sell policies with relatively low premiums to people who were least likely to need medical care. And for the big for-profit insurers that now dominate the industry, those practices made it much easier for them to meet Wall Street’s relentless profit expectations.

Don’t think for a minute, though, that the large institutional investors that own health insurers’ stock these days are cutting the companies any slack when it comes to their profit margins.

As I’ve often said, the one thing most health insurers know how to do is make money. They make billions off of us every year. Obamacare won’t change that. In fact, because Congress succumbed to pressure from the industry’s lobbyists and ditched plans to create a “public option” to compete with insurers, billions more in premium revenue and federal subsidies will flow to them for years to come.

But investors and Wall Street financial analysts look far more closely at profit margins and earnings per share than total revenues.

To keep Wall Street happy, insurers undoubtedly have begun shifting resources from their underwriting departments to their so-called medical management teams. I’m confident that people who work in medical management are under more pressure than ever from the executive office to avoid paying claims whenever possible.

That has been my fear since the reform law was passed and the consumer protections went into effect. So it’s especially important now to scrutinize those “Explanation of Benefits” statements our insurers send us after we get medical care.

Insurers know that many if not most of us do little more than glance at them before throwing them away. They’re hard to understand by design. If you can’t decipher them, chances are you’ll give up and just hope that your insurer and health care providers are treating you fairly and that you are not being billed for care that your policy should cover.

Numerous studies over the years have shown, however, that patients have at least an even chance of prevailing if they go to the trouble of appealing a claim denial or a ruling by somebody in medical management that your doctor-ordered care was not medically necessary.

The most recent proof of that came last week in a Capital Public Radio story out of Sacramento. CPR found after analyzing several years of data compiled by California’s insurance department that patients won about half of the appeals they filed with state regulators after getting a claim denial from their insurer. CPR also noted that a 2011 GAO report based on data from several states prior to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act found that patients were successful between 39 and 59 percent of the time when they appealed directly to their insurer.

Many patients who don’t succeed that way, however, go the additional mile of reaching out to their state insurance departments or their state legislators or members of Congress — or even the media. That enhances the chances their insurers will agree to pay the disputed claims.

“When appealing to a third party (such as the state insurance commissioner), patients also were often successful in getting the service in question — winning as many as 54 percent of such decisions in Maryland, for example,” CPR reported.

Bottom line here: With profit margins under pressure because of Obamacare, insurers likely will be denying more of your claims and inserting themselves even more between you and your doctor when it comes to medically necessary care, but you should never take a “no” as the final answer. Appeal — and be a squeaky wheel — whenever you get a denial. Chances are that if you do, you’ll get the care you need, and get your insurer to pay for it.

Former CIGNA executive-turned-whistleblower Wendell Potter is writing about the health care industry and the ongoing battle for health reform for the Center for Public Integrity.

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Lawmakers Unlikely To Take Action On Public Disclosure, Victim Privacy Bills

by Hugh McQuaid | Apr 22, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Ethics, FOIA, Transparency

CTNJ file photo

Sen. Anthony Musto

Lawmakers appear unlikely to act in the remaining two weeks of the session on two pieces of legislation aimed at balancing the privacy of crime victims with Connecticut’s public disclosure law.

The legislature put the issue on its agenda last year when it created a task force as part of a bill restricting access to some law enforcement records. The bill was a last-minute action passed without a public hearing to prevent the disclosure of images from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

After months of contentious meetings, the task force made recommendations to lawmakers, which two legislative panels used as the basis for separate proposals. One bill called for greater protections for crime victims, the other more access to public documents. But neither seems destined for the governor’s desk this year.

“It’s the kind of thing we just might not have time for this session. With so many different varied opinions, it may be that we can’t get everyone on the same page or even a similar page to get something through,” Sen. Anthony Musto, co-chairman of the Government Administration and Elections Committee, said Monday.

CTNJ file photo In March, Senate President Donald Williams signaled that he opposed the recommendations of the task force, based in part on a provision to place the burden of justifying the release of emergency 911 recordings on the person requesting them.

When two committees drafted the recommendations into identical bills and held hearings on them, Williams opposed them both.

“This legislation is unnecessary. It is not only counterproductive, it’s destructive,” he 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.”

Both panels redrafted their proposals before moving them along.

The Government Administration and Elections Committee removed the language regarding 911 recordings from the bill, meaning the public would retain access to them. It also preserved an idea from the task force to allow the public to inspect — but not copy — pictures depicting homicide victims. Under last year’s law, access to these photos is blocked completely.

The Judiciary Committee followed up with its own proposal. Despite Williams’ opposition, the panel maintained the new restrictions on 911 recordings and its bill included an absolute ban on the inspection or copying of photos depicting the bodies of children who have been murdered.

Judiciary’s bill now sits on the Senate calendar where Williams has broad control over which proposals are raised for a floor vote. Asked last week whether he still had concerns about the proposal, Williams said simply, “Yes.”

The GAE proposal has recently been referred for review to the Judiciary Committee, where lawmakers have already opted to write their own alternative. 

Musto said he has reached out to the chairs of the Judiciary Committee, but said the two panels have a “difference of opinion” on how the issue should be handled. Musto was one of two senators to vote against last year’s bill and on Monday he expressed disappointment that it looked unlikely the law would be altered this year to grant more public access.

He said his colleagues were “all over the map” when it comes to the issue this year, with some wanting to see stronger protection for crime victims and others wanting to see last year’s restrictions abolished. Some legislators want the law passed last year left alone.

“There is a huge disparity on what people think should happen,” he said. “Getting enough votes in the middle is going to be a difficult thing to do especially in two weeks, especially in both chambers.”

Advocates on both sides of the issue who served on the task force were not upset at the idea that lawmakers may take no action on the group’s recommendations.

CTNJ file photo State Victim Advocate Garvin Ambrose said he prefers the legislation drafted by the Judiciary Committee of the two proposals, but is comfortable with the idea of neither passing.

“From my office’s standpoint doing nothing is also good because it means we still have the protections included” in last year’s law, he said.

James Smith, a former newspaper editor and current president of the Council for Freedom of Information, said he prefers no action on the issue over the group’s recommendations.

“Would I like to see [last year’s law] repealed? You bet. There shouldn’t be any obstacles that hides from view law enforcement action, whether last year’s bill or the task force recommendations, there’s all kinds of new obstacles to trying to understand the huge problem of crime in this country,” he said.

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Committee Poised To Approve New Wind Turbine Regulations

by Christine Stuart | Apr 21, 2014 6:39pm
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Posted to: Energy, Environment, Ashford, Prospect

Lawmakers and state officials are optimistic they’ve finally struck the right balance in deciding where wind turbines in the state should be located.

An agreement awaiting the approval of the Regulations Review Committee would end a nearly three-year moratorium on wind energy in the state.

The committee plans to discuss the issue for the fourth and perhaps final time at its meeting Tuesday.

Sen. Bob Duff, a Norwalk Democrat who is a member of the Regulations Review Committee, said Monday that he’s “cautiously optimistic” the regulations will be approved. However, he said he’s seen the regulations fail so many times in the past he’s not able to express more confidence. He added that it would also be nice to see it happen on Earth Day.

Duff said that if the regulations are approved Tuesday it gives companies that are in the process of erecting wind turbines enough time to take advantage of the federal wind credits before they expire.

Rep. Selim Noujaim, R-Waterbury, was equally optimistic.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said this is an issue that’s been tied up for more than two years. “It’s time to get regulations promulgated and allow projects that are appropriately sited to move forward,” he said at an unrelated event on energy policy Monday.

The new regulations provide a higher standard for the approval of a waiver of setback distances upon a showing of good cause. The setback defined under the new regulations would be 1.5 times the height of the wind turbine.

But not everyone is impressed.

Joyce Hemingson, president of Fairwind CT, said she’s happy that there will be regulations in place, but she’s not happy with the Siting Council’s decision not to increase the required setback distance for the turbines.

She said that despite her group’s concerns, the Siting Council didn’t increase the setback distance from 1.5 times the height of the turbine. The group doesn’t believe the 738-foot setback will protect a family from the noise and shadow flicker of a 40-story industrial wind turbine.

“I’m glad there will be regulations for the state of Connecticut and things will be refined as they move forward,” Hemingson said Monday.

Fairwind CT states on its website that the regulations are the most lenient in New England.

But Texas-based Pioneer Green Energy, which is developing the Ashford project, told the Hartford Business Journal that if the regulations are not approved at Tuesday’s meeting then the project won’t be commercially viable.

If the project is not off the ground and in service by 2015, then any company looking to build wind turbines would have to forfeit their access to federal tax credits.

The state has only one operating wind turbine in New Haven. There were two others proposed by BNE Energy in Prospect and Colebrook in 2011, which prompted the current moratorium. The Prospect project has since been scrapped and at least one of the two Colebrook projects is awaiting a Supreme Court decision.

The Siting Council, which regulates the location of cellphone towers, has been sparring with the committee and municipalities over how much local control should be allowed in placing wind turbines in a given community.

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Clock Is Ticking On Hospital Conversion Legislation

by Christine Stuart | Apr 21, 2014 12:17pm
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Posted to: Health Care, Legal, Nonprofits, Waterbury

(Updated 2:41 p.m.) Legislation addressing the burning question of whether for profit entities should be allowed to purchase nonprofit hospitals in the state is still “a work in progress,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Friday.

“I have concerns about what might end up in that bill,” Malloy said.

Last year, Malloy vetoed a bill that would have made it easier for a private, for-profit hospital company to purchase physician practices from a nonprofit hospital. This year, lawmakers are debating legislation that would increase state oversight of nonprofit-to-for-profit conversions. But at this point the bill is essentially just a legislative vehicle. The administration, lawmakers, and representatives of state hospitals are negotiating a compromise behind the scenes.

Malloy said he’s comfortable with the current system, where all but one of the state’s hospitals are being run by nonprofit organizations.

“On the other hand, I’m aware of at least in one case, Waterbury specifically, that there may not be a real not-for-profit resolution available so I’m monitoring this on an ongoing basis. So is Mark Ojakian and we’ll continue to discuss with everyone the implications of that legislation,” he said.

Ojakian is Malloy’s chief of staff who oversees the legislative operation.

“This is a rare situation where the not-for-profit and the for-profit, neither of them like the legislation,” Malloy said. “That might mean it’s perfect, but more likely than not it means there’s more work to be done.”

He said the situation in Waterbury is unique.

Waterbury Hospital was the first to start courting for-profit suitors like Vanguard Health Systems, a Tennessee-based for-profit hospital operator that was recently acquired by another Texas-based for-profit company called Tenet HealthCare Corporation.

“For nearly a decade Waterbury Hospital has struggled financially,” Darlene Stromstad, president and CEO of Waterbury Hospital, told a legislative committee earlier this year. “The only year in the past decade we have a positive bottom line was fiscal year 2012 . . . unfortunately that stability was very short-lived and we ended 2013 with a loss of $2.3 million.”

Unlike Yale-New Haven Hospital, Stromstad said her hospital doesn’t have a large endowment to absorb these kinds of losses, especially when 70 percent of the patients are on Medicaid or Medicare.

“We keep chasing a reimbursement level that’s constantly decreasing,” Stromstad said.

She said without this conversion the hospital “will limp along until such time as we can’t.” She said the joint venture with Tenet will give the hospital the resources it needs to survive.

Malloy said the situation in Waterbury may require “nothing less than” a for-profit model to resolve.

In addition to Waterbury Hospital, Tenet Healthcare also has been courted by Bristol Hospital and the Eastern Connecticut Health Network, which operates Manchester and Rockville Hospitals.

Trip Pilgrim, senior vice president of development for Tenet Healthcare, said the only reason they’re still in Connecticut is because hospital boards, local businesses, and local lawmakers want them to be here.

He said his company is offering these financially struggling hospitals a way forward.

He said he can’t understand the legislative opposition to an already cumbersome process through the Office of Healthcare Access. In order to convert, a hospital would have to apply for a “certificate of need” and the attorney general also would have to approve the deal.

Pilgrim said he’s done several of these conversions in several states and the process that already exists in Connecticut is more thorough than the process in some of the biggest hospital mergers he’s done in Texas and Michigan.

Why is there opposition?

“My conclusion is that some people in the state don’t want to see us there,” Pilgrim said Friday in a phone interview. “If you allow a conversion to take place then there must be something wrong with the current process.”

Pilgrim said he’s fine with the current process and would be happy to have his hospital chain measured on both the quality of care and access to that care.

Sharon Hospital, the only for-profit hospital in the state, was able to convert to for-profit through the same process.

“Don’t put up mountains that serve no purpose,” Pilgrim said.

However, some of the state’s healthcare employee unions have expressed concerns.

Barbara Simonetta, president of CT Health Care Associates and represents 550 nurses at Waterbury Hospital, alleged during a public hearing that “Tenet is trying to pad their bottom line by eliminating 30-plus year pensions, cutting jobs, pay, sick time and health care, and more.”

Debra Chernoff, director of policy for SEIU 1199, testified that “because these are entities organized to make profits, we need to ask questions about how those profits will be realized — and at whose expense.”

Unions don’t feel the current law offers the public enough protection. There is another bill that seeks to address some of those concerns.

That 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 employees 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.

None of this year’s bills address the question of whether for-profit hospitals should be permitted to employ physicians and engage in the corporate practice of medicine.

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said legislative leaders have been talking and trying to come up with a piece of legislation which includes an appropriate number of controls for these types of takeovers. He said the legislation would encompass more than Waterbury Hospital and “figuring out what the right balance is, is the whole thing.”

He said he’s mindful for the need for greater controls of for-profits ventures, but his bigger concern is that the company is coming from out-of-state and not the “for-profit” status.

“I want to make sure all our Connecticut-based hospital systems are able to grow and thrive,” Sharkey said Monday.

Hugh McQuaid contributed to this report.

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OP-ED | Surviving on Just Above The Minimum Wage

by Josh Griffin | Apr 21, 2014 10:09am
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Posted to: Opinion, Manchester

My name is Josh Griffin and I’ve worked at the McDonald’s on the Tolland Turnpike in Manchester for more than two years. Eventually, I’d like to go back to school to study graphic design, but making less than $10 an hour, just a bit above the minimum wage, I can’t afford to get the training I need to launch a career in graphic design. In fact, money is so tight that I am sometimes forced to go to a food pantry when I can’t afford groceries.

With a spotlight shining on what’s been happening to fast food workers, everybody has our backs. Elected officials like President Barack Obama and Gov. Dannel P.  Malloy, and most Americans, all agree that the system is broken. The rich stay rich as the rest of struggle. Connecticut’s current minimum wage, $8.70, is not enough to live on. Low wages hurt our economy.

Not only are our wages too low to live on, but we also know we are being cheated. Every day fast food companies steal workers’ wages in lots of ways: having us work off the clock or not paying us for our overtime to name just a few.

I have experienced wage theft frequently on the job. There have been days where I have not been given a break, but when I see my check at the end of the week, that half an hour of pay was stolen from me. It’s also the little stuff, like when the managers ask me to hand out orders once I’ve already clocked out. I am working for free for McDonald’s during that time. Things like this happen almost every day to my coworkers and me. I know workers who work at multiple locations under the same owner working more than 40 hours a week between both stores, and are afraid of demanding overtime for fear of losing their needed hours.

We can’t forget that my coworkers and I work for a multibillion-dollar corporation. How could they turn a blind eye to the people that allow them to make those billions?

That’s why we’re fighting for $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation.

If I made $15 an hour, I’d have enough money to start saving to go to school. I want to be able to provide for my household. I don’t want to have to rely on state medical insurance or go to the food pantry. If I made more money, I would have my rent and bills paid off and be able to get my life on track.

When my coworkers and I come together to try to form a union, I see others going through the same things that I am forced to go through and others fighting to improve our jobs. I also know dedicated workers who have been here for years, yet are lucky if they even see a raise. Nobody thinks they are strong enough to change this industry by themselves. United we are powerful. If we unionize we can win.

Fast food workers are realizing we have a voice. We need to look to our coworkers and supporters in the community for strength. In Hartford and New Haven last week, we joined with workers in more than 30 other cities across the country to protest wage theft in the fast food industry. We are going to continue fighting and we won’t stop until we are paid what they owe us.

Josh Griffin works at McDonald’s in Manchester.

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OP-ED | Student Privacy and the Military in Connecticut

by Pat Elder | Apr 21, 2014 10:03am
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Posted to: Opinion, Transparency

I’m dumfounded witnessing the influence apparently wielded by the military in Connecticut’s General Assembly. Its influence runs counter to the sensibilities and civil liberties of the citizens of the Constitution State. Apparently the Department of Defense has such clout few have the courage or political will to oppose it. This is not what democracy looks like.

On Thursday SB 423, “An Act Concerning Student Privacy and the Administration of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery” was allegedly referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs for legislative death. Apparently, committee members have “serious reservations” regarding the bill. How odd it is that legislation designed to protect the privacy of Connecticut High School children should be re-routed through the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs!

A child can go to school in Connecticut, be tested by the Pentagon, and have test results, detailed demographic information and social security numbers released to recruiters without parental consent or knowledge.

Information gathered as a result of the administration of the ASVAB is the only information leaving Connecticut’s schools about children without providing for parental consent. SB 423 would change that. The members of the Education Committee overwhelmingly thought it was a good bill, but some members of the veteran’s Committee have serious reservations. How does this work, exactly?

The ASVAB is the military’s entrance exam that is given to fresh recruits to determine their aptitude for various military occupations. The test is also used as a recruiting tool in 106 high schools in Connecticut and nearly 12,000 across the country. The three-hour test is used by the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command to gain sensitive, personal information on 3,750 Connecticut kids and 660,000 high school students across the country every year, the vast majority of whom are under the age of 18.

According to military regulations the primary purpose of the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Batter) is to provide military recruiters “with a source of leads of high school juniors and seniors.” Nothing in the records of the Connecticut State Department of Education or any of the public schools in Connecticut officially recognizes this fact. Instead, the DoD markets the test as a “Career Exploration Program.”

The Pentagon uses the exam to gather a treasure-trove of information to use in an astoundingly sophisticated recruiting program. The ASVAB allows the military access to a child’s cognitive abilities, something the recruiting command can’t purchase or find online. A child’s social and intellectual dimensions are combined to create a precise, virtual portrait. After the test is administered military representatives typically meet with youth at school to discuss their scores and suggest career paths. Later, recruiters make calls to the students, using the sophisticated individualized profiles.

Nothing in this legislation will preclude the military from continuing to administer the test in the high schools for enlistment purposes. This act will simply require a student who wishes to use his or her scores for enlistment to visit a recruiter who will complete a form and have the student (or parent) sign it. That’s all it does. The bill prohibits the wholesale release of student records.

When Maryland passed a bill like SB 423 that state’s top recruiter argued that the military command — rather than parents — should make decisions regarding the release of student information. The same has happened in Connecticut. In written testimony Lt. Colonel Michael D. Coleman, Commander, U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion in Albany also took the position that his command — rather than mom and dad — should decide on the release of student information.

Lt. Col. Coleman writes that passage of the bill will cause children to lose the opportunity to benefit from the ASVAB Career Exploration Program. It will not.

We don’t have a problem with the use of the test in the state’s schools and we agree with Lt. Col. Coleman that students benefit from test results and participation in the Career Exploration Program. Students, however, still benefit from the program when parental consent is enforced. It should be noted that both Hawaii and Maryland, two states that mandate parental consent, have experienced a growth in the numbers of students participating in the ASVAB since mandating parental consent.

If the measure fails here it doesn’t stand much of a chance anywhere else. And that does not speak well for the health of our democracy.

Why does society give the military a pass? We wouldn’t tolerate similar invasions of privacy if they occurred at the hands of, say, the Department of Transportation or the IRS. Shouldn’t we expect the DoD to function by the rules in a transparent and democratic society?

Pat Elder is the director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy.

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UConn Graduate Assistants Vote To Form Union

by Christine Stuart | Apr 21, 2014 5:29am
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Posted to: Education, Labor, Mansfield-Storrs

Photo courtesy of http://www.uconngradunion.org/

Graduate Assistants at the University of Connecticut

More than 2,100 graduate assistants working at the University of Connecticut have won the right to form what will be the largest bargaining group at the school.

The State Board of Labor Relations certified the petitions submitted by the group last Thursday. The vote means graduate assistants, research assistants, and teaching assistants will be represented by the United Auto Workers union.

Prior to last week’s decision regarding union certification, the UConn Board of Trustees voted to remain neutral during the organizing process.

The 2,135 graduate assistants will become the largest union on the campus, followed by the faculty with about 1,700 members, and the staff union which has about 1,600 members. According to a university spokeswoman, about 85 percent of UConn’s employees are unionized.

“The university has been, and will continue to be, neutral with regard to this effort,” Stephanie Reitz, a spokeswoman for the university, said. “Individual graduate students are free to make their own decisions. The university and its senior administrators will not seek to influence the decision of any GA.”

Currently, graduate assistants are paid stipends that range from $20,159 to $23,583 for the academic year. The graduate assistants are considered full-time if they work 20 hours or more per week.

“We commend the administration and the Board of Trustees for allowing us to make our own choice, and hope that this good-faith spirit continues into bargaining for our first contract,” Cera Fisher, a doctoral student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, said in a statement on the vote. Fisher works as a research and teaching assistant.

The group will negotiate directly with the UConn Board of Trustees rather than the Office of Policy and Management like other state employee unions. The group’s negotiating efforts under the agreement cover wages and workplace issues. Grading decisions or other matters regarding the academic process will not be included in collective bargaining.

The agreement does not mean that the graduate assistants will automatically be placed into the state employee health insurance plan. That decision will be subject to the approval of the state and the coalition of state employee unions.

The group already is scheduled to receive a 4-percent stipend increase starting in the fall 2014 academic year. That increase already was approved before the current union drive and will not be affected by it.

“We applaud the administration at UConn for respecting the rights of the graduate student workers as they sought representation with the UAW,” Lori Pelletier, executive secretary treasurer of the AFL-CIO, said Friday.

The news regarding the graduate assistants comes on the heels of a decision by a regional labor board that found that students athletes at private colleges should be allowed to join unionize.

“Just like graduate students, student athletes also deserve the right to collectively bargain,” Pelletier said.

State Rep. Patricia Dillon, D-New Haven, has said she intends to introduce legislation that would allow student athletes at both public and private colleges to unionize.

Citing the National Labor Relations Board ruling by a regional director in favor of allowing Northwestern football players to form a union, Dillon said she wants to make sure that a similar opportunity is available to Connecticut athletes.

“It appears that state law may be an impediment,” Dillon has said. “NLRB ruled that athletes at private schools have the right to unionize, but said state labor laws may prohibit public school students from organizing. I am prepared to file legislation to make sure athletes at both public and private schools are on equal footing.”

The General Assembly adjourns May 7.

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OP-ED | All ‘Independent Practice’ for APRNs is Not Created Equal

by Robert M. McLean | Apr 20, 2014 8:48pm
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Posted to: Opinion

As Connecticut legislators and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy seem intent on passing a bill to allow advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) to “practice independently,” I would urge some caution.

The lobby pushing for this change in state statute has repeatedly made it appear that Connecticut is “behind the times” since 19 other states already allow independent practice for APRNs. And the sky is not falling in those states with any epidemics of sub-standard care being provided by APRNs, so how can there be any problem with allowing the same in Connecticut?

Has anybody done some legislative homework and examined exactly how “independence” is defined in the laws of those 19 states? As usual, the devil is in the details. There are three specific areas that vary greatly among these states: regulatory oversight, education requirements, and prescriptive authority definition.

According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, there are 22 states allowing independent practice for nurse practitioners, meaning “no requirement for a written collaborative agreement, no supervision, no conditions for practice.” And 17 states allow prescriptive authority, defined as authority “to prescribe pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic therapies beyond the peri-operative and peri-procedural periods.” Several of these states such as West Virginia, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island established that prescribing may only occur within limits set up by formularies.

Several other states like Colorado, Washington, Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts mandate specific education in pharmacology, above and beyond whatever was obtained in nursing education. Explicit requirements are set out by several states such as Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts for specific amounts of continuing education at specified intervals. To maintain licensure in Connecticut, physicians must document 50 hours of continuing education every two years. Some states (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Ohio, Massachusetts, Rhode Island) establish specific regulatory processes to oversee and define what a “scope of practice” is for an APRN in a given specialty.

The current bill before the Connecticut state House includes NONE of these provisions which other states have had the wisdom and foresight to include in their state statutes. So while rhetoric from the APRN lobby states that this bill will merely bring Connecticut to the same type of “independent practice” as these other states, in reality it takes our state beyond and with far less regulation of APRNs than these other states. It even makes APRNs LESS regulated than physicians in the state. WOW! Is it logical that APRNs with an average of 500 hours of clinical training in school and no required residency training have less ongoing educational requirement in our state than physicians with over 3,000 hours of clinical training in medical school and 9,000 hours in residency training?

I fully believe it is the intent of our legislators to improve the access of our citizens to healthcare providers, and also to ensure that practitioners of all types in our state are adequately trained and regulated to deliver safe and effective care. If the time is right for “independent APRN practice” in our state, a statute should be crafted with appropriate regulatory oversight.

This bill does NOT do that, and it should NOT be passed into law in its current form. The examples of other states’ statutory details need to be examined as Connecticut moves forward with considerations for APRN independence. And whether greater “independence” of APRN practice will truly increase access to care remains a theory that has not yet been proven by any data — it is a hope, but not an established fact.

Robert M. McLean, M.D. practices internal medicine and rheumatology in New Haven. He is immediate past-Governor of the Connecticut Chapter of the American College of Physicians (ACP) and currently serves on the ACP’s Board of Regents and its Medical Practice & Quality Committee.

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Boost In Legal Aid Funding Sought

by Christine Stuart | Apr 18, 2014 2:36pm
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Posted to: Courts, Legal, New Haven

Christine Stuart photo

Debbie Diaz

NEW HAVEN—Debbie Diaz was in tears in a New Haven courthouse when she learned she was being evicted because the apartment she rented was being foreclosed on by the bank.

That’s when she learned about New Haven Legal Assistance. She said they sent an attorney to meet her at the courthouse that same day and saved her and her children from being illegally evicted.

“They actually helped me. They saved me and my kids,” Diaz said Friday. “... If it wasn’t for legal aid me and my five children would be on the street.”

Diaz’s story is all too familiar to the attorneys who work for legal aid organizations in the state.

But Friday’s press conference on the second floor of the New Haven Legal Assistance building wasn’t about the people the organization has helped over the years, it was about its continued ability to help people like Debbie Diaz.

In 2008 when the market took a hit, so did the Interest On Lawyer Trust Accounts.

“Money in IOLTA accounts plummeted and then interest rates fell to historical lows,” Peter Arakas, president of the Connecticut Bar Foundation, said. “So we went from having $20 million in revenue in 2008 to this year we’ll be coming in at less than $3 million.”

A drop of almost 90 percent would kill almost any organization, “but fortunately we live in a state that care about people and cares about providing access to justice for people,” Arakas said.

In 2012, the legislature increasing court filing fees and allocated 70 percent to help fund legal services for the poor. That law came with a sunset provision. It was set to expire in 2015.

Arakas said legal service organizations would have had to layoff employees this year in order to plan for the sunset of the higher fee structure.

Christine Stuart photo

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy introduced legislation earlier this year that would increase the amount of filing fees that fund legal aid services and keep the current fee structure.

The legislation will result in an additional $1.6 million increase in funding in 2015 and a $6.3 million increase in 2016. That won’t bring the fund up to where it was at $20 million in 2008 when the markets crashed and interest rates dropped, but Malloy said he believes it’s sustainable.

“Anytime a person who should otherwise be represented in court is not represented justice is failing to be done,” Malloy said.

Susan Nofi, executive director of New Haven Legal Assistance, said every day our phone lines and waiting room are filled with people who need legal help and every day they have to turn people away every day.

“We feel very fortunate Gov. Malloy recognizes how important legal aid is,” Nofi said. “We’re very pleased about this initiative.”

Aaron Bayer, a partner with Wiggin and Dana and chair of the board of Connecticut Legal Services, said the court system is set up in such a way that it can be “perilous” for someone who isn’t represented by a lawyer.

“Legal aid helps people to help themselves and helps people stay out of that safety net,” Bayer said.

He said making sure someone isn’t evicted or gets them the benefits or wages they are entitled to costs far less money than allowing that person to end up in a homeless shelter.

Malloy said making sure these organizations received adequate funding is part of a continuum of policies to help the poor in the state. From the Earned Income Tax Credit, which he implemented in 2011, to a boost in the minimum wage that he signed into law last month, Malloy said this is just one more way of helping out low-income individuals.

Malloy said he’s asked the legislature to eliminate the sunset provision in the law and increase the portion legal assistance organizations receive through the fund.

He said the expectation when the increased fees went into effect in 2012 was that the Great Recession would be over and things would have returned “to what was perceived as normal.”

“That hasn’t happened and no one knows what the new normal is yet,” he added. “So we have needed in one case to response, and in this case re-respond to that situation.”

The bill was sent by the Senate to the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee on Thursday.

Malloy expressed confidence it will come up for a vote in both chambers before the General Assembly adjourns on May 7.

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Nursing Home Disclosure Bill: Transparency Or Intrusion?

by C-HIT Staff | Apr 18, 2014 12:54pm
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Posted to: Health Care, Transparency

The state’s nursing homes call it excessive and intrusive. The Malloy administration calls it a move towards transparency.

At issue is a proposed bill that would require nursing homes to disclose the financial status of any “related party” businesses that contract with the homes – such as associated companies that own the facility properties, or spinoff businesses that provide rehabilitation or management services. The bill would require that the nursing homes report profits and losses for any side businesses that receive more than $10,000 a year from them.

The Malloy administration – backed by the union representing nursing home workers, New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199 – has pushed the bill through legislative committees, touting it as a way to increase transparency in an industry marked by bankruptcies, takeovers and several high-profile scandals in recent years. Chief among the arguments is that the added reporting will help the state to identify nursing homes in true financial distress, versus those that claim money woes, but actually have profitable affiliated businesses.

—Read more from the Connecticut Health Investigative Team

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OP-ED | Are Wall Street Values Right for Schools?

by Sarah Darer Littman | Apr 18, 2014 9:00am
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Posted to: Education, Opinion, Wall Street

Last week on a flight back from England, I read Michael Lewis’ latest book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt. I found myself highlighting passages, struck by parallels with the corporate education reform movement. It’s not surprising as both industries involve players from high tech and hedge funds — and, of course, the politicians who enable them.

Upon reading this quote from Constantine Sokoloff, a Russian who helped develop NASDAQ’s matching system for buyers and sellers: “The old Soviet educational system channeled people away from the humanities and into math and science,” a political sound bite started playing in my head:

“The president and I believe that ensuring our nation’s children are excelling in the STEM fields is essential for our nation’s prosperity, security, health and quality of life . . . All of us need to be engaged in task of improving STEM education. Business leaders and major donors are leading the way, and leaders from other sectors need to join them.” US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, November 2009

Brad Katsuyama, the former Royal Bank of Canada trader who co-founded the IEX exchange featured in Flash Boys, made this observation about the dark pools and stock exchanges used by high frequency traders: “It’s an entire industry that overglorifies data, because data is so easy to game and the true data is so hard to obtain.”

And there was Arne Duncan in my head again:

“Data is an essential ingredient in the school reform agenda. We need to follow the progress of children from preschool to high school and from high school to college and college to career to see whether they are on-track for success . . . I look forward to the day when we can look a child in the eye at the age of eight or nine or 10 and say, ‘You are on track to succeed in colleges and careers.’ . . . Data systems are a vital ingredient of a statewide reform system . . . Data can help us unleash the power of research to advance reform in every school and classroom in America. Data can help us identify the teachers and principals all across America who are producing miracles in the classroom every day . . . Data can help us identify outdated policies and practices that need to change so our children will succeed in school and in the workforce.”

But Duncan wasn’t up there in my jet-lagged head alone. Bill Gates, another proponent of data in education reform started piping up.

“Aligning teaching with the common core — and building common data standards — will help us define excellence, measure progress, test new methods, and compare results. Finally, we will apply the tools of science to school reform.”

Finally, Lewis quotes Serge Aleynikov, the former Goldman Sachs programmer who was wrongfully convicted of two counts of theft of trade secrets from the firm.

“Everyone lived for the year-end bonus number . . . Everything there is very possessive. Everyone’s trying to show how good their individual contribution to the team is. Because the team doesn’t get the bonus, the individual does.”

This reminded me of a piece I’d read in Vanity Fair about the catastrophic stack ranking system at Microsoft, an evaluation method similar to the VAM teacher evaluation system the Gates Foundation has spent billions trying to prove effective and which, despite Arne Duncan’s laughable assertion that Gates has no seat at the Dept of Education policy table, has become a requirement that states implement in order to receive a NCLB exemption and Race to the Top funding.

Stacked ranking crippled Microsoft’s ability to innovate. “Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed — every one — cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees,” Vanity Fair’s Kurt Eichenwald wrote. “If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, 2 people were going to get a great review, 7 were going to get mediocre reviews, and 1 was going to get a terrible review,” says a former software developer. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”

On April 8, the American Statistical Association added an important statement to the chorus of academic research pointing out the flaws of VAM as an effective evaluation methodology:

“More classroom time might be spent on test preparation and on specific content from the test at the exclusion of content that may lead to better long-term learning gains or motivation for students. Certain schools may be hard to staff if there is a perception that it is harder for teachers to achieve good VAM scores when working in them. Over-reliance on VAM scores may foster a competitive environment, discouraging collaboration and efforts to improve the educational system as a whole.”

Yet instead of looking at the data they claim to live by, Duncan, Gates and our governor, Dan Malloy, persist in pushing these flawed policies. Like a recalcitrant toddler, Gates wields his philanthropy as a cudgel, threatening to take away his money if districts don’t implement VAM — even though Microsoft has done away with the much-hated stacked rankings.

Teaching is a collaborative profession, something that the current administration and the billionaires who guide its actions don’t appear to understand. What’s more, as parents we want our children to receive a well-rounded education that prepares them not just to be “college and career ready” but to be life ready — to develop the critical thinking skills, the creativity, the social skills, and the ability to advocate for themselves that they’ll need as citizens in what’s left of our democracy post-Citizens United and McCutcheon. Perhaps that’s what the billionaires are afraid of?

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

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Leaders Try To Put Grass Seed Debate Behind Them

by Christine Stuart | Apr 18, 2014 7:17am
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Posted to: Agriculture, Environment, State Capitol

Hugh McQuaid file photo

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey

(Updated 1:28 p.m.) It’s been a week since the House, in a rare move, defeated a bill that would have banned genetically modified grass seed just one day after the Senate passed it.

The bill was a priority for outgoing Senate President Donald Williams, who believes he must stop the modified grass seed before it gets to market. But he failed to communicate that to House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, who had concerns about taking such a drastic step. Sharkey said he was never consulted by Williams about the bill.

Instead of waiting, Sharkey put the issue out of its misery quickly last Thursday when the House voted down the measure by a 103-37 vote.

On Thursday, lobbyists for Scotts Miracle-Gro delivered letters to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Sharkey, Williams, and Republican leaders Lawrence Cafero and John McKinney.

Scotts CEO Jim Hagedorn wanted to clarify some of the statements that were made during last week’s debate on the bill and invited University of Connecticut scientists to join a consortium of turf scientists to help test the grass seed.

“In terms of offering genetically modified seed for commercial sale in Connecticut, I see no scenario under which this would occur before 2017, and only then based on the continued findings from our research,” Hagedorn wrote.

The letter opens the door to the two-year moratorium the Senate Republicans offered as an amendment to the bill last week. But proponents of the ban have expressed the desire for the moratorium to last five years.

In the meantime, lawmakers and lobbyists with interests beyond genetically modified grass are worried about the relationship between Sharkey and Williams because it could impede the flow of business in the final few weeks of the legislative session.

CTNJ file photo

Sen. President Donald Williams

Asked about the relationship Thursday, Williams said, “I’m not going to comment on that.”

Pressed about whether the Senate would take up House bills or if he was concerned about Senate bills that needed to make it through the House, Williams said, “I’m not going to speculate on that either.”

So there’s no tension between you and Sharkey?

“I’m not going to comment on that as well,” Williams said.

Asked the same question, Sharkey said they both recognize there’s important work to do “and that we’re going to move in a positive direction to make that happen.”

“I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t be able to get done everything we need to get done this year,” Sharkey said.

On Friday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he’s spoken with both Williams and Sharkey.

“I’ve urged them to communicate more frequently so that mishaps or disagreement don’t take place and cloud the remainder of the session,” Malloy said. “There’s too much important work to be done.”

He said he received a “good response” from both of the leaders.

Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said at the end of the day, even though he had strong disagreements with both Williams and Sharkey on policies they want to see passed, he thinks they will be able to put aside their differences and “whatever personally upset them with the GMO bill.”

He said this isn’t the first time there’s been disagreements over bills within the same party or between the two chambers.

“I don’t think this is the first time it’s happened,” McKinney said. “And it probably won’t be the last.”

However, he did agree that it was unusual for the House to defeat a bill the Senate had passed less than 24 hours earlier. He agreed with the decision Sharkey made to take action on the bill instead of letting the issue linger.

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OP-ED | An Open Letter to ‘Jane Doe,’ The Transgender Girl in an Adult Prison

by Susan Bigelow | Apr 18, 2014 7:00am
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Posted to: Opinion

Dear “Jane,”

I feel like we all failed you, and I’m sorry.

As I write this, you’re sitting in solitary in York, the adult women’s prison in Niantic. Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz has said there was no other choice. Apparently you got into a fight with staff at your last placement; your lawyers and Katz disagree about how serious that was. But that is why you’re in an adult prison, according to Katz.

“This young lady is going to have to learn coping skills that don’t involve hurting other people,” Katz said, before she will consider moving you again.

You wrote eloquently about your experiences of rape, abuse, and trauma in your affidavit to the court. Some of this was from family, some from clients during your time as a sex worker, but some was from DCF staff and other residents in both Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Please permit me to quote you (and this is a trigger warning for others reading):

“At about age 12 I was placed by DCF at a residential facility in Eagleton School in Massachusetts, where a worker [name redacted] used to show the other children pornographic magazines, and on two occasions I was in his office and he had me perform oral sex on him.”

