Judiciary Committee Forwards Robinson Nomination To Legislature
As a Stratford native who has spent the 13 years on the bench — first as a trial court judge and most recently as an Appellate Court judge — Richard Robinson said he always tries to think about what it was like to be the person in the position he previously held.
“When I was a trial judge I always said that if I became an Appellate Court judge that I would remember what it’s like to be a trial judge. So each step I sort of look back and try not to forget who I was earlier,” Robinson told the Judiciary Committee on Thursday during his nomination hearing.
“Even when I was an attorney I tried to remember what it was like to be just a regular Joe who walks into a courtroom and all of a sudden this is the most important day of your life and people around you might not be looking at it that way.”
He said his prior experiences really helped him be a better person and his work on several committees, like the Cultural Competency Committee, kept him grounded and humble.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy nominated Robinson to the Supreme Court last week and Thursday, after a little more than an hour-long public hearing, the Judiciary Committee forwarded his nomination to the General Assembly. All 29 Judiciary Committee members who voted Thursday voted affirmatively in favor of his nomination. The legislature will vote on his nomination when it convenes in February. If he’s confirmed, Robinson will replace retired Supreme Court Justice Flemming Norcott Jr.
But it wasn’t any of the hundreds of decisions Robinson has written over his 13 years on the bench that raised the eyebrows of at least one lawmaker. It was something Malloy said when he nominated Robinson for the position.
“I’m looking for justices who have good common sense and understand real-life situations,” Malloy said at a press conference announcing Robinson’s nomination. And “quite frankly, if they pull for the underdog once in a while, it wouldn’t bother me.”
Rep. Art O’Neill, R-Southbury, said the statement “raised some flags” with at least one editorial board and they recited the code of judicial conduct which says “a judge should act at all times in a manner that promotes integrity, independence, impartiality and that there’s no favor to be given based on finances or social standing.”
O’Neill wanted to know if there was anything in Robinson’s career as a jurist that would show “you pull for the underdog?”
“No, I firmly believe in going where the law takes me,” Robinson said Thursday. “There’s times where I don’t like where the law has taken me, but I write the decision.”
He said the only way he can do his job and feel secure in the system “is to do the best job I can applying the law as it is and then going from there. That’s all I can do. That’s all I’m supposed to do and that’s one of the reasons that I trust the law.”
O’Neill said he had to ask about it since the governor might have thought it sounded good to say “except if you’re saying it about a judge.” He said he thinks Robinson gave the right answer to the question. He joked that he hopes Malloy doesn’t withdraw his nomination “based on the fact that you’re not pulling for the underdog.”
Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, aggressively questioned Robinson about how he goes about deciphering legislative intent when he’s never been a legislator.
Robinson reminded Tong that he was counsel at one point for the legislative body in Stamford.
He said the legislative history of a bill can sometimes be very telling. Other times, “the legislative process is sort of like making sausage.” He said sometimes it’s a “crazy patchwork of ideas being thrown around” and the justices take that history and try to reach a consensus.
“If we don’t get it quite right, you guys are there,” Robinson said.
Robinson said he tries to build consensus among his colleagues on the bench when trying to reach a decision in a case because he doesn’t believe a split 4-3 decision is meaningful.
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3 Criminal Justice Issues The Legislature Is Likely To Consider In 2014
The nonpartisan state Sentencing Commission asked Thursday that legislators next year reconsider a set of criminal justice reforms lawmakers failed to pass in 2013. The group’s recommendations include rethinking policies on juvenile sentencing and drug arrests.
The criminal justice policy commission during a Thursday meeting approved its 2014 recommendations with three proposals that didn’t make it to the legislative finish line in 2013.
Reconsidering Juvenile Sentences
Of the three policy recommendations, members of the commission seemed most dismayed with the legislature’s failure to adopt a policy to take another look at punishments given to people convicted of serious crimes when they were under the age of 18.
The concern stems from a growing body of caselaw from U.S. Supreme Court upholding the position that juvenile criminals are less culpable and therefore less deserving of severe punishment than are their adult counterparts.
Lawmakers rejected a proposal this year to give offenders serving long sentences for crimes they committed as minors a chance at a hearing before the parole board. After the legislative session, one member of the Sentencing Commission predicted that decision would lead to an “onslaught of litigation” from Connecticut inmates using the Supreme Court decisions to bring their cases back to court for re-examination.