You also described a staff member at Connecticut Children’s Place who took you and another transgender girl out to movies and, afterward, made you perform sexual acts on him.

These are heartbreaking, shocking, and infuriating violations of trust, and are just some of the most direct ways in which DCF failed you. And now they have placed you in solitary confinement “22 to 23 hours per day,” you have “no contact” with people your own age, and you can constantly hear other inmates “screaming, banging, and crying.”

“I have no family,” you wrote. “I have no friends. Everyone is always looking at me like I’m an alien because I want to be the female that I am . . . I need to be given treatment and services specific to my needs. I need to deal with the trauma I’ve experienced in my life. This prison cannot do that for me.”

I’ve been thinking for days about what I could say to you.

You and I are very different people. I’m middle class, white, and I live a pretty safe, sheltered life. Maybe the only thing we share is that I’m a transgender woman, too. I admit, that’s what drew my attention to you in the first place. I do feel that they’re treating you differently because you’re trans, and it’s obvious that a lot of the abuse you’ve suffered is because of that.

But the more I read, the more I understand that this is about more than that. This is a case where, according to what you told the court, DCF is the direct cause of some of the trauma you’ve experienced, and is indirectly responsible for a lot of the rest.

But now they expect you to learn “coping skills” while stuck in the mental torture of solitary confinement — they otherwise seem to be washing their hands of you.

I know, it looks pretty bleak.

But . . . and I mean this with all sincerity, please take heart.

You are not alone.

A lot of people out here know you’re there in York, and are thinking of you. People from all over Connecticut, and all over the country, know about your story now. And we are outraged that this has happened to you!

I know there are plenty of people who will say that you’re lying when you tell them about your history of abuse. This is something that happens when people society doesn’t approve of, or doesn’t value as much, speak up about abuse.

But I believe you. And there are many, many others out here who do.

So, stay strong. I know at 16 it can be hard to see the future, but you have one. There are plenty of transgender women, like Janet Mock, who went through abuse and trauma when they were young, only to grow into strong, capable, amazing women.

You may not believe now that this could be your future, too. But it can be.

I am so sorry we failed you so badly. The people of this state are so quick to turn a blind eye to what’s happening to you and people like you. We must change that.

There is a law that was passed in 2011 that forbids discrimination against transgender people based on their gender identity. I’m hoping the state will investigate whether this has happened in your case, and I hope DCF will quickly re-evaluate your living conditions.

In the meantime, carry us all in your heart, dear girl. You may be there in solitary, but you are never really alone.

Susan Bigelow
April 17, 2014

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

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OP-ED | Republicans Should Beware Of Rowland’s Stench

by Terry D. Cowgill | Apr 18, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Campaign Finance, Election 2014, Opinion

Could this be the end of the road for former Gov. John G. Rowland? If once again convicted of political and financial malfeasance, will he ever be taken seriously when he’s released from prison a second time? And moreover, will his legal troubles drag down Republican candidates, especially the six running for the privilege of unseating Gov. Dannel P. Malloy?

In the eyes of the state’s political observers, Rowland has remained a fascinating figure ever since he burst on to the scene in 1984 by riding President Ronald Reagan’s coattails and unseating Democratic incumbent William Ratchford for Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District seat. A gifted politician, Rowland went on to win the governorship in 1994 and won re-election twice before resigning in disgrace after getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar early in his third term.

After emerging from 10 months in the poky, Rowland professed himself a changed man and got a job as economic development coordinator in his hometown of Waterbury. So far, so good.

Eventually, however, the still-ambitious Rowland felt the need for more exposure and more money, so he landed a job as afternoon drive-time host at WTIC 1080 AM. In a line-up that included the ornery libertarian Jim Vicevich and right-wing blowhard Rush Limbaugh, the moderate Rowland quickly emerged as the ideological grown-up during afternoon drive.

But the move to radio also proved to be Rowland’s undoing. Greater exposure also led to more temptation and infinitely more opportunities for chicanery. Having a 50,000-watt megaphone gave Rowland the ability to peddle what remained of his influence.

Enter Lisa Wilson-Foley and her husband, Brian Foley, both of whom recently pleaded guilty to constructing a harebrained scheme to pay Rowland for working on Wilson-Foley’s campaign for Rowland’s old congressional seat by cutting checks to him as a healthcare consultant to Foley’s nursing home company, thereby concealing campaign expenses.

Douglas Healey / CTNewsJunkie The federal government really frowns on this, which is why Rowland was indicted last week on seven counts of scheming to hide his involvement in congressional campaigns. Last time around — even amid evidence that the scope of his corruption was far greater—Rowland pleaded guilty to a single corruption count in exchange for a light sentence.

This time around, Rowland, a former captain of the wrestling team at Holy Cross High School, reportedly rejected a plea and vowed to go mano-a-mano with the federal prosecutor. Indeed, he and his high-priced Washington criminal defense attorney, Reid Weingarten, have said they are “eager to go to trial.”

This whole sordid affair is a mess on multiple levels. If Weingarten is wrong and a jury finds that Rowland did conspire to break the law, his client will be finished with no chance of revival. Even his knuckleheaded pastor, former co-host and now replacement, the Rev. Will Marotti, won’t be able to work his redemptive magic on Rowland. All this for a mere $35,000 phony consulting fee? Makes no sense.

In standing by Rowland for so long — even as evidence mounted that he used his radio show to benefit Wilson-Foley without disclosing to his listeners or telling his bosses — WTIC’s own standing is in tatters. Why would an erstwhile respectable radio station risk its own reputation just to keep a felonious ex-governor on the air for a few years of decent ratings? Again, makes no sense.

And the specter of Rowland could loom large over the 2014 gubernatorial contest. Imagine for a moment trying to run for the state’s highest office as a Republican and having to endure daily coverage of Rowland’s trial this fall. I can just hear state Democratic Chair Nancy DiNardo hammering away at Tom Foley or whoever the eventual nominee is, as she just did recently when potential presidential candidate Jeb Bush came to town. And mark my words: tart-tongued former Malloy henchman Roy Occhiogrosso will throw a few rockets as well.

But if state Republicans want to immunize themselves from Rowland’s stench, they’ll have to do a better job than they did at last Friday’s gubernatorial debate. Otherwise they could pay dearly for the sins of their political ancestor.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is news editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. He has been a guest on Rowland’s show several times. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

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House Approves Tax Credits For UTC

by Christine Stuart | Apr 17, 2014 5:34pm
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Posted to: Business, Jobs, Labor, Taxes, East Hartford, Stratford

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Rep. Patricia Widlitz, D-Guilford

The House overwhelmingly approved legislation Thursday to allow United Technologies Corp. to use $400 million in unused tax credits to reduce their tax liability and expand their facilities.

The bill passed 134-4. Four Republicans, Reps. Richard Smith, Robert Sampson, David Labriola, and Terrie Wood, voted against the bill.

“We should be leveling the playing field,” Wood said. “We shouldn’t just be allowing one company to benefit.”

Without the legislation, the company would be unable to use these tax credits they’ve accumulated over the years.

Labriola said he didn’t like the idea that the tax credit could still be used even if the company decided to shed jobs.

“There are insufficient guarantees as to whether UTC will actually lay off employees,” Labriola said following the vote.

The largest aerospace company in the state 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 deal also ensures that Pratt & Whitney stays in Connecticut for a minimum of 15 years and 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 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 also will build a new 12,000-square-foot global customer training center at its Aerospace Systems business in Windsor Locks. The deal also includes capital improvements at Sikorsky. Construction on the projects would begin this year and continue through 2018.

In order to receive the full compliment of tax credits, Pratt & Whitney, UTC Aerospace Systems, and United Technologies Research Center would need to, at the very least, retain the workforce they currently have in order to access 90 percent of the tax credits.

Pratt & Whitney, UTC Aerospace Systems, and the United Technologies Research Center currently employ 14,100 workers and 4,900 engineers. In order to qualify for the full credit, it needs to employ 5,000 engineers and 14,400 workers.

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said he was conflicted about the deal because it gives one corporation the ability to use the tax credits in a way that other companies can’t.

He eventually voted in favor of the bill, but not before raising questions about how many jobs would be created as a result.

“They said they could actually, according to this chart, layoff 1,650 people, 550 of which could be engineers, and still get to use 35 percent of the money,” Cafero said. “Huh?”

Rep. Patricia Widlitz, D-Guilford, said the Department of Economic and Community Development will be measuring on a sliding scale the increase or decrease in jobs and other criteria the company must meet in order to use the credits.

In the first five years of the contract there will be a cap of $20 million per year that will be allowed against these credits, Widlitz said. The contract between the aerospace company and the state could be inked as soon as 2015.

“There are very few bills that get the support of CBIA [Connecticut Business and Industry Association] and the labor community,” Widlitz said.

She said the bill passed the Finance Committee without one single vote against. She said it was one of the most significant actions the legislature will take this year.

“UTC is the catalyst of this initiative, but the investments called for in this bill go well beyond one company,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said after the vote. “The agreement will have a direct impact on employment in almost every city and town in Connecticut, not just at the UTC companies, but also in the hundreds of aerospace supply chain companies throughout the state and the region.

The bill now heads to the state Senate.

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Unemployment Rate Remains Steady As State Adds Jobs In March

by Brian Woodman Jr. | Apr 17, 2014 4:07pm
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Posted to: Jobs, Labor

Connecticut’s unemployment rate remained steady at 7 percent in March and the state added 4,900 jobs, according to a Connecticut Labor Department report.

“March showed some solid signs of a return to previous job growth trends,” Andy Condon, director of the Office of Research, said Thursday.

Some of those positive signs included a “third month in a row of an expanding labor force and employment/population ratio, growing manufacturing employment, and positive movements in private-sector hours and earnings,” Condon said. “Recovery trend employment growth appears to be returning following the volatile winter.”

The 800 jobs the state added in February were adjusted upward by 600 jobs for a total of 1,400. In March, the state added 4,100 private-sector jobs and 800 government jobs.

To date, the state has regained 54.6 percent or about 65,000 of the 119,100 jobs lost during the recession. With the 4,900 jobs added in March, the report shows 9,400 jobs gained year-over-year.

In March, the national economy had recovered all jobs lost during the March 2008-February 2010 economic downturn, according to Peter Gioia, an economist with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.

“Even though both of these factors lag the U.S. recovery, it does seem to be picking up some steam,” Gioia said Thursday.

But not every economist showed as much enthusiasm.

“The March job numbers were basically in line with expectations,” Don Klepper-Smith, an economist with DataCore Partners LLC, said. He added that it would be premature to be excited about the gains because the growth was still slow after five years of recovery, adding that Connecticut would not fully recover all the jobs lost until about 2016.

Connecticut has recovered an average of 1,327 jobs per month since February of 2010, with the private sector recovering the quickest at the rate of 1,561 jobs per month.

“On a cumulative year-to-date, comparing the average from the first quarter of 2014 to one year ago, total non-farm jobs have risen only fractionally, climbing a mild 0.5 percent . . . nothing to brag about, especially since we’ve seen such large gains from previous expansions,” Klepper-Smith said.

The growing industries in March were; hospitality and leisure at 1.5 percent; restaurants and hotels at 1.8 percent; trade, transportation and utilities at 0.7 percent. Jobs in the education and health industries remained stable, while professional and business services lost jobs.

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Republicans Release A Budget, But Will Anyone Take Notice?

by Christine Stuart | Apr 17, 2014 2:29pm
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Posted to: Election 2014, State Budget, Taxes, State Capitol

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House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero

Republican legislative leaders in the House and Senate unveiled an alternative budget that nonpartisan fiscal analysts say will slightly decrease the deficit in future years.

The Republican budget doesn’t eliminate the more than $939 million deficit in 2016, but it reduces it by $34 million. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget and the budget put forth by the legislature’s two budget writing committees increase the deficit in 2016 by about $130 million and $181 million, according to nonpartisan fiscal analysts.

But it’s unlikely the Republican budget will get very far. With no seat at the negotiating table, Republican legislative leaders are left to pitch their ideas to the public or any Democratic lawmaker who will listen.

In order to balance the budget, Republicans propose eliminating about $336.8 million of what they described as gimmicks in the Democratic budgets. They said one of those “gimmicks” is the $155 million in surplus funds Malloy wants to give back to taxpayers. Malloy proposed giving $55 checks to about 2.7 million taxpayers with surplus funds from this year’s budget. The legislature’s two budget writing committees kept the proposal in their budgets.

If Republicans had a say they would eliminate the state Earned Income Tax Credit, which was established in 2011. The budget allocates about $120 million a year toward the credit that goes back to the working poor, who don’t necessarily pay income taxes.

Cafero said the governor established the program claiming he wanted to help the working poor at the same time as he increased the sales tax and eliminated the tax exemption on over-the-counter-drugs.

“He gaveth with one hand then took away with the other and claimed we’re helping out the working poor,” Cafero said. “The working poor who had to drive their car and pay higher gas taxes. Who had to get aspirin and cough medicine over the counter and paid taxes for the first time. Who tried to put clothing and footwear on their kids and had to pay a tax on it.”

He said Republicans would restore those tax exemptions to where they had been for decades.

Ben Barnes, Malloy’s budget director, said the most “troubling” aspect of the Republican proposal is the elimination of the Earned Income Tax Credit. He said Ronald Reagan called the program “the best antipoverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress.”

The state program is a percentage of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit. Economists widely believe the credit gets spent immediately in the local economy because the people who receive it don’t earn enough money to save it.

“But the governor won’t sit there and say the $1.8 billion he took out of the economy in higher taxes hurt jobs,” Sen. John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said. “People in the real world don’t believe adding that money creates jobs and taking $1.8 billion out doesn’t hurt jobs and the economy.”

McKinney was referring to Malloy’s tax increase during his first year in office. It was the second largest increase in the state’s history behind the 1991 establishment of the income tax.

But Barnes wasn’t buying the rhetoric.

“After months of grandstanding, Republicans in the legislature have once again failed to produce an actual budget proposal, instead choosing to issue a political document that’s heavy on rhetoric, but devoid of any actual detail,” Barnes said in a statement. It “contains $54.8 million in phantom spending cuts that are not detailed anywhere. Finally, it does all this and yet their bottom line spending is less than 0.1 percent different from the governor’s proposed budget. So much for cutting spending.”

The Republican budget increases funding by about $199 million in some areas, but it cuts about $226.7 million in current spending and eliminates about $54.8 million in spending through policy reductions.

It also further reduces the state’s debt burden by paying off the 2009 Economic Recovery Notes.

The Democrats borrowed close to $1 billion back in 2009 in order to help balance the budget. Instead of paying off the last $196 million of those Economic Recovery Notes, the Democratic budgets delay payment until 2018.

Cafero said that’s wrong, which is why the Republican budget finds the money to pay off that debt.

Republicans also believe it was wrong to raid the municipal revenue sharing program established in 2011 by the increase in the sales tax.

Republicans proposed restoring the fund and adding back $26 million. Municipalities like the fund because it’s one of a few unrestricted funds available.

Like Barnes, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, wasn’t impressed with the Republican proposal even though municipal revenue sharing is an idea he embraces.

“It is typical Republican fare — targets the poor and middle class, and claims illusory spending cuts,” Sharkey said. “The reality is that the legislature and the governor have put together a budget that’s balanced, pays down debt, saves for the future, and puts some money back in the pockets of hard working families.”

The General Assembly has until May 7 to send a budget to Malloy.

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Bill To Give Adult Adoptees Access To Their Birth Certificate Advances

by Hugh McQuaid | Apr 17, 2014 12:09pm
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Posted to: Health Care, Legal

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Rep. David Alexander, center right, listens as Sen. Terry Gerratana discusses the bill to Rep. Al Adinolfi

Rep. David Alexander stood outside the House chamber Thursday morning and listened as his colleagues debated whether he should be permitted access to his original birth records.

Alexander, an Enfield Democrat in his first term, was adopted as a young child and adoptees in Connecticut and most other states are only allowed access to amended birth certificates which omit the names of their biological parents.

Town administrators in Middletown, where Alexander was born, keep his original birth certificate and it’s a source of frustration for the Marine Corps veteran that various government entities can view his personal records even as they are kept secret from him.

“I can’t get access to my birth certificate. Doctors, social workers, and government agencies can,” he said. “When I did my secret clearance for the Marine Corps, they had access to it but I didn’t, which I found — tough.”

Adoptees argue the redacted birth records create health risks for them. Without knowing their family medical histories, they cannot be screened for illnesses they are predisposed to based on family medical history and genetics. Even with symptoms of certain diseases, Alexander said many can’t get their insurance companies to cover screening because they can’t prove the condition runs in the family.

Lawmakers have drafted bills to change the law in Connecticut many time over the years but none have been signed into law. The legislature approved a bill to open up the records in 2006, but former Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed the bill.

Alexander said he has worked with other supporters to craft a bill that various state agencies consider to be a workable policy. It would give adult adoptees the right to obtain their original certificates.

The Judiciary Committee was debating that bill Thursday morning before a House session. Although he’s not on the committee, Alexander stood outside the chamber and listened to the positions of other lawmakers.

The committee voted 19-11 to allow the bill to move forward in the legislative process with support and opposition coming from both sides of the aisle.

Opponents argued the bill impedes on the privacy rights of birth mothers who did not expect to have their information released when they made the choice. Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, opposed the bill and said adoptees currently have the option of petitioning the probate court that approved their adoption for their birth certificates.

“I’m trying to balance the interests of both parties,” she said. “I don’t know the lives of these mothers. I have know idea if they were the victims of rape or incest” or other circumstances.

Rep. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson, agreed with Rebimbas.

“I have some serious concerns about this bill . . . Birth parents are missing from this conversation. There’s no voice for them at the capitol,” she said.

The bill allows mothers to fill out a form indicating whether they are willing to be contacted by the child later in life. Either way, the form is not binding and the child would still be able to access the birth certificate.

Alexander said it’s a difficult topic for many people on both sides of the debate.

“It’s a tough, emotional issue. It’s not a political partisan issue, it’s an emotional issue,” he said. “For me, it is difficult when emotions come up because I have my own emotional feelings. It’s something where I need to obviously step aside. I respect everyone’s opinions.”

Although the committee approved the legislation as it was drafted, Alexander said it’s likely to be amended on the floor if it is called for a vote. The new bill will only reach back as far as 1983, when biological parents began signing a form acknowledging the child may, as an adult, be able to access documents that could identify them.

The change is a compromise, which Alexander hopes will make opponents more comfortable with the concept and perhaps willing to consider opening up all birth records in the future. If passed, Connecticut would be the fifth state to change their policies on adoption records. Alexander said he believes the change may catch on around the country.

Alexander said he feels lucky that he has been able to maintain contact with his family on his biological mother’s side.

If passed, the bill would also give Alexander access to information on his biological father for the first time. Asked how he felt about the prospect of accessing the information, he paused then said he believes the option should be a fundamental right.

“I don’t even know if I would look at it — I don’t even know. But the fact that I, under the law, could not have access to it is very alarming under the principles of natural rights and fairness,” he said. “I don’t think the state, or any government, should be in the business of hiding the identity of people from them.”

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OP-ED | Easing Restrictions on Nurse Practitioners Will Improve Access to Care

by Nora Duncan, State Director, AARP CT | Apr 17, 2014 11:28am
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Posted to: Opinion

With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid, more Connecticut residents than ever before have access to some form of health insurance. But insurance coverage doesn’t always guarantee access to care. By passing Senate Bill 36, Connecticut lawmakers can ensure that more Connecticut residents have access to the care they need.

Senate Bill 36 will allow advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) to practice to the full extent of their education and training after three years of working in collaboration with a physician. The legislation will improve access to care and help hold down rising health care costs by removing outdated barriers, such as burdensome contractual agreements with physicians, that prevent nurse practitioners from providing care to consumers. These barriers often delay care to consumers, especially in rural and urban underserved areas where few physicians are available to enter into these agreements with APRNs. And when care is delayed it not only hurts consumers, it also places added stress on family caregivers, who all too often are overwhelmed with bearing the brunt of providing and overseeing the care of a loved one. It can also add unnecessary costs by requiring payments to doctors for collaboration and take precious time away from patient care.

Nurse practitioners are educated and trained to provide high-quality primary health care. They diagnose and manage patients’ care, prescribe medications and refer patients to specialists. By removing unnecessary supervision provisions, Senate Bill 36 will open the pipeline of nurse practitioners, ensuring consumer access to primary care clinicians when and where they need one and reducing the wait time for care for both consumers and caregivers. Receiving high-quality care in a timely manner will improve consumers’ quality of life, help contain their health care costs as well as drive down the cost of delivering care. Allowing nurse practitioners to practice without unnecessary restrictions will also create more choices for Connecticut residents when selecting providers.

Some physician groups have expressed concerns about the safety of care delivered by nurse practitioners, but fail to provide any evidence to support their claims. In contrast, the Institute of Medicine and the National Governors Association cite decades of convincing evidence demonstrating that nurse practitioners provide safe, effective care whether or not they are supervised by physicians.

Last month, the Federal Trade Commission released a staff paper urging state legislators and policy makers to be mindful when evaluating proposals that limit access to care provided by APRNs. The paper found that “mandatory physician supervision and collaborative practice agreement requirements are likely to impede competition among health care providers and restrict APRNs’ ability to practice independently, leading to decreased access to health care services, higher health care costs, reduced quality of care, and less innovation in health care delivery.”

Across the country, 18 states and the District of Columbia allow APRNs to practice without being contractually tied to a physician. Kentucky will join those states in mid-July, when the legislation they enacted in February takes effect. Thirteen additional states are considering legislation this session to ease restrictions and improve access to care.

AARP Connecticut is deeply appreciative of the primary care and chronic care management provided by all clinicians. We need to be certain, however, that our members and all health care consumers can access a primary care provider when and where they need one. Senate Bill 36 would ensure such access to care. This is a rare opportunity where all evidence points to a pragmatic and cost-effective solution to improving health care. We congratulate the state Senate for advancing S.B. 36 in a bipartisan vote and encourage the House to send this bill to the governor this session.

Nora Duncan is AARP Connecticut’s state director.

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Attorney General’s Report on Hospital Facility Fees Encourages Legislative Action

by Christine Stuart | Apr 17, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Business, Health Care, Transparency

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Attorney General George Jepsen

According to a report from Attorney General George Jepsen, 22 of the state’s 29 hospitals are now charging separate facility and professional fees along with services at their newly acquired outpatient departments or clinics.

Facility and professional fees, which can range from $100 to $1,000, are separate from a patient’s co-pay and they often take patients by surprise. Although hospitals have always charged facility fees for the use of the hospital itself, Jepsen’s report identifies the relatively recent phenomenon of hospitals charging patients such fees for services rendered in offices they own outside the main hospital building. This means that as more previously independent clinics and physicians are acquired by hospitals, more patients are charged hospital facility fees.

Facility fees can be expensive, surprising and confusing for patients, which is why Jepsen’s office undertook its review. Jepsen said his office has fielded about 70 complaints from consumers who have been charged these fees.

The complaints are similar. A patient goes to a dermatologist office for a routine skin biopsy and is charged $390. The office is close to a hospital and the patient has been going there for years. She is unaware the practice was acquired by the hospital, so when she returns for the same procedure she’s surprised that she’s asked to pay a $170 facility fee.

Jepsen’s review of the facility fees found that 12 hospitals notify all patients to expect two separate fees for their medical services. Another 13 hospitals reported that they only provided notice of facility fees to Medicare patients, and four said they notified uninsured or “self-pay” patients of the additional fee. Seven hospitals told Jepsen’s office they did not provide any notice of a facility fee to their patients. Only one of the 29 hospitals surveyed included the existence of separate billing for the hospital and physician fee in a patient brochure.

Of the hospitals or practices that do provide a notice of the fee, most provided the information at the time the patient arrives and some provided the information in advance if a patient made an appointment far enough in advance.

A few of these notices were in plain language and on colored paper or bullet-pointed to help patients understand they would be charged two separate fees, the report found.

“However, none of the hospitals that were willing to provide patients with notice of the precise amount of potential liability for separate facility and professional fees or even a best estimate, would do so unless specifically requested by the patient,” the report stated.

And even though hospitals provided photographs of outdoor and indoor signs and websites identifying that the outpatient facility was part of the hospitals, “the extent to which consumers understand the signage is determined by its content and placement.” The report concluded that most of the patients were unaware of the facility fees.

“Several hospitals acknowledged the need for greater patient information and expressed their willingness to examine their facility fee policies, to their credit,” Jepsen said. “However, I strongly believe that this year’s legislation is important to ensure that all patients receive adequate notice, prior to treatment, so they can make informed choices about their health care and about whether or not to visit a practice that charges facility fees.”

The legislation concerning facility fees was approved by the General Law and Public Health Committees and is awaiting action in the House. The legislation is supported by the Connecticut Hospital Association.

Connecticut hospitals support efforts to make pricing more transparent, and agree that when seeking a physician, patients should not be surprised to learn after the fact that they are being treated at a hospital, or that they will receive two bills and the facility fee covers a portion of the hospital’s ongoing operating expense, Michele Sharp, a spokeswoman for the Connecticut Hospital Association, said Wednesday.

In January, the Connecticut Hospital Association’s Board of Trustees unanimously adopted a recommendation that all Connecticut hospitals provide patients with information about facility fees in advance of their treatment. Specifically, it recommended that all Connecticut hospitals voluntarily adopt changes to improve pricing transparency.

Jepsen said he would like to see the legislation passed to mandate the disclosure of these fees.

Jepsen is also supporting legislation concerning greater transparency in physician acquisitions. That bill passed the Public Health Committee and is awaiting action in the Senate.

Advocates and labor unions concerned about the potential conversion of nonprofit hospitals to for-profit hospitals credited the report as making yet another strong and compelling case for increased regulation and oversight of the rapidly-changing hospital industry.

But they went further than the attorney general and recommended the passage of three more bills. In addition to the two bills highlighted by Jepsen, advocates and labor unions would like to see the legislature tackle the following: Senate Bill 460: An Act Concerning Hospital Conversions and Other Matters Affecting Hospitals, House Bill 5257: An Act Concerning Hospital Employees and Hospital Conversions, and House Bill 5384 : An Act Concerning Reports of Nurse Staffing Levels
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“The Attorney General’s report sheds light on serious issues that must be addressed before any for-profit takeovers,” Tom Swan, executive director of the Connecticut Citizens Action Group, said. “And these are just the tip of the iceberg. We can’t let Wall Street profiteers run our health care system. State legislators have to act now to protect quality care for patients, caregivers and communities.”

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Schriro Completes Consolidation Review, Releases Plan

by Hugh McQuaid | Apr 16, 2014 4:44pm
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Posted to: Public Safety

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Commissioner Dora Schriro

MIDDLETOWN — Emergency 911 calls will continue to be handled at consolidated dispatch centers under an Emergency Services and Public Protection Department plan that also shifts administrative calls back to regional state police barracks.

The plan was outlined Wednesday by Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner Dora Schriro. It comes following the conclusion of Schriro’s preliminary review of a controversial consolidation effort set in motion by her predecessor, retired Commissioner Reuben Bradford.

Bradford’s plan was to consolidate the 12 state police dispatch centers down to five. But it was put on hold partway through the process amidst opposition from the Connecticut State Police Union and some lawmakers, who raised public safety concerns.

Schriro said previously planned mergers in the unconsolidated central region of the state will remain on hold for further review. She said her plan should also alleviate workload complaints made by dispatchers working in the consolidated centers.

“By parsing out those calls that are better and best handled at the barracks and directing them back, we have our desk trooper who is there, available to handle those questions and tie up less of the phone time currently occurring at the central locations,” she said.

The plan will see 60 percent of the calls made to state police shifted back to local troops to be handled administratively and about 40 percent handled urgently by someone at a dispatch center.

“It is critical that 911 calls are answered quickly . . . The growing trend in the enforcement community is to direct those 911 calls to facilities focused on emergency situations in the interest of improved public safety,” she said.

Schriro began dealing with the dispatch consolidation issue almost immediately after she was nominated by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in January. Last month, she reversed part of the policy by ordering that all state police barracks be continually staffed by troopers.

On Wednesday, she avoided directly answering a reporter’s question on whether she believed the consolidation program was a mistake.

“You know, I wasn’t here . . . I think like any plan, no matter how well thought out, it doesn’t necessarily work as intended,” she said.

One goal of the mergers was to shift sworn troopers from administrative desk duties back onto the road. But in areas where it’s been implemented, Schriro said the consolidation has fallen well short of the goals set by the department.

Schriro released her plan as lawmakers are considering a bill that would force the department to reverse the consolidation process. The bill has the support of lawmakers including Senate President Donald Williams and others in the state’s eastern region, where the mergers have already taken place.

In a Wednesday statement, Williams praised Schriro’s deliberative study of the issue.

“She has taken the time to listen to the concerns of the residents of northeastern Connecticut as well as troopers, dispatchers, and officials throughout the state. The return of 24-hour coverage at our barracks has improved service and safety in our communities. Today’s announcement, restoring some dispatch functions to the local barracks, is another step in the right direction,” Williams said.

Hugh McQuaid Photo Larry Dorman, a spokesman for AFSCME Council 4, the union representing dispatchers, said Schriro has taken steps to reduce stress on dispatchers. But he said they still have public safety concerns.

Dorman pointed to an incident this week where an electrical problem at a Tolland dispatch center forced 911 calls to be dispatched through a center in Litchfield.

“Talking to our dispatchers, the concern is when you put everything into one central place and something like that happens, and that’s not often the case, there can be a public safety impact,” he said.

The plan also calls for the creation of a department working group with dispatchers and sworn state police as well as an advisory panel consisting of local elected officials. The groups will continue to evaluate the state’s dispatch centers.

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McKinney Tells Quiet Corner Tea Party Patriots He Would Support Repeal

by Christine Stuart | Apr 16, 2014 2:05pm
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Posted to: Election 2014, Public Safety

CTNJ file photo Sen. John McKinney, who represents Newtown and supported stricter gun control measures, told the Quiet Corner Tea Party Patriots on Tuesday that if he was governor and the legislature sent him a repeal of the gun bill he would sign it.

The Connecticut Democratic Party, which captured the video of McKinney’s remarks by using a video tracker, called it “political pandering.”

An audience member asked McKinney, “If the Republicans took over the General Assembly and they put forward a repeal of SB 1160, if you were elected governor would you sign it?”

“If the legislature repeals something, I think the governor owes a great deference to what the legislature does, and I would,” McKinney replied.

In a phone interview Wednesday, McKinney said the likelihood that it would happen is slim.

McKinney said what the video the Democratic Party didn’t share with the media would include his stand on his vote. It would also include him saying that if he was elected governor he would not call for repeal of the bill and would start working on reducing state spending and fixing the tax code.

He said he knew the danger of answering a hypothetical question.

“I refuse to duck those types of questions,” McKinney said. “I think answering those questions honestly is the opposite of pandering.”

Connecticut Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo said that just because it’s a hypothetical doesn’t give McKinney the ability to “backtrack on a big vote and pander to the crowd he’s in front of.”

McKinney said he knew he was speaking to a group of 25 to 30 people who did not support his vote on the bill. He maintained his support for the legislation. But he said the legislature is the “will of the people” and if the legislature repealed something, as governor he would have to give it deference.

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Advocates Mobilize Against Fracking Waste

by Hugh McQuaid | Apr 16, 2014 12:19pm
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Posted to: Energy, Environment

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Advocates seeking to ban the storage in Connecticut of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing delivered petitions with thousands of signatures to policymakers Wednesday as the legislature considers two bills on the subject.

The petitions, which advocates say contained more than 5,600 signatures, urged Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and lawmakers to support a bill that would prohibit the storage and disposal in Connecticut of wastes associated with the hydraulic fracturing process used to extract natural gas.

The state does not have the natural gas resource deposits to engage in the process, known as “fracking,” but advocates are concerned that companies will truck the wastewater into Connecticut from operations in nearby states.

The petitions were organized by several environmental groups including the Connecticut Fund for the Environment. Laura McMillan, the group’s communications director, said the state needs to act now to prevent fracking waste from entering Connecticut in the near future.

McMillan said advocates are not sure exactly what is contained in the waste because the chemicals used in the fracturing process are considered trade secrets by energy companies.

“The only sure way to protect our waters from toxic fracking waste is a complete ban,” she said.

On Monday, the Judiciary Committee passed the ban in a 34-6 vote with support from all the panel’s Democrats and many Republicans. Sen. Ed Meyer, co-chairman of the Environment Committee, said lawmakers want to see more access to natural gas in Connecticut.

“Some people argue you better be prepared to deal with the downside” of that process “but our committee found that difficult because of the toxicity and the danger to our constituents,” Meyer said.

Sen. John Kissel, Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican, supported the bill. Kissel called the impact of fracking waste in other areas of the country “deplorable.”

However, others on the committee said they preferred another bill that was proposed by Malloy’s Energy and Environmental Protection Department. That legislation would ban the waste in Connecticut until DEEP has adopted regulations for it.

Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, said he opposed the ban because it sent a mixed message with efforts to expand access to natural gas.

“Here’s the reality — there’s no fracking waste coming into Connecticut anytime soon. Everybody in this building has been rooting for natural gas. I’m uncomfortable with the mixed message. I don’t like voting without homework and the homework isn’t done yet,” he said.

Proponents of the more permanent ban fear the environmental protection agency does not have enough resources to adequately regulate toxic or radioactive chemicals entering the state from fracking operations.

Andrew Doba, Malloy’s spokesman, said the administration was interested in the legislation but did not indicate which proposal they preferred.

“We are actively monitoring the proposals, and will continue to do so as they go through the legislative process,” he said.

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McKinney Returns Donations, Promises Change

by Christine Stuart | Apr 16, 2014 11:36am
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Posted to: Election 2014, Election Policy

Christine Stuart file photo

Sen. John McKinney

Sen. John McKinney, who is running for governor, was recently forced to refund $500 in donations from five state contractors or prospective contractors who are banned from giving donations.

Since February, McKinney has returned $100 donations from Jonathan Gavin, president of United Concrete Products Inc. and his wife, Lorene Gavin, as well as William Valus, owner of Encon Inc. in Stratford, and Valus’ wife, Maureen. McKinney also returned a $100 donation from Anthony Scillia of Marcum LLP, an accounting company that is listed as state contractor. The companies show up on thelist of state contractors banned from giving to statewide campaigns.

McKinney’s campaign also refunded donations based on the “perception of a potential conflict of interest.” The family of Michael Ajello, who McKinney appointed to the state Elections Enforcement Commission last November, received a refund on his $100 contribution. Three others with the same last name as Ajello also received refunds.

Connecticut Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo pounced on the mistake earlier this week and criticized McKinney, who is one of six candidates vying for the Republican nomination for governor.

“John McKinney looked straight into the camera at the GOP debate and lied to the citizens of Connecticut about not taking state contractor money into his campaign — a practice that is already banned,” DiNardo said. “Not only was John McKinney busted for accepting state contractor money back in February, but the finance report he filed just days before the GOP debate shows he continued to take banned contributions.”

DiNardo was referring to the statements McKinney made last week during the first televised Republican debate.

“As governor I’ll clean up that system and I won’t take a penny from state contractors into our campaign,” McKinney said during the debate.

In a phone interview Monday, McKinney said he stood by that statement. McKinney said the donations were returned once the mistake was discovered. He said they are only as good as the information the donor shares on the forms.

He said that Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy “has literally taken millions for the state party” from people who do business with the state. McKinney pointed to an email sent by a top executive at Northeast Utilities, to about 50 managers asking them to donate money to the party to help re-elect Malloy before he was even a candidate.

McKinney said the Democrats have been raising money knowing they will now be able to spend unlimited amounts on a gubernatorial candidate under a law it passed last summer.

After the new law was passed, Malloy was vocal about his attempts to raise money for the Democratic Party before officially announcing his re-election bid at the end of March.

McKinney said as governor he will seek to change the law so the state party can not receive contributions from state contractors.

However, no matter what happens at the state level, the state party has always been able to receive contributions from state contractors to its federal account, which is allowed to spend money on federal candidates and administrative costs.

A handful of state contractors made the mistake last year of donating to the party’s state account instead of its federal account.

The Connecticut Democratic Party had to refund $40,000 in donations in December because at least three of the four were made by state contractors who were banned from giving to the party’s state account.

At the time, the Democratic Party declined to specify why the donations were returned to the specific individuals.

“The Connecticut Democratic Party relies on the information provided directly by donors on our contribution forms,” James Hallinan, then-spokesman for the party, said. “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.”

DiNardo and the Democratic Party believe there are more state contractor donations that McKinney received as part of his latest report, which covers fundraising for the first quarter of the year.

McKinney said they will adhere to the law and if there are mistakes they will be corrected.

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The Rowlands’ Political Paper Trail Includes Republicans & Democrats

by Christine Stuart | Apr 16, 2014 5:29am
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Posted to: Campaign Finance, Courts, Election 2012, Equality, Ethics, Waterbury, Watertown

Douglas Healey photo

Former Gov. John G. Rowland and his attorney Reid Weingarten walk into U.S. District Court in New Haven last week

Campaign finance records show that in the years following his incarceration, former Gov. John G. Rowland and his wife, Patricia, made several donations to both Democratic and Republican candidates and town committees.

Under some of the donations logged with the state Elections Enforcement Commission he listed himself as a radio personality and in others he was a self-employed marketing consultant with JGR Associates LLC. In one instance, he listed himself as Waterbury’s economic development director, a job he held from 2008 to 2012. Patricia Rowland lists herself as an antique dealer.

The largest donation either of them made — $5,000 to the Mitt Romney campaign — came from Patricia Rowland in 2012, according to Federal Election Commission records. That same year, records show that she also donated $500 to Lisa Wilson-Foley’s campaign in the 5th Congressional District — the campaign federal investigators are still sorting out through recent guilty pleas from Wilson-Foley and her husband, Brian Foley, and new grand jury indictment for the embattled former governor.

Between 2009 and 2012, the former governor gave $575 to the Middlebury Republican Town Committee and $420 to the Waterbury Republican Town Committee. Rowland and his wife also gave money in 2010 and 2012 to local politicians such as Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, and Reps. Jeffrey Berger, D-Waterbury, and Anthony D’Amelio, R-Waterbury.

Over the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, the Rowlands cumulatively donated $150 to Berger, $130 to D’Amelio, and $150 to Kane.

In 2010, the Rowlands also provided $150 to Tom Foley, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, $500 to Ross Garber, who was Rowland’s former legal counsel and briefly a candidate for attorney general, and $200 to former Waterbury Mayor Michael Jarjura, who was in a primary battle for state comptroller.

Despite the record of donations, on April 3, just minutes before announcing his resignation from WTIC 1080 AM as its weekday afternoon radio host, Rowland called the state public campaign finance system that he inspired a “joke.”

His last guest that day was David Walker, a Republican who is currently a candidate for lieutenant governor. During the broadcast, Walker was bemoaning the restrictions on prospective and current state contractors from donating money to candidates or even soliciting money on their behalf.

The state’s public financing rules were adopted by the legislature in 2005 as a result of Rowland’s corruption conviction.

In 2004, the feds charged Rowland with taking more than $100,000 in gifts from a state contractor. He pleaded guilty to one count of depriving the citizens of Connecticut of “the honest services of its governor.” He emerged from prison in 2006, and by 2007 he was on the speaking circuit talking about the arrogance of power and redemption.

Asked about Rowland’s previous financial support for their campaigns, most said they dealt with him based on his role as Waterbury’s economic development director.

“John has been a very popular, well-respected guy in the Greater Waterbury community,” Kane said Tuesday.

Berger, a Democrat, said he recalls that Rowland attended one of his fundraisers. At the time, Berger was the co-chairman of the legislature’s Commerce Committee. He said they spoke a lot about business development in the Brass City.

In 2008, Rowland was hired by Jarjura to oversee economic development at a salary of $95,000 and held the job until 2012.

In 2008, former state Sen. David Cappiello, a Republican from Danbury, was challenging then-U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy in the 5th Congressional District. But Cappiello was one of the first to call on Rowland to resign back in 2004, so instead of helping his fellow Republican, the former governor used his position in Waterbury to help raise funds for Murphy.

In a Sept. 12, 2008, email Rowland encouraged his friends to attend the fundraiser for Murphy.

“We want to have a good Waterbury turnout,” Rowland wrote. “Please let us know if you can attend.”

Asked Monday about the 2008 event, now-Sen. Murphy recollected that the business people in Waterbury held a fundraiser for him and Rowland sent out email asking people to come to the event because he was working as the economic development coordinator.

“I worked with Rowland pretty regularly because he was the head of economic development for the city,” Murphy said Monday.

He said he can’t speak to Rowland’s motivations for supporting him in 2008. The only evidence of his support seems to be the email obtained by the Courant.

Rowland started working at WTIC 1080 AM in 2010, overlapping with his stint as Waterbury’s economic development coordinator until 2012. He resigned his radio gig earlier this month, about a week before he was indicted by a grand jury.

Last week, Rowland pleaded “not guilty” to the seven-count indictment, which says he “devised a scheme” to work for two congressional campaigns and funnel the payment for those consulting gigs through business entities owned by the candidate or their spouse.

In 2009 and 2010, according to the federal indictment, he tried to get Republican Mark Greenberg to pay him his a consulting fee through a non-profit animal shelter in Bloomfield. Greenberg declined his offer, but in 2011 the feds say Rowland made a similar offer to Lisa Wilson-Foley. The consulting contract was allegedly facilitated through the nursing home chain run by Wilson-Foley’s husband, Brian Foley, instead of the campaign. Both Wilson-Foley and her husband have pleaded guilty.

“I am just a volunteer helping you and ‘many other Republican candidates’ in case anyone asks,” Rowland emailed Wilson-Foley in November 2011. “I want to stay under the radar as much as possible and get the job done.”

Jury selection in the case is tentatively expected to start in June.

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Boughton Calls On Candidates To Release Their Tax Returns

by Staff Report | Apr 15, 2014 10:51pm
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Posted to: Election 2014, Taxes

In 2012, some U.S. Senate candidates raced to release their federal and state income tax returns to the news media. This year the gubernatorial candidates are getting involved.

Danbury Mark Mark Boughton, one of six Republicans vying for the nomination, released his returns Tuesday and called upon his fellow candidates to do the same.

“In the interest of personal financial disclosure and giving the public as much information as possible, I call on every candidate for governor to join me in releasing their tax returns,” Boughton said.

According to the tax return Boughton uploaded online, he and his wife, Phyllis, had an adjusted gross income of $179,533. The couple paid about $25,950 in federal income taxes and about $9,231 in state taxes. The couple will received a $2,687 refund from the state. Last year, they had a similar $2,500 refund from the state.

It’s unknown if any of the other Republican candidates will be willing to release their returns, but a spokesman for Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said they would be releasing his tax return in the future.

“Being Connecticut’s governor is a privilege, not an entitlement, and people expect everyone to play by the same rules,” Boughton said.

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Union Official Rolls Eyes, Sparks Contract Debate

by Hugh McQuaid | Apr 15, 2014 4:35pm
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Posted to: Labor

Hugh McQuaid Photo

David Pickus

It wasn’t collective bargaining policy that provoked a dispute between legislative Republicans and a union official during a Tuesday hearing — it was a roll of the eyes.

Rep. Terrie Wood, R-Darien, stopped midway through a question to SEIU 1199 President David Pickus during a hearing on a collective bargaining agreement for personal care workers.

“Question to President Pickus on the outreach efforts — are you rolling your eyes?” Wood asked.

Pickus said he didn’t mean to convey disrespect and cited a medical condition. He later told reporters he has been suffering from an eye injury. But Wood and other Republicans on the Appropriations Committee saw enough rudeness in the labor official’s body language to draw House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero to the committee hearing.

The incident occurred about an hour into a public hearing on a contract for personal care workers who serve low-income elderly and disabled residents and are paid through a state program.

The committee eventually approved the agreement, which includes pay increases and training opportunities for the personal care workers. It will have an estimated net cost to the state of $6.7 million through June 30, 2016.

Speaking outside the hearing room, Cafero said lawmakers from his caucus already felt they lacked oversight of the unionization process because Gov. Dannel P. Malloy set it in motion with a 2011 executive order to which Republicans objected.

“The questions that are being asked . . . are all legitimate. And if someone from the union is impatient to answer them or feels bothered by it, they should suck it up and get over it,” he said.

The exchange between Wood and Pickus came on the heels of extensive questioning from Republicans on the committee to Pickus and labor attorney Daniel Livingston on the process by which the union conducted a vote to approve the contract among the personal care workers.

The tone was sometimes contentious as lawmakers asked for details like the exact vote tally and how many people are in the personal care worker segment of the union — Pickus did not know either number off-hand.

“This is a farce,” Rep. Al Adinolfi, R-Cheshire, told the committee chair at one point. “They don’t know how many members are in the union.”

Wood, a moderate Republican, was attempting to ask how the union reached out to the approximately 7,000 personal care workers in the state to inform them a vote was occurring.

A few minutes after asking Pickus if he’d rolled his eyes at her, Wood told him she was sympathetic to unions. She said she has been a member of three unions, but felt Pickus had been disrespectful while answering questions from another Republican lawmaker.

Hugh McQuaid Photo “I understand the benefit of being in a union. I understand why unions exist but we still have a responsibility to ask these questions and, I will say, I take issue with the way you treated my colleague . . . And I did see you roll your eyes when I started to ask you a question,” she said.

Other Republicans on the committee seemed offended. The panel’s ranking Republican, Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, returned to the subject later in the meeting, asking Pickus to apologize to Wood, whom he said was a calm lawmaker.

Pickus apologized, saying he did not intend to convey any disrespect. He later said he’d recently had laser surgery on his eyes, which sometimes caused his eyes to move involuntarily.

“I have a retinal tear and of course I meant no disrespect whatsoever. I see flashes and my eyes move,” he said.

Retina aside, Cafero said a number of Republicans felt that Pickus’s responses and body language were obviously rude. He said the union official was right to apologize.

Cafero said his caucus, as the minority, is “extra sensitive” to disrespect.

“In my caucus, there’s always consequences to disrespect. Always. There’s no room for that,” he said.

The whole exchange did not stop some Republicans from supporting the contract. But some, like Wood, expressed concerns that union officials did not seem to think the details were important. Pickus told reporters he felt the outcome was what was important.

“To us it’s not that big a deal as to how many people voted for it, how many didn’t, what matters is did they vote for it?” he said.

Despite Tuesday’s debate, it’s still unknown how many of the 7,000 personal care workers will join the union since none have paid dues.

The House members of the Appropriations Committee approved the resolution 33 to 1, with Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol, voting against the measure and the Senate members approved it 8 to 1, with Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, voting against the measure. The two resolutions move to the full House and Senate.

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Settlement Would Require State To Hire 35 More Workers

by Christine Stuart | Apr 15, 2014 12:00pm
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Posted to: Courts, Health Care, Labor, Legal

Department of Social Services Commissioner Roderick Bremby

Under a settlement agreement reached last week in a federal lawsuit, the Connecticut General Assembly will be asked to add 35 positions to the Department of Social Services budget to help process Medicaid applications.

Federal law says the applications must be processed within 45 days, but many had been languishing well-beyond that time period. That prompted New Haven Legal Assistance to file a lawsuit against the state back in January 2012.

Because the settlement exceeds $2.5 million, it will need to be approved by the General Assembly and the court will still need to certify it because it’s a class action.

“The proposed settlement is a reasonable compromise to end this litigation,” the Department of Social Services said Tuesday in a statement. “If approved by the General Assembly, DSS expects to hire 35 additional eligibility staff for processing long-term care applications.”

Since the Appropriations Committee budget already includes funding for an additional 17 positions, legislators will only be asked to add funding for another 18 positions.

Sen. Beth Bye, co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said that by adding 17 positions in the budget the legislature recognized that there are not enough people to process applications.

Bye said they will need to find the funds for the additional 18 positions and is confident they will be able to figure out how to pay for it.

“This settlement will significantly improve the timeliness of application processing, particularly in the area of long-term care applications,” Sheldon Toubman, an attorney with New Haven Legal Assistance, said in a statement. “It is not possible to address DSS’s problems with processing without increasing staffing levels. This applies to almost all aspects of DSS’s operations, including the severely under-staffed call centers.” 

In court, DSS had argued the modernization of its eligibility system would improve processing of applications, but the system is not perfect.

Under the new system called ConneCT, all the applications and redeterminations get sent to a company in Manchester that scans them. The applications are then added to a digital database so that DSS workers at the call centers can pull up the information when a client calls.

In the past, clients were assigned specific caseworkers who were the only ones with access to the paper application the client submitted. The chance that someone would lose their benefits — because their caseworker misplaced their paperwork or because that caseworker was away from the office — was much higher before the new system was implemented, according to state officials.

Legal aid attorneys continued to complain when their clients were not getting the services for which they qualified even after their paperwork was being completed in a timely manner.

Toubman argued in court last year that the number of workers available to process the applications over the past decade hadn’t kept pace with the number of Connecticut residents eligible for the program.

In July 2002, Toubman said there were 845 eligibility workers. In May 2013, there were 881 workers, which included the 220 new hires created under the 2012 state budget.

As of the end of March 2014, there were 680,425 residents enrolled in Medicaid, which is almost double the 346,000 who were enrolled in the program in 2002.

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Truckers Want A Tax Break

by Christine Stuart | Apr 15, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Transportation, Weather

istockphoto

Connecticut truckers say it’s unfair for the state to benefit from the 6.3 percent sales tax on vehicle repairs when it’s the brine the state puts on the roads that causes the damage.

Michael Riley, president of the Motor Transport Association, said the state should give truckers a tax break on the repairs caused by the Transportation Department’s use of magnesium chloride during winter months.

The components on these trucks usually last 10 years, but often they are obsolete in five years because of the materials the state is putting on the roads, Riley said Monday.

He said he heard from one of his members who was cleaning up the body of a flatbed truck and 200 pounds of metal came off the vehicle.

“The state shouldn’t benefit from this damage it caused,” Riley said.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wasn’t convinced a tax exemption for truckers was necessary.

He said truckers have the ability to write-off the cost of a commercial vehicle over the life of that vehicle as part of their taxes.

“That already exists with respect to depreciation,” Malloy said.

As far as the average motorist is concerned, Malloy said, what “we’re trying to do is keep people safe and not take on all responsibility in all cases.”

Rep. Pam Sawyer, R-Bolton, successfully amended an omnibus transportation bill with a study of the materials the state puts on its highways. The bill still has to pass both chambers, but if it does the study would be completed before next winter.

She said she understands why Riley would seek the tax exemption. She said the damage to the brake lines and undercarriage of vehicles is substantial and costly for commercial truck drivers and residents.

Riley said they’ve tried to get the state to add a rust inhibitor to the brine they use on the road, but have been unsuccessful.

“Let me assure you, we have spent a lot of money this year on preparing our roads,” Malloy said Monday at an unrelated press event. “And blown through budgets quite frankly in the millions of dollars.”

He suggested that maybe there’s a greater need for trucks to get better “coatings” to prevent corrosion.

Riley said there’s no such thing as a coating that prevents the type of corrosion they’re seeing. He said it costs about $1,800 to get the brake lines of a vehicle replaced and it’s more than just truckers who are upset about this.

An Office of Legislative Research report released earlier this year says the state started using liquid chemicals to pre-wet salt in 2006. The state started with calcium chloride, but switched to magnesium chloride, which was cheaper and more readily available. In 2007 it experimented with a rust inhibitor, but the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection were concerned it was depleting oxygen levels in state streams, posing a threat to aquatic life.

“We carefully balance our application rates and even calibrate our equipment regularly to ensure that we don’t use more material than we have to and that we strategically apply materials with little or no waste,” Kevin Nursick, a spokesman for the Transportation Department said Monday. “We believe we have struck the best balance putting safety first while addressing concerns about the environment and corrosion through our judicious use of snow and ice chemicals.”

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OP-ED | A Day Everyone Loves To Hate

by Wade Gibson | Apr 15, 2014 5:30am
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Posted to: Analysis, Opinion, Nonprofits, Taxes

Everyone loves to hate taxes. Too high. Too low. Too complicated. The reason for this is simple: our tendency to focus only on what we pay, not how we benefit. What if you considered the cost of your home without considering all the benefits a home brings? Shelter, security, comfort, memories, and more. You might end up hating your home, too. But we love our homes, accepting the costs of homeownership knowing that the benefits far outweigh them.

Connecticut is also our home. Our parents and grandparents — and their parents and grandparents — worked hard to build, secure, and maintain this home. Earlier generations laid the foundation; successive generations framed the structure, finished the rooms, and performed essential maintenance. Each generation builds upon the work of the former, ensuring our state home stands the test of time. Taxes make this all possible. Think for a moment about how taxes maintain and improve our home for today, and for generations to come:

  • Education. Connecticut’s public schools educate 550,000 students, while public colleges and universities enroll 120,000 more. State supports for preschool help educate more than 40,000 young children. Federally funded financial aid supports the higher education of 70,000 students at private colleges and universities. Altogether, more than one in five Connecticut residents currently attends a school supported by public funds.
  • Transportation. Connecticut residents travel an average of 8,700 highway miles per year. Taxes maintain 21,000 miles of road in our state, including over 3,700 miles of state highway and 440 miles of interstate. Taxes also support Connecticut’s rail system, including the New Haven-to-New York rail line, the busiest line in the United States.
  • Healthcare. The two main public health insurance programs, Medicaid and Medicare, cover 1.1 million Connecticut residents — nearly a third of our total state population. Additional public funding supports much of the health coverage for the remaining residents through the deduction for employer-provided health insurance.
  • Security. State and local taxes pay the salaries of 8,000 police officers and 4,100 firefighters in Connecticut. Federal taxes, meanwhile, support thousands of sailors at the sub base in Groton and cadets at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, as well as Connecticut National Guardsmen who help our communities recover from natural disasters like Super Storm Sandy.
  • All of this barely scratches the surface; taxes support countless other services and programs. Few people in Connecticut would choose to shutter our public schools and colleges, close our highways and railroads, or disband our police and fire departments. These services are utterly necessary to modern life.

    Any discussion of the taxes we pay must consider the benefits we receive: we drive our children to public school on public roads secured by state and local police in automobiles rendered safe by federal regulation. Along the way we drink coffee ensured safe by public health agencies and burn gas ensured pure by public inspectors. This is all before 9 a.m. in the morning. Each of these services is not free. Today we must remember that civilization is not free, although the cost of losing it is incalculable.

    Wade Gibson is the director of the Fiscal Policy Center at Connecticut Voices for Children

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    ‘Knockout Game’ Bill Headed To Senate

    by Hugh McQuaid | Apr 14, 2014 4:46pm
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    Hugh McQuaid Photo

    Rep. Joe Verrengia

    Legislation aimed at discouraging the “knockout game” cleared the Judiciary Committee on Monday over opposition from lawmakers who say the unprovoked attacks addressed in the bill are not a problem in Connecticut.

    The bill, which passed 31-10, would apply in criminal cases where an attacker strikes someone in the head without provocation and with the intent of knocking them unconscious. The legislation makes that attack a Class D felony with a mandatory two-year sentence. It also requires juvenile courts to transfer 16- and 17-year-olds accused of the crime to the adult criminal justice system.

    It’s an attempt to curb something often called the “knockout game,” or the practice of sucker punching a stranger for entertainment.

    “Often this cowardly act is without warning and is unprovoked,” Rep. Joe Verrengia, a West Hartford Democrat who proposed the bill, said. “This language attempts to capture that sort of assault.”

    But opponents contend the bill is unnecessary because the attacks rarely happen. The issue is made more controversial based on the fact that the examples of the crime most often cited are almost always instances of interracial violence.

    Hugh McQuaid Photo “I’m not sure we have information indicating that the knockout game 1, was a real problem in this state and 2, is an ongoing problem in this state,” Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, said.

    Verrengia said it was difficult to determine how many of the attacks have occurred when he was asked Monday if there was any evidence suggesting that a large number have been committed by 16- or 17-year-old offenders.

    “I tried to wrap my arms around it, I tried to get statistics, but it’s very difficult to do so by virtue of the present reporting requirements by various law enforcement agencies,” he said. “. . . I think if you were to ask [victims] how many assaults have there been throughout the state of Connecticut, they would say, ‘One too many.’”

    Critics say the legislation is also in conflict with the approach the state has taken to criminal justice policy in recent years. It creates a new mandatory sentence requirement even as policymakers have sought to reduce mandatory punishments.

    During the meeting, Rep. Pat Dillon, D-New Haven, urged her colleagues to table the bill.

    “I’m looking at a bill with a minimum mandatory and language with a mandatory transfer to adult — I don’t know what language will fix that. I’m concerned about that. It goes against everything we’ve been doing for six years in this building,” she said.

    Opponents of the legislation also contend that the attacks described in the bill already are punishable in the state’s laws regarding assault.

    But Verrengia said he was seeking to make the victims of unprovoked attacks a protected class similar to how the law treats victims who are handicapped, pregnant, or blind.

    “Although the victims in this case may not be legally blind, they are certainly blindsided by this sort of attack,” Verrengia said. “. . . I believe it warrants that sort of penalty.”

    Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said she understood the concerns of opponents but agreed that the crime should come with a more severe penalty.

    “This isn’t kids just playing around having fun. Although they think that’s what it is because they’ve decided it’s a ‘game.’ But there are people who have lost — pregnant women who have lost children because of it,” she said. “At the very least, if this sends a message to these kids that think this is funny, I think we’ve done our job.”

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    Report Highlights Cybersecurity Threats

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 14, 2014 3:45pm
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    Posted to: Energy, Environment, Public Safety

    Christine Stuart photo

    Arthur House, chairman of the Public Utility Regulatory Authority

    It’s not clear exactly how many times someone may have tried to gain access to Connecticut’s electrical grid with malicious intent, but state officials say they’re working with utilities in developing cybersecurity regulatory guidance.

    “Hostile probes and penetrations of utilities occur frequently. Defenses in Connecticut so far have been adequate, but security challenges are constantly evolving and becoming more sophisticated and nefarious,” a report on cybersecurity found.

    The report from the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority highlights cybersecurity threats to the state.

    Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the state computer system fended off 40 million probes to its system last year alone. It’s unknown how many attempts were made on computers at Connecticut’s utilities, like Northeast Utilities and United Illuminating, which distribute electricity and natural gas in the state.

    As far as Malloy is concerned, the most significant attack to any electrical utility was the assault on PG&E’s California substation by snipers last year. The attack involved the cutting of telephone cables and shooting out 17 transformers at a substation, according to this Wall Street Journal article.

    Christine Stuart photo Peter Clarke of Northeast Utilities said every day there are probes, which are “people trying to get into the system.” But as of Monday none have been successful. “Fortunately our layered securities have worked,” Clarke said.

    He said they stay in touch with third-party vendors who keep them up to date on evolving threats. He said many come from overseas, according to Internet Protocol addresses.

    “There have been no successful penetrations or interruptions caused by hacking,” Clarke said Monday at a press conference in the Emergency Operations Center.

    He said sometimes it’s just people trying to see how far they can get into a system, while others may have “malicious intent.”

    Arthur House, a former Director of Communications for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and current chairman of the Public Utility Regulatory Authority, said that if there are all these probes taking place from nation states or individual actors, then “what is the nature of our security?”

    “How can the people of Connecticut know that there is a system which is being overseen to ensure that the utilities are doing all that they can?” House said.

    He that’s the purpose of the report. Once that information is gathered it will be shared with the appropriate parties and one of the possible outcomes would be a voluntary agreement by the utilities to conduct an audit and share that information with select state officials.

    “The details of those studies obviously shouldn’t be made public,” House said.

    He said that in doing the report Connecticut “is ahead of the game” when it comes to trying to create some type of standard for utilities, which are regulated by the states.

    Malloy said the state already knows what it’s like to have 1 million customers without power. He said if a power outage is a result of a cyberattack, it could be sustained for a period of time and have devastating effects on a heating or cooling system.

    He said this is a statewide attempt to coordinate cybersecurity efforts at a wide range of utilities. Cybersecurity also will be included in emergency management drills in the future.

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    OP-ED | Canada Prime Minister Pushing Free Market Principles For Single-payer System

    by Wendell Potter | Apr 14, 2014 12:40pm
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    Posted to: Analysis, Business, Equality, Health Care, Opinion, Health Care Opinion, Reprinted with permission from the Center for Public Integrity

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — During the year leading up to the 2008 presidential primaries, my insurance industry colleagues and I were working hard to influence the debate on health care reform.

    Our number one objective: make Americans so afraid of “heading down the slippery slope toward socialism” that no candidate would even consider supporting a Canadian-style, single-payer health care system.

    Leading the scare campaign behind the scenes was the trade association, America’s Health Insurance Plans. With help from a right-wing Canadian outfit called the Fraser Institute, which has received funding from the Koch brothers and other American donors, AHIP put together a three-ring binder of talking points for insurance company executives to use in speeches and media interviews.

    The contribution from the Fraser Institute, a long-time advocate of privatizing the Canadian system, was a handful of selective statistics and anecdotes designed to create a negative perception of single-payer health care.

    At the time, I had done no research of my own about the Canadian system. I hate to admit it, but I had outsourced my thinking to the Fraser Institute. I also hate to admit that I was willing to do that out of self-interest. If the U.S. adopted a single-payer system, I would be out of a job.

    With that as background, it’s hard for even me to believe that, nearly seven years later, I’m on a cross-country tour of Canada warning our neighbors to the north about the dangers of “heading down the slippery slope” toward American-style health care.

    The reality is that Canadians spend far less per capita on health care then we do in the U.S., yet they have better health outcomes overall. And they have achieved universal coverage.

    By contrast, while Obamacare is making it possible for many people to enroll in affordable health care plans for the first time, it will still leave several million of us in the ranks of the uninsured.

    wikimedia What I’m doing on this tour, organized by the Canadian Health Coalition, is disabusing folks of the notion that more private involvement in their health care system will necessarily lead to better quality of care and lower prices. That, essentially, is the promise being held out by the country’s conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.

    Harper has frustrated supporters of the current system by refusing to renew a 10-year compact between the federal government in Ottawa and the 13 provincial governments, which are largely responsible for administering their own health care programs.

    In that sense, the Canadian system is more like our Medicaid program, which gives the states broad latitude to determine benefits and eligibility, than our traditional Medicare program, which is entirely federally funded and operated.

    One of the key provisions of that compact — known as the Health Accord — was a commitment that the federal government would increase its financial support to the provinces by 6 percent per year. The Health Accord also stipulates that the federal dollars be allocated based on both population and need.

    In other words, over the past decade, the poorer provinces have been getting a proportionally larger check from Ottawa than the richer provinces.

    What Harper is proposing as an alternative is a scheme in which starting in 2017 the growth in the annual federal payment to the provinces would be pegged to the growth in the country’s gross domestic product, usually considerably less than 6 percent, but no less than 3 percent.

    Harper further proposes to allocate the federal money only on the basis of population and population growth. Under this scenario, fast-growing provinces like oil-rich Alberta would fare much better than the relatively small, slow-growing Atlantic provinces of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and New Brunswick.

    Andre Picard, a columnist for The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, last week did the math in a way the Harper government hadn’t, and it clearly showed just how starkly the change would affect the fortunes of the provinces.

    Alberta would be the big winner, getting more than 27 percent more than it does today. Newfoundland, on the other hand, would get zip.

    Patient advocates, who want the Accord not only renewed but expanded to include pharmacy and long-term care benefits, fear that Harper’s proposal would quickly lead to a much more inequitable system because the smaller provinces would likely have no alternative but to cut their health care budgets. Both access to timely care and the quality of care provided would be affected.

    And like their counterparts in the U.S. and elsewhere, Canadian conservatives believe as an article of faith that the “free market” and “choice and competition” can lead to cost-saving efficiencies.

    I tell audiences that while this sounds good, it actually hasn’t worked out that way south of their border.

    I’ve described how the endless quest to satisfy shareholders’ profit expectations created a situation in which insurance companies refused to sell coverage to people who’ve been sick in the past. And I’ve told them about how the cost of a stay in a U.S. hospital has increased far faster than even medical inflation because every hospital in town wants to have the latest bells and whistles to attract paying customers.

    Like every country with an aging population, Canada will have to implement some changes to make sure care continues to be accessible and affordable, but the U.S. model is not the example Ottawa and the provinces should follow.

    Former CIGNA executive-turned-whistleblower Wendell Potter is writing about the health care industry and the ongoing battle for health reform for the Center for Public Integrity.

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    Murphy, Blumenthal Warn of Predatory Tax Filing Services

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 14, 2014 12:39pm
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    Posted to: Congress, Taxes, Hartford

    Christine Stuart photo

    U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy with Galo Rodriguez, president and CEO of the Village for Families and Children

    On the eve of the income tax filing deadline, U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal warned of unscrupulous practices by tax preparers who prey upon moderate- and low-income individuals.

    A recent U.S. District Court decision found that the Internal Revenue Service doesn’t have the ability to regulate tax preparers. Murphy and Blumenthal said Monday that Congress needs to take action to regulate predatory practices.

    “You shouldn’t have to pay $400 to $500 to a tax preparer,” Murphy said.

    He said that year-after-year they hear horror stories from constituents who have gone into storefront tax preparers and have walked out paying more in fees than they got back in refunds. He said they also hear about tax returns prepared incorrectly and those that have led to audits.

    “It’s time for Congress to pass a law giving the IRS the ability to regulate these tax preparing services to make sure Connecticut residents are only getting the best tax advice,” Murphy said.

    He said many of the families being preyed upon by these tax preparers qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit.

    Galo Rodriguez, president and CEO of the Village for Families and Children, said the average tax return received by those who file for free with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program is $1,600.

    Anyone who makes less than $52,000 a year can file for free at one of these volunteer centers sponsored by both the Village for Families and Children and the United Way in the Greater Hartford and Windham County area.

    Maura Cook of the United Way said the community benefits from the program because the Earned Income Tax Credit dollars are invested back into the community. The working families who qualify for the tax credit often don’t have to pay any income tax because their income is low.

    The state approved a program in 2011 that gives those residents a similar credit estimated at about 27 percent of the federal tax credit.

    She said the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program has grown over the years. In 2003, it served 3,000 taxpayers and in 2013 it served more than 6,000 and “returned more than $26.4 million in federal tax refunds and credits back to families in our community, including more than $6.5 million in Earned Income Tax Credit,” Cook said.

    So far more than 6,500 working families have availed themselves of the free income tax filing services offered by the United Way and the Village for Families and Children.

    “Even though it’s a day before tax returns have to be filed, extensions are routinely granted,” Blumenthal said.

    Blumenthal encouraged anyone with concerns to file an extension.

    According to the Internal Revenue Service, more than 147,000 Connecticut residents will ask for an extension to file their tax return this year.

    People who haven’t finished filling out their return can get an automatic six month extension. The fastest and easiest way to get the extra time is through the Free File link on IRS.gov. In a matter of minutes, anyone, regardless of income, can use this free service to electronically request an automatic tax-filing extension on Form 4868.

    Filing this form gives taxpayers until Oct. 15 to file a return. To get the extension, taxpayers must estimate their tax liability on this form and should also pay any amount due, according to a spokeswoman from the IRS.

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    Republicans Win Special Election in 61st

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 14, 2014 5:30am
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    Posted to: Election 2014, Town News, Suffield, Windsor

    Courtesy of Facebook

    East Granby resident Tami Zawistowski and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley

    The Connecticut Republican Party is claiming that East Granby resident Tami Zawistowski’s victory over Peter Hill in the 61st House District race was a referendum on Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

    The special election held Friday showed that Zawistowski defeated Hill by more than 540 votes. Zawistowski will fill the seat previously held by the late Elaine O’Brien of Suffield. The district includes East Granby, Suffield, and part of Windsor.

    “Tonight’s results are also a clear referendum on the failed economic policies of Dan Malloy which have given us the worst economy in the nation, brutally high taxes, and an unemployment rate that continues to far exceed the national average,” Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. said.

    Courtesy of Facebook A spokeswoman for the Democratic Party said that the Republican Party’s perspective on the race is not accurate.

    “I commend Peter Hill on a hard fought race and congratulate Tami Zawistowski. But please, someone give Jerry Labriola a reality check,” Sandra Lyons said. “We realize his party is in shambles with their recent party leader being indicted in addition to their leading candidate for governor being fined for violating election law. As much as Jerry needs good news, a special election for a state house race is not an indicator of anything for November.”

    Zawistowski, who runs Resource Books LLC, a company that deals in rare and used books, ran and lost in 2012 to O’Brien, a popular town clerk in Suffield. O’Brien died in February from cancer.

    Hill was a political newcomer who had served on the Suffield Police Commission.

    Zawistowski’s victory brings the number of Republican lawmakers in the House up to 54. It’s the second special election Republicans have won since Rep. Sam Belsito picked up a seat in the 53rd District representing Tolland, Ashford, and Willington.

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    OP-ED | The Search for Sustainability

    by Brian O'Shaughnessy | Apr 14, 2014 3:30am
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    Posted to: Economics, Opinion, Nonprofits, Poverty, State Budget, Taxes, Transparency

    Financially inefficient markets are not sustainable. They crash.

    In 1929, stock brokers asked people without money to pay for stocks with no worth. The stock market was wildly inefficient because at the core there was no value.

    The Great Recession of 2008 occurred because the real estate market did not have the value we perceived. Individuals and entities the world over were invested in our illusion. Securities were sold and “backed” by the promise of those who could not pay. The check was in the mail.

    There is a similar crisis unfolding in the funding of public services. The manner in which we fund our public functions is often labeled “unsustainable.” The revenue base decreases as the need we address increases. Despite this gradual realization — one I certainly do not own — thinking different in the big ways necessary does not seem to be an endeavor we embrace with urgency.

    If the manner in which we deliver public services crashes, the human results will be devastating. Our public investments are purported to improve our society and living conditions. If these are proven to be an illusion, look out for education, the quality of our workforce, economic mobility, and true public safety for all. If these do not exist, what do we have?

    As taxpayers and voters, we should insist on true value in the huge local, state and federal investments we make in the American people. These investments represent more than 40 percent of our economy. Population results make clear that our investments are not accomplishing what we desire. The insistence on honestly evaluating the impact of public investments can result in financial efficiencies and positive population results. Credibility and efficiency in our public funding systems will make us stronger in every way.

    The nurturing and development of trends to evaluate the impact of public investments are crucial for an informed democracy. The heavy lifting falls on the electorate. It will not happen in Washington or any of our state capitols. The political process is about advocacy and disbursement of funds along historical funding lines. Meaningful self-evaluation is against the interest of those who disburse or receive funds. It is human nature.

    True analysis is needed everywhere. After 35 years of secrecy, we review Medicare data kept private by the AMA. One Florida ophthalmologist is paid $21 million in taxpayer dollars in one year. Crime is at a 50-year low, except in the areas where we spend the most taxpayer money on arrest, incarceration, and subsequent social services. We are in the process of winding down 10 years of war. Did we get what we paid for? Lots of red and blue people don’t want us to look. It is human nature to be about the green.

    Both political parties promote financial inefficiencies. One side wants big government, one side wants unregulated healthcare. These strange bedfellows created a structure that results in healthcare costs pushing out investments in everything else. As the Supreme Court once again confirms that money is speech, it is incumbent upon taxpayers to seek honest answers about results. You have paid for this right.

    Most importantly, the ability to talk about whether we have achieved the results we all care about will start a conversation, not a fight. The political debate is so contentious today that many red and blue people are saying “Forget it. I don’t want any money spent on anything.” The discourse will continue to radicalize without an honest and nonpartisan evaluation of what happens when we spend public funds.

    It is the mission of the private sector to create “perceptions of value.” Who cares if the guy down the street spends twice what you do on a foreign car always in the shop, while the odometer on your car passes 200K? Vineyards pour the same wine into bottles with 2 different labels and the more expensive one sells better. Good for them. No one is hurt.

    The public sector is not the private sector. If a dwindling supply of public money funds expensive labels, we are in danger. Funding a system that creates more need is not sustainable.

    The problem is big and so too will be the solutions. The fixes are not conducive to election cycles. Many pathways have led us here and many will lead us out. However, the search for real value requires looking. The blind belief that a function is served because it is funded is an illusion that will lead to a crash.

    Brian O’Shaughnessy of New Haven is a principal in the firm Community Impact Strategies Ltd.

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    PHOTOS | 200,000 Celebrate UConn Basketball Teams in Victory Parade

    by Josalee Thrift | Apr 13, 2014 9:03pm
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    Posted to: Photos, Sports, Hartford

    HUSKIES

    Sunday’s victory parade in Hartford drew more than 200,000 to the city to honor the University of Connecticut’s men’s and women’s basketball teams for winning their respective 2014 NCAA championships. Hartford police provided a “conservative” crowd estimate of more than 200,000 and said fans were respectful - not a single arrest was reported. Police said it was the largest crowd anyone can remember in Hartford.

    —CLICK HERE FOR MORE PHOTOS

    The event was produced by the Hartford Business Improvement District, in collaboration with the City of Hartford and the State of Connecticut, and a number of civic and business organizations.

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    Rowland’s Attorney: ‘We’re Eager To Go To Trial’

    by Hugh McQuaid | Apr 11, 2014 3:58pm
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    Posted to: Congress, Courts, Election 2014, New Haven

    Peter Hvizdak/New Haven Register photo

    Former Gov. John G. Rowland walks with his attorney Reid Weingarten on the far left into court

    NEW HAVEN — Former Gov. John G. Rowland pleaded not guilty Friday to campaign corruption charges in U.S. District Court in New Haven, where his lawyer said he plans to take the case to trial.

    —Photos from outside court

    Rowland, wearing a dark pinstriped suit and a pink striped tie, said little during his arraignment beyond “yes, your honor” to the questions from Judge Ellen Bree Burns. But his lawyer, Reid Weingarten, seemed defiant in and outside the courthouse.

    “For what it’s worth, this case will go to trial. We’re eager to go to trial,” Weingarten told the judge.

    Rowland, who served 10 months in federal prison on a conspiracy charge after resigning the governor’s office in 2004, is now facing seven new grand jury charges for attempting to conceal the extent of his involvement with two campaigns in the 5th Congressional District during the 2010 and 2012 elections cycles.

    In an indictment released Thursday, prosecutors say Rowland “devised a scheme” to work for two Republican congressional candidates under a phony contract designed to hide his involvement from the government and the public. One of the candidates, Mark Greenberg, refused the offer in 2009. The other, Lisa Wilson-Foley, pleaded guilty to charges related to the 2012 campaign last week, when she and her husband Brian Foley implicated Rowland.

    Outside the courthouse Friday, Weingarten told reporters that the allegations related to Greenberg’s campaign were bogus because Rowland never received any money from that candidate. With regard to the Wilson-Foley campaign, Weingarten said it was her legal responsibility to file accurate reports with federal elections regulators.

    “The allegation is that she, the candidate, had an obligation to disclose to the FEC, in her legally mandated reports that Gov. Rowland was helping her. He had no responsibility whatsoever to file anything with the FEC. She has been allowed to plead to a misdemeanor. He, while working for her husband and doing real work, is facing 37 years of potential prison for a case involving her FEC returns,” Weingarten said.

    As his lawyer spoke, Rowland exited the courthouse from a side door. The former governor and WTIC talk show host is free on a $250,000 non-surety bond. His travel is restricted to Connecticut. Judge Burns tentatively set a trial date for June 10.

    Burns, who is 90 years old, told Weingarten she was also eager to see the case go to trial.

    “I enjoy trials,” she said.

    “I think you’ll enjoy this one your honor,” Weingarten answered.

    The entire hearing lasted just under 10 minutes. Addressing the reporters on the steps of the courthouse, Weingarten said he expected the court to clear Rowland of all the charges. According to Hearst Connecticut, Rowland rejected a plea bargain for an 18-month sentence.

    “We will have an aggressive challenge to these charges. We are looking forward to it. Most of all, we are looking forward to this trial and we fully expect our client to be fully vindicated,” he said.