The proposal the group is asking lawmakers to consider next year will differ from past bills in that it will limit to one the number of times an inmate may petition the parole board. It will also include notification requirements for the victims who were affected by that offender’s crime.
Those changes were made at the request of state Victim Advocate Garvin Ambrose, who felt the original proposal was weighted too much in favor of defendants and not in the best interest of their victims. Ambrose said he understood the proposal needed to move forward as a result of the Supreme Court decisions. He said the changes he negotiated would lessen the impact on victims.
“I do believe my office cannot support this bill in its entirety. However, there is an agreement to live with this compromise and not work against it when it’s presented to the legislature,” he said.
David M. Borden, a retired state Supreme Court Justice who serves as one of the commission’s chairmen, said the policy change also is a matter of fairness for people who committed crimes before their brains had fully developed.
“This is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. All this does is give a person the opportunity to persuade the parole board that he or she is entitled to be released,” he said.
During the 2013 legislative session, the bill passed the House overwhelmingly but died on the Senate calendar as the session came to a close. Borden said he expected it to be successful next year.
The Sentencing Commission also recommended lawmakers reconsider a proposal to shrink the size of “drug-free zones,” or areas around schools, daycares, or public housing complexes, in which penalties for drug crimes are significantly increased. The proposal would make the zones a 200-foot perimeter.
The concern with the current 1,500-foot drug free zones policy is that the zones often encompass entire urban neighborhoods or even most of a given municipality. As a result, anyone who’s convicted of a drug charge in those cities faces a stiffer penalty than they would in another town.
Borden used the city of New Haven as an example.
“The only place that it doesn’t apply is in the Yale golf course. So it doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “. . . It de-validates, so to speak, the deterrent effect if everywhere is the enhanced area.”
The change has come before the legislature many times in recent years but has so far been unsuccessful. Andrew Clark, acting executive director of the Sentencing Commission, said it’s a difficult concept for lawmakers from rural communities to explain to constituents. Clark said lawmakers also worry that supporting such a proposal may make them appear soft on crime.
Even with 2014 being an election year, Borden said he hoped the legislature would pass the policy.
“We’re going to put it forward and hope that wisdom prevails,” he said.
Rehabilitation of Felons
The commission also recommended a process by which convicted felons can apply for a “certificate of rehabilitation.” The goal of the concept is to help some prior offenders get jobs. It would allow the state Court Support Services Division to issue documents indicating they have been rehabilitated. The policy would prevent employers from discriminating against ex-offenders with the certificates based solely on their conviction.
“Right now employers have limited information on an individual. They have to create their own case and they’ll do a background check,” Clark said. “This would create a conduit from the state’s criminal justice agencies to be able to say . . . they’ve reached a standard by which we can offer them a certificate of employability.”
Tags: sentencing commission, criminal justice, justice david borden, drug free zones, juvenile sentencing, dh
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Unemployment Continues to Drop & CT Adds Jobs In November
Connecticut’s private sector added 4,200 jobs in November and the unemployment rate continued its third straight month of decline to 7.6 percent.
There are now 15,173 fewer unemployed Connecticut residents than a year ago, officials at the Connecticut Department of Labor said Thursday.
“November’s strong job growth offset some declines in the third quarter returning us to the positive, though modest growth path we have seen throughout 2013,” Andy Condon, director of the Labor Department’s Office of Research, said. “A third straight month of unemployment rate declines is certainly good news, though these declines are still occurring on a shrinking labor force.”
Connecticut added 15,600 jobs this year. That’s more than twice the 7,700 jobs it added during the first eleven months of 2012. In the first eleven months of 2011 the state added about 11,600 jobs and in 2010, the first year of employment recovery, it added 9,400 jobs.
“While a decrease in the unemployment rate and the addition of more than 4,000 private sector jobs in a month is clearly a step in the right direction, we still have much work to do,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday in a press release.
“We are making steady progress at growing our economy in a way that will create good-paying jobs with good benefits for middle class families,” Malloy said. “But if you haven’t been able to get one of these jobs, then you’re not feeling the impact of these changes.”
November’s job gains were not broad based across industries, labor officials said. Four industry supersectors posted gains, five exhibited declines, and one was unchanged.
The trade, transportation, and utility supersector saw the most growth with the addition of 4,700 jobs. The financial services sector had a rare gain of 1,000 jobs this month, but the leisure and hospitality supersector lost 1,700 jobs and manufacturers lost 1,200.