    The evidence against Rowland includes the texts of several emails sent from the former governor as he aggressively tried to involve Greenberg in a political consulting contract, paid through Greenberg’s animal rescue center in Bloomfield.

    “I’m not as unpopular as your campaign manager would lead you to believe . . . especially in the 5th district. I can get you elected . . . If you are interested,” Rowland said in an email to Greenberg in May 2010, according to the indictment.

    Prosecutors also have communications between Rowland and the Foleys as they drafted and entered a contract through the law offices of an attorney for Brian Foley’s nursing home company.

    According to court documents from the Wilson-Foley case, even Rowland himself recognized that his help on her congressional campaign could be problematic if it were to be publicized.

    “I am just a volunteer helping you and ‘many other Republican candidates’ in case anyone asks,” Rowland emailed Wilson-Foley in November 2011. “I want to stay under the radar as much as possible and get the job done.”

    Rowland was released from prison in 2006 and took a job as director of economic development for the city of Waterbury in 2008. Two years later he began working as the host of an afternoon drive political talk show on WTIC. Rowland resigned from that job last week amidst calls from many, including Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, for WTIC to remove him from the airwaves.

    As he signed off for the last time, Rowland cited “personal issues.”

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    Five of The Six Republican Gubernatorial Candidates Square Off

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 11, 2014 3:27pm
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    Posted to: Election 2014, Hartford

    Christine Stuart photo On questions ranging from gun policy to political corruption, five of the six Republican gubernatorial candidates did their best to answer Friday during the first televised political debate of the 2014 season.

    Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, Avon Attorney Martha Dean, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, and former West Hartford Town Councilor Joe Visconti participated in the debate sponsored by the Courant and Fox 61 at the Mark Twain House.

    Tom Foley, the 2010 Republican nominee, declined an invitation to debate. His absence was marked with a folding chair outside the Twain auditorium.

    On any other day, the debate may have been the biggest political news of the moment, but it was upstaged by the arraignment of former Republican Gov. John G. Rowland.

    One of the first questions the candidates were asked Friday was about “Corrupticut,” the nickname the state has earned for the number of politicians who have been put behind bars. The question came just hours before Rowland pleaded not guilty to seven counts of campaign corruption. Two weeks ago, a former congressional candidate and her husband pleaded guilty to charges that they illegally paid the former governor-turned-radio-host consulting fees without reporting them to the Federal Election Commission.

    “What would you do to clean up Connecticut politics?” Fox 61 Reporter Laurie Perez asked the panel.

    Christine Stuart photo McKinney said he’s spent 15 years in the state Senate fighting corruption and was one of the lawmakers who asked Rowland to resign back in 2004 amid another federal inquiry that led to him pleading guilty and going to jail.

    “When John Rowland was governor I called on him to step down because we could not have a governor who engaged in illegal activity,” McKinney said. “When Sen. Ernie Newton, a Democrat, engaged in illegal activity, I similarly called for him to step down.”

    He estimated that about 99 percent of politicians who serve are good people, “but there are those who break the law, and that cannot be tolerated.” He said it creates voter apathy.

    Christine Stuart photo Dean, who got into the race last month, said cracking down on corruption requires strong leadership. She said in order to end the reputation of Connecticut as a corrupt state, voters have to stop sending the same people back to the Capitol.

    As far as Rowland is concerned, Dean said she thinks it’s a “black eye to the Republican Party that it’s tolerated.”

    McKinney said he’s always “astounded that people might put themselves in positions and make decisions that would violate the law.”

    He said he’s always amazed when someone who has been through the criminal justice system and has gone to jail would “jeopardize their freedoms to go back to jail again.”

    Lauretti said its hard to legislate behavior. You just have to be diligent about corrupt behavior.

    “To a good extent, the system has worked. I’m not sure you can legislate behavior like some people would like to think,” Lauretti said.

    Visconti said leading by example is the what needs to be done. He pointed to a Courant story from 2013 in which Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration admitted to using private email accounts to conduct state business.

    “We need to look at the current governor and how he has cut and weakened current FOI law,” Visconti said.

    Boughton went after the Malloy administration as well and described as “ripe for abuse” some of the current practices they have implemented.

    “When certain key individuals who are close to the governor get grants that they probably shouldn’t get, we need to be very afraid,” Boughton said. “Unfortunately, I think there are going to be more of these investigations, more of these bad headlines coming out.”

    Christine Stuart photo As far as Rowland is concerned, Boughton said after the debate that he doesn’t think it hurts the Republican Party and people will judge the party on its own merits.

    “Obviously, it’s very troubling and deeply disappointing that he would even get near a second time around to having this kind of problem,” Boughton said.

    The question was a nice change of pace for Boughton, who has been criticized from both the left and the right on his decision to leave Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

    Whether the candidates would repeal a bill that tightens restrictions on what types of guns and ammunition a Connecticut resident can possess was one of the first questions posed during the debate.

    Boughton said he believes the parents and victims of the Newtown community deserved a legislative response, even though he feels the bill didn’t go far enough on mental health and school security.

    “While we spent a lot of time concerned about what kind of flash suppressor a gun has or what kind of magazine it has, we didn’t spend a lot of time on the heavy lifting,” Boughton said. “Mental health care is going to require real input.”

    McKinney was the only lawmaker on the panel that voted in favor of the bill and defended his decision. He said he was elected to represent the entire town of Newtown and be their voice in the legislature.

    “Leadership’s about making difficult decisions,” McKinney said. “There’s no easy decision after something like Newtown.” He challenged Boughton’s characterization of the legislation. He said they did address mental health and they did address school security.

    Dean is an avid gun rights advocate and is helping with a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new law. Visconti, who carries a gun, also is a gun rights advocate.

    Lauretti, who has been competitive in raising the necessary funds but shy when it comes to talking to the news media, said he would have opposed the legislation.

    “I also think the video game industry has gotten a completely free pass on this thing,” he added.

    The Newtown gunman was an avid video game player, but the science about whether violent video games lead to mass murder is not definitive and lawmakers didn’t take any action on video games.

    The debate will air again at 10 a.m. Sunday on Fox 61.

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    Republican Candidates Turn In Their Fundraising Totals

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 11, 2014 10:35am
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    Posted to: Election 2014

    CTNJ file photo

    Republican nominating convention

    Thursday marked the end of the first quarter of fundraising for all candidates running for statewide office and the last financial filing candidates will be asked to share with election regulators before the party conventions in May.

    Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton has raised about $121,089 from 1,577 donors, but he’s combining his totals with his running mate Heather Somers of Groton who raised about $56,000 from 667 donors.

    Sen. Republican Leader John McKinney raised $178,561 from 2,033 donors, according to his latest report.

    Tom Foley, who was the 2010 Republican nominee, raised more than $131,500 in small contributions. Foley spent nearly $10 million of his own money on the last campaign, and has not decided whether he will continue to use the public financing, which would limit his spending on the primary to $1.35 million.

    Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti raised $109,325 in individual contributions from 1,353 donors in the quarter.

    Joe Visconti of West Hartford has raised about $8,700 and Martha Dean, the Avon attorney who jumped into the race last month, raised about $7,900.

    Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy who announced on March 28 just four days before the end of the fundraising period was not required to report his fundraising numbers. He was the first gubernatorial candidate to qualify in 2010 for the Citizens Election Program grant.

    In order to qualify for the grant, gubernatorial candidates have to raise $250,000 in small donations from 2,500 individuals.

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    OP-ED | Peeling The Assessment Onion

    by Margaret Cibes | Apr 11, 2014 10:00am
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    Posted to: Education, Opinion

    The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) is the focus of much controversy to date about the testing’s potential effects on state and local governments, with respect to their budgets, on school districts, with respect to their curricula, and on teachers, with respect to their salaries. We need to “peel” the assessment “onion” to look at its potential effects on the core group — the students, who are most directly affected by any testing program.

    That is, we need to look at the test itself and evaluate its effect, on us older, smarter balanced folks.

    I just took the grade 7 math “Practice Test” at home, and you can, too. Readers may sign in as a “Guest” to take the test at https://sbacpt.tds.airast.org/student/. For “answers,” see the Scoring Guide at http://sbac.portal.airast.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Grade7Math.pdf.

    Software? See the CALCULATOR and Notepad buttons. One might expect these to be helpful. However, the online calculator is not the more commonly used scientific/graphing calculator that can display an entire arithmetic expression, and the online Notepad is probably less effective than pencil and paper for a student’s scratch work.

    Best practices? It is good practice to provide simple introductory questions that put students at ease and instill some comfort and confidence at the outset, but there are no such start-up questions. And most problems include multiple parts, which will make it difficult to determine sources of student errors, which would help in implementing improvements in teaching.

    Multiple correct answers? There is nothing wrong with having more than one correct response – if correct, but non-obvious, responses will be scored correctly. For example, one fill-in-the-blanks problem asks for the ratio of 3 tomatoes to 4 potatoes, but it is not clear whether a correct, available response of 6:8 would be scored as correct. Another example involves writing a fraction, but it is not clear whether a correct, available response of 5/1 would be scored as correct.

    Real-life settings? It is unarguably important to test whether students can apply math knowledge to real-life situations. While there are problems that attempt to do this, the settings are often remarkable for how un-real they are. For example, consider a problem about painting a pentagonal wall with cans of paint that can each cover an area of only 24 square feet or ones that require calculation of six total purchase prices, such as 6 pens and 6 erasers, to determine whether a customer has enough money, but for which real-life estimation is not sufficient.

    Content level? Almost a quarter of the problems test algebraic skills/concepts. It is difficult to understand how pushing so much algebra down to 7th grade, or earlier, is appropriate for the majority of 7th graders, who have not traditionally been considered ready for the abstractions of algebraic reasoning. For example, there is a problem that requires students to solve an equation for one variable, w, in terms of another, v, using the distributive property at least six times and the additive inverse property at least twice.

    As a high-school teacher, I observed that the students who performed better in algebra were those with strong arithmetic backgrounds. And, as a college instructor, I made the same observation about students in calculus with strong algebra backgrounds. Going faster through the math curriculum is not the route to higher-level math success for most students.

    Diversity of approaches? While students should be exposed to different approaches to problems, and original approaches should be applauded, students should not have to guess what method the SBAC folks expect as a correct answer.  The Board Chair of the State Department of Education testified to state legislators, on March 12, 2014, that the aim of adopting the Common Core is a “focus on fewer topics handled in more depth.” My impression is that “more depth” means that scores will depend upon students figuring out what the testers want in the way of multiple solution methods, rather than upon students getting correct solutions from any one of a variety of correct methods. Students with unique, correct reasoning patterns may suffer, as may students who find exposure to different methods confusing.

    Painting a wall? Try this problem:


    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.

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    (7) Comments

    OP-ED | Historic Championships Won: Now Pay the Players

    by Susan Bigelow | Apr 11, 2014 9:00am
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    Posted to: Education, Opinion, Sports

    Peter Casolino / New Haven Register

    Shabazz Napier and his teammates with the UConn men’s basketball team are honored with a ceremony in Gampel Pavilion after returning home with the NCAA Basketball Championship title on Wednesday.


    It’s been an amazing year for Connecticut basketball. Both the men and women won national championships, making our little state the center of the basketball world. The tournaments were incredibly lucrative for everyone involved — except the actual players.

    That needs to change.

    I should admit that Huskymania is one of those things that somehow passed me by. I’ve watched some of the games, but college basketball never grabbed me. It probably has something to do with the fact that we moved here from out of state, no one in the family went to UConn for undergrad, and our sports habits were pretty firmly rooted elsewhere.

    But college football? That I get. It makes no sense to outsiders that 110,000 people will cram themselves into cold, uncomfortable stadiums to watch Penn State crush Bowling Green, but they do. For years, I was one of them. I went every year, sometimes twice, to see them play.

    The team’s fortunes waxed and waned, but there was always some new way to squeeze more money from fans and sponsors. Additions were built on to the stadium, new luxury boxes were created, and ticket prices went up. Pennsylvania State University was making fistfuls of money off of the Nittany Lions, but the young men on the field saw none of it.

    The reason why has to do with the NCAA itself, which basically exists to keep the money flowing and preserve the ideal of “amateurism” in college sports. This is a noble goal, and ostensibly that’s why college players don’t get paid.

    However, there’s a couple of massive holes in the theory.

    First, the NCAA pulls in astonishing amounts of revenue. The television rights for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament alone generated $680 million this year. College sports in this country generate literally billions of dollars for universities, leagues, marketers, retailers and more. The players may be “amateurs,” but nobody else around them is.

    This isn’t to say the players get nothing, though. They get scholarships to universities, often a full ride. That’s pretty decent in an age of rising tuition costs.

    But do they get much of an education? And if so, how much is that education really worth to them? There’s plenty of stories out there of academic fraud, where players take no-show or laughably easy courses in order to remain eligible. So what happens to players who take those classes when they graduate, if they don’t make it to the pros?

    A full scholarship doesn’t necessarily cover all costs, either. What really gets me is a story from star UConn point guard Shabazz Napier, who says that he would go to bed “starving” because he couldn’t afford food. This is just monstrous; he brings in millions for the university and has to live in poverty? His coach is one of the highest-paid state employees.

    What the NCAA’s insistence on amateurism does more than anything else is enable a shadow culture of corruption. If players get desperate, they will find ways to get what they need, and since they’re surrounded by wealthy coaches and boosters it’s not hard to do.

    I’m eerily reminded of how members of our part-time, underpaid legislature are prone to corruption scandals. They don’t get much money for tons of work, and yet they’re surrounded by a glitzy lobbying culture that’s all too willing to throw money at them.

    The best way to create corruption is to make people who need actual compensation pretend that the only reason they’re doing back-breaking work is for the sheer love of the game. The ideals of a part-time, citizen legislature and amateurism in big-time college sports make us feel good about sports and democracy, but they are both relics of the past that cause more problems than they solve.

    That can change. Rep. Pat Dillon, D-New Haven, is studying whether the state should allow college athletes to unionize. Shabazz Napier thought a ruling allowing players at Northwestern University to unionize was “kind of great,” adding, “. . . When you see your jersey getting sold and things like that, you feel like you want something in return.”

    Connecticut’s legislature should move forward with pro-player legislation. Unions may not be the best way to go, but the mere suggestion of them may be a way to force some change on an institution that desperately needs it. In what might be the most telling statement of all, NCAA president Mark Emmert said unions would “. . . blow up everything about the collegiate model of athletics.”

    Good.

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

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    OP-ED | Do Women Need Wage Equality Or More Support For The Choices They Make?

    by Suzanne Bates | Apr 11, 2014 8:00am
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    Posted to: Equality, Labor, Opinion

    President Obama earned two Pinnochios from the Washington Post this week for using the oft-cited but misleading statistic that women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. The issue is a favorite for U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who gave the high-five heard ‘round the country at this year’s State of the Union address when President Obama brought up the wage gap.

    President Obama and Gov. Malloy both spent “Equal Pay Day” — marking the end of the extra 98 days a woman would have to work to make the same amount a man makes in a single year — by talking up women’s issues to their supporters.

    But the premise of Equal Pay Day is false. A woman does not have to work an extra 98 days to earn the same amount as a man, all other things being equal. The 23 percent gap comes from a straight reading of census data, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Women are more likely to work fewer hours, to work in industries that pay less, to work part-time and to take time away from their careers for family.

    Equal Pay Day is more about politics than economics. The bogus statistics cited by the biggest boosters of this issue have more to do with pandering than equality. It’s a talking point, a simplification of larger societal issues that we avoid talking about because they are complicated, rendering them politically useless.

    DeLauro is championing legislation to close the gap, objectively titled the “Paycheck Fairness Act,” which actually just gives people another excuse to sue their employers. It does not do anything to close the wage gap.

    What would close the wage gap? Stopping women from getting married.

    For single women the gap is mere pennies — they earn 96 cents to every dollar a man earns.

    So marriage, and with it motherhood, deeply affects our paychecks, but not because we become any less educated or experienced, but because it changes our priorities.

    We women bear both the burden and gift of giving life to the next generation. The strange magic that happens after you bring a life into the world — Ariel Levy writes tragically and beautifully about this in the New Yorker — is real, and it often changes the choices we make.

    My own working life reflects this pattern. With four children, I’ve stepped in and out of the workforce and have often chosen to work part-time or freelance because I wanted to be home more with my kids. This isn’t the best or right choice for every woman, but it was right for me.

    Not everyone is supportive of women who lean out.

    When I was a graduate student at Columbia University, one of my journalism professors gave an entire lecture to our small seminar group on how you can’t both have “connections” — children, or even spouses he seemed to be arguing — and also be a good journalist. At the time I was about six months pregnant with my third child, and I can still remember the feeling of my face burning as I sat there and listened to him.

    Thankfully I was (mostly) secure enough to know he was wrong, or at least that he was looking at this issue through a very distorted lens. Our “connections” make life more meaningful.

    In the same vein, earning “equal pay” will not necessarily make women’s lives better. You cannot monetize everything. Is a woman who earns more worth more? Or is she living a better life?

    Of course women do still face obstacles in the workforce — a New York Times article last week detailed some of the challenges that exist for women working in the technology sector — but sunlight is often a better remedy than more legislation. Our government seems to thrive on making us all victims of some kind of discrimination.

    So if not the wage gap, what will help women? How about valuing the choices they make, whatever they are. Embracing flexibility in the workplace — including greater flexibility in our labor laws. Addressing the marriage gap, or eliminating the marriage penalty in our tax and benefits structure.

    And how about lowering the tax burden on middle class families in Connecticut? While we may have passed Equal Pay Day, we’re still a month away from Tax Freedom Day.

    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.

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    OP-ED | What Digital First’s Troubles Mean For Connecticut Media

    by Terry D. Cowgill | Apr 11, 2014 5:30am
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    Posted to: Media Matters, Opinion

    The ever-evolving news media landscape has reached a crossroads — both nationwide and in Connecticut.

    Digital First Media, which counts three daily papers in Connecticut among its holdings, announced last week that the failure of Thunderdome, an innovative platform to provide content to DFM’s 75 daily newspapers, has failed to live up to expectations and will soon be on the chopping block.

    It’s a blow to the evolving model of local journalism on a par with the recent firesale of Patch. But unlike the online-only Patch, DFM is still saddled with legacy printing costs.

    Moreover, the move is widely assumed to signal that since DFM’s hedge-fund owner, Alden Global Capital, is growing impatient with DFM’s struggle to provide a sufficient return on investment, a sale of the company’s newspapers will soon take place.

    And of course, the Hartford Courant’s parent company, the formerly bankrupt and still-troubled Tribune Corporation, announced last year that, in a desire to focus on its profitable TV division, it would spin off its newspapers into a separate company in advance of a likely sale of those assets. The sale would have the ironic effect of forcing the Courant to pay rent on the Broad Street building it has owned since the 1950s and which it currently shares with Fox-CT, which also is owned by Tribune.

    The problem with newspapers has remained the same since the digital revolution. Advertising revenue has plummeted. Along with print audience declines, the migration of classified ads to cheap digital alternatives like Craig’s List has been a devastating blow to newspapers. Adding to the litany of woes, there are growing calls — in Connecticut and elsewhere — for states to stop requiring that legal notices be published in newspapers.

    Annual print advertising revenue losses in most papers are still in the high-single percentage points. And digital revenues, while growing, simply do not generate nearly enough cash to cover the losses.

    As its name suggests, DFM’s goal under new CEO John Paton has been to put digital newspaper content front-and-center because it’s only a matter of time before the oldsters currently reading print die off. Advertisers, however, remain unconvinced of the efficacy of web ads, so rates are far lower than in print. That makes paying a skilled newsroom staff rather difficult.

    So what would a change in ownership mean for DFM’s Connecticut group? Of, course, it depends on who the new owner of the Register Citizen, Middletown Press and New Haven Register is.

    Disclosure: through a content-sharing agreement with CT News Junkie, this column appears weekly in the print editions of the Middletown Press and the Register Citizen.

    If and when the new bosses take over, it would behoove them to keep some of the same people they have now. Matt DeRienzo, DFM’s Connecticut group editor, has shown remarkable leadership in guiding his papers through this phase.

    In addition to reviving the papers’ tattered reputation from the dark days of their abuse at the hands of the old Journal Register Company, DeRienzo is a much-sought-after radio and TV commentator who has increased DFM’s visibility.

    His reporters have broken some important stories, such as the revelation that 5th District congressional candidate Mark Greenberg was in 2012 offered the same shady campaign consulting deal by former Gov. John G. Rowland that Rowland later allegedly obtained from fellow Republican Lisa Wilson-Foley. Wilson-Foley and her husband recently pleaded guilty to federal election law crimes, and Rowland was indicted in connection with those plea deals on Thursday. Rowland’s offer to Greenberg established a pattern of behavior that could be invaluable to federal prosecutors in their prosecution of the felonious ex-governor.

    As for the Courant, I am told by people who work there that it is still profitable, and there remain some outstanding journalists among its thinning ranks. But the paper’s newsroom has been decimated over the years by multiple rounds of layoffs. Its best hope lies in the possibility, floated by concerned readers, that in-state-investors might restore local ownership to the nation’s oldest continuously published newspaper, lest it be bought by the infamous Koch brothers.

    But even local owners will face the same kinds of pressures that confront other publishers. They’ll still need reporters to write stories and a sales staff that can peddle ads to meet the payroll. There will be trees to cut down, newsprint to buy, presses to run and trucks to move the product. Oh, and one minor detail — there will still be those pesky investors to satisfy.

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

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    Republican Party Seeks Distance From Rowland, Wants To Focus On Unity

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 10, 2014 10:01pm
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    Posted to: Courts, Election 2014, Town News, Stamford

    Christine Stuart photo

    Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr.

    STAMFORD — The backdrop for the biggest Republican Party fundraiser of the year was the indictment of former Republican governor and WTIC talk show host John G. Rowland.

    Despite the whispers about how “sad” it was that Rowland would find himself under federal indictment for the second time in 10 years, Republicans tried to celebrate what was great about their party and also tried to distance themselves from the former governor.

    “While there may be great fascination in this story, the fact is John Rowland has no connection to the Connecticut Republican Party nor has he for over 10 years,” Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. said in a statement.

    Many acknowledged the indictment and shared the same sentiment as state Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury, who was co-chairman of the impeachment panel in 2004 — a panel that never completed its work because Rowland opted to resign.

    O’Neill said he was surprised, not so much at the news Thursday about the seven count indictment, but that it had happened again.

    “He’s the best retail politician I’ve ever known,” O’Neill said. “It’s a shame that such a talent is being wasted.”

    Ross Garber, who was Rowland’s chief legal counsel in 2004 when he resigned before the first federal indictment, declined to comment on Rowland’s current situation.

    Christine Stuart photo

    Jeb Bush

    Joe Visconti of West Hartford, who is running for governor, said there are a lot of good Republicans out there and he feels that some are underestimating the courage it took for Mark Greenberg and Mike Clark, a former FBI agent and congressional candidate, to come forward.

    “We can’t go back. We have to go forward,” Visconti said. “John knew better.”

    In his remarks to the more than 800 Republicans in attendance, Labriola tried to shift the focus to Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

    “There should be no question Connecticut’s economy is owned by Gov. Dan Malloy and this election will be a referendum on Dan Malloy’s economy,” Labriola said.

    Most of the Republican candidates for governor were seated at the head table.

    Mark Greenberg, who is running again for the Republican nomination in the 5th Congressional District and played a prominent role in the Rowland indictment for turning down a similar consulting deal back in 2010, declined to comment on the situation.

    “I really can’t talk about this at this time. I’m here at the Bush dinner and I’m here with my wife and I’d like to celebrate at this time,” Greenberg said.

    But Bill Evans, Greenberg’s campaign manager, sent out a statement after the dinner.

    “We are sensitive to the fact that this is part of an ongoing criminal investigation,” Evans said. “At this point Mark has offered all the information he knows as it relates to former governor John Rowland. He is confident in the U.S. Attorney’s office’s [ability] to handle this matter appropriately.”

    At the dinner, two-time candidate for U.S. Senate Linda McMahon received the Prescott Bush award, named after Jeb Bush’s grandfather.

    Christine Stuart photo

    Linda McMahon

    McMahon, who spent and raised more than $100 million on two failed campaigns, pointed out that in order to be successful as a party Republicans must unite.

    “Democrats are counting on Republicans to stay divided,” McMahon said. “Tea Party vs. RINO. But if we want to achieve the higher goals we agree on, we have to work not just across the aisle but within our own side of the aisle.”

    Bush, the former Florida governor, said everyone but President Barack Obama and his supporters know entitlement reform is necessary.

    “There’s no way to invest in the long-term things that create sustained economic growth unless we begin to be grown up about our entitlement system,” Bush said. “We’ll have to wait until President Obama leaves the stage, but we’ll have to be real with the American people that this is not sustainable.”

    Christine Stuart photo

    Jeb Bush

    He said Obamacare must be repealed and replaced and Republicans have a “huge opportunity,” rather than a problem, in immigration reform.

    “There is no conflict between enforcing our laws, believing in the rule of law, and having some sensitivity to the immigrant experience, which is a part of who we are as a country,” Bush said.

    He said perpetuating a situation that’s broken will not solve the country’s problems.

    “Never, never bet against American innovation to solve problems,” Bush said.

    Bush offered a message to the party’s gubernatorial candidates: “When you get control be big. Be bold. Change the system. Make it child-centered. Focus on the learning gains of each and every child. Break up the monopolies. More school choice, higher standards, more accountability.”

    He said the one thing Republicans need to focus on is winning because winning matters.

    “Making a point is not as important anymore as winning,” he added.

    He joked that there were a whole lot of Connecticut residents in his home state of Florida.

    “And you can’t blame them, because you all may be coming, too, sooner or later, unless you elect a Republican Governor,” Bush said.

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    Federal Grand Jury Indicts Rowland on 7 Counts; Former Gov Reportedly Turned Down 18-Month Plea Deal

    by Staff Report | Apr 10, 2014 6:24pm
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    (Updated 8 p.m.) A federal grand jury in New Haven indicted former Gov. John G. Rowland on Thursday, charging him with attempting to conceal the extent of his involvement in two federal election campaigns in the 5th Congressional District.

    WTIC Rowland, 56, is expected to be arraigned at U.S. District Court in New Haven on Friday at 2:30 p.m.

    The indictments follow revelations two weeks ago in which Rowland was implicated in a 2012 campaign finance scheme involving the 5th Congressional District election campaign. Former Republican candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley and her husband, Brian Foley, pleaded guilty to federal charges and said they had illegally paid Rowland $35,000 in campaign consulting fees without reporting the payments to the Federal Election Commission.

    Thursday’s indictment outlines Rowland’s alleged role in the conspiracy with Wilson-Foley and her husband, but also goes back further than Election 2012.

    The indictment alleges that in October 2009, Rowland “devised a scheme” to work for the campaign of another candidate, reportedly Mark Greenberg, who was seeking election in the 5th Congressional District in 2009 and 2010.

    The indictment says Rowland attempted “to conceal from the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”) and the public the fact that he would be paid to perform that work. To make the illegal arrangement appear legitimate, Rowland drafted a sham consulting contract pursuant to which he would purportedly perform work for a separate corporate entity, referred to in the indictment as the ‘Animal Center.’”

    Greenberg owns an animal rescue center called the Simon Foundation in Bloomfield.

    The indictment continues: “By proposing to run the campaign-related payments to Rowland through the Animal Center, Rowland sought to prevent actual campaign contributions and expenditures from being reported to the FEC and the public.”

    Greenberg has stated that he rebuffed Rowland’s overture.

    But during the 2012 election cycle, the indictment further alleges that Rowland “conspired with Wilson-Foley, Foley, and others to conceal from the FEC and the public that Rowland was paid money in exchange for services he provided to Wilson-Foley’s campaign.”

    Brian Foley was owner of a Connecticut nursing home company and a number of other related companies, including a real estate company.

    The indictment says that in order to retain Rowland’s services for the campaign while reducing the risk that Rowland’s paid role with the campaign would be disclosed to the public, Rowland, Wilson-Foley and Foley agreed that the former governor and afternoon radio talk show host would be paid by Foley to work on the campaign through a “fictitious contract.”

    The indictment says the contract outlined an agreement purportedly for consulting services between Rowland and the law offices of an attorney who worked for Foley’s nursing home company.

    Pursuant to that agreement, the indictment says Foley made regular payments to Rowland for his work on behalf of Wilson-Foley’s campaign and routed those payments from his real estate company through the law offices of the attorney. Rowland is further alleged to have provided nominal services to Foley’s nursing home company in order to create a “cover” that he was being paid for those nominal services when, in fact, he was being paid in exchange for his work on behalf of Wilson-Foley’s campaign.

    At the time, Wilson-Foley was concerned about Rowland showing up as a paid consultant in her campaign reports because of his previous corruption conviction. Rowland spent 10 months in prison after resigning the governor’s office in 2004 and pleading guilty to a conspiracy count. He also admitted to committing mail fraud by accepting gratuities and not disclosing them, and to defrauding the Internal Revenue Service by not paying taxes on those gratuities.

    According to recent court documents from the Wilson-Foley case, even Rowland himself recognized that his help on her congressional campaign could be problematic if it were to be publicized.

    “I am just a volunteer helping you and ‘many other Republican candidates’ in case anyone asks,” Rowland emailed Wilson-Foley in November 2011. “I want to stay under the radar as much as possible and get the job done.”

    Rowland emerged from prison in 2006, but didn’t re-enter public life until 2008 when he took a job as Waterbury’s economic development director. He later landed the gig at WTIC in 2010 and over the past few years has been encouraged by his listeners to again run for public office. Last week, Rowland resigned from his radio gig to take care of some “personal issues.”

    Hearst Connecticut is reporting that Rowland turned down an 18-month plea deal. Instead, the former governor now faces two counts of falsification of records in a federal investigation, one count of conspiracy, two counts of causing false statements to be made to the FEC, and two counts of causing illegal campaign contributions. The various charges carry maximum sentences of one to 20 years in prison.

    Meanwhile, the Connecticut Republican Party was getting ready Thursday for its biggest fundraiser of the year in Stamford.

    Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, who has been mentioned as a possible Republican presidential contender in 2016, will be the keynote speaker at the event.

    The Republican Party distanced itself from Rowland as the festivities got underway.

    “While there may be great fascination in this story, the fact is John Rowland has no connection to the Connecticut Republican Party nor has he for over 10 years,” Jerry Labriola Jr., Republican party chairman, said in a statement.

    But the Connecticut Democratic Party was relishing the confluence of events.

    “We’ve definitely seen this movie before, and we know how badly it ends,” Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo said. “The CT GOP bringing back John Rowland’s close friend, Jeb Bush, on the eve of more expected felony indictments for Rowland only reinforces the fact that the Connecticut Republican Party is still influenced by Rowland.”

    DiNardo was referring to a 2003 visit Bush made back when Rowland was governor before he resigned in 2004.

    Greenberg, who was attending the Prescott Bush fundraiser in Stamford with his wife Thursday, was not willing to comment about the indictment.

    “I really can’t talk about this at this time. I’m here at the Bush dinner and I’m here with my wife and I’d like to celebrate at this time,” Greenberg said as his dinner arrived.

    Greenberg said he hadn’t read the indictment.


    RELATED:

    Wilson-Foley, Husband Implicate Rowland in Guilty Pleas

    WTIC Airs Rowland’s Show Despite Calls To The Contrary

    FBI Probe Has Little Impact On Republican Primary

    Will Federal Probe Decide Republican Contest?

    OP-ED | We Should Have Seen This Rowland Scandal Coming

    Krayeske Will File Appeal of FCC Response To Rowland, WTIC, Wilson-Foley Complaint

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    House Defeats GMO Grass Seed Ban

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 10, 2014 4:46pm
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    Posted to: Agriculture, Business, State Capitol

    Christine Stuart photo

    House Speaker Brendan Sharkey and his Chief of Staff Maureen Magnan

    (Updated 5:43 p.m.) Less than 24 hours after the Senate approved a bill banning genetically modified grass seed, the House found bipartisan agreement to kill it.

    The bill was a top priority for outgoing Senate President Donald Williams. But House Speaker Brendan Sharkey was not sold on the idea or consulted about the bill.

    In a show of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans worked Thursday to defeat it by a 103-37 vote.

    Following the vote, Sharkey said Williams never had a conversation with him about the legislation.

    “I’ve never, ever been consulted about this bill by anyone in the Senate,” Sharkey said. “And the advocates wanted a vote on the bill, so I thought it was important to have vote and avoid the distraction that was going to inevitably occur if we kept it on our calendar.”

    He said the same thing happened last year with the GMO labeling bill, which bounced back and forth between chambers before finally winning the approval of all the stakeholders.

    Sharkey said he voted against the GMO grass bill because he believes there should have been a public hearing.

    “It’s too important to take up and do without getting input from all those stakeholders,” Sharkey said.

    Genetically modified grass isn’t on the market yet, but supporters worry about what will happen if it gets out there. Proponents of the legislation say the genetically modified grass would increase the use of glyphosate or other herbicides because it would be resistant to those herbicides.

    There’s also the threat of the seed spreading and cross-pollinating with other grass species and spreading individual genes from one species to another. This could lead to an artificially modified gene spreading into the broader gene pool, with untold consequences, Williams explained Wednesday during the Senate debate.

    However, opponents of the legislation say it sends a bad message to business and scientists.

    “We have a bill before us that says if some business out there is even thinking — thinking — about making such a thing, don’t bother cause you ain’t gonna sell it in Connecticut,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said.

    Christine Stuart photo

    House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero

    Cafero thought the concept was absurd.

    “It doesn’t even exist and we’re going to ban it,” Cafero said. “Put down your beakers, put down your microscopes . . . save your time, change professions, ‘cause you ain’t doing it in Connecticut. Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?”

    A number of lawmakers, even those who supported the bill, said they were insulted the bill wasn’t raised for a public hearing.

    “I don’t know anything about the substance to feel comfortable voting on this,” Rep. Michael D’Agostino, D-Hamden, said. 

    Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, said she was concerned about how the bill came to the Environment Committee, but she worries the product will be sold next year. She said she believes it could be dangerous to the environment.

    “This is our one chance to make this product go away before it arrives in the state,” Mushinsky said.

    Lance Latham, a spokesman for Scotts MiracleGro, which is developing a genetically engineered grass seed, said Wednesday that it won’t be on the market for another “few years.”

    “They’re welcome to visit our research facilities in Ohio, talk with our scientists and see firsthand why we believe our enhanced grass seed can one day bring about significant environmental benefits,” Latham said. “They’re also welcome to visit any of our facilities in Connecticut and meet with our 260 employees who live and work in the state.”

    Despite the vote in the House, Williams said he was proud of what the Senate accomplished.

    “Senate Democrats — joined by three Republicans — made history by taking a stand against the chemical companies and special interests which are poised to dump tens of thousands of gallons of pesticides on lawns across Connecticut,” Williams said.

    Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney called the vote a disappointment.

    “The House vote today is disappointing. Despite the fact that research has extensively documented the adverse impact of poisonous chemicals on human health and the environment, all too often government ignores the precautionary principle and takes action only after harm occurs,” Looney said.

    In a statement, Senate Democrats said some of those who opposed the ban complained about the process, but failed to acknowledge that the initiative was discussed at two public hearings and that dozens of experts and citizens weighed-in.  Organizations such as the Sierra Club and the CT League of Conservation Voters joined regular citizens in supporting the proposal.

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    Connecticut Makes ‘Significant’ Progress On Tracking Racial Profiling

    by Megan Merrigan | Apr 10, 2014 11:45am
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    CTNJ file photo

    Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield, Rep. Sandy Nafis, and former Rep. William Dyson, who is involved with the CCSU policy institute that released the report.

    A March progress report shows that Connecticut’s anti-racial profiling efforts have improved substantially since changes were last made to the Alvin W. Penn Racial Profiling Prohibition Act.

    The Central Connecticut State University’s Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy and the Racial Profiling Prohibition Advisory Board report revealed that 95 percent of Connecticut’s police departments are now compliant with the law while only three departments have had issues adhering to it.

    “This is a very positive sign that law enforcement agencies want to be strong partners in our efforts to eradicate racial profiling,” CCSU Policy and Research Specialist Ken Barone said last month. “Even in cases where departments were notified that information was not being reported, steps have been taken to assure full compliance as soon as possible,” he said.

    For more than a decade, the state failed to enforce the law requiring municipal police departments to annually report traffic stop data to the African-American Affairs Commission. The data was then going to be analyzed for racial profiling. But since the Alvin Penn Act was passed in 1999, only one report had been issued. According to 2010 data, only 27 of the state’s police departments comply with the reporting aspect of the law and the data that has been reported hasn’t been assessed by the state.

    According to the report, 98 agencies are considered to be in full compliance with the data collection requirements, while three agencies are in partial compliance.

    New London, Suffield and West Haven have been deemed non-compliant.

    The report notes that these three non-compliant departments have been collecting data, but not as required by law. Meaning, the data was not correctly transmitted to Criminal Justice Information System for review.

    Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, said this is an issue “where we’ve made a lot of progress.”

    He said the state has gone from ignoring the problem to working collaboratively with police departments to correct it.

    “This is a huge step forward,” Holder-Winfield said.

    The 2012 law puts the Office of Policy and Management in charge of enforcing the reporting requirements and assessing the data. It also required the creation of a racial profiling advisory board, and a standardized form police will use to report the data.

    The advisory board came up with a double-sided information card last October to give drivers after traffic stops.

    The new law now requires police officers to provide every motorist they stop with instructions on how to file a complaint. The American Civil Liberties Union suggested that filing a complaint against an officer was too difficult, so that information now appears on a card that police hand to drivers after the traffic stop.

    In addition to supplying drivers with complaint instructions, officers are also required under the new provisions to fill out a questionnaire after each traffic stop.

    The questionnaire intends to collect data regarding the race, gender, and age of the stopped drivers in addition to details regarding the methods used to conduct the stop. The data collected is then sent to the Office of Policy and Management on a monthly basis for review.

    “This is the first report and although we have made great strides, there is a long way to go,” William Dyson, co-chair of the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project’s advisory board, said in the press release. “We recognize there have been some difficulties in gaining full compliance with the law, and we will resolve these problems as we continue working collectively to eradicate profiling in the state,” he said.

    Christine Stuart contributed to this report.

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    OP-ED | The Future of Our Children Is In Legislative Hands

    by Jennifer Alexander | Apr 10, 2014 8:51am
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    Posted to: Education, Opinion

    Last week, the State Board of Education took a stand for Connecticut’s children and approved four new public charter schools. As a result of that historic decision, thousands of children will have access to the high-quality education they deserve.

    The new schools will be located in Bridgeport, Stamford and New Haven. Each school will be led by educators, based on instructional models with proven track records. These are schools from which close to 100 percent of students graduate, schools where no child is denied the chance for a great education simply because they can’t afford one.

    That is real and long overdue progress. Now, we must protect this progress and continue to take steps to ensure that all kids get the education they need to achieve their goals.

    Two of these schools—New Haven’s Booker T. Washington Academy and Bridgeport’s Great Oaks School – are scheduled to open this fall. The funding for these two schools is included in the state’s biennial budget approved by legislators last year. State leaders must preserve that funding, so that the hundreds of students hoping to attend Booker T. Washington Academy and Great Oaks School have the opportunity they have been waiting for.

    The state Board of Education also approved two schools set to open in the fall of 2015—Bridgeport’s Capital Prep Harbor School and the Stamford Charter School for Excellence. We look to state leaders next year to ensure that these successful school models become a reality for students and families. 

    The state board’s decision has raised concerns about funding for both public charter and traditional public schools, suggesting that we must either fairly fund schools based on student need or invest in creating new schools. The fact is, these two ideas are not mutually exclusive. Both are critical and must be part of a larger conversation about our state’s fundamentally broken school funding system that is not serving our children well.

    In the process, we must stay focused on improving results for kids. These four schools are a critical part of our state’s efforts to improve outcomes for all students and build a brighter future for Connecticut.

    These schools represent real progress for the thousands of kids in Connecticut who are aren’t getting a fair chance at the education they need to go to college, to get decent jobs, or to build thriving communities. In Stamford, large achievement gaps persist and about half of all low-income students are below “goal” or grade-level in reading, writing, math and science. In Bridgeport and New Haven, one out of three kids won’t graduate high school. Only half of the Latino and African American 3rd graders in those cities are reading at grade level. When they reach 10th grade, that number drops to less than four in 10.

    To be clear, there has been some progress in these cities — particularly in New Haven and Stamford. That progress must continue. In fact, the current pace and scale of that progress for kids must be accelerated.  The bottom line is that thousands of kids are not yet being prepared for the bright futures they deserve. Over 4,000 families are currently waiting for access to better options. The supply of quality options does not meet demand.

    In approving these schools, the state Board of Education clearly recognized that kids can’t wait — they need better schools now. We turn to state legislators, with a mid-term budget before them and a biennial budget right around the corner, to decide whether our kids get the education they deserve or are kept waiting.

    Jennifer Alexander is the CEO of ConnCAN (Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now).

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    State Struggles To House Transgender Youth

    by Hugh McQuaid | Apr 10, 2014 5:30am
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    Posted to: Civil Liberties, Courts, Law Enforcement, Legal, Public Safety, Middletown

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    State prison officials were grappling Wednesday to establish a new policy for housing transgender inmates following a court order handing the Correction Department custody of a transgender minor.

    The youth is a 16-year-old who is biologically male but has long identified as a female, according to a court document transferring the teen from the custody of the Children and Families Department to the DOC. The juvenile was committed to DCF in November after assaulting someone at Bridgeport Detention Center.

    In the juvenile system, the teen has been recognized as a transgender female and has been housed in female living sections at child detention centers and DCF facilities, or in isolation at male facilities.

    But the court ordered the youth transferred to the DOC, initially for an assessment at the state’s only women’s prison. Then the correction commissioner will decide where she will be placed for a longer period.

    Historically, DOC policy has been to place transgender people with the inmate population they correspond with biologically.

    The youth’s lawyer, Assistant Public Defender James Connolly, said the policy presents a civil rights issue for his client. He’s concerned the teen will be forced to look and behave like a male. That sometimes has severe psychological consequences for people who have what’s called gender dysphoria, or a disconnect with their biological gender, he said.

    “The outcome is often depression all the way to suicidal behaviors,” he said. “So, in addition to being a juvenile in an adult correctional facility who’s not been convicted of any offense, you can imagine how this gender identity issue may affect her.”

    However, Michael P. Lawlor, the governor’s advisor for criminal justice policy, said the DOC was re-examining its policy and considering best practices from around the country.

    “I think the time has come in Connecticut and every state for people to adopt a clear policy on this,” he said. “Moving forward, you want to have a process by which you treat prisoners consistent with state laws and we have gender non-discrimination policies on the books here in Connecticut.”

    In 2011, the legislature passed a bill making it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their gender identity and expression. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed it into law.

    But Lawlor said the issue gets complicated in the prison system. Correction administrators need to have a way to verify an inmate as being legitimately transgender. Otherwise, inmates could claim to be transgender in order to be transferred.

    However, Lawlor said inmates already are evaluated based on a number of classifications. He said gender identity should be one of those classifications.

    In the meantime, the teen has been ordered to the women’s prison for 72 hours. In a written statement, DOC Commissioner James Dzurenda said the department was working to accommodate the youth.

    “We will do everything in our power to provide a safe, secure and humane environment for this individual, as we would for any other person under our supervision,” he said.

    But some lawmakers and the state child advocate question why the teen was ordered into the adult prison system rather than being held at a recently-opened locked facility for troubled girls in Middletown. The Children and Families Department received funding to open the new facility despite outcry from some child advocates who claimed it was unnecessary.

    State Child Advocate Sarah Healy Eagan has been working to keep the youth in juvenile programing rather than in an adult facility. Although Eagan said she’s confident that the DOC will do what it can to keep the teen safe, she said the state’s prison department has no precedent for how to handle the situation and no programming to offer.

    “There’s not a blueprint for this,” she said.

    Sen. Beth Bye, co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said she was “perplexed” as to why DCF would argue in court to have the youth turned over to an adult prison when its Middletown facility, called Solnit, is now open.

    “I don’t understand why, now that Solnit is up and running — as I understand there are only four women there — why they wouldn’t put this woman [there]. That was the whole point. And now we have a case and there is a young woman in jail,” she said.

    Although she questioned why the Middletown facility was not being used, Bye said she understood that the youth was difficult for the department to manage.

    “There’s no doubt it’s a kid that’s very tough to deal with. Clearly,” she said.

    In a written statement, the Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz pointed to a rarely used law allowing a court to transfer a dangerous minor into an adult prison.

    “The Department does not take such a step lightly. In fact, the only time the law was used to effect a transfer was more than 13 years ago. We work hard to serve youths with even the most complex needs, but in extreme cases, when a youth has seriously injured staff or assaulted other youths whom the department is entrusted to keep safe, thereby eroding the capacity of the impacted programs to serve, it is incumbent upon us to take appropriate authorized measures,” she said.

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    Senate Takes First Step Toward Banning Genetically Engineered Grass

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 9, 2014 9:05pm
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    Posted to: Agriculture, Business

    Christine Stuart photo

    Sen. Ed Meyer, D-Guilford, supports the ban

    Senate Democrats passed legislation banning genetically modified grass seed Wednesday night over Republican questions on why the bill did not go through the traditional legislative process.

    The Senate approved the bill 25 to 11 after about three hours of debate, but its fate in the House remains uncertain.

    Grass seed engineered to be resistant to popular weed killers isn’t on the market yet but is in development. The concern is that once plants can tolerate more exposure to the chemicals, people will use the herbicide in greater quantities, releasing more chemicals into the environment.

    House Speaker Brendan Sharkey and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy have not committed to supporting a ban on the genetically-engineered grass.

    “In a short session that is supposed to focus on jobs and the economy, I’m concerned about enacting legislation this year that looks to preemptively ban a product that doesn’t yet exist without allowing the public, and experts, to weigh in,” Sharkey said Tuesday in a statement.

    Malloy said he’s uneasy about the bill and has concerns about where the ban would place Connecticut in relation to the policies of nearby states. It’s a concern his administration expressed during the debate over last year’s bill requiring the labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms.

    Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney expressed concern that there wasn’t a public hearing on the bill. He tried to amend the bill and turn it into a study, but the amendment was defeated.

    Sen. Leonard Fasano, R-North Haven, said if there had been a public hearing maybe the University of Connecticut study, which says there would be a reduction of herbicides with these grasses, would have come to light.

    Fasano was referring to a study by Jason Henderson and John Inguagiato, professors from the Turfgrass and Soil Sciences program, which concluded that herbicide applications would be reduced by 1-2 applications per growing season.

    “In some cases, only spot sprays may be necessary in well-maintained established lawns,” the report says.

    But Sen. Ed Meyer, D-Guilford, said the bill gives the Senate a rare opportunity to be proactive about something.

    He said he hears all the time that government is reactive and not proactive. “This bill reverses that direction,” Meyer said. “This bill is based on a precautionary principle.”

    He said there is increasing science that shows the toxicity of pesticides and herbicides.

    Sen. Clark Chapin, R-New Milford, said the science on this is still up for debate and it’s a very controversial topic.

    “We’re at least two years away from the market,” Chapin said.

    Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, a proponent of the legislation, said the ban is necessary to protect the future health and safety of Connecticut’s environment.

    “The introduction of GMO grass seed would lead to a harmful increase in the use of toxic herbicides resulting in runoff into our rivers and the Long Island Sound, and increased hazard to plant and animal life,” Williams said.

    GMO grass would also prove much more difficult to contain than all other GMO plants because it’s a perennial plant and the seeds can easily spread and could cross-pollinate with other grass species, spreading individual genes from one species to another. This could lead to an artificially modified gene spreading into the broader gene pool, with untold consequences, Williams explained.

    Scotts MiracleGro, which was referenced frequently during the debate, said it was disappointed with the vote. Lance Latham, a spokesman for Scotts, said the company was “very concerned about a legislative process that excluded a fact-based, transparent discussion about the issues.”

    He said the company is not going to be bringing the product to market in the next few years and he hopes lawmakers reach out to learn more about what the company is trying to accomplish.

    A coalition of business leaders, farmers, landscapers, scientists, and the biotechnology industry also expressed their disappointment in Wednesday’s vote.

    “This proposed law is an assault on science, and sends a dreadful, chilling, message to all those researchers, companies and entrepreneurs we hope to attract to the state,” said Paul Pescatello, a board member for the Connecticut United for Research Excellence (CURE). “ We’ve worked hard to bring the biotechnology industry here. What this bill does is send a message that science and innovation aren’t welcome.”

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    Boughton Ends Affiliation With Bloomberg Group

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 9, 2014 5:23pm
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    Posted to: Election 2014, Danbury, Newtown

    Christine Stuart file photo

    Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton being interviewed by WTNH’s Mark Davis

    Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton’s decision to end his relationship with Mayors Against Illegal Guns comes just a few days after he was publicly criticized by Second Amendment supporters at a Capitol rally.

    In a press release, Boughton tried to explain his reason for ending his affiliation with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s group, explaining that he joined “because I believe enforcement of existing gun laws is preferable to creating new gun laws.”

    “It is clear in recent months however that Bloomberg’s mission has changed from law enforcement to simply increasing gun regulations. As a result, today I have ended my affiliation with Bloomberg’s group,” Boughton said.

    But the chairwoman for the Connecticut Democratic Party said he was simply pandering to the National Rifle Association.

    “After trying to position himself as a moderate, middle of the road guy, Mark Boughton is now so worried about his political future that he’s decided it’s time to pander to the NRA,” Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo said. “Was he spooked by seeing Tom Foley and Martha Dean at last week’s rally? Who knows? Whatever his reasoning — and spare me the rhetoric in his press release; it’s absurd — he’s now shown that when it comes to common sense gun control, Mark Boughton stands against the people of Connecticut.”

    The Connecticut Citizens Defense League, which sponsored the rally, said it was pleased Boughton ended his affiliation with the group but was uncertain how much it would help.

    “We are pleased that Mark Boughton has ended his affiliation with Michael Bloomberg’s organization, although I am not sure that the timing of his departure will help his campaign at this point, or even if his leaving MAIG was intended for that purpose,” Scott Wilson president of the CCDL said.

    Erica Lafferty, the daughter of slain Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung and who also works for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said she feels betrayed by Boughton’s decision.

    “Mayor Boughton is putting his personal political ambitions ahead of the safety of Connecticut families,” Lafferty said in a statement. “In fact, the tagline for his campaign is ‘People over Politics’ — but the only people that this decision serves are gun lobbyists.”

    Last August, when Boughton announced his exploratory campaign, he declined to say whether he would have supported or signed the legislation that banned assault weapons and high-capacity magazines following the Sandy Hook School shooting. Gun rights groups would like to see the legislation repealed.

    “I believe and have believed that those people deserved a legislative response,” Boughton said. “I don’t know if the legislature got it right. I think in many, many ways they didn’t get it right. Particularly when it relates to school safety. To only put $15 million to harden our school sites in the entire state of Connecticut is absolutely bizarre.”

    But would he have signed it?

    “I would have to think long and hard about that and probably have to make a decision about what I think is best for the residents of Connecticut, but also the response for the parents of Sandy Hook,” he said in August.

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    Democratic Lawmakers Unveil Their Own Preschool Initiative

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 9, 2014 2:11pm
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    Posted to: Education

    Christine Stuart photo

    Sen. Donald Williams and Sen. Beth Bye

    (Updated 3:49 p.m.) Sen. President Donald Williams and House Speaker Brendan Sharkey announced plans Wednesday to use $10 million from Tobacco Settlement funds and $10 million in bonding every year for the next 10 years to implement a universal preschool program.

    “This is a winner across the board,” Williams said at a Capitol press conference. “An extraordinary step forward to universal pre-K.”

    The total cost of the program would be $200 million over 10 years. Half of the money would come from borrowing and half would come from the Tobacco Settlement fund. The money from borrowing would be used to expand classroom capacity and resources, while the Tobacco Settlement funds would act as operating funds to pay the salaries of the teachers.

    The plan is to use the money to fund about 50,000 slots for public school children ages three and four years old. Currently, there are 16,420 children aged three and four attending preschool programs in Connecticut public schools. There are another 10,000 children receiving services through the School Readiness program, and 11,400 are receiving early childhood services outside the public school system.

    In total, there are about 84,000 children in that age group in Connecticut, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. In Connecticut, only 8 percent of 3-year-olds and 13 percent of the 4-year-olds are enrolled in state-funded preschool programs.

    Funding for these preschool spots also dropped from $9,356 in 2011 to $8,388 in 2012.

    In February, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed funding 4,000 new preschool slots by 2019. The slots would go to the neediest children, in some of the poorest school districts in the state. It provides funding of $11.5 million for slots and $2.3 million in startup costs for districts that need to renovate classroom space to accommodate preschoolers.

    The money Williams proposed Wednesday would go to public schools. The classroom size would be limited to 16 students and all teachers would need to be certified, Williams said. The retiring senate president said they’ve been working with the Malloy administration on the plan and it would be in addition to the new slots Malloy created through his budget proposal.

    At an unrelated event Wednesday, Malloy said he is willing to work with everyone on universal pre-kindergarten, but he said he did not “know anything about their plan.”

    “I’m the guy who brought that phrase to the Connecticut state Capitol and I want to work with everyone on it, but it would be impossible for me to comment on details of that program,” he said.

    The governor explained the provisions of his own plan to move toward universal pre-k, including funding “planning grants.”

    “A lot of this is about capacity,” he said. “For communities that still don’t have full-time kindergarten, a lot of that issue is about capacity. We need to do a lot of work in the field, in the towns I should say, about capacity and understand how quickly we can gear up for this.”

    In 2011, the state was facing a “real crisis” in terms of its budget, Sharkey said. As a result, the state had to address the initial and immediate need of closing a budget gap, “but if you have vision you also begin planting seeds for future growth,” he said.

    Sharkey, who gave Williams full credit for the proposal, said they’re starting to see those “seeds take root” and now is time to expand on early childhood education.

    The $10 million in Tobacco Settlement funds for the first year already have been dedicated for another purpose. Williams admitted Wednesday that they’re still looking for a source of operating funds for the first year of the program.

    “But for the other nine years we’re finding the dollars we’re going to need without displacing other important services,” Williams said.

    The Appropriations Committee budget swept about $12.5 million from the Tobacco Settlement fund, which is supposed to be applied to smoking cessation programs to help residents quit.

    There’s about $106 million from the Tobacco Settlement fund in the state budget. In 1998, 48 states sued the major tobacco companies, arguing the companies had always known smoking was a health hazard, and the cost of caring for victims of smoking was draining state health care systems.

    The states won, but the use of the money has been contentious. A national organization found that Connecticut’s spending of the money on tobacco cessation programs has dropped over the past year. It went from 23rd in the nation to 34th in the nation.

    Asked about the use of the tobacco funds on early childhood education, Williams said, “I don’t think there’s any greater investment in the health of our children, whether you’re talking about their intellectual and educational health or in fact their physical health, than early childhood education.”

    House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said it’s like the Democrats never learn from their mistakes. He said adding more borrowing and raising the Tobacco Settlement funds makes no sense no matter how popular the idea.

    “We just don’t stop. It gets worse and worse,” Cafero said. “The worst part about it is the very kids we’re trying to give spots to are going to have to pay for this.”

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    Connecticut Will Celebrate UConn’s National Champions on Sunday

    by Hugh McQuaid | Apr 9, 2014 1:01pm
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    Posted to: Sports

    Peter Casolino-New Haven Register

    Coach Kevin Ollie with MVP Shabazz Napier as the UConn men’s basketball team is honored during a ceremony in Gampel Pavilion after returning home with the NCAA Basketball Championship title. Napier’s name was added to the Huskies wall of honor.

    A parade celebrating the championship victories of both University of Connecticut basketball teams will be held in Hartford Sunday at 4 p.m., Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Wednesday.

    The announcement follows the UConn women’s undefeated season and championship victory Tuesday evening and the men’s championship win Monday night. Malloy, who began a press conference by apologizing for his raspy “Husky voice,” said more details on the parade would be announced soon.

    “I am proud that we can strike while the iron is hot and I urge everyone to come to Hartford this Sunday in support of our amazing national champions,” he said.

    The governor spoke at length about the basketball teams’ successful seasons following a press conference on agriculture Wednesday morning.

    “I have to say, it has been a remarkable run. I attended a lot of the games myself in person during the regular season and watched every game that either team played” during the playoffs, he said.

    Malloy said he finished number four in his pool for the men’s season and has not yet heard how he did on the women’s season. He said he filled out his own brackets. The governor said he believed the UConn men’s team was undervalued at the start of this season but that assessment may have motivated the team to succeed.

    “There was no way we should have been anything less than a five-seed. Having said that, I’m glad they made us a seven-seed because I think it was an inspiration to Kevin [Ollie, the head coach] and to the team, and it was a slap in their face and maybe it was a slap that brought them alive. So I just think that was crazy,” he said.

    The governor also made some “friendly wagers” with the governors of Kentucky and Indiana. With the UConn men’s victory over the University of Kentucky, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear will be expected to uphold his end of the bet and send Malloy a basket full of various bourbons.

    Malloy said Beshear wagered a lot this year because he expected to win the bet. In 2011, when the Huskies faced Kentucky in the Final Four, Beshear bet a Kentucky ham and lost.

    “I had a conversation with Beshear, who’s a friend of mine, he’s a great, great governor—he was pretty cocky. In our prior bets he wasn’t so cocky, that’s why I think he offered a ham. I think he was pretty sure I was going to hold onto that bourbon when I talked to him, so I await its arrival,” Malloy said.

    Asked whether UConn should be exploring moving their teams into larger NCAA conferences, Malloy said it was a conversation for university officials to have. 

    “Let me point out that we are of a conference that just produced two national champions. So that’s pretty strong.,” he said.  “Out of respect for the league that produced two national championships, that discussion will probably be had in the future, as I expect Kevin Ollie’s contract will be as well.”

    Malloy noted also that UConn’s field hockey team won that sport’s national championship in November.

    “Listen, although we’re celebrating basketball, the women’s field hockey team won the national championship. So, we actually have three national champions at the University of Connecticut right now. It’s not just two, it’s three,” he said. “We are the center of basketball at the moment but, quite frankly, we are a center of great sports.”

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    Report Claims Choice Schools Are ‘Hyper-Segregated’

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 9, 2014 10:03am
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    Posted to: Education

    A new report released Wednesday by Connecticut Voices for Children concludes that children attending charter schools are more racially isolated than students attending local public schools. Meanwhile,  interdistrict magnet and technical schools are meeting state integration standards.

    The report, which some say highlights the need to address how schools are funded, concluded that a majority of magnet and technical schools are integrated with no fewer than 25 percent and no more than 75 percent minority students. On the other hand, the report found that “charter schools are hyper-segregated.” It found that about 90 percent of students who attend charters are minorities.

    In Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, and Stamford charter schools are more segregated by race and ethnicity than the local public schools in all four towns based on information provided by the state Education Department. The report includes data from the 2011 and 2012 school year.

    “In spite of state laws requiring charter and magnet schools to reduce racial and ethnic isolation of students, only interdistrict magnet schools are typically integrated, and a majority of the state’s charter schools are highly segregated,” researchers for Connecticut Voices for Children concluded.

    Why is racial integration necessary in school?

    Robert Cotto, one of the author’s of the report, said “national research is pretty clear that racial and ethnic integration of schools, particularly by policy has benefits to all children both white children and children of color.”

    He said children who attend school in diverse settings are more likely to succeed in college and a multicultural society.

    The report went even further to allege that at least one charter school organization with schools in New Haven and Hartford tends to “enroll children that aren’t at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale,” and accept fewer students who come from homes where English is not the first language or have special needs.

    “We would raise questions about whether or not these school choice programs are serving children with the greatest needs,” Cotto said.

    Achievement First, the charter school organization Cotto was referring to, says they don’t have a choice in which children they accept.

    “Achievement First enrolls 100 percent of our students through a blind lottery, and our schools have no admissions requirements or fees,” Amanda Pinto, a spokeswoman with Achievement First, said. “We serve all students, and we only use a lottery rather than accepting all interested students because demand for our schools exceeds available seats.”

    Jennifer Alexander, CEO of Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, said the premise of the report is all wrong.

    “I think what’s striking [and] what’s missing from the report is a focus on results,” Alexander said. “Improving the outcomes has to be about outcomes.”

    She said parents want options for their children and there are more than 4,000 children and families currently on a waiting list for a seat in one of the state’s charter schools. She said it begs the question regarding how these schools are funded and whether the state, which is responsible for funding education, needs to look at changing the formula.

    Jeremiah Grace, director of the Northeast Charter Schools Network in Connecticut, said charter schools are not the source of educational inequality in Connecticut.

    “We are part of the solution,” Grace said. “The facts speak for themselves — African-American and Latino children in New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford are outperforming their peers in district schools. And parent demand could not be greater — with more than 4,200 children on waiting lists.”

    He warned that charters did not create Connecticut’s achievement gap and are instead working to close it.

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    OP-ED | Common Core Appears to Miss the Boat on Common Technology

    by Barth Keck | Apr 9, 2014 5:30am
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    Posted to: Education, Opinion

    Of all the units I teach in my Media Literacy class, “Media and Technology” is my favorite because it’s timely and ever-changing. Plus, my students — cell phones perpetually in their clutches — can readily relate.

    This year the unit is even more pertinent because of two overlapping phenomena: our school’s new “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) policy and the impending Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

    Every day at school now, students routinely pass between classes with smartphones out and thumbs texting vigorously.

    Such is a typical day in a school where students are allowed to Bring Their Own Devices to enhance their learning.

    Concurrently, public schools are gearing up for the Common Core, national principles designed to “establish clear, consistent guidelines for what every student should know.”

    Presumably, the standards will prepare students for the 21st-century world because they were “drafted by experts and teachers from across the country and are designed to ensure students are prepared for today’s entry-level careers, freshman-level college courses, and workforce training programs.”

    In addition, the standards were derived from research: “The evidence base includes scholarly research, surveys on what skills are required of students entering college and workforce training programs, assessment data identifying college‐ and career‐ready performance, and comparisons to standards from high‐performing states and nations.”

    What better learning combination than students with the latest electronic gadgets and schools with research-based standards?

    A review of the English/Language Arts Standards for grades 11 and 12, however, reveals scant mention of technology, save for CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.6, which requires students to “use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.”

    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.5 similarly obliges students to “make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.”

    Beyond that, there’s brief mention of technology in two other standards. That makes a grand total of four out of 75 standards that address our digital world — not exactly an accent on “21st century skills.”
    It must be the current brain research, then, that justifies the standards.

    “[T]he plastic (or changeable) nature of human brain structure and function is proving highly susceptible to the pervasive use of the Internet, a relatively new intellectual technology,” write Michael Landon-Murray and Ian Anderson in a Journal of Strategic Security article. “These changes fundamentally diminish capacity for such things as sustained concentration, deep thinking, and creativity.”

    The authors refer to multiple sources, including Nicholas Carr’s book, “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain.”

    “We are now continually plugged in through smartphones and other electronic devices,” the authors add. “For many, especially in younger generations, this immersion in all things Internet is simply a norm. We want to be in the know and in the now, and the time we spend accessing the Internet reflects that.”

    Consequently, the brain — through a process called “neuroplasticity” — adapts and changes as it is increasingly exposed to such stimuli.

    “The Internet is fundamentally changing the way people engage and process the written word and information more generally,” conclude the authors, “reading less of a given piece, moving through information with more superficial interest, quickly shifting from site to site and juggling different activities, and navigating more stimuli than the brain is capable of processing.”

    Ironically, these very “superficial” and “quickly shifting” mental habits run counter to most Common Core Standards, including CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.8:

    “Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses).”

    Not exactly an activity that takes today’s distracted teenagers and their changing brains into account.

    Students undeniably should be accountable to challenging standards, but please don’t tell me that the CCSS are based on current research. At the very least, the standards’ authors could have conducted “observational research” by watching smartphone-wielding teenagers for a full day in a BYOD high school.

    If they had, the Common Core might not only look different, but also be more authentic.

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

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    Senate To Push Ahead With GMO Grass Ban Despite Uncertain Future In House

    by Hugh McQuaid | Apr 9, 2014 5:30am
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    Posted to: Agriculture, Business, Election 2014, Environment, Local Politics, State Capitol

    Hugh McQuaid file photo

    Sen. President Donald Williams with Sen. Ed Meyer last month at a press conference on the GMO legislation. At left is Tara Cook-Littman, an anti-GMO advocate running as a Democrat for the 134th House District seat.

    The Senate is poised to approve a ban on genetically modified grass seed in Connecticut, but House Speaker Brendan Sharkey and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy are not sold on the idea.

    Environment Committee Co-Chairman Sen. Ed Meyer said the bill is likely to be raised on the Senate floor during session Wednesday. The legislation bans genetically modified grass seeds and genetically modified landscape plants and expands restrictions on using pesticides on school grounds and other public land.

    Lawmakers like Meyer and Senate President Donald Williams are seeking to prohibit plants that have been genetically modified to be resistant to a chemical called glyphosate, which is found in the popular herbicide Roundup.

    The concern is that once plants can tolerate more exposure to the chemical, people will use the herbicide in greater quantities, which will hurt the environment.

    Senate Democrats met behind closed doors to discuss the legislation last week.

    “It needed explanation in the sense that our caucus wanted to know why it was harmful to the environment, mainly that it will induce and motivate more pesticides. After that it received a lot of support,” Meyer said.

    Although it’s expected to be a lengthy debate with opposition from Senate Republicans, Meyer said the bill has enough support to pass the Senate.

    It’s less clear how much support it has outside the upper chamber.

    Asked about the proposal, Sharkey was apprehensive in a short statement Tuesday afternoon.

    “In a short session that is supposed to focus on jobs and the economy, I’m concerned about enacting legislation this year that looks to preemptively ban a product that doesn’t yet exist without allowing the public, and experts, to weigh in,” he said.

    Malloy also expressed concerns when asked about genetically modified grass at an unrelated event Tuesday.

    “I’m definitely not going to eat it,” he joked.

    The governor said he has followed the discussion over the legislation, but the bill has “not been at the top of my agenda.”

    Malloy said he has concerns about where the ban would place Connecticut in relation to the policies of nearby states. It’s a concern his administration expressed during the debate over last year’s bill requiring the labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms.

    Uneasiness about putting Connecticut businesses at a competitive disadvantage led to a compromise on last year’s bill. Malloy signed the legislation into law last year, but it only becomes effective if other states approve similar proposals and a population threshold is met.

    Malloy pointed to that compromise when asked Tuesday about the possibility of a ban on genetically modified grass seed.

    “One of the things that I always say is we have to do this in balance. We have to be aware of where we are on the issue. I don’t mind leading on some issues. It’s even okay to be ahead of people — minimum wage is one of those. But on issues of commerce and the impact on commerce, I’d like to know where we’re moving as a region or where we’re moving with other states and that was why we were able to get a good compromise on GMOs last year,” he said.

    The bill has put pressure on states like Maine, Vermont, Washington, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts to “step up” and consider Connecticut’s policy, the governor said. He added that he would work on the issue with “anybody who’s got good intent.”

    However, proponents of banning the genetically modified grass believe the issue is time sensitive. The grass is not yet on the market. But once it is sold and grown, some believe it will be impossible to get rid of it, even if the state implements a ban sometime in the future.

    Williams, who is not seeking re-election this year, expressed those concerns at a press conference on the subject in March.

    “We have an extraordinary opportunity to, in Connecticut, not fight a rearguard action after the fact, five or 10 years from now, when the consequences will be readily apparent . . . We have the ability right now to stop that in it’s tracks and that’s what we intend to do this session,” he said. “Because next session may be too late.”

    On Tuesday, Meyer agreed, saying he saw the GMO labeling bill and the grass bills differently. The labeling bill pertains to consumer rights while the grass seed ban is directly aimed at reducing the use of toxic chemicals, he said.

    “I don’t favor a regional approach with respect to chemicals we’ve identified as toxic. I think Connecticut has to go it’s own way to protect its residents,” he said. 

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    Courting The Female Vote & Celebrating Pay Equity Day

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 8, 2014 4:30pm
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    Posted to: Election 2014, Jobs, Labor, Legal

    Christine Stuart photo

    Gov. Dannel P. Malloy outside the Convention Center ballroom

    The women’s vote can make or break a Connecticut politician. History, shows that both male and female candidates ignore the gender gap at their peril.

    It was the gender gap that largely cost Linda McMahon a U.S. Senate seat in 2010 and 2012.

    And it’s the gender gap that’s keeping Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy even with one of his Republican opponents in a recent Quinnipiac University poll. The poll found that Malloy was doing better with women voters and that in a hypothetical match up, 45 percent would choose Malloy over Republican Tom Foley who received 37 percent of the female vote. But Foley did much better with male voters. An estimated 48 percent of men preferred the Republican over the Democrat.

    Khalilah Brown-Dean, associate professor of political science at Quinnipiac University, said women make up a majority of voters in Connecticut and in general women are very organized and very issue focused.

    “No party can afford to ignore women’s issues,” Brown-Dean said.

    And Tuesday was all about women.

    In the East Room of the White House, Democratic President Barack Obama called upon the Senate to pass the “Paycheck Fairness Act” and signed an executive order to create more pay transparency among federal contractors. He also signed a presidential memorandum directing the Labor Department to require contractors to provide data about employee compensation “so pay discrimination can be spotted more easily.”

    “Equal Pay Day means that a woman has to work about this far into 2014 to earn what a man earned in 2013,” Obama said. “Think about that.”

    Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee issued a memo that stated that “all Republicans support equal pay for equal work.” The memo goes onto say that the “Paycheck Fairness Act” doesn’t provide paycheck fairness.

    “In fact, it will cut flexibility in the work place for working moms and end merit pay that rewards good work — the very things that are important to us,” the memo states. It argues that the pay disparity Democrats so often cite is inaccurate because it doesn’t compare jobs in the same profession in order to come up with the data that shows women make 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

    In Connecticut, according to a report commissioned by Malloy, women earn 22 to 24.2 percent less than their male counterparts. Even after controlling for things like education and skill level, women still earn 5 to 10 percent less than men, the November 2013 report concluded.

    Malloy, who announced a few weeks ago he was running for re-election, marked the day by addressing around 1,600 women at the YWCA’s Eliminating Racism and Empowering Women luncheon at the Connecticut Convention Center.

    At the luncheon, which was closed to the news media, Malloy mentioned that Connecticut was the first in the nation to pass a law increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2017.

    He said as far as pay equity is concerned, about 60 percent of minimum wage earners in Connecticut are women, which is disproportionate to their population size. He said it’s more evidence that pay equity is a problem in the state.

    He said that when you combine the 2011 Earned Income Tax Credit with the minimum wage increase, “you’re talking about raising for a minimum wage family income by about $5,000.” The Earned Income Tax Credit puts a few hundred bucks back in the pockets of those who may not pay income taxes but are working and have a family.

    “That’s very significant,” Malloy said. “And will raise tens of thousands of families over the next few years out of poverty in Connecticut.”

    He said he’s trying to fix that by implementing the recommendations of the task force he created to address the issue. He said the Labor Department is in the process of implementing those recommendations.

    “I think we can make real progress over the next three or four years,” Malloy said.

    Foley, who is one of a handful of candidates seeking the Republican nomination, said the existence of a wage gap is unacceptable.

    “Equal pay for equal work is a fairness issue, whether it is gender based or for any other reason,” Foley said. “It is simply unacceptable that there is a gender gap and as governor I will seek to eliminate it.”

    Joe Visconti of West Hartford, another Republican candidate, said he wants to make sure his daughter and his sisters make as much money as they can.

    He said human resource departments should be aware of equal pay and act appropriately. If they don’t and he finds out about it, he will be happy to raise the issue.

    “I would happily make it an issue, where it needs to be an issue,” Visconti said.

    Other Republican candidates for governor were not immediately available for comment.

    Connecticut Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo released a statement thanking Connecticut’s Congressional delegation for their work on the issue.

    “I am proud of the work Connecticut’s Congressional delegation is doing on our behalf to encourage policies that reflect the way we live today,” DiNardo said. “From their support of increasing the minimum wage, to their votes to help pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, they understand that equal pay is about more than just women’s rights. It’s about the economic security of our families.”

    U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro is a lead sponsor of the “Paycheck Fairness Act.”

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    Wagering Continues With Women’s Game

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 8, 2014 2:06pm
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    Posted to: Sports

    Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is betting Indiana Gov. Mike Pence a basket of Connecticut-grown agricultural products that the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team will beat Notre Dame tonight.

    If the Huskies win, Malloy will receive a basket of Hoosier agricultural products. Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman is getting in on the fun as well and betting Indiana’s Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann a basket of Connecticut, chocolate, cheese, syrup, and wine, while Ellspermann is betting chocolates from the famous South Bend Chocolate company.

    Attorney General George Jepsen, who won a ham last year when the women defeated Louisville, is wagering some Connecticut wine. Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller countered with some Indiana beer and a Notre Dame mug.

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    Report: Connecticut’s Fiscal Transparency Improves

    by Hugh McQuaid | Apr 8, 2014 11:42am
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    Posted to: FOIA, Taxes, State Capitol, Transparency

    Connecticut earns a “B” for transparency in government spending, according to an annual report card grading the 50 states in online access to data on where taxpayer dollars are spent.

    The grade comes from the 5th annual “Following The Money” report by the ConnPIRG Education Fund. The report grades states from “A” to “F” based on the content and accessibility of each their transparency websites.

    Connecticut’s “B” represents a step up from last year’s report card where the group gave the state a “C+.” However, the state website was outpaced by more comprehensive sites from states like Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

    The report calls Connecticut an “advancing state” and cites two recent executive orders by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy designed to improve access to information on economic subsidies handed out to businesses and establishing an “open data portal.” But it also said information on business tax credits are not as transparent as similar programs in other states.

    In a statement, ConnPIRG Director Abe Scarr said there has been a trend throughout the country to give taxpayers easier access to data on how their money is spent so that they can hold elected officials subsidy recipients accountable.

    “Connecticut has taken some positive steps this year to keep up with the rising transparency standards, and we hope Connecticut takes further steps to become a national leader,” he said.

    State Comptroller Kevin Lembo has pushed for legislation requiring the state to post more information on corporate subsidies on it’s websites. Although the lawmakers did not pass the proposal, Malloy essentially implemented it with an executive order establishing a searchable database of the state’s economic assistance programs.

    In a press release, Lembo said the state’s improved grade recognized the recently enacted changes, but reflected a need for more progress on transparency with regard to state economic development spending.

    “There is never a finish line for open government — only a perpetual work in progress — so I look forward to continuing the discussion and working on new ways to expand public access to important government financial information and data,” he said.

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    Dillon Uses Basketball To Highlight Union Issue

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 8, 2014 5:30am
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    Posted to: Labor, Sports, New Haven

    Courtesy of the House Democratic Caucus

    Rep. Dillon joined Dwight neighborhood activists and aldermen at the dedication of a new basketball court.

    With the NCAA basketball championships and both of the University of Connecticut teams on her mind, state Rep. Pat Dillon, D-New Haven, said she wants to get rid of any state law that would make it difficult for student athletes to unionize.

    Citing the National Labor Relations Board ruling by a regional director in favor of allowing Northwestern football players to form a union, Dillon said she wants to make sure that a similar opportunity is available to Connecticut athletes.

    “It appears that state law may be an impediment,” Dillon said Monday. “NLRB ruled that athletes at private schools have the right to unionize, but said state labor laws may prohibit public school students from organizing. I am prepared to file legislation to make sure athletes at both public and private schools are on equal footing.”

    She said athletes should be able to make a choice about joining a union and the state “has an obligation to remove any barriers.”

    Dillon has worked with Ramogi Huma, who led the National College Athletes Players Association, in filing the complaint. But she will have to find legislation to amend since the time for introducing bills has ended.

    Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield, co-chair of the Labor and Public Employees Committee, said he understands that students do a lot of work, but he would rather wait and see what happens with the NLRB decision.

    Northwestern University has appealed the decision to the full National Labor Relations Board in Washington.

    Holder-Winfield said a lot of the student-athletes get scholarships, but “they don’t get what many of us believe they should be getting in return.” However, he said there’s nothing wrong with letting it play out before Connecticut legislators start changing the law.

    Lori Pelletier, executive secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, said the state should give student-athletes the ability to negotiate their working conditions and health care.

    “The NCAA pulls in huge salaries,” Pelletier said. “The students often don’t see any of that money.”

    Dillon pointed to a March 27 interview with a University of Connecticut basketball player to prove the need for a players union.

    “Under NCAA rules, players cannot seek any outside employment,” Dillon said. “UConn’s Shabazz Napier was asked about the NLRB ruling by reporters and said there are nights he goes to bed hungry.”

    In a March 27 interview after a game Napier was asked about the NLRB decision, which had been handed down just a day earlier.

    “As student athletes we get utilized for what we do so well,” Napier told reporters. “But that doesn’t cover everything. We do have hungry nights where we don’t have enough food and sometimes money is needed.”

    He said he doesn’t think athletes need hundreds of thousands of dollars, but there are times when money falls short and because of NCAA rules athletes are unable to receive additional money from the university.

    “There are hungry nights where I go to bed and I’m starvin’,” Napier said.

    But he said he doesn’t feel like an employee. He feels like a student-athlete.

    Northwestern University is expected to file its appeal of the decision by April 9, according to Chicago news reports.

    The Connecticut General Assembly session adjourns on May 7.

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    Blumenthal, Esty Tackle Bubblegum Flavored E-Cigarettes

    by Hugh McQuaid | Apr 7, 2014 3:11pm
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    Posted to: Business, Health Care

    Hugh McQuaid Photo

    U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty

    Accusing electronic cigarette makers of taking their cues from the Joe Camel-era of tobacco marketing, U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal announced Monday an effort to ban the marketing e-cigarettes to kids.

    The two lawmakers announced the legislation at a press conference in the Legislative Office Building. Blumenthal, Connecticut’s former attorney general, pointed to a display featuring Joe Camel, the discontinued cartoon mascot of Camel cigarettes. Camel axed the character in the 1990s amidst litigation claiming the cartoon was aimed at marketing tobacco to minors.

    “I remember these ads well. They’re the reason that we sued Big Tobacco. They no longer exist,” Blumenthal said Monday. “Now Big Tobacco is buying e-cigarette companies. Do you think it is because Big Tobacco wants to promote smoking cessation? I don’t think so.”

    The legislation is an attempt at weighing in on the growing and currently unregulated industry that makes vapor-based nicotine delivery products like e-cigarettes. There are no federal or state restrictions prohibiting sale of the products to children.

    Nationwide, Esty said that more than 1.8 million middle school and high school students have tried the smokeless cigarettes and 75 percent have tried traditional tobacco.

    This year, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has proposed legislation which would make such sales illegal in Connecticut. That bill is awaiting action in the state Senate.

    Blumenthal and Esty are not proposing a federal ban on sales to minors, rather they are seeking to restrict how the products are marketed. Federal lawmakers chose to address marketing instead of an outright ban hoping the proposal will have a better shot at passing through a mostly-gridlocked Congress.

    “We’re trying to be effective here and, as you may have noticed, the Congress is not finding it easy to agree on many things but there has been broad general support in the country about not allowing targeting of tobacco ads to our children,” Esty said. “This fits in the same line as other addictive substances that we allow adults to partake in but we do not encourage children to become addicted.”

    The legislation prohibits anyone from marketing e-cigarettes in a way that will increase use among kids. Both lawmakers indicated they believe the sale of certain flavors fit that bill. Although some adults use e-cigarettes as a tool to assist them with quitting tobacco, Esty said manufacturers have kids in mind when they sell flavors like bubblegum.

    “How many truck drivers do you think are buying gummy bear flavored e-cigarettes to try to quit smoking? I don’t think you’ll find many,” she said.

    But it may be restricting the sale of different flavors that proves controversial. Esty’s comments regarding truck drivers drew grumbling from two men who attended the press conference. During the question and answer portion of the news conference, they interjected to oppose the legislation.

    Hugh McQuaid Photo Gregory Conley told Esty he worked for The Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Chicago. The group has longstanding ties to the tobacco industry and maintains that anti-smoking advocates exaggerate the health risks of smoking.

    “Three and a half years ago, I quit smoking with an electronic cigarette, actually in watermelon [flavor]. I regularly use flavors like bubblegum and watermelon to stay smoke free because they disconnect me from the taste of burning smoke,” Conley said.

    As a communication aide tried to quiet him, Conley accused Blumenthal of supporting legislation “blatantly violating the constitution.” Blumenthal answered by calling the bill “common sense” and consistent with First Amendment.

    After the press conference, Conley told reporters he traveled to Connecticut from Albany when he heard about Monday’s event. Although the Heartland Institute gets money from tobacco companies, Conley said he did similar work “for free” as a volunteer for another group.

    The explanation prompted an exchange between Conley and Kevin O’Flaherty, regional director for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

    “But you’re not a volunteer now, are you Greg,” O’Flaherty said.

    “No, I’m not so you can just tar and feather me all you want,” Conley said. “Are you a volunteer?”

    “Absolutely not but I just think it should be clear, you were paid to be here,” O’Flaherty said.

    Conley, who writes a blog for the conservative think tank, told reporters he was “sick and tired of seeing politicians that are desperate for press attention, try and capitalize on electronic cigarettes.”

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    Bourbon Barrel & Munson’s Chocolates Are On The Line

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 7, 2014 2:29pm
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    Posted to: Sports

    Courtesy of Malloy's office Gov. Dannel P. Malloy bet Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear that the University of Connecticut Men’s Basketball team would capture the 2014 NCAA championship.

    With the final game on the line, Malloy is wagering wine from Jones Family Farms in Shelton, beer from Two Roads Brewing Company in Stratford, and chocolate from Munson’s.

    If the Huskies win Beshear will send Malloy a Kentucky bourbon basket – created from a half-barrel from Maker’s Mark – that will include some of the state’s best premium bourbon brands: Woodford Reserve, Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey, Jim Beam, Bulleit Bourbon, Four Roses, Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, Town Branch, Willett, Old Pogue, Michter’s and Corsair Bourbon. The barrel also will include barware, glasses, apparel and accessories to conduct a priceless bourbon tasting.

    In 2011, Malloy received a Kentucky ham from Beshear when the Huskies beat the Wildcats in the semifinal game.

    U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney is hoping to wash down his Florida burritos from U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz with some Kentucky bourbon from U.S. Rep. Andy Barr of Kentucky.

    Courtney, a UConn Law School grad, is again offering a gift basket of eastern Connecticut signature treats including Munson’s Chocolates, Selbuort Valley Farms Maple Syrup, Cato Corner Cheese, Deep River Chips, Jarmoc cigars and Cottrell Beer. If UConn loses Barr will be giving him “signature bourbons, candies, and treats,” from the Blue Grass state’s sixth district.

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    Soundkeeper Challenges Hedge Fund Project In Stamford

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 7, 2014 12:56pm
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    Posted to: Courts, Environment, Town News, Stamford, Jobs

    Harbor Point shipyard

    A nonprofit environmental group filed a complaint against the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development last week arguing that it didn’t do an environmental study before choosing to locate the headquarters of a hedge fund on waterfront property in Stamford.

    The 14-acres commonly referred to as “Harbor Point” is expected to be the future headquarters for Bridgewater Associates, a Westport-based hedge fund. It used to be Stamford’s only working boatyard, but the property is now being cleared in anticipation of the Bridgewater project.

    Soundkeeper Inc., the nonprofit environmental group headed by state Rep. Terry Backer, filed the lawsuit last week in Hartford Superior Court. The complaint alleges that the Connecticut’s Environmental Policy Act requires every state-approved or state-funded activity that may significantly impact the environment to be evaluated with a report known as an Environmental Impact Evaluation.

    The state has approved about $115 million in loans and tax credits for Bridgewater to move its 1,225 employees from Westport to Stamford. In exchange, Bridgewater has promised to create 1,000 more jobs over the next 10 years.

    But the deal means that Stamford will lose 14-acres of waterfront property that will be replaced by an 850,000 square-foot office building and three-story parking garage, according to the complaint.

    “The site is in a flood plain, is zoned for “water-dependent uses,” and has been used as a boatyard or shipbuilding facility for more than a century,” the complaint states.

    In a phone interview Monday, Backer said that “working waterfront has been vanishing for the past 30 years and slowly, but surely beginning to cut off access.”

    Backer said that an environmental study should be done before a project of this size is built on what precious little waterfront is left.

    The lawsuit filed by Soundkeeper’s attorney Reed Super goes onto state that contrary to the recommendation of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Economic and Community Development agency also didn’t evaluate alternative sites for the project.

    Even if the agency did its due diligence on the site by collecting information about the environmental impact, it was not gathered through an Environmental Impact Evaluation and has not been shared with the public, according to the complaint.

    A spokesman for the Economic and Community Development agency declined to comment for the report because it’s pending litigation.

    The lawsuit says the potential environmental problems that could result include water pollution, flooding, fauna, noise, and traffic.

    The state “did not require legally adequate mitigation of adverse environmental effects and, to the extent DECD considered any mitigation measures, those measures were not developed, analyzed, disclosed and review through the EIE process,” according to the complaint. “Further, the proposed Bridgewater project is inconsistent with the goals and policies of the Coastal Management Act and the state plan of Conservation and Development.”

    Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has been a supporter of the project. The former mayor of Stamford for 14 years before becoming governor, Malloy pitched Ray Dalio, who heads Bridgewater Associates, during an encounter at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January 2012.

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    Jepsen Announces Re-election Bid

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 7, 2014 7:35am
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    Posted to: Election 2014, Media Matters

    Christine Stuart photo

    Attorney General George Jepsen and his wife Diana

    (Updated 12:42 p.m.) Attorney George Jepsen told WTIC 1080 AM Monday that he will file the paperwork to run for a second term later today.

    He’s the last current constitutional officer to announce his re-election campaign. So far Kie Westby, a former U.S. Senate candidate from Thomaston, is the only Republican vying for the office.

    In an interview Monday afternoon at the state Capitol, Jepsen said he waited so long to get into the race because “the longer I’m functioning as a 24/7 attorney general, as opposed to being distracted by a campaign the better.”

    Jepsen, who is using the public campaign system, will have to raise $75,000 in contributions under $100 in order to qualify for the $750,000.

    The one-time head of the Democratic Party and former state Senator from Stamford told the radio station that his proudest accomplishment since taking office in 2011 was working on the national mortgage settlement—a three-year agreement reached in 2012 with attorneys general of 49 states, the federal government, and five mortgage servicers.

    The settlement has provided more than $26 billion in relief nationwide and $650 million in relief to more than 6,700 Connecticut borrowers, who were in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure.

    Jepsen, who has kept a lower profile than his predecessor Richard Blumenthal, was a practicing lawyer for more than 26 years with the Hartford law firm of Cowdery, Ecker, and Murphy, in the areas of corporate transactions and civil and appellate litigation before taking office. He began his career as general counsel for Carpenters Local 210 in Norwalk.

    Four years ago, Jepsen defeated Republican Martha Dean to win the office. Earlier that year, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, was also running for the Democratic nomination for attorney general until her credentials were challenged in court. The Supreme Court found that she wasn’t qualified to run for attorney general.

    Dean later challenged Jepsen’s legal qualifications for the job based on the number of times his name turned up in briefs filed in court. The court didn’t rule before the 2010 election, but Jepsen won the race and Dean ended up dropping the lawsuit.

    Jepsen oversees an office of 200 attorneys. According to his biography the office generated more than $537 million for the state in fiscal year 2013. The office handles civil matters for the state and its various agencies.

    Since 2010, Jepsen and his family have moved to West Hartford across the street from the governor’s mansion. Jepsen and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy have been friends for years and lived near each other in Stamford.

    The two recently differed about how strict the state should be when it comes to disclosure of information by third-party electrical suppliers. Jepsen leaned toward stricter disclosure, but the legislation is still being worked upon and he declined to say exactly how the final draft was worded. Advocates like AARP have called for stricter regulations and disclosures.

    Jepsen and Malloy have differed in the past on the controversial electricity auction, which was scrapped last year in the budget negotiations.

    “There’s always going to be disagreements on some issues,” Jepsen said. “But instead of engaging publicly and batting heads together we sit down and work things out.”

    Jepsen said Malloy has been a “strong partner” in helping put together the third-party electricity supplier legislation.

    “There wasn’t agreement on every detail, but it worked out to be a very, very strong bill,” Jepsen said. The language is “nearly complete” but there are “some political sign-offs we need to get.”

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    OP-ED | Support of Nutritional Standards for Early Childhood Settings is Vital

    by John L. Cattelan | Apr 7, 2014 5:30am
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    Posted to: Opinion

    Many of us are keenly aware of the staggering rates of childhood obesity rates in Connecticut. Up to 25 percent of Connecticut kids are considered overweight or obese.

    One of the leading causes of childhood obesity is the consumption of sugar- containing beverages. Obesity negatively impacts a child’s long-term health and academic performance in the classroom (Castelli, Hillman, Buck & Erwin, JSEP, 2007). Children who are obese are more susceptible to depression and low self-esteem, and are more likely to be victims of bullying.

    Empty calories from sugar-sweetened beverages contribute to approximately 22 percent of a child’s total daily caloric intake (Reedy and Smith, 2010). On average, children between the ages of 2 and 18 consume 171 empty calories per day from sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda and fruit juices combined (NHANES, 2005-06). Those 171 calories from sweetened beverages is the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar daily.

    A 2013 study conducted by Harvard researchers linked 25,000 U.S. deaths to consumption of sugary drinks. This includes sugar-sweetened beverages, loaded with calories that contain no nutritional value. ABC News chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser stated, “Study after study links intake of sugary drinks to poor health effects.”

    Senate Bill 48, An Act Concerning Nutrition Standards for Child Care Settings, would prohibit child day care centers, group day care homes, and family day care homes from providing:

  • A beverage with artificial or natural added sweeteners to a child in their care.
  • Any juice to a child eight months old or younger. Children over eight months old could receive 6 ounces per day of 100 percent juice.
  • The bill would also prohibit facilities from providing milk with more than 1 percent fat for a child over two years of age or if it was deemed medically necessary by the child’s medical provider. Finally, childcare settings must make water available and easily accessible to children throughout the day.

    The Connecticut Alliance of YMCAs, with its 23 corporate Ys, provides childcare programs to almost 14,000 of Connecticut’s children. We have voluntarily adopted the YMCAs Health Eating and Physical Activity Standards for Early Childhood and Afterschool Programs. The standards include a beverage segment that is identical to the proposed bill. By adopting these nutrition and exercise standards it shows the YMCA’s commitment to being one of the healthiest and largest providers of early childhood education and afterschool programming in Connecticut, and that is why we are supportive of Senate Bill 48.

    Across the state, YMCAs are setting the example of healthy environments for children. Some children spend up to 12 hours a day in outside care. Through this legislation, we will ensure that all CT preschool and before/after school facilities follow consistent, statewide nutrition health standards for beverages.  We urge parents and legislators to support Senate Bill 48 to improve the nutritional quality of their children’s daycare.

    John L. Cattelan is Executive Director of the Connecticut Alliance of YMCAs.

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    OP-ED | Farm Bureau Urges Rejection of GMO Amendment

    by Henry N. Talmage | Apr 6, 2014 9:37pm
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    Posted to: Agriculture, Opinion

    For the last few years, the news has been positive for the agricultural industry here in Connecticut. The number of farmers markets across the state is on the rise. Our friends and neighbors are committed to buying our products. 

    The legislature and Gov. Dannel P.  Malloy reestablished the Governor’s Council for Agricultural Development—aimed at growing the industry. And, a recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that for the first time in decades the number of farms is on the rise in Connecticut.

    But that trend could be reversed if a piece of legislation before the General Assembly this session becomes law. 

    Lawmakers have added an amendment to a pesticide bill that would ban the use and sale of some grasses, even grasses that have been genetically engineered to be more environmentally friendly or need less water. The amendment calls for an outright ban on a product that isn’t even on the market yet.

    But, because this amendment was added late in the legislative process, we don’t really know what the justifications are for this drastic step. Without a public hearing on this amendment, the experts and those whose livelihoods would be impacted never had the opportunity to share their views and the science that shows that these products are safe.

    Nor do we know how far this ban would go—what about plants developed using genetically modified techniques that have other beneficial characteristics like drought tolerance, require less pesticide use, or that need less mowing? Would the ban include the sale and use of GMO feed corn seed in Connecticut?  After all, corn is a grass. That would wipe out our dairy industry that has been using these products safely for many years.

    We are incredibly disappointed that on an issue with such wide ranging ramifications for the agricultural and landscape industry we might not have an open and transparent process to hear from constituents and experts that will be directly impacted. We urge the Connecticut General Assembly to reconsider this measure.

    Henry N. Talmage is the executive director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau Association.

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    Second Amendment Advocates Vow Revenge At the Ballot Box

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 5, 2014 4:27pm
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    Posted to: Civil Liberties, Courts, Election 2014, State Capitol

    Christine Stuart photo

    Scott Wilson, president of the CCDL, with Republican gubernatorial candidates Martha Dean, Joe Visconti, and Tom Foley

    They were unable to stop Connecticut’s General Assembly last year from passing sweeping gun control legislation, but gun rights advocates gathered Saturday at the state Capitol to let lawmakers know they will make their voices heard at the ballot box.

    —More photos

    A year and a day after Democratic Gov. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed legislation that banned the future purchase of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, the Connecticut Citizens Defense League organized the rally to mark the day Malloy made “the Second Amendment a privilege and not a right.”

    The rally, according to state Capitol police, attracted more than 3,000 from Connecticut and a handful of states, including Mississippi, Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York.

    Scott Wilson, president of the CCDL, told the crowd that Malloy referred to “us all as the fringe of the fringe.” He said the governor told gun owners that they lost and should just get over it.

    “I don’t know about you, but I am only not over it, I am madder than hell,” Wilson said to cheers from the crowd. “Gun control was the fig leaf that concealed their disastrous failures.”

    He said they exploited the tragedy at Sandy Hook where a gunman took the lives of 20 children and six educators to push through their gun control agenda. This year there is no new legislation pending in Connecticut related to guns.

    “Certain legislators are hiding from their vote last year and are probably grateful no talk of gun control has come up so far. Some of them are not just hiding, some of them are thumbing their noses at us while hiding in plain sight as they run for higher office,” Wilson said referring to Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, two Republican gubernatorial candidates.

    Christine Stuart photo Bill Stevens of Newtown said he was heartbroken when he heard what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but “it wasn’t the AR-15 that killed 26 innocent people in my town. It was a mentally ill shooter who pulled the trigger and this law does nothing to address that.”

    He went on to challenge McKinney to come over to his home and see how many bullets he has in his magazine.

    “The German Shepherds will give you a nice warm welcome. Instead of chewing on deer bones, they can chew on a RINO,” Stevens said to cheers.

    Stevens said he’s heard the argument from some Republicans that they need a moderate candidate to unseat Malloy and fix the economy. “Why trade our liberal enemy Dannel Malloy for an oath breaking RINO as governor? Someone who will vote our rights away but promises to fix the economy and lower our taxes.”

    He said if the Republican Party expects us to “give up our unalienable right endowed by our Creator for lower taxes? I’m sorry but our rights are not for sale.”

    He said it would be an added bonuses if they lowered taxes and improved the economy, but he’s voting for a Second Amendment candidate above every other issue.

    Wilson said there are some in the political arena and the media who doubt the group’s ability to impact the 2014 election.

    “Do not let these people define who we are or what we will do,” Wilson said. “If we are going to win we will have to do more than just voting. I am asking Second Amendment supporters to get out of their comfort zone and contribute a few dollars to a good candidate or two. That will not be enough. I am asking for people to volunteer on campaigns. That will not be enough.”

    He asked the crowd to reach out to the Second Amendment candidates in their district to help get them elected. He said CCDL will endorse candidates who are members after the conventions next month.

    Christine Stuart photo Anna Kopperud, the NRA’s liaison to Connecticut, said the General Assembly passed a law “that transforms your God-given right into a government regulated privilege.”

    But she said the scariest part of the new law is that Malloy “can force you to go down to your local city precinct with your guns, and force you to turn them in.”

    She said she promises the NRA is going to continue to fight back by supporting candidates who support the Second Amendment or opposing those who don’t. She said they would also continue to fight them in court.

    The NRA has helped the CCDL with its lawsuit against the state challenging the constitutionality of the 2013 law. However, the law was upheld by a federal court judge in January and the group has appealed the decision to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

    Kopperud said she believes two important battles already have been won. Sen. President Donald Williams, whom she called “the godfather of gun bans” despite his vote against the assault weapons ban during his first-term, is not seeking re-election.

    “And that’s because of you. And House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, one of the water boys for the gun banners, has been chased out of the governor’s race and is no longer running for re-election because of you,” Kopperud said to a cheering crowd. “They’re just the first two. We’re going to come after all of them with good old-fashion bare knuckle campaign brawling.”

    Those who attended the rally included Republican gubernatorial candidates Tom Foley, Martha Dean, and Joe Visconti. None of them were allowed to speak at the event, but Foley and Dean have addressed the CCDL at their monthly meetings in Middletown.

    For those who were unable to attend, the CCDL offered a livestream of the event, which tracked 4,012 views over the course of the afternoon.

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    Elections Regulator Says Connecticut’s Campaign Finance System Will Withstand SCOTUS’ Decision

    by Hugh McQuaid | Apr 4, 2014 3:59pm
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    Posted to: Courts, Election Policy

    Courtesy of the SEEC State Elections Enforcement Commission Chair Anthony Castagno said the SEEC is “troubled” by this week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision removing aggregate campaign contribution caps, but is confident Connecticut’s public financing system will “withstand” the decision.

    In its ruling this week on McCutcheon v. FEC, the nation’s high court struck down restrictions on the total contributions one individual can make to candidates, political parties, or PACs during an election cycle.

    Castagno said the SEEC is reviewing how the decision will impact Connecticut campaign finance law, but believes it “further erodes our country’s founding principles that the government exists for all the people, not just a few.”

    However, Castagno said the state public campaign finance system still contains strong disclosure requirements and rules on fundraising for the candidates who use it.

    “With almost 80 percent of our legislature and 100 percent of constitutional officers elected without special interest money, Connecticut’s campaign finance system can withstand decisions like McCutcheon,” he said.

    Castagno said the system is threatened by “intrusive” U.S. Supreme Court decisions. He pointed to the 2010 Citizens United decision, which allowed corporations, unions, and special interest groups to funnel unlimited funds into political campaigns. He said the McCutcheon decision is “another step down that road.”

    At a protest in October, activists associated with Connecticut’s labor unions and government watchdog and environmental groups warned that McCutcheon could be “the next Citizens United.”

    Some of those advocates released statements this week criticizing the court’s ruling on the case.

    “The people of Connecticut know from our own painful experience what happens when sensible limits on political spending are cast aside,” Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Connecticut Common said. The “decision invites a new wave of corruption here and across the country and demonstrates again how out of touch the Roberts Court is with the real world of politics — the one in which big money buys big returns.”

    Before the decision the aggregate limit for the two-year election cycle stood at $123,200 — more than twice the average household income in the U.S. In 2012. Only 1,219 donors came within 10 percent of hitting the aggregate limit.

    Research from U.S. PIRG and Demos projects suggests that now that the aggregate limit has been struck down, this same set of 1,219 donors will more triple their gifts to $459.3 million.

    “The last thing we need right now is to increase the giving of the donors with the deepest pockets,” Abe Scarr, director of the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group, said. “It’s time to amend the Constitution to overturn the Court’s wrong-headed decisions permitting a handful of millionaires and corporate interests to dominate our elections.”

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    Stop Work Order at UConn Lifted, But Banned Contractor Won’t Be Back

    by Megan Merrigan | Apr 4, 2014 2:47pm
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    Posted to: Labor, Mansfield-Storrs

    Megan Merrigan photo

    UConn Basketball Champions Center

    The New England Regional Council of Carpenters hosted a rally Thursday in Storrs after hearing word that Intext Building Systems was coming back to work on the University of Connecticut’s basketball practice facility after being banned in February.

    “I’m concerned,” Regional Council Representative Tim Sullivan, who helped organize the rally, said. “As a taxpayer and as a union rep, I’m very concerned.”

    But, the carpenters can put their picket signs down for now. Intext will not be returning to complete the project even though the stop-work order that was placed on the $32 million UConn Basketball Champions Center in February has been lifted by the state Department of Labor.

    The stop-work order was placed after a surprise visit from the labor department revealed that both Intext of Glastonbury and J&V Construction, the subcontractor Intext brought in to help with the project, were using undocumented workers and paying them in cash to avoid paying state taxes, insurance costs, and workers compensation.

    The labor department’s investigation also found that the men working on the project were being paid $20 an hour. According to Gary Pechie, the labor department’s director of the Division of Wage and Workplace Standards, this is about $30 less than the state requires for these types of projects.

    The stop-work order was lifted about a week ago by the labor department, but Enfield Builders, the contractors responsible for bringing in Intext, made the decision Thursday to keep them off the project.

    Megan Merrigan photo

    New England Regional Council of Carpenters

    Asked why Enfield Builders decided against bringing Intext back to UConn, the company’s attorney, Fred Hedberg, said there was no particular reason.

    Instead, Enfield Builders have opted to replace Intext with union workers from East Hartford’s Acoustics Inc.

    Acoustics Inc. was brought in to work on the project when Intext was banned in February, and the union workers are happy to be staying to complete the work and “get a piece of the pie,” Dan Litke, a member of Connecticut Carpenters Local #24, said.

    “We live in this community. We want to work in this community. We pay taxes in this community. It works,” Litke said.

    While Intext has been cleared and is legally able to continue work on the facility, J&V is still not in compliance with labor department standards and has an outstanding wage bill of nearly $368,000 for underpaying its employees, according to Pechie, who described J&V’s violations as more severe than Intext’s.

    “It’s usually the third and fourth tier subcontractors where we find problems,” Pechie said, referring to J&V.

    UConn Spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said via email that the university respects both the issuing and lifting of the stop-work order by the labor department, and that “UConn is committed to the highest quality in all of its construction projects and compliance with all other safety laws.”

    Reitz also noted that the job site was never shut down and, while work has been slightly delayed, the facility is still scheduled to open on time.

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    Let the Basketball Wagering Begin

    by Hugh McQuaid | Apr 4, 2014 12:43pm
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    Posted to: Sports

    CTNJ file photo UConn is in the Final Four again and the friendly political wagers have begun. U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney and his colleague in Florida are both betting their teams will emerge victorious from Saturday’s semifinal men’s basketball matchup.

    Courtney, a UConn Law School graduate, is betting against U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, of Florida, a two-time graduate of the University of Florida.

    If the UConn Huskies defeat the Florida Gators, Wasserman Schultz has promised to give Courtney a platter of “epic burritos and famous guac” from the Burrito Bros. Taco Company in Gainesville, Florida.

    However, if the Huskies lose to the Gators, Courtney is on the hook for a basket containing Munson’s Chocolates, Jarmoc cigars, beer from the Cottrell Brewing Company, maple syrup from Selbuort Valley Farms, and Cato Corner cheese.

    In a press release, both representatives engaged in some obligatory posturing:

    “Florida has looked strong in this year’s NCAA tournament, but we can’t forget the last team the Gators fell to this season: UConn,” Courtney said. “The Gators have already gotten a taste of Shabazz Napier’s last-second heroics, and with him and Kevin Ollie leading this UConn team, I’m confident we’ll see them playing again Monday for the National Championship.”

    “As a Gator fan who bleeds orange and blue, I’m thrilled our guys have made it back to the Final Four of the Big Dance,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Unlike their last game versus UConn, the Gators are playing at full strength and with legendary coach Billy Donovan at the helm, Florida is just one Husky road-kill away en route to their 3rd basketball championship.”

    According to the press release, Courtney is also betting that UConn’s women’s basketball team will defeat Stanford University during their matchup on Sunday. Courtney has wagered against U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo that the Huskies will beat the Cardinals to move on to the women’s National Championship.

    Courtney has wagered the same gift basket he bet on the Florida game while Eshoo has bet an assortment of California wine and California-grown artichoke.

    “UConn women’s basketball’s track record of success is unparalleled, and this year’s team is carrying on that proud tradition of excellence,” Courtney said, in a statement. “Stanford has produced great teams over the years, but Coach Geno Auriemma has this group looking unstoppable. I’m predicting a UConn victory, and yet another visit to the White House for the Huskies.”

    “I’m looking forward to an epic matchup between two titan teams,” Eshoo said. “Stanford women are facing a strong, top-seeded team from Connecticut, but they’ve got the guts and grit to ‘take it to the paint’ and bring home a victory. Fear the Tree, Joe!”

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    Cafero Questions Health Insurance Exchange Enrollment

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 4, 2014 12:09pm
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    Posted to: Health Care, State Capitol, Transparency

    Josalee Thrift file photo

    House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero

    The March 31 deadline for enrolling in Connecticut’s health insurance exchange has come and gone, but not everyone believes it was a success.

    House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said the state fell short of its enrollment goals.

    “Behind all the hype surrounding the last minute surge in enrollments are the facts. Connecticut fell short of its stated goals of 100,000 people signing up for private health plans,” Cafero said.

    Access Health CT, Connecticut’s health insurance exchange, enrolled more than 197,878 individuals, but only 76,597 were enrolled with one of the three private insurance carriers. There were more than 121,281 enrolled in government-funded Medicaid, which was expanded to individuals who qualified from 55 percent to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

    Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who co-chairs the Access Health CT board, said the goal was to enroll 100,000 in both Medicaid and private insurance plans by the March 31 deadline.

    “Representative Cafero is wrong,” she said. “Connecticut is well-recognized as a national leader in effectively implementing the Affordable Care Act, exceeding enrollment targets set by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget office by 136 percent and exceeding our own goals by 98 percent. This is success by any definition.”

    CTNJ file photo

    Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman

    But Cafero said the goal of Access Health CT was to enroll 100,000 with private insurance carriers and they fell short when only 76,597 individuals signed up.

    Cafero cited a 2012 report from healthcare consultant Mercer, which estimated that 90,000 of the 304,000 uninsured in 2009, would appear to meet the income eligibility for Medicaid expansion. It also estimated that 150,000 currently uninsured individuals would qualify for subsidized coverage.

    Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan has consistently said he hoped to enroll more than 100,000 individuals, but has never qualified the answer with a breakdown of how many of those would be in Medicaid and how many would be in private insurance plans.

    For a period of time, Connecticut had been bucking the trend in other states because the number of those purchasing plans with private carriers was higher than Medicaid enrollment. However, the numbers flipped in February when Medicaid enrollment surpassed the private carriers for the first time since enrollment had opened Oct. 1.

    As of March 1, a Kaiser Health Foundation report found that of the 57,000 individuals enrolled in private insurance plans on Connecticut’s exchange, about 73 percent of them qualified for subsidies. The average annual subsidy was $4,110, which means the federal government will be paying about $172 million to the state of Connecticut to help cover the monthly premiums of those individuals. Those numbers will be much higher once the rest of March’s enrollment is calculated.

    “What we really need to know, and have not been able to find out, is how many new enrollees lost their coverage and were forced to go onto the exchange after they had been repeatedly told they could keep their coverage and their doctors,’’ Cafero said. “Connecticut’s website for enrolling people may have worked better than the disastrous federal program, but this still represents a massive expansion of welfare that taxpayers will have to foot.’’

    Cafero mentions that Republicans tried to get their colleagues to agree to monthly reports about how many uninsured individuals received coverage through the exchange, but the legislation died last month in committee.

    Counihan told the committee during the public hearing that the reporting requirements posed additional labor and costs on the quasi-public agency that would exceed $500,000.

    However, Counihan said recently that they would be working with the Kaiser Health Foundation to estimate the number of previously uninsured individuals and share the information with lawmakers some time this summer.

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    OP-ED | We Should Have Seen This Rowland Scandal Coming

    by Susan Bigelow | Apr 4, 2014 10:00am
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    Posted to: Campaign Finance, Election 2012, Opinion

    Christine Stuart

    Rowland frowning through the glass at reporters at WTIC-AM on Tuesday

    A familiar kind of summer is coming to Connecticut. The light’s getting stronger, flowers are pushing up from below the ground, and former Gov. John G. Rowland is caught up in a corruption scandal that cost him his job.

    I suddenly feel 10 years younger.

    We can be forgiven for thinking we’ve seen this play before, but there’s no excuse for acting surprised about it. It’s a little different this time around, but the story is at its heart the same kind of clumsy grab for money as it was in 2004. Instead of misusing the power of his office to get favors in exchange for contracts, among other things, the latest scandal is about Rowland allegedly misusing his afternoon radio show to favor a congressional candidate, Lisa Wilson-Foley, who was circumventing campaign finance laws to pay him.

    As of this writing, Rowland has not been charged, but there’s a lot of speculation that it’s only a matter of time. He held on to his radio show for a few days before dropping it on Thursday, and he has thus far refused to comment because he wants to “respect the process.”

    That may change quickly as well.

    In retrospect, it was pretty clear that something fishy was going on. Mark Greenberg, another Republican who was running against Wilson-Foley, said that Rowland had offered him the same sort of deal — campaign help in return for being paid through an animal shelter operated by Greenberg and his wife. Greenberg turned him down, much to his credit.

    Rowland, after making the alleged deal with Wilson-Foley, went on to attack Andrew Roraback, another Republican in that same congressional race, when Roraback was a guest on his radio show. Attorney and watchdog Ken Krayeske filed an FEC complaint against Wilson-Foley for that, but it went nowhere.

    Before that, Rowland had a sweet deal with Waterbury (naturally) where he got $350,000 from taxpayers to be an economic development coordinator, although what he actually did for the city is still not all that clear. It’s good to have friends, especially the kind of friends who have access to lots and lots of money and the will to spread it around.

    The current allegations and what happened when he was governor are remarkable for how brazen and clumsy they all are. It amazes me that he thought this would all stay hidden. He’s like the Hamburglar of corruption scandals.

    It’s fitting, somehow, that the latest Rowland campaign finance scandal blew up during the same week as the latest Supreme Court ruling scrapping campaign contribution limits. This country belongs to rich, powerful, and connected guys like John Rowland. It’s no wonder that a poll done by the libertarian magazine Reason found that 75 percent of respondents believed that politicians are corrupted by campaign donations and lobbyists.

    It’s also fitting that this all happened during the same week that legislation rolling back harsher punishments for selling drugs near a school advanced out of the Judiciary Committee. In cities like New Haven, almost the entire land area of the city is within a “drug free zone,” and so pretty much anyone caught dealing even small amounts of drugs in our cities faces mandatory sentences of two to three years.

    Rowland served 10 months for cheating an entire state out of its money, for comparison. The system is his friend, even when it’s punishing him.

    What we need is the bright sunlight of summer to chase this winter away. On July 1, 2004, I got up early and drove down to Hartford to watch M. Jodi Rell march up the Capitol driveway to become the 87th governor of Connecticut. It was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky. Rell wasn’t a particularly inspiring governor, and there would be other scandals waiting for her, but on that afternoon everything felt clean again.

    We need that same summer sun now. John Rowland had a second chance, something a lot of people don’t get, and he’s blown it. Spectacularly. He shouldn’t get another; Connecticut’s politics will be better off without him.

    But more than that, we need to stop pretending this sort of thing isn’t constantly happening. The constant corruption scandals of the past few years prove otherwise. We should have seen this coming, but we prefer to turn a blind eye.

    We need to stop making excuses for corruption, strengthen what campaign finance and disclosure laws we can, and shine that sunlight everywhere.

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

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    OP-ED | A Discouraging Day for Democracy and Education

    by Sarah Darer Littman | Apr 4, 2014 9:29am
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    Posted to: Education, Opinion

    Wednesday was a discouraging day for democracy. The Supreme Court voted 5-4 in McCutcheon v. FEC to lift aggregate individual campaign contribution limits.

    Chief Justice Roberts wrote, in a majority decision that appears to be blindingly oblivious to political realities: “The Government has a strong interest, no less critical to our democratic system, in combating corruption and its appearance. We have, however, held that this interest must be limited to a specific kind of corruption — quid pro quo corruption — in order to ensure that the Government’s efforts do not have the effect of restricting the First Amendment right of citizens to choose who shall govern them.”

    Justice Stephen Breyer dissented from the bench: “If the court in Citizens United opened a door, today’s decision may well open a floodgate.”

    Indeed. A floodgate in which the voices of ordinary citizens will be drowned out even more than they have been already.

    The decision brought a predictable statement from my Congressman, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes: “We need less money in our politics, not more. This decision from a slim five-member majority of the court threatens to set our democracy back — just like the very unfortunate Citizens United ruling did four years ago. Today’s ruling threatens to unleash an additional torrent of money into our political system at a time when large donors already have far too much influence. As a co-sponsor of legislation to overturn Citizens United and a strong supporter of public financing for political campaigns, I will continue doing everything I can to level the playing field for the millions of American voters whose voices are being muted.”

    I couldn’t help but raise a cynical eyebrow upon receiving this, because I’d just returned from the state Board of Education meeting in Hartford, where I’d watched the residents of two cities in Himes’ district, Bridgeport and Stamford, suffer from the political influence of Stephen Mandel, a major Himes and Connecticut Democratic Party donor.

    File Photo When I emailed Himes a while back expressing concern about a large Mandel donation with respect to his stance on education policy, he responded rather testily that Mandel was “one of his earliest supporters.”

    I didn’t reply, but I thought about the early strategy meeting I’d attended with progressive bloggers at then-candidate Himes’ house, the checks I sent in, the competition I’d had on My Left Nutmeg where I named a character in my third novel after the person who donated the most to the Jim Himes Act Blue page,  the meet-and-greet I held in my home, and the hours of poll standing on Election Day. Apparently, because these things didn’t raise enough campaign cash, they didn’t register as “early support.”

    Like many other billionaires, (Netflix founder Reid Hastings comes immediately to mind) Mandel appears to believe that those below a certain income bracket don’t have the ability or the right to determine their own destiny when it comes to education.

    What might lead one to this conclusion?

    Maybe it’s the stream of emails, obtained via FOI, between one of his employees, Meghan Lowney (Executive Director of Mandel’s Zoom Foundation) and state Board of Education Chair Allan Taylor. Lowney’s email introduction to Taylor came via Alex Johnston of ConnCAN, the charter advocacy organization whose founding chairman was another Greenwich billionaire, Jonathan Sackler. In Lowney’s January 2011 email to Taylor she writes: “I would love to learn from your experience, A small group of us are strategizing a Bridgeport charter revision campaign that would result in mayoral control of the schools. This is a confidential conversation, of course. We are thinking of Fall 2011 election as a moment when Bridgeport voters could go to the polls to choose mayoral control. I’d be happy to describe the dynamics in detail.”

    Excel Bridgeport was one of the major contributors to Mayor Bill Finch’s ill-fated attempt to revise the Bridgeport Charter to bring mayoral control to the Board of Education, spending $101,803 to help deprive Bridgeport residents of their right to democratically elect the school board. Mandel’s Lone Pine Foundation and Zoom Foundation are major funders of Excel Bridgeport, and Lowney is on the board of directors. So is Nate Snow, the executive director of Teach for America in Connecticut. Mandel is the treasurer of the board of directors of Teach for America’s national organization.

    Mandel also has a direct line into Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office, with the establishment of the Zoom Fellows, as reported in February by the Journal Inquirer. “Fellows work with senior officials on policy projects that address ever-changing issues and challenges,” according to Zoom. They “may perform research relative to legislation, serve as an intermediary between different agencies or offices, or lead special projects.” Given Lowney’s email history and what happened at the state Board of Education on Wednesday, one can just imagine the kind of “intermediary” work they are doing.

    Prior to Wednesday’s state hearing, the elected local boards of education in both Bridgeport and Stamford voted against new charter school approvals in their cities. David Martin, the elected mayor of Stamford spoke out against the charter approval in his city

    At the hearing, former elected Bridgeport Board of Education member Maria Pereira testified that Malloy’s own ECS task force identified that Bridgeport Public Schools were underfunded by $43 million annually. What’s more, Mayor Finch hasn’t contributed the $3.3 million dollars for this year as required under state law. She further testified that despite the claims of charter school proponents that Bridgeport Public Schools would be reimbursed for transportation and special education costs associated with local charter schools, the CFO of Bridgeport Public schools confirmed the statements to be false.

    Stamford gets less than $600 a student from the state of Connecticut while the proposed charter school stands to get $11,000 per pupil. Dr. Polly Rauh and Jackie Heftman — elected members of Stamford Board of Education — testified against the proposal with well-reasoned, logical arguments. I was in the car with them on the way back from Hartford when Bill Phillips, president of the Northeast Charter Schools Network, described their testimony as “angry.”

    Bill, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

    What we witnessed Wednesday is called “a done deal.” Although both the Courant and the CT Post reported the day before the hearing that Commissioner Stefan Pryor was only going to recommend approving two of proposed charters, once the crowds from Bridgeport and Stamford left, Charles Jaskiewicz asked, “Why are we delaying the opportunity to front-load success? . . . My feeling is all these schools should be approved.” Taylor announced that Pryor just “happened” to have a resolution to approve the two additional schools already prepared.

    And thus, the appointed state Board of Education, against the expressed votes of two elected city school boards and with ample evidence of the negative financial impact to the existing public schools in the cities involved, voted to approve these new charter schools.

    American democracy is dying and despite their press releases to the contrary, Connecticut Democrats are aiding and abetting its demise as surely as the Republicans who brought the court case of McCutcheon vs. FEC. It will come back to haunt them in November.

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

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    OP-ED | TK2: Blessing Or Curse?

    by Terry D. Cowgill | Apr 4, 2014 5:30am
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    Posted to: Election 2014, Opinion

    New Haven Register photo

    L to R: Ted Kennedy Jr., U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy

    Will Connecticut follow the lead of neighboring Massachusetts and send a Kennedy to a prominent political position, even though he’s never even run for dogcatcher before?

    Ted Kennedy Jr., son of the late lion of the United States Senate, is mulling a run for the Connecticut state Senate. But unlike many of his ancestors, siblings and cousins, this Kennedy has waited patiently and aimed lower — a refreshing sign of humility typically lacking in political dynasties.

    Still, there are others who are surely better qualified to fill the shoes of the retiring Sen. Edward Meyer, the 80-year-old Guilford Democrat who enjoys the rare distinction of having served in two different state legislatures — New York and Connecticut — during a long career as a lawmaker and attorney.

    As former state Republican Chairman Chris Healy said recently, the Kennedys tend to run in safe districts and states where they are revered. They prefer locations where fellow Democrats will simply get out the way and where Republicans are hard to find.

    But the fightin’ 12th is a swing Senate district. Two of the four state representatives whose districts include part of the 12th are Republicans. None of them ruled out running for Meyer’s seat last week.

    In addition to founding a healthcare consulting firm in New York, Kennedy has been active in helping with various social causes in New Haven and, as a cancer amputee, has been a strong supporter of those with disabilities. Those are all admirable qualities.

    But one wonders whether Kennedy would be aiming higher than the state Senate if it were possible to do so without unseating a fellow Democrat. After all, turnover in Connecticut’s U.S. Senate seats happens once in a generation if you’re lucky. Both of our current Senators are Democrats serving their first terms.

    Branford itself lies in the 3rd Congressional District, whose Democratic representative, 71-year-old Rosa DeLauro, is still eight years younger than Meyer and shows no signs of slowing down enough to consider retirement. So Meyer’s Senate seat was the low-hanging fruit for the ambitious Kennedy.

    Gov. Dannel Malloy, who just made his re-election bid official, gushed with praise for Kennedy last week and encouraged him to run. Few things in life are certain, but you can take it to the bank that Malloy, who is facing a bruising re-election campaign, would love to share the November ballot with a Kennedy in those purple shoreline towns.

    But then we also have Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, who seemed lukewarm to a Kennedy candidacy because, he dubiously told the New Haven Register editorial board, it “would be a magnet for Citizens United, nationally-based, Koch brothers-style, right-wing intervention here.” Translation: Let someone who has paid his political dues in Connecticut run for Meyer’s seat. We don’t need no stinkin’ celebs roaming the Capitol and attracting TV cameras that should rightly be focused on us.

    America’s fascination with the Kennedy family has always perplexed me. On the one hand, many Kennedys have dedicated their lives to public service and the betterment of others when it would have been easy to sit on their money and do nothing.

    Still other Kennedys have turned out to be troubled ne’er-do-wells — precisely because they chose to sit on their money and do nothing. Others run into trouble with the law and are let off because of their family name.

    The elder Teddy famously left a young woman to die in a submerged car, did not notify authorities of the accident for nearly 10 hours, and was given a minimum two-month suspended sentence.

    Kennedy’s cousin Kerry, while driving under the influence in 2012, sideswiped a tractor trailer in Westchester County, N.Y., and was later cleared of all charges, as were other Kennedy cousins William Kennedy Smith and Patrick J. Kennedy in separate cringe-inducing incidents. The list goes on and on.

    I suspect Kennedy will not be coronated as his younger brother, the aforementioned Patrick, was in Rhode island when he ran for Congress in 1994. Nor will he be automatically shooed in the way his cousin, Joseph P. Kennedy, was last year in his own campaign for Congress in the Bay State.

    TK2, as the junior Teddy is sometimes known, appears to be a better man than his reckless relatives. Obviously, he should not be held responsible for their behavior, but nor should he be given advantages simply because of his name.

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

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    ‘Revenge Porn’ Bill Heads to Senate

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 4, 2014 5:30am
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    Posted to: Courts, Ethics, Legal, Public Safety

    Christine Stuart photo

    Judiciary Committee meeting Wednesday. Rep. Matt Ritter is in the center.

    The Judiciary Committee gave its approval Wednesday to a bill that would make it a crime to publicly share nude photos or video of a former partner on the Internet or any other public venue.

    The sharing of photos of ex-lovers, even if the images were originally captured with consent, on social media and the Internet is a phenomenon known as “revenge porn.” Connecticut is among more than 20 states trying to figure out how to criminalize it without violating the First Amendment.

    Rep. Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, said it’s really difficult to write the bill in a way that doesn’t violate the First Amendment. But he thinks the committee may have gotten it right Wednesday.

    The bill was modified to say that the content should be considered revenge porn when it’s disseminated “with the intent to harass, annoy, alarm, or terrorize another person.”

    The bill also includes language that attempts to satisfy the concerns of the Connecticut American Civil Liberties Union, which warned of the First Amendment ramifications during a public hearing.

    Sandra Staub, an attorney with the Connecticut ACLU, testified that “it’s not difficult to imagine situations in which people who voluntarily displayed nudity or partial nudity in public might later be alarmed or annoyed by distribution of the photographic evidence.”

    She said Miley Cyrus may someday regret the deliberate exposure of “certain parts of her anatomy in her televised ‘twerking’ video. But that doesn’t mean anyone should be prosecuted for distributing the video or photographs.”

    The language the committee adopted Wednesday seeks to exempt any photos or videos that were captured in a public or commercial space or those in which a person is not easily identifiable. A penalty in those cases would not apply.

    But there are some lawmakers who were not satisfied with the penalty included in the bill. The penalty for sharing the photo or video would be a Class A misdemeanor and punishable by up to a year in jail or a $2,000 fine.

    Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said the voyeurism bill makes the capturing of photos or video without the permission of an individual and the dissemination of them a Class D felony. She said she’s concerned with the reduced penalty for the revenge porn bill.

    Ritter said there still may be some issues to work out and he thinks they will be able to work them out before it comes up for a vote on the floor.

    The bill, which has been renamed “An Act Concerning the Unlawful Dissemination of an Intimate Image of Another Person” passed the committee 38-1.

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    Rowland Signs Off From WTIC Amid Campaign Finance Allegations

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 3, 2014 6:20pm
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    Christine Stuart photo

    Former Gov. John G. Rowland frowns through the glass at a crowd of reporters Tuesday

    (Updated 7:29 p.m.) In the final minutes of his radio show on Thursday, former Gov. John G. Rowland announced that he was resigning from the job to attend to some “personal issues.”

    The announcement came a few days after he had been implicated by Lisa Wilson-Foley and her husband, Brian Foley, as they pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in federal court.

    “I wanted to thank the listeners for your loyalty. It’s been a great experience,” Rowland said. “We’ll take it from there.”

    He also thanked the staff at the radio station and his producer, Ryan Cosgrove, for being the “adult supervision.”

    “I appreciate it very, very much and I am truly blessed,” Rowland said. His last interview before making the abrupt announcement was with David Walker, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.

    WTIC Program Director Jenneen Lee said in an email that she accepted “Mr. Rowland’s decision to step down at this time.” She said Pastor Will Marotti, who previously co-hosted the show with Rowland, will take over beginning on Monday.

    On Friday, the station will carry the Red Sox game during the afternoon drive.

    Rowland has not been charged by federal authorities and his attorney has not returned calls for comment.

    According to the Courant, Rowland was named by Wilson-Foley in court Monday as the person she and her husband paid $35,000 through their business in order to avoid reporting the fee to the Federal Elections Commission.

    Wilson-Foley was concerned about Rowland showing up as a paid consultant in her campaign reports because of his previous corruption conviction. Rowland spent 10 months in prison after resigning the governor’s office in 2004 and pleading guilty to the charges.

    According to court documents from the Wilson-Foley case, even Rowland himself recognized that his help could be problematic if it were to be publicized.

    “I am just a volunteer helping you and ‘many other Republican candidates’ in case anyone asks,” Rowland emailed Wilson-Foley in November 2011. “I want to stay under the radar as much as possible and get the job done.”

    Rowland emerged from prison in 2006, but didn’t re-enter public life until 2008 when he took a job as Waterbury’s economic development director. He later landed the gig at WTIC in 2010 and over the past few years has been encouraged by his listeners to again run for public office.

    As a result of Rowland’s previous corruption conviction, the state legislature in 2005 passed its landmark public campaign financing system, which went into effect in 2006. The topic came up Thursday in Rowland’s conversation with Walker, who expressed disappointment that state contractors and their employees are not allowed to donate to campaigns, while unions are not restricted from doing so.

    During Thursday’s show Rowland, said the state public campaign finance system that he inspired is a “joke.”

    On Tuesday, the first day Rowland was back on the air after he was implicated by Wilson-Foley and her husband, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said WTIC should take the former governor off the air.

    “The reality is that we now know enough — two people have pled guilty to this charge and have identified the party they were engaged with . . . unless there’s going to be a denial and in light of two actual pleas, both identifying who the third party was, I think any reasonable outlet would remove him at this point,” he said.

    Malloy, the first publicly financed candidate, called the case “deeply disappointing for the state of Connecticut.” He said it hurt public trust in the political process.

    “He had the interesting position of trying to impact and influence political discourse on an afternoon radio show. That somebody would violate that trust as well, is disturbing,” he said.

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    Consumer Protection Approves Six Marijuana Dispensaries

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 3, 2014 2:52pm
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    Posted to: Town News, Branford, Bridgeport, Bristol, Hartford, South Windsor, Watertown, Health Care

    istockphoto

    The Consumer Protection Department approved six medical marijuana dispensaries Thursday that will be located in Hartford, Branford, Bridgeport, South Windsor, Uncasville, and Bristol.

    The facilities will be able to legally dispense the marijuana grown by four producers of the product. The approval of the six dispensaries was one of the last “necessary pieces of the medical marijuana program,” Consumer Protection Commissioner William Rubenstein said in a press release.

    In January, Rubenstein gave the green light to four companies located in West Haven, Portland, Simsbury, and Watertown to grow the marijuana. There were 16 applications seeking a state license to grow the marijuana and 27 applications for licenses to dispense the marijuana. Some of those applications were submitted two or three times by the same entities.

    “The six dispensary facilities were chosen through a competitive process,” Rubenstein said. “Each applicant was required to provide detailed information, including the applicant’s qualifications and experience, a business plan identifying the products and services it will offer, security features, and plans to provide benefits to the local community.”

    The winners of the dispensary licenses were Arrow Alternative Care Inc. of Hartford, Bluepoint Apothecary LLC of Branford, D&B Wellness LLC of Bridgeport; Prime Wellness of Connecticut LLC of South Windsor, Thames Valley Apothecary LLC of Uncasville, and The Healing Corner Inc. of Bristol.

    When it began accepting applications for dispensaries the department envisioned giving out three to five licenses based on geographic location, but in the end decided on six.

    “As retail points from which products are dispensed and educational materials are provided to patients, the dispensary facilities will be the public face of Connecticut’s medical marijuana program, and therefore, careful thought and deliberation went into selection of the most qualified applicants,” Rubenstein said.

    The regulations for the program were approved last August and applications for those seeking a dispensary and production facility licenses were submitted last November.

    At the end of January, Rubenstein announced that four companies had received production licenses. The announcement was made at Advanced Grows Labs in West Haven. The company later came under fire after complaints from local officials in Colorado were uncovered by the media, but the partner involved stepped down from his role and the state decided to allow the company to keep its license.

    The six dispensaries will be eligible to receive their licenses upon payment of the $5,000 license fee and submission of certain final documentation, which must occur within 30 days. The facilities will then begin construction as needed, hire and train staff, and develop educational programs and materials.

    The program will be fully operational and patients will be able to pick up their marijuana at the dispensaries later this summer.

    There are 1,990 individuals qualified to purchase medical marijuana in the state.

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    Gun Control Advocates Celebrate Legislation and Support For Lawmakers Who Voted ‘Yes’

    by Hugh McQuaid | Apr 3, 2014 12:40pm
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    Posted to: Public Safety

    Hugh McQuaid Photo

    Ron Pinciaro

    A coalition of gun control advocates on Thursday marked the anniversary of Connecticut’s sweeping 2013 firearm regulations and promised to support the re-election efforts of the public officials who helped to pass it.

    During a state Capitol press conference Thursday, advocates commemorated the first anniversary of a law that has seen Connecticut ranked as having the second strictest gun laws in the nation. It was passed last year following the 2012 murders of 20 school children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

    Proponents praised the law as bipartisan and an appropriate response to the severity of the Newtown shooting. Ron Pinciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said his group has been raising money and plans to spend it this year on behalf of candidates who supported the bill.

    “For their good work, many of our lawmakers have been severely attacked. But we’re here to pledge that we are with them,” Pinciaro said. “. . . The purpose will be to inform the public that important public safety reforms are being threatened because gun rights activists will not accept laws enacted by the will of the people and the constitutional process in Connecticut.”

    The law has been deeply unpopular with the state’s gun rights groups, who have been unsuccessful in their attempts to challenge the constitutionality of the new restrictions in court. Second Amendment advocates also plan to mark the anniversary of the law on Saturday with a rally on the steps of the state Capitol.

    Advocates on both sides of the issue claim that support for their causes have not dissipated in the year since Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed the bill into law. Both are launching social media campaigns and attempting to organize as the November election draws closer.

    The Connecticut Citizens Defense League contacted members in an email Thursday urging them to get involved and phone their lawmakers.

    “Remind them that you are a voter, and this election you intend to vote [2nd Amendment]. After you get off the phone, I want you to follow up with emails. After you email, we want you to facebook and tweet them. We want you to be respectful, reasonable, and factual, but we want you to speak up!” the email read.

    It’s unclear how big a role gun laws will play in the upcoming election cycle. During the Thursday press conference many supporters of the law rallied around the idea of preventing opponents from repealing it.

    However, Senate President Donald Williams, who helped to pass the law, said he did not think a repeal of the law was very likely.

    Hugh McQuaid Photo “Don’t think it’s going to happen,” he said, adding that polls suggest the legislation has overwhelming public support. “Those who oppose it may be loud, they may be vocal, but they are not the majority of people in the state of Connecticut, who support reasonable gun violence prevention legislation.”

    Still, Williams said supporters should not take anything for granted. Malloy, on the other hand, said he thought a repeal of the law was “possible” and pointed to the expiration of the federal assault weapons ban. Some fear an influx of money from groups outside Connecticut being used to attack candidates who supported the legislation.

    Christine Stuart photo

    Gov. Dannel P. Malloy

    During the press conference, he seemed to invite an attack from the National Rifle Association.

    “There are those who will say that this is not a gun problem but a mental health problem and today I want to challenge that. If it’s a mental health problem, NRA, why aren’t you advocating the [Affordable Care Act]?” he said. “. . . NRA, if you’re serious about making America safer, you would join Connecticut as we have had one of the most successful rollouts of the ACA.”

    Pinciaro said he was concerned that “Ground Zero” in the national battle over gun control could be in Connecticut this year. He pointed to the successful effort last year in Colorado to recall two pro-gun control state senators. He said he expected national pro-gun control groups to come to the aid of state lawmakers if their re-election seemed in jeopardy.

    Although the bill was passed with bipartisan support, it is unclear how bipartisan re-election aid from gun control groups will be this year. All the lawmakers standing at the press conference on Thursday were Democrats, and when asked, Pinciaro said he would support Malloy over Sen. John McKinney, a Republican leader who helped negotiate and pass the bill.

    “We would not work against any Republican who voted ‘yes’ for it,” he said, when asked. “We haven’t decided exactly what campaigns we’re going to support yet, we’re still doing our research.”

    Asked if he was aware of any Republicans who supported the bill being targeted by primary opponents, Pinciaro said, “not specifically, to the degree I would call ‘targeting’ yet.”

    Williams cautioned not to read too far into the absence of Republicans at the press conference.

    “This is not necessarily as much in the comfort zone of Republican legislators as it is for Democrats,” he said.

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    Defamation Lawsuit Explores The Idea of Public Hearing ‘Immunity’

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 3, 2014 5:30am
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    Posted to: Business, Courts, Equality, Legal, Hartford, South Windsor

    Connecticut courts have never had to decide whether a member of the public, who is testifying at a legislative hearing, can defame another person without consequences. But a judge may soon get a chance to clarify the issue.

    Last month a Hartford Superior Court judge refused to throw out a defamation lawsuit filed by a South Windsor company against the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts and its president, David Fay, for statements Fay made during a 2011 public hearing.

    Judge Trial Referee Jerry Wagner said in a March 12 decision that he couldn’t decide the case because there was an issue as to when Fay had made defamatory statements against TicketNetwork. Was it during the General Law Committee’s public hearing or on the phone with a Journal Inquirer reporter?

    Wagner’s decision to allow the case to move forward to trial boiled down to whether Fay’s statements to the Journal Inquirer — which published articles on the legislation and the public hearing — were from an interview with a reporter, or paraphrased from the transcript of the public hearing available on the legislature’s website.

    “Addressing whether a privilege would protect statements made to a legislative body, the appellate courts of this state have stated that an absolute privilege protects statements made in legislative proceedings; but have never fully addressed whether or under what conditions that privilege attaches to the statements made by witnesses before legislative bodies,” Wagner wrote in his March 12 decision.

    “In the only Connecticut case where the issue was before the court, the Appellate Court noted that the privilege protected state and federal legislators but did not address whether the privilege extended beyond these categories,” Wagner wrote.

    Fay and the Bushnell made a motion for summary judgment in August, arguing that he had “absolute immunity for the statements made during the legislative proceedings before the committee.”

    TicketNetwork alleged that Fay made comments that were not true in opposing 2011 legislation regarding the fair sale of tickets to entertainment events. TicketNetwork is seeking to hold Fay liable for those statements. Fay testified that TicketNetwork used software to buy tickets and put a “hold” on them to sell them at a profit. TicketNetwork is a ticket exchange and provides an online marketplace for ticket brokers and secondary sellers, but doesn’t actually handle tickets, according to court documents.

    In testimony before the General Law Committee back in 2011, “Mr. Fay stated that TicketNetwork used computer systems with ‘thousands of virtual buyers’ to place tickets on ‘hold’ temporarily unavailable for purchase by the public, while deciding what tickets to purchase,” according to court documents. “However, when asked at his deposition whether he knew if TicketNetwork bought tickets or used computer systems to place tickets on hold, Mr. Fay testified that he lacked sufficient information to know if those statements were true or false.”

    Fay did not respond to repeated phone calls for comment over the past week.

    Despite the details in the underlying complaint, TicketNetwork CEO Don Vaccaro said “this has become a mission to make sure folks will tell the truth at public hearings.”

    But Sen. Paul Doyle, D-Wethersfield, isn’t sure that such a standard is good idea. Without commenting on the case at all, Doyle said there shouldn’t be any barriers for the public to come testify at public hearings.

    “We don’t want to censor what people are saying,” Doyle said. “We want to hear all opinions.”

    But Vaccaro said he thinks it would be better for democracy to guarantee that the public is telling the truth.

    “I think in the long run the state will be better off if folks at public hearings have to tell the truth,” Vaccaro said. “Public hearings are not the same as years ago. Everything is instant and online. You can’t defend someone or a company without it going viral or harming their reputation.”

    A trial is on track to begin sometime this summer. A pre-trial conference is scheduled for today.

    The 2011 bill which would change how ticket companies operate was abandoned by the legislature’s General Law Committee after the lawsuit was filed.

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    State Treasurer Candidate Hits the TV Airwaves

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 2, 2014 11:08pm
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    Posted to: Election 2014, Media Matters

    It’s that time again. Spring. When political candidates start vying for delegates and in the case of Republican candidate Bob Eick — television spots.

    Contributed photo In his first 30-second commercial Eick, who is running for state treasurer, asks: “Want to see scary? Look how poorly Connecticut’s pension funds have performed.”

    Standing in the shadows, Eick is lit only by a flashlight. For those unfamiliar with the Ridgefield candidate, he was a producer and financial backer of the 1999 movie “The Blair Witch Project.”

    “I know I can do better than current State Treasurer Denise Nappier,” Eick tells voters. “For 15 years she made this mess. But all Connecticut taxpayers own it . . . I’m a professional financial manager — not a career politician — so don’t be scared. I have the experience to fix this mess.”

    According to a spokeswoman for Eick’s campaign, the ads will air on Connecticut stations, Cablevision, and CT Interconnect. The ad buy will be roughly $30,000, she said Wednesday.

    While the ad takes aim at the current Democratic State Treasurer Denise Nappier, Eick will first have to compete against Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst for the Republican nomination.

    The two, according to a recent article in Hearst newspapers, have exchanged barbs over each other’s qualifications to oversee more than $50 billion in public assets.

    Earlier Wednesday, J.R. Romano, Herbst’s campaign manager, released a statement pointing to the $10,500 in campaign contributions Eick made to former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, the once powerful chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

    “Chris Dodd allowed big banks and government institutions to wreck America’s economy in 2008, wiping out the savings of millions of Americans and thousands of Connecticut families,” Romano said. “Bob Eick made millions on Wall Street and he shared his winnings on the man who wrote the rules of finance.”

    Eick has taken aim at Herbst’s management of Trumbull’s pension funds, which are only 32.5 percent funded, according to the recent Hearst news report.

    Jack Orchulli, the former fashion executive who ran for state comptroller and had planned to run for state treasurer, already dropped out of the race.

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    Drug Free Zone Bill Clears Judiciary Just Before Deadline

    by Hugh McQuaid | Apr 2, 2014 5:34pm
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    Posted to: Town News, Legal, Public Safety

    Christine Stuart photo

    Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield talks to Rep. Mae Flexer

    In a tight vote with just minutes to spare before its deadline, the Judiciary Committee approved a bill Wednesday to reduce heightened penalty zones for selling drugs near schools.

    The bill just barely cleared the committee in a 21-19 vote less than 20 minutes before the committee’s 5 p.m. deadline for approving legislation this year. The legislation addresses what’s become a become a perennial effort for a group of lawmakers from state’s urban communities.

    That’s because in Connecticut, a conviction for possessing or buying drugs within a drug-free zone triggers a mandatory minimum prison sentence of two to three years. And in many urban communities, drug-free zones currently include most, if not entire cities. As a result, anyone who’s convicted of a drug charge in those cities faces a stiffer penalty.

    Proponents of reducing the size of the zones say they are unfair to urban communities and that the blanket coverage of cities negates the deterrent impact of having harsher penalties near schools.

    “When you have 90, 95 percent of a city in a drug free zone, you don’t have a differentiation” between selling drugs near kids or selling them somewhere else, Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, said.

    The bill would shrink the size of the zones, which cover an area around schools, daycares, or public housing complexes. The proposal would make the zones a 200-foot perimeter as opposed to the current 1,500-foot perimeter. The proposal has twice been endorsed by the state’s nonpartisan Sentencing Commission.

    However, opponents of reducing the zones view the change as a policy that’s “soft” on both crime and drugs. Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said constituents have urged him to oppose weakening the state’s drug enforcement laws. He said his constituents would be fine with the entire state being a drug free zone.

    “People just shouldn’t be selling drugs to kids period,” he said. “. . . Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of sympathy for drug dealers in my district.”

    Kissel said he was sympathetic to proponents and suggested that if he represented an urban district he would recognize that the current law is unfair to constituents “if they’re drug dealers.” But he said the change would be unfair for the state’s residents who do not deal drugs.

    Even without the drug free school zones, Holder-Winfield said there are enhanced penalties for selling drugs to minors. Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, said the state should be using children as the trigger for enhanced penalties, not entire cities.

    Walker said the sale and use of drugs is often a mental health and addiction issue. She asked lawmakers from suburban and rural districts to share the burden of caring for people with addiction problems without putting them in prisons.

    “We cannot incarcerate our way out of addressing mental health and addiction,” Walker said. “I’ve looked at the people that are incarcerated. The majority of the people that are in prisons in Connecticut are coming from my community and the ones that have these enhanced penalties. Look at the statistics my friends. Please, let’s share the responsibilities.”

    Lawmakers have tried to pass a reduction in the school zones for years now. A similar bill came close to passage last year. The proposal was raised on the floor of the House and debated for more than two hours. Typically, legislation is not put on the floor for a debate without enough votes to pass. However, leadership tabled the drug free zone bill, killing it for the year, after support began to wane among House Democrats.

    During Wednesday’s meeting, Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, urged lawmakers who have opposed previous incarnations to vote down this year’s proposal as well. She said that proponents did not approach her, as a ranking Republican on the committee, to discuss a compromise.

    “What kind of message are we sending if we keep on proposing the same legislation over and over and over again with no real discussions?” she said. “The way it’s proposed, we can’t have this discussion. Nothing has changed. I encourage everyone to vote against this.”

    The bill will now move to the Senate for consideration.

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    Committee Won’t Allow Chimpanzee Victim To Sue State

    by Staff Report | Apr 2, 2014 4:24pm
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    Posted to: Courts, Legal

    The victim of a 2009 chimpanzee attack said she was “heartbroken” that the Judiciary Committee won’t allow her complaint for financial damages to be heard by a court.

    The Judiciary Committee voted 35-3 to uphold the claim commissioner’s decision to deny Charla Nash’s request to sue the state.

    “The fact that I will not be able to tell my side of the story to a court of law is devastating,” Nash said in a statement. “This process isn’t fair.”

    Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said it was an emotional plea that Nash made to the committee, but there was no basis of law to allow her to sue the state. The state is immune from lawsuits. People need permission from the claims commissioner to move forward with a complaint against the state.

    Nash was blinded and lost both hands in the attack. She said she needed the money to help pay her medical bills.

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    OP-ED | How Is Connecticut’s Health Insurance Exchange Really Doing?

    by Ellen Andrews | Apr 2, 2014 1:51pm
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    Posted to: Opinion, Health Care Opinion

    The dust is settling from the dash to the March 31st finish line to sign people up for insurance coverage through Connecticut’s health insurance exchange, Access Health CT. So how did we do? Are people going to get decent coverage? Is it affordable? Will the rate of uninsured in our state drop significantly? Will people be any healthier?

    What’s working:

  • When you hear that Connecticut’s exchange is the “best in the country” they are referring to operations. Our website works better than most; so well in fact, that they are considering selling our system and expertise to other states. The call center also works well, with short wait times. This is probably because of their policy to embrace consumer complaints as a “blessing,” offering clues to improve the system.
  • The navigators and assisters did a phenomenal job of getting 118,000 people enrolled into Medicaid, almost the total number experts predicted to become eligible. Because Medicaid is income limited, it is likely that the vast majority of new enrollees were previously uninsured. This is a big accomplishment engaging hard-to-reach populations and overcoming the stigma of Medicaid coverage. The job was made easier by the program’s significant progress in recent years improving the quality of care and attracting more providers to participate.
  • What’s not working:

  • Enrollment into insurance plans may be reaching internal exchange goals, but too many, maybe most, of Connecticut’s uninsured are not buying, even with subsidies.
  • It’s not clear yet how many of the exchange’s customers were previously uninsured but it is likely to be less than half. Saving money for some people who were already purchasing insurance is a good thing, but the point of the Affordable Care Act was to cover the uninsured.
  • When asked why people aren’t buying insurance, the overwhelming answer is the price. Connecticut’s premiums are fourth highest in the U.S. — the highest among state-based exchanges.
  • The good news is that we know how to fix this. All our surrounding states negotiate premiums with insurers in their exchanges and all have lower prices. So far, Connecticut policymakers have rejected this common sense policy and other options to make coverage affordable.
  • Connecticut’s exchange is still resisting independent consumer advocacy input and membership on the board. But insurers are well represented and too many board members have conflicting interests. Independent consumers and advocates have crucial expertise to make the exchange successful — expertise the exchange can’t buy at any price.
  • What is unclear:

  • There are early signs that people signing up for insurance through the exchange are older than most uninsured state residents. To be affordable, the exchange needs to attract young, healthy people spreading the costs of care across a broad pool. If enrollment is skewed toward older people with high costs, premiums will rise even higher, as happened to the Charter Oak program.
  • It’s not clear if there will be enough providers participating in exchange plans to meet the need. If people pay their premiums every month but can’t see a doctor when they need one, enrollment will drop. Buying a plastic card doesn’t make people healthier.
  • While the jury is still out on Connecticut’s insurance exchange, there is a lot more to the Affordable Care Act. Children can stay on their parents’ policies until age 26, people can’t be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, and dozens of innovative programs to control health care costs are starting up. The Affordable Care Act is working and Connecticut’s exchange will be a part of that, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

    Ellen Andrews is the executive director of the Connecticut Health Policy Project.

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    Republican Party Fundraising Efforts Improve

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 2, 2014 12:11pm
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    Posted to: Congress, Election 2014

    Christine Stuart file photo

    Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr.

    It’s no secret that the Republican Party’s fundraising efforts have been limping along for months. They were outraised 4-to-1 by Democrats in January, but things have started to look up for the minority party in a blue state.

    “I am very proud to report to all of you that our fundraising in the first quarter of 2014 didn’t just beat the record, it destroyed it,” Republican Party Executive Director Elissa Voccola wrote in a memo to Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr.

    According to official filings, the Republicans raised $37,366 to their federal account in February and between January 1 and March 31 they raised more than $69,000 in their state account. But the biggest haul for the party came in March when it raised about $213,000. The March report has yet to be filed online, but between Jan. 1 and March 31, the Republican Party says it raised $391,000 in both its state and federal accounts and has $265,000 cash on hand.

    Last year, the Democratic Party raised about $2.1 million and the Republican Party raised about $528,503.

    In February the Democratic Party raised about $103,500 from individuals and the Republican Party raised about $27,598 from individuals, but $37,366 overall to its federal account.

    The federal account can be used to support federal congressional candidates and administrative functions of the parties. The state account can be used to support state candidates.

    While the Democratic Party continues to hold the fundraising advantage over the Republicans, the Republicans have refused to fade away.

    “The vulnerabilities of Dan Malloy and Congressional Democrats have created a unique opportunity for Connecticut Republicans in 2014 which has re-energized our donor base and inspired contributors who have fallen off in recent years to invest once again in our party,” Voccola wrote in the memo.

    Of the notable donors to the Republican Party in February there’s William Pape II, publisher of the Waterbury Republican American, who gave $2,000. Richard Wieland, of Redding, who ran against U.S. Rep. Jim Himes in the 4th Congressional District in 2012, gave $5,000. Charles Robert Eick Jr., a candidate for state treasurer, gave $5,000. The Republican National Committee gave $3,950, bringing its total contribution for the year up to $7,900.

    Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus congratulated Connecticut’s Republican Party for their fundraising effort.

    “Their record-breaking fundraising success has been nothing short of impressive and has far exceeded anyone’s expectations,” Priebus said in a press release. “Voters know the only way to restore fiscal sanity to Connecticut is by getting rid of Dan Malloy and his failed economic policies — and that’s a cause they’re willing to invest in.”

    The Democratic Party benefited in February from a $10,000 donation from Friends of Chris Dodd PAC and Walt Disney Productions Employees PAC gave $5,000.

    Neil Mellen, president of Town Fair Tire, was the only individual to give $10,000 to the Democrats federal account. Meanwhile the Democratic National Committee has given about $16,440 this year.

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    Dueling FOI Bills Get Sent To Senate

    by Hugh McQuaid | Apr 2, 2014 5:30am
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    Posted to: Ethics, FOIA, Transparency

    Hugh McQuaid photo

    Sen. Eric Coleman and Rep. Gerald Fox, co-chairmen of the Judiciary Committee

    Proving how difficult it is to balance victim privacy with public disclosure Tuesday, the Judiciary Committee passed its own proposal to compete with one drafted by the Government Administration and Elections Committee.

    Both bills are rooted in recommendations drafted by a task force that met throughout last year. The panel was created by the legislature as part of a bill that carved out exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

    The Judiciary Committee passed the legislation by a 27-11 vote on the eve of its deadline to act on legislation.

    The Judiciary Committee’s legislation hews more closely to the recommendations of the task force, but in some respects it adds more Freedom of Information restrictions. It creates a special class of public records, which the public could inspect but not copy. Recordings of 911 emergency calls and pictures depicting the bodies of adult homicide victims would be included in this class of records.

    Like the task force, the committee places the burden of releasing these records on the person requesting the documents.

    But unlike the panel recommendations, the Judiciary Committee’s bill intends to create an absolute ban on the viewing or copying of pictures depicting the bodies of children who have been murdered. Only the consent of the surviving family members would permit the release of those photographs.

    Judiciary Co-Chairman Sen. Eric Coleman, who also served on the task force, acknowledged that the committee’s bill was a step in an ongoing process.

    “I think it will serve as some basis for negotiation, ultimately, of what the entire General Assembly should act upon in order to protect the sensibilities of the public and primarily the surviving family members of homicide victims,” he said.

    By contrast, the Government Administration and Election Committee’s bill leaned more in the direction of public access. GAE stripped restrictions on the release of 911 recordings from its legislation and flipped the burden of proof so it falls on the government to explain why records should not be released.

    Sen. Anthony Musto, co-chairman of that committee, said his panel was also seeking a compromise for people who wanted to completely repeal the restrictions passed last year.

    Members of the Judiciary Committee recognized there is another proposal in play this year.

    “I appreciate the fact that there was a substantially different bill that was passed out of the Government Administration and Elections Committee but I think it’s important for our Judiciary Committee this afternoon to weigh in on this and to put another set of proposals on the table,” Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said.

    Other members were not sure how best to proceed on the difficult issue. Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, said sometimes changes in laws have unintended consequences.

    Holder-Winfield said he has been told that there’s been an issue with the disclosure of sensitive information “maybe once or twice in the decades we’ve had a Freedom of Information Act.”

    “So I sit here, still trying to figure out . . . when we do a balancing act, is this the right thing?” he said. “I am confused about what the right thing to do is. I’m not sure that letting the current law run its course and letting part of that law expire is the right thing. I’m not sure that doing what’s in this proposed substitute bill is the right thing. I’m not sure that the GAE bill is the right thing.”

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    One Democrat Votes Against Malloy Tax Refund Proposal

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 1, 2014 11:05pm
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    Posted to: State Budget, Taxes, State Capitol, Groton

    Courtesy of the House Democratic Caucus

    Rep. Ted Moukawsher, D-Groton

    Rep. Ted Moukawsher of Groton was the lone Democrat on the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee to vote Tuesday against the governor’s $155 million election-year tax refund.

    The money for the refund would come from the 2014 surplus, which was certified by state Comptroller Kevin Lembo on Tuesday at about $504.9 million.

    The final vote was 31-19 in favor of the proposal. Moukawsher joined Republicans in voting against it partly because of Lembo’s analysis of the current budget.

    Lembo warned Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in his monthly letter that most of the 2014 surplus comes from “a one-time tax amnesty program, and from the most volatile component of the income tax, which relies on strong stock market performance.” He also reminded the governor that the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis and the Office of Policy and Management has estimated budget shortfalls beginning in 2016.

    “That’s unfortunate that we’re not seeing ourselves in deficit,” Moukawsher said, referring to the more than $1 billion deficit in fiscal year 2016.

    He said the current surplus is the product of a number of things including “borrowing.”

    One of the failed Republican amendments would have utilized up to $196 million of the surplus to pay down the 2009 Economic Recovery Notes. Payment on the notes were postponed until 2018.

    “We are told we’re going to have a $1 billion deficit in 2016. I think we have to take that seriously and I don’t feel that we should do anything with this money but put it aside to respond to that eventuality,” Moukawsher said.

    He said when he goes back home he has to answer to his constituents and let them know he used his best judgment and “I can’t in good conscience say we have money to spend when we’ve been in a very precarious situation.”

    Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, wondered if there even is a surplus or if it’s just money from borrowing that hasn’t been used yet.

    “I think what everyone wants to see is real tax reform,” Boucher said. “This is not real tax reform.”

    Republicans offered two amendments to the proposal, but both failed along party-lines.

    Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said the bill ignores a long-term solution.

    “We really should be using every surplus revenue to institute policies that would pay down long-term obligations and policies,” Candelora said. “In my district, people are asking, `What can I do with $55?’ Just keep the money and pay down debt.”

    Rep. Patricia Widlitz, who co-chairs the committee, pointed out that the words “rebate” and “refund” have been used interchangeably, but mean completely different things. She said the refund is an acknowledgement that taxpayers have helped the state get through some tough times by contributing a little bit more in 2011 when they were asked.

    “This is a tribute to the people who withstood the hard times with us,” she said.

    The $55 refund also won’t be subject to a federal income tax like a rebate.

    “Three years ago when we were faced with significant challenges with respect to our budget, major deficits, the governor of this state asked for the citizens of this state, taxpayers in the state to share in the sacrifice to get us over the hump,” Sen. John Fonfara, the other co-chairman of the committee, said. “Many of us here support that initiative and the taxpayers of the state stepped up.”

    Fonfara said Malloy could have punted and deferred many of the state’s long term liabilities, but he didn’t.

    Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor, begged to differ calling Democratic lawmakers a “rubber stamp” for Malloy.

    “Like the governor’s proposal, this budget is unbalanced, fails to adequately pay down state debt, and ignores long-term structural deficiencies in state government,” McKinney said in a statement. “The result is a tax and spending plan Connecticut residents cannot afford today, and one that is projected to sink the state back into a $1 billion deficit by the middle of next year.”

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    197,878 Enrolled Before Midnight

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 1, 2014 5:08pm
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    Posted to: Health Care

    Connecticut’s health insurance exchange fell just little shy of the 200,000 residents they expected to enroll by midnight Monday.

    Access Health CT announced Tuesday that it has enrolled 197,878 residents in plans with private insurance carriers and government-funded Medicaid.

    “Yesterday was a record day for health care enrollment in Connecticut, with 5,917 residents enrolling in quality, affordable health care coverage through the exchange,” Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan said in a statement.

    But their work isn’t done. They said they have received 5,365 voicemail messages from customers with questions about their application. There were also approximately 5,000 individuals who were in line at the retail stores or at one of the health centers or online trying to sign up before the midnight deadline.

    “We will work diligently to follow up with everyone who left a voicemail yesterday or visited one of the in-person enrollment locations to ensure their application is complete for coverage beginning May 1,” Counihan said.

    Of the 197,878 Access Health enrollees, an estimated 76,597 enrolled with private insurance carriers and 121,281 were enrolled in Medicaid.

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    Electric Suppliers Would Have To Disclose Rates

    by Hugh McQuaid | Apr 1, 2014 4:25pm
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    Posted to: Energy, Environment

    Hugh McQuaid photo

    Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Attorney General George Jepsen

    Electric suppliers will need to meet new price disclosure standards under a package of consumer protections outlined by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Attorney General George Jepsen Tuesday.

    Electric bills will include a line comparing a customers rate to the standard rate as part of a consumer “bill of rights” that is part of legislation touted by Malloy, Jepsen, and Sen. President Donald Williams at a press conference at senior center in Hartford.

    The legislation proposes to:

  • give consumers access to a website listing a company’s highest and lowest rates
  • fix initial, often discounted, electric rates for at least three months
  • allow consumers to switch to a standard rate within 48 hours of requesting a switch
  • allow them to switch to new provider within 30 days of requesting a switch
  • reduce or get rid of early termination fees
  • require companies to get written consent from a customer before using a variable rate
  • give regulators more resources to oversee electric suppliers
  • The announcement comes one day after Connecticut AARP released a study suggesting a majority of residents over 50 years old want to see legislative action aimed at deceptive practices by third-party electrical suppliers.

    “It is clear that greater disclosure in the electric supply market is necessary, not only to protect consumers from bad actors, but also to ensure that electric suppliers better inform customers about the rates they will be paying,” Malloy said.

    Jepsen said the proposals will cut down on opportunities for abuse among electrical suppliers. He said there is “some serious dysfunction” in the energy markets, which the bills aims to curb by increasing transparency and allowing ratepayers to more quickly drop their supplier company.

    “All too often, the business model adopted by certain electric suppliers seems to rely on consumer ignorance and what we call consumer capture, where consumers who want to change their source of electricity cannot do so for a period of time,” he said.

    Consumer Counsel Elin Swanson Katz said it was appropriate the press conference was held at a senior center because she has heard many electric supplier complaints from older residents.

    “The stories I’ve heard, particularly from senior and others, are quite heartbreaking,” she said.

    In a statement, state AARP Director Nora Duncan said she had not yet seen the proposal but was encouraged by Malloy’s remarks. When she released her group’s poll on Monday, Duncan said AARP was trying to ensure the state did not wind up with weak legislation or “Bandaids instead of real fixes.”

    Duncan said AARP considered the proposals released Tuesday a “starting point” and was committed to working with Malloy and lawmakers to pass “meaningful” consumer protections this year.

    “We are also well aware that the devil is often in the details. We look forward to reviewing the proposed bill language and sharing it with our members and older residents to ensure that the proposed reforms address the most common issues facing electric customers,” she said.

    Unlike the governor’s proposals, AARP has called for the legislation to include a cap on how much electric suppliers can increase their rates under variable rate plans. Malloy said rate caps have been discussed and will likely be part of the conversation as the bill moves through the legislative process.

    “There’s been consideration. I think there will be continued discussion of that matter, but as you can see there is widespread consensus on what we’re talking about. We thought it was time to move the package forward,” he said.

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    WTIC Airs Rowland’s Show Despite Calls To The Contrary

    by Staff Report | Apr 1, 2014 2:17pm
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    Posted to: Legal, Media Matters

    Christine Stuart photo

    Former Gov. John G. Rowland in the WTIC studio

    (Updated 4:11 p.m.) WTIC 1080 AM allowed former Gov. John G. Rowland to go back on the air Tuesday afternoon, shortly after Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said that “any reasonable outlet” would remove him.

    Opening day of the 2014 baseball season spared the radio station from having to respond to questions about their drive time radio host on Monday, but by Tuesday there was no hiding from the news media inquiries regarding Rowland’s status.

    In a brief email, Jenneen Lee, program director at the station, said that “We have spoken with Mr. Rowland and his representatives and are monitoring the situation closely. Mr. Rowland is expected back on the air this afternoon.”

    Sitting behind glass in the WTIC radio station in Farmington, Rowland sat and chatted with Lee as he waited to go live on the 50,000 watt station. Outside in the lobby were three television cameras and one reporter waiting to see if he would offer any insight into his current predicament.

    WTNH’s Mark Davis texted him and asked if he wanted to comment on the latest allegations in the federal probe. Rowland’s response: “No.”

    When he went on the air following his theme song “Only in America,” he acknowledged the federal investigation by saying “I won’t be discussing the recent news and legal developments.”

    “I’m sure you all understand. I want to respect the process,” he said.

    He moved directly to his guest line up for the day. The show went on to talk about the Affordable Care Act deadline.

    Lee declined to comment further and it’s unclear exactly how Rowland’s contract with the radio station is worded.

    Former 5th Congressional District candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley and her husband, Brian Foley, pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to illegally paying Rowland $35,000 in campaign consulting fees. The $35,000 was paid to Rowland through Apple Rehab Center, rather than through the campaign.

    Court documents show that Wilson-Foley was concerned about Rowland’s previous corruption conviction and worried it may look bad if the former governor was on the campaign’s public payroll.

    Asked about the issue at an unrelated press conference, Malloy said “we all knew this was coming.” Without using Rowland’s name, Malloy said WTIC should take the former governor off the air.

    “The reality is that we now know enough — two people have pled guilty to this charge and have identified the party they were engaged with . . . unless there’s going to be a denial and in light of two actual pleas, both identifying who the third party was, I think any reasonable outlet would remove him at this point,” he said.

    Malloy called the case “deeply disappointing for the state of Connecticut.” He said it hurt public trust in the political process.

    “He had the interesting position of trying to impact and influence political discourse on an afternoon radio show. That somebody would violate that trust as well, is disturbing,” he said.

    Nine years ago today, Rowland entered the Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto, Pennsylvania to serve a 10 month sentence on corruption charges.

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    Lembo Certifies Surplus, But Warns About Spending It

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 1, 2014 12:02pm
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    Posted to: State Budget, Taxes

    Christine Stuart file photo

    State Comptroller Kevin Lembo

    State Comptroller Kevin Lembo certified a $504.9 million budget surplus Tuesday. It’s a number that could grow following April’s revenue collections and “barring any last-quarter spending increases,” he said.

    The surplus is a slight $500,000 increase over last month, but April is a significant month for revenue collection — accounting for almost 17 percent of general fund revenue last fiscal year.

    “If these trends carry into the last quarter of this fiscal year without offsetting spending increases, the current General Fund surplus projection would be expected to grow,” Lembo said. “All major revenue categories are exceeding or are close to original budget estimates.”

    The revenue for 2014 is expected to exceed initial projections by about $421.2 million. Income, sales, and corporation taxes are all exceeding their initial estimates. The largest gain, $213.1 million, is from the income tax. Lembo said the increase in that tax is based on stock market gains that have fueled income tax payments.

    On the spending side the budget is expected to grow 3.8 percent this fiscal year, but remain below initial targets, Lembo said.

    However, he also warned Gov. Dannel P. Malloy that the budget relies on about $190.8 million in nonrecurring revenue reserved from the prior year and $112.4 million in carry forward funding.

    Malloy had planned to put about $250 million of this year’s surplus away in the Rainy Day Fund, $100 million away in the state employees pension account, and $155 million in tax refunds for 2.7 million taxpayers.

    Malloy was non-committal Friday about how hard he would fight to keep the $55 tax refund in the budget for taxpayers.

    Lembo also warned Malloy in his monthly letter that most of the 2014 surplus comes from “a one-time tax amnesty program, and from the most volatile component of the income tax, which relies on strong stock market performance.” He also reminded the governor that the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis and the Office of Policy and Management has estimated budget shortfalls beginning in 2016.

    “I recommend that any General Fund surplus realized by the close of Fiscal Year 2014 in excess of this month’s estimate be deposited directly to the Budget Reserve Fund,” Lembo wrote Malloy.

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    Disabled Question Department’s Policy on Custom Wheelchairs

    by Christine Stuart | Apr 1, 2014 12:00pm
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    Posted to: Health Care, Legal, Newington

    Christine Stuart photo

    Carol Runlett and her attorney, Sheldon Toubman

    Disabled residents and their advocates appreciated the Social Service Department’s decision to postpone new regulations for determining who qualifies for a customized wheelchair, but they still had concerns about how the current regulations are being applied.

    Despite the snow, which made it difficult people to attend the Monday’s hearing, dozens of disabled individuals, their caregivers, clinicians, and wheelchair vendors turned out for an informational hearing at the Department of Transportation headquarters in Newington.

    The draft regulations, which have since been scrapped by the department, would have changed who qualifies for wheelchairs under the Medicaid program and whether recycled parts can be used. State officials estimate that adopting new regulations could save it about $800,000. Annually, an average of 1,600 to 1,700 Medicaid beneficiaries receive customized wheelchairs.

    Kate McEvoy, director of Medicaid Services for the department, said that based on comments from the disability community the agency decided not to implement the new regulations, which will instead go through the “full regulatory process.” In the meantime, it will continue to use the statutory definition of “medical necessity” to review requests for customized wheelchairs.

    Christine Stuart photo But it was clear Monday that the disabled community is unhappy with how the department is interpreting the 1989 regulation.

    Carol Runlett, who has multiple sclerosis, was one of dozens of individuals who were denied motorized wheelchairs by the department last year. In Runlett’s denial notice, state officials said that “although the patient may prefer to be independent, her medical condition and depression is not addressed or ‘treated’ by independence.”

    “Mobility-related ADL needs, psychosocial support, and postural changes should be addressed via 24 hr./daily caretakers at the skilled nursing facility,” the Oct. 18, 2013 denial reads.

    Runlett and Arthur Gallagher, who also suffers from multiple sclerosis, live in a Branford nursing home. They are represented by Sheldon Toubman of New Haven Legal Assistance.

    “I do live in a nursing facility, but we don’t have people 24 hours a day take us where we want to go,” Runlett said. “When you’ve been independent all your life and all of a sudden you get hit with this and you can’t be independent anymore, it’s very, very frustrating and hard to deal with in a lot of ways.”

    Gallagher said getting the motorized wheelchair has improved his quality of life and his independence. “I can go when I want. Where I want and how I want and it’s been a tremendous boost,” he added.

    Toubman said there have been dozens of nursing home residents who were denied access to motorized wheelchairs because they were living in a nursing home where staff could presumably push them if they couldn’t operate a manual wheelchair.

    The department reversed Runlett and Gallagher’s denials. According to a Feb. 11 letter from Social Services Commissioner Roderick Bremby, the reversals were attributed to “receiving and reviewing additional clinical documents and information about these individuals.”

    “There’s is no information that could have been provided to contradict the department’s statement that ‘independence does not treat your medical condition’,” Toubman stressed Monday.

    Toubman said no new information was submitted in the interim. The only thing that had changed was that WTNH did a televised report about Runlett and Gallagher’s denials.

    “Does the department still stand by these repeated letters about folks in nursing homes that they’ve stated here or is the department now going to follow medical necessity definition in state statute?” Toubman asked.

    Christine Stuart photo

    Ronnie Martin in her manual wheelchair with her aide

    Michael Shaw, executive director of New Horizons, a large residential facility for people with severe physical disabilities in Unionville, said he’s seen the evolution of need and technology happen over his last 30 years with the organization.

    “To ask someone at New Horizons to go 10 years without a customized chair is not feasible,” Shaw said. “They go to Unionville, they go on their own, they visit family, they work, they go to school. That chair is mobility. It is as important to them as my limbs are to me.”

    He said people with disabilities like multiple sclerosis don’t want to be confined to a room in a nursing home relying on a nurse call button to get to the bathroom or leave the facility.

    “No one’s available,” Shaw said of the staffing shortage at nursing homes. “Trips outside the facility become impossible.”

    Jean Mills, of Connecticut Legal Services, said anyone who has spent any time in a nursing home knows that there is “no such thing as 24/7 ability of somebody to provide mobility.” She said there’s legislation currently pending to raise staffing in nursing homes to half of what the national standards dictate.

    “Even if staffing in a nursing home 24/7 is an alternative to somebody having independence, it certainly doesn’t exist,” Mills said.

    Ronnie Martin said her motorized wheelchair no longer complies with Department of Transportation regulations, so she had to use a manual wheelchair to attend Monday’s hearing and in the process sacrificed comfort.

    “My precious dignity and independence vanish when I’m not in my custom wheelchair,” Martin said. “My custom wheelchair is made to my unique needs. Every feature from the cushion to the headrest are made for my body and my disability.”

    Christine Stuart photo

    Cathy Ludlum of Manchester

    Cathy Ludlum of Manchester echoed Martin’s remarks.

    “Each wheelchair is unique just like how unique each person is,” Ludlum said. “. . . My body is very complex. My movements that are still available to me are very small and it takes a lot of very specialized technology for me to move around.”

    She said “you can live in a manual chair, but you can’t LIVE in a manual chair, if you know what I mean.”

    Melissa Marshall of Disability Policy Consulting said overall the proposed regulations have “too much bureaucracy, too much tape, too much complexity,” and they need to be simplified. She said they want disability advocates and their attorney to be on the panel when the regulations are being drafted.

    “We need people who don’t work for state agencies to be part of that group,” Marshall said.

    Robin Cop, a nurse therapist for 22 years, said there are 16 to 18 pages of information she has to fill out for her clients to get them approved for a custom wheelchair, but she feels her judgment about what the patient needs is being undermined by the department when it issues these denials.

    It takes six months to a year in some cases to get clients approved for a custom wheelchair because they have to fight the denials.

    “I am very frustrated with the whole process as a clinician because cost-effectiveness is getting the patient the right tool the first time we do it,” Cop said.

    She said she’s had a patient who developed a pressure sore, not because of the hospital or the facility, but because they had the wrong wheelchair.

    “You put a used shoe on somebody else’s foot, it is not going to fit,” Cop said.

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    Emotions Run High At Hearing on Guardian Ad Litems

    by Hugh McQuaid | Apr 1, 2014 6:00am
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    Posted to: Courts, Ethics, Legal

    Hugh McQuaid photo

    Jean-Pierre Bolat, a divorced father of three from Wallingford

    Legislation changing how child custody cases are handled in Connecticut courts drew emotional testimony Monday from parents who feel wronged by the people the court assigns to represent their children.

    The bill involves “guardians ad litem” who are assigned to represent the interest of minors in contentious custody battles. Last year, the legislature created a task force to study the system, which critics say lacks oversight and often leads to soaring legal expenses for parents. Some of the group’s recommendations were incorporated in the legislation, which allows parents to seek the removal of a guardian.

    But some of the parents in the hearing room Monday said the bill does not go far enough because it does not create an oversight mechanism for GALs and it does not cap how much money they can earn working on individual cases.

    During the hearing, a comment from one parent elicited applause from those in the audience. Sen. Eric Coleman, the committee’s co-chairman, asked those in attendance to refrain from clapping. When it was his turn to testify, Jean-Pierre Bolat, a divorced father of three from Wallingford, admitted to starting the applause.

    “There is a well of emotion in this room because when children are at stake there is a huge well of emotion,” Bolat said. “I’d like to use a little of my time . . . to applaud all of the people who had the courage to come here today.”

    Bolat got his applause and another warning from committee leadership. Audience participation can be common problem during emotionally charged hearings. But Rep. Dan Carter, R-Bethel, urged his colleagues to be patient with the upset parents. He said parents are frequently alienated by the process.

    Carter said he remembers the first time he had a constituent bring the issue up to him.

    “I thought she was off her rocker. She was sending me so much information that I couldn’t absorb it. I finally spoke to her, I sat down and got to know her,” he said. “I found out that this group of people may appear nuts to us. You know why? Because they’ve lost their kids. Because they’re victims of what they feel like is an unfair system.”

    Many of the parents believe the family court system fosters prolonged custody battles for the benefit of the guardians and consultants affiliated with the court. Some reported GAL bills in the tens of thousands of dollars.

    Colleen Buden told the committee that “parents are treated like criminals” in family court.

    “Almost all the cases are the same. It’s the Connecticut family court playbook — the targeted parent is accused of having a mental illness. At that point the targeted parent hires professionals to fend of the allegations but once you clear one allegation along comes another. It’s endless. Most allegations come from the guardian ad litem,” she said.

    However, some told lawmakers that the guardians have gotten a bad rap. Sharon Wicks Dornfeld, a Danbury attorney who has worked as a guardian ad litem for the last 25 years, said that “the vast majority” of GALs work hard to do their very best for the children they represent.

    “I hope I am never the reason a case is delayed,” she said.

    Hugh McQuaid photo

    Sharon Wicks Dornfeld, a Danbury attorney who has worked as a guardian ad litem for the last 25 years

    Dornfeld said that in more than 90 percent of cases, the custody of children is worked out between parents in a more amicable agreement. She said GALs typically come into play in the small percentage of remaining “higher conflict” cases.

    “Those higher conflict cases obviously require a higher level of services, more services require more time, and typically involve the assistance of a guardian ad litem or attorney for minor children in order to identify, promote, and protect the children through the process,” she said.

    Dornfeld served on the legislative task force that made recommendations in January. Rep. Edwin Vargas, a Hartford Democrat who also was a member of the task force, suggested that lawmakers consider scrapping the GAL system entirely.

    “We need to reform this guardian ad litem system. Either that or we do away with it completely,” he said. “At a minimum we need a code of conduct, we need supervision of the guardian ad litems if we’re going to keep them. We need evaluations. We need to make sure they don’t have absolute immunity.”

    Vargas said the mechanisms in place for parents to contest the guardians are not working and some families were being billed at such high rates that parents are draining their savings trying to pay for the services.

    “If there’s a bleeding of the finances, I don’t believe that’s in the best interest of the child, especially if the kid’s college fund is being depleted or if the family winds up losing the house,” he said.

    The Judiciary Committee has until Wednesday to forward the bill to the Senate.

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    Enrollment Surge Seen As Positive

    by Christine Stuart | Mar 31, 2014 10:35pm
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    Posted to: Health Care

    Christine Stuart photo

    Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan

    The last-minute push to purchase health insurance tested Connecticut’s successful online marketplace Monday.

    As of Sunday night, 191,961 people had signed up for coverage and about 74,000 of those enrolled with one of the three private carriers. About 118,000 enrolled in Medicaid.

    With the approach of the deadline, Access Health CT officials noted a surge in visits to the site, including moments where Google Analytics real time data showed more than 1,300 people on the site simultaneously. The data was displayed on a screen in the background during a press conference Monday afternoon with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman.

    Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan said site visits were peaking higher than they had during the lead up to the Dec. 23 coverage deadline.

    But technology isn’t always perfect and the state exchange still has to rely during parts of the enrollment process on federal databases in order to verify information.

    “Between problems with the Federal Data Service Hub, and the surge in demand here in Connecticut, some people are having difficulty getting through to us,” Counihan said Monday.

    However, because the goal is to get people insured, Counihan suggested they call 1-855-805-4325 and leave their name, address, and phone number so they can complete the enrollment in the next few days.

    The two storefronts in New Britain and New Haven were packed with customers and customer service reps had already answered 10,000 phone calls by 5 p.m. Monday.

    Wyman said everyone who was still in line at the stores at midnight would be able to receive coverage.

    “It’s just a lot more volume than we expected,” Counihan said. “But you know what? We’re going to work it through. Our job is to get people insured and get them covered and we’re going to get it done.”

    Counihan was an executive with the Massachusetts Connector, which paved the way for state-based insurance exchanges and the Affordable Care Act. He’s one of nine chief executive officers of the 14 state-based exchanges still standing and is credited with outsourcing some of the more complicated functions of the exchange to outside vendors.

    In fact, Connecticut’s exchange has been so successful, Maryland will consider Tuesday whether it wants to use the software system employed by Connecticut’s exchange.

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    Wilson-Foley, Husband Implicate Rowland in Guilty Pleas

    by Christine Stuart and Hugh McQuaid | Mar 31, 2014 7:00pm
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    Posted to: Courts, Election 2012, Legal

    CTNJ file photo

    Lisa Wilson-Foley concedes

    WTIC Former Gov. John G. Rowland is in hot water again. Former congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley and her husband, Brian Foley, pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to illegally paying Rowland $35,000 in campaign consulting fees.

    Rowland, who resigned as governor in 2004 and subsequently pleaded guilty to corruption charges, is not named in the court documents and has not been charged. However, a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office describes a co-conspirator in terms very similar to the former governor’s circumstances: “Wilson-Foley believed that, because the co-conspirator had previously been convicted of a felony offense, disclosure of his paid role in the campaign would result in substantial negative publicity for Wilson-Foley’s candidacy.” Further, according to the Courant’s account of events in court today, Lisa Wilson-Foley told the court that her husband failed to report payments to Rowland while the former governor was working on her campaign.

    Rowland has retained Reid Weingarten of Steptoe & Johnson LLP to represent him. Weingarten did not immediately return calls for comment Monday.

    According to court documents, Wilson-Foley and her husband paid Rowland to be a consultant to her 2012 Congressional campaign. But the money wasn’t paid to the campaign. It was paid to Apple Rehab, one of the businesses the couple manages.

    Wilson-Foley and Foley are scheduled to be sentenced on June 23 before Judge Warren W. Eginton in Bridgeport. They face a maximum of one year in prison fines of up to $100,000.

    Rowland is now an afternoon talk show host on WTIC 1080-AM. Wilson-Foley’s opponents, including a former F.B.I. agent, and an attorney complained that he used his position as a radio talk show host to attack them.

    Back in April 2012, the Register Citizen wrote a story questioning Rowland’s involvement with the Wilson-Foley campaign and Mike Clark, the former F.B.I. agent and opponent in the race, filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission.

    “First, there may have been a violation by the Wilson-Foley campaign in failing to report as contributions to it the payments made by Apple Health Care, Inc. to John Rowland for services that may have benefited the campaign,” Clark’s complaint read. “Under 11 CFR 102.8-102.10, anything of value given to influence a campaign is considered a contribution. Second, any payments by Apple Health Care, Inc. to John Rowland for campaign-related activities would be a clear violation of 11 CFR 114.2.”

    Clark later dropped out of the race and supported former Sen. Andrew Roraback, who was defeated in the General Election by U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty.

    A few months after Clark’s complaint, attorney Ken Krayeske filed an unsuccessful complaint in 2012 with the Federal Communications Commission, based on one show, during which Rowland grilled Roraback, one of Wilson-Foley’s opponents. During the show Rowland criticized Roraback over his stance on abolishing the death penalty, then gave out Roraback’s cell phone number to listeners. 

    Court documents released Monday lay out a timeline of communications between the Foleys and Rowland, who is only referred to as “co-conspirator 1,” as they set up the contract and conspired to hide their political agreement.

    Rowland emailed Wilson-Foley in early September 2011 to say: “I have an idea to run by you, what days are good?” The two met about a week later and that’s when Rowland laid out his plans to have Wilson-Foley fire her Washington-based consultant and hire him. Four days after that is when Rowland told her that he had been approached by one of her opponents, but would “prefer to work for Wilson-Foley.”

    The two inked a contract in October and the money for Rowland’s consulting help came from Foley’s business, and not the campaign account. Court documents show that the Wilson-Foley campaign and Rowland tried to keep the agreement as secret as possible, but found that it wasn’t easy.

    “Political Advisor 1 advised that a reporter claimed to know that Co-Conspirator 1 “is ‘working’ for us, which I said was incorrect. I said [Co-Conspirator 1] was offering advise [sic] and was supportive (he had the fact that [Co-Conspirator 1] was calling delegates) but doing it freely and on his own time. I said he was not being paid,” court documents read.

    “On or about April 21, 2012, Political Advisor 1 drafted talking points designed to mislead the public concerning the true purpose of the payments to Co-Conspirator 1, and circulated those talking points to Co-Conspirator 1, FOLEY, WILSON-FOLEY and Campaign Worker 2.”

    A few days later they put out a press release regarding the payments to Rowland in an attempt to mislead the public.

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    OP-ED | GOP Opposition To Obamacare Baffles Former HHS Secretary

    by Wendell Potter | Mar 31, 2014 3:00pm
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    Posted to: Health Care, Opinion, Health Care Opinion, Reprinted with permission from the Center for Public Integrity

    Dr. Louis W. Sullivan, Who Served As HHS Secretary Under President George H.W. Bush, Says Affordable Care Act Resembles Plan Crafted By Republicans In Early 1990s


    The Republican leadership’s intense opposition to the Affordable Care Act clearly baffles — and disappoints — one of the party’s most admired figures, former Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Louis W. Sullivan.

    Speaking at the opening session of the Association of Health Care Journalists 2014 conference in Denver last Thursday, Sullivan, the former president of the Morehouse School of Medicine who served as HHS Secretary during the George H. W. Bush administration, noted that many of the major provisions of the Affordable Care Act are based on the reform proposals he and other Republicans crafted more than two decades ago.

    “Many of the features of the Affordable Care Act are part of what we proposed back in 1991,” he said, mentioning in particular the individual mandate. That provision — the requirement that Americans enroll in a private health insurance plan if they are not eligible for a government program like Medicare or Medicaid — is among the most vilified by today’s GOP.

    NIH “If they were supportive of it then, why are they so opposed to it now?” he asked.

    This was not the first time Sullivan has expressed support for the concepts behind the reform law.

    “If implemented the way it should be, (the law) will result in more people having access to health insurance, and improve the health status of our citizens,” Sullivan told the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser last September.

    In another interview with the Anniston (Ala.) Star in November he stated unequivocally, “I’m for the Affordable Care Act.” He added, “It’s an imperfect bill and has a number of things that need to be addressed, but rather than working to try to dismantle it, we should work to improve it.”

    He went on to say that the plan he developed in 1991 with help and support from other Republicans — including those who are leading the charge against Obamacare today — “had the similar concept of the health insurance exchange.” That plan also would have provided subsidies to help low-income individuals and families afford coverage, just as the Affordable Care Act does.

    “But now the Republican Party is attacking the same concept,” he said. “I’m not for that kind of political one-upmanship.”

    Sullivan is especially dismayed that so many Republican governors, including Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia, where Sullivan was born and still lives, have refused to expand the Medicaid program to bring more low-incomes individuals and families into coverage, as the Affordable Care Act makes possible.

    Deal has said expanding Medicaid “is something our state cannot afford,” even with the federal government paying 100 percent of the cost of expansion during the first three years and 90 percent after that.

    “I think it is probably unrealistic to expect that promise to be fulfilled in the long term, simply because of the financial status that the federal government is in,” Deal said during the Republican National Convention in Tampa in 2012.

    Sullivan told the journalists Thursday that, in his view, Georgia can’t afford not to expand Medicaid.

    Not only would the expansion bring hundreds of thousands of Georgians into coverage, the millions of dollars the federal government would send to the Peach State “would be in circulation” in the state, he said. That money, he added, would help pay the salaries of nurses and other health care providers and help keep the doors open at big public hospitals like Atlanta’s Grady Memorial. 

    Since Sullivan’s tenure as Secretary of Health and Human Services ended in 1993, he has remained active in efforts to improve the health of Americans and reduce health care disparities among people of color. Honored by the Republican National Committee in February — Black History Month — as one of three GOP “trailblazers” (along with former Assistant Secretary of Labor William Brooks and former Ohio Supreme Court Judge Sara J. Harper), he now heads the Sullivan Alliance to Transform the Health Professions.

    The goal of the Alliance, according to its website, is to “provide the focused leadership, deep commitment, and sustainable efforts that will result in the addition to our nation’s workforce of more well-trained health professionals from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds.”

    Among the areas most in need of an expanded workforce, Sullivan says, is oral health. In an op-ed in The New York Times in April 2012, Sullivan called on more states to follow Alaska and Minnesota’s lead in passing legislation to allow mid-level dental professionals to treat patients, especially in areas where few dentists practice.

    Sullivan, who turned 80 last November, is showing no signs of slowing down. The country would be well served if politicians on both sides of the aisle would follow behind the trail he continues to blaze to improve the health of all Americans.

    Former CIGNA executive-turned-whistleblower Wendell Potter is writing about the health care industry and the ongoing battle for health reform for the Center for Public Integrity.

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    AARP Calls For Tougher Restrictions on Third-Party Electric Suppliers

    by Hugh McQuaid | Mar 31, 2014 12:57pm
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    Posted to: Energy

    Hugh McQuaid Photo

    Nora Duncan

    Connecticut AARP released a public opinion poll Monday to remind elected officials that the state’s 50 and older population wants to see restrictions on third-party electric suppliers passed during this election-year legislative session.

    It’s an issue that legislative leaders signaled early on would be high on their priority list this year, but at a Monday press conference, Nora Duncan, state director of the AARP, said advocates have not yet seen a formal proposal.

    “We think it’s just time to make sure that we come out strongly with our opinion research because we haven’t seen any formal language,” she said. “We’re confident that we’re still going to be able to pass strong consumer protections. But now we have public opinion to back that up.”

    The group polled 800 Connecticut residents age 50 years or older during a week in mid-March and found that 88 percent were concerned about rising electrical costs and 71 percent felt their elected officials weren’t doing enough to help on the issue. Meanwhile, 51 percent said the issue will influence how they cast their votes in the next election.

    The poll and press conference were designed to prod lawmakers toward crafting policies aimed at third party electricity companies, who the group’s advocacy director, John Erlingheuser, said lure customers in with aggressive marketing tactics and promises of lower fixed rates.

    But Erlingheuser said the confusing contracts often include fine print allowing the companies to switch customers to more expensive variable rates after a short amount of time. To illustrate the complicated nature of the third-party utility market, AARP brought in Wilhelm Gauster, an Avon resident and retired physicist who worked briefly in “rocket science.”

    Gauster said he signed on with a third party supplier at a lower fee but after a year had passed he was switched to another rate. In two months, the increased cost of the new rate had more than eclipsed the money he had saved under the first contract.

    Hugh McQuaid Photo “In spite of my fairly extensive scientific background, I had a hard time really dealing with this system of electric utilities,” he said. “. . . To me this really doesn’t make sense. You shouldn’t have to make a major part of your life just keeping track of your electric utility bills.”

    AARP is asking lawmakers to approve legislation requiring electric suppliers to disclose all the costs and fees included in their contracts. They also are seeking restrictions on electric suppliers’ marketing practices, like preventing them from contacting a customer more than once a year and governing how salesmen interact with potential customers.

    “There are things that are common sense. We’re not looking to do radical things. We’re asking people to actually do what makes sense for consumers,” Erlingheuser said. “We’re asking public officials to heed the calls of our members . . . and take the opportunity to actually put in place strong protections, not just some window dressings so people can say we’ve done something.”

    The proposals are similar to those outlined by Democrats in January as part of their agenda to improve the quality of life for the state’s seniors. However, when the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee passed the bill this month, it was mostly limited to asking regulators to conduct a study on the topic.

    Adam Joseph, a spokesman for Senate Democrats, said the bill is a work in progress and will be more than a study bill before the end of the legislative session in May.

    “Transparency in electric rates is a top priority in the caucus. Beyond rate transparency, we’re working to address a number of consumer protections related to electric rates,” he said. “This a top priority of ours. We’re working with a number of stakeholders to produce a bill.”

    Duncan said she is still optimistic and believes AARP has the support of many lawmakers. She said she thinks Gov. Dannel P. Malloy also wants to see strong reforms passed this session.

    “We just want to make sure they are as strong as possible and as effective as possible so we don’t leave this legislative session with Bandaids instead of real fixes,” she said.

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    OP-ED | Patent Troll Legislation Could Hurt Innovation

    by Steven B. Levine | Mar 31, 2014 12:21pm
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    Posted to: Business, Health Care, Legal, Opinion

    Acting quickly isn’t always wise especially when you are considering changes to the US patent system.  In 2011, swift changes were made with little or no input from the inventor community and we are on the same path again as Congress looks to pass additional reforms.

    The truth is, our patent system has been and remains the backbone of the American economic engine, and it is the reason we have many of the innovations that exist today. Unfortunately, patents are under fire, and our policy makers are being asked to approve federal legislation without fully understanding the ramifications.

    As a physician, I see the benefits of our patent system every day. While most of us do not give patents the credit when we take Penicillin or get an x-ray, without them, and more specifically the incentives — and protections — of our patent system, these innovations may not exist. The fact that minimally invasive robotics in the operating room can today remove a kidney through a naval, is proof that we are advancing at rapid speeds, with limitless opportunities.

    Senate Bill 1720 would create obstacles to innovation, by limiting investor options and making it more expensive for small investors defending their patents. Those obstacles could mean the difference between bringing a new, life-saving device to market and not taking the time or spending the money to even start down that path.

    The investments necessary to develop patent-worthy technology are substantial, and individuals with an idea and the motivation to realize it need to have some assurance that their time and investment could be worth the cost. Without patents, the fruits of inventive labor could be easily exploited, diminishing any incentive to take a risk on innovation.

    It is because of patents that we have better cancer treatments, options for children with hearing problems and medications that treat diseases that only a few years ago would have been considered a terminal diagnosis. 

    Our patent system has worked effectively for more than 225 years. It has brought us invaluable invention that has helped to prolong lives, made us healthier or at least more comfortable, and undeniably improved the quality of our lives.

    In Connecticut, patents are a significant part of our workforce and driver of economic activity. According to the Kauffmann Foundation New Economy 2010 Report, Connecticut ranked 14th in the nation in high-tech jobs, 15th in patents and 22nd in entrepreneurial activities.

    That emphasis on protecting intellectual property, and supporting future discovery, has set Connecticut, and the nation apart. The United States is a global leader in health and technology, and our scientists are hard at work defending that position each and every day—working on things that most of us can’t even begin to understand.

    While we hear stories about businesses struggling to fend off “patent trolls,” we must not make changes to the system that will result in hampering creative ideas. We must be careful to deal with the issue of “patent trolls,” and not hastily incorporate broad changes to the entire system that will ultimately harm legitimate patent holders. It is a balancing act and one that most not be taken lightly. Now, more than ever, we must continue to protect inventors and the investors who support their discoveries with strong patent laws that guarantee their intellectual property will not be compromised. It is this approach that will ensure that incredible advancements in technology can continue to be made and help in saving a life or improving the quality of another. 

    So the next time you visit the doctor or head to your medicine cabinet, stop and think about what went in to the treatment you are about to receive. Many, if not all have relied on the protections afforded by our patent system. As policy makers struggle to make changes to a system with a tremendous historical track record, I urge them to consider the consequences of weakening our patent system.

    Dr. Steven B. Levine is an Assistant Clinical Professor, Yale University School of Medicine and Immediate Past President, Connecticut Ear, Nose & Throat Society.

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