Government shed about 200 jobs and the private sector grew by 4,200 jobs in November, bringing the total job gain for the month to about 4,000 jobs.
That means Connecticut has now recovered about 63,500 positions, or 52.4 percent, of the 121,200 seasonally adjusted non-farm jobs that were lost in the state from March 2008 through February 2010 when the employment recovery began.
“Connecticut’s jobs recovery is now 45 months old and is averaging approximately 1,411 jobs per month since February 2010,” Labor Department officials said in a press release. “The private sector has recovered somewhat faster and has now recouped 71,600 (62.8 percent, 1,591 per month) of the 114,000 private jobs that were lost during the same period.”
The state needs to add 57,700 jobs if it wants to reach what would be considered employment expansion levels.
Labor Department officials said initial unemployment claims for first-time Connecticut filers were down about 127 claims to 4,674.
However, since Congress failed to take action to extend the federal emergency unemployment benefits more than 20,000 Connecticut residents who have already exhausted their 26 weeks of unemployment will fall off the rolls on Dec. 28.
The Emergency Unemployment Compensation program passed in 2008 is set to expire at the end of December. When that happens, about 1.3 million people around the country will lose benefits, according to a report by the White House and the U.S. Labor Department.
According to information released by U.S. Rep. John Larson’s office, nearly 24,000 Connecticut residents will lose their unemployment benefits on Dec. 28.
“It was wrong for the House to be sent home before the expiration of this important benefit was addressed and crucial that we do whatever we can to help those who have lost their jobs, many through no fault of their own, recover,” Larson said. “I am prepared to work with both sides of the aisle towards a retroactive solution as soon as Congress returns.”
The highest number of people expected to lose their benefits are located in Hartford and New Haven County. According to Larson, 6,534 residents in Hartford County and 6,950 in New Haven County will lose their benefits three days after Christmas.
Tags: unemployment benefits, private sector, John B. Larson, jobs, dh
Sandy Hook Advisory Commission To Meet Friday
The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission will meet for the first time in months Friday to consider the law enforcement response to the Newtown shooting and to discuss the state’s attorney’s report on the incident.
The commission was established by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in January following murders last December in Newtown when a gunman entered an elementary school and killed 20 first graders and six adults. Malloy charged the commission with making recommendations on gun violence, mental health, and school safety.
The commission issued an interim report in March when the group recommended a set of gun control policies more restrictive than the regulations eventually passed by the legislature in April.
Although the advisory panel continued to meet periodically until August, it suspended its meetings while Danbury State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky III worked to complete his investigation into the shooting.
Friday’s meeting will be the first time the group has convened since Sedensky issued his report last month. Although Sedensky omitted many details in his account of the investigation, Malloy expressed confidence in November that the report provided enough details for the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission to complete its work.
In an editorial published earlier this month in the Huffington Post, Harold Schwartz, a psychiatrist and member of the commission, suggested the Sedensky report shed little light on the shooter’s mental health conditions and what role they played in the incident.
“The public is owed more information. Mental health professionals who might be able to make sense of the details need more information. We all want to know if his condition(s) contributed to the killings,” he wrote.
The panel’s Friday agenda includes a presentation from the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association on the law enforcement response on the day of the shooting. It is also scheduled to discuss Sedensky’s report in general.
The commission will meet at 10 a.m. Friday in room 1C of the Legislative Office Building.
OP-ED | Good Government Group Claims Aetna Isn’t Coming Clean About Its Election Spending
by Wendell Potter | Dec 19, 2013 10:39am
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Posted to: Business, Campaign Finance, Health Care, Opinion, Reprinted with permission from the Center for Public Integrity
Two days before Aetna told Wall Street it would not allow policyholders who received cancellation notices to renew their cancelled policies next year, as President Obama had requested, the company was accused in a lawsuit of sending out false and misleading statements to shareholders about what it was spending to influence public policy.
Mark Bertolini, CEO of the nation’s third largest health insurer, reportedly told shareholders and Wall Street financial analysts at a meeting in New York last Thursday that the company was too busy to provide the information state insurance departments would need before giving Aetna the approval to reinstate the cancelled policies.
—Read Wendall Potter’s original work for the Center for Public Integrity here
“If we were to go to all those states, refile all those plans, refile all those rates and do it in time for December 23, we would have paid attention to nothing else,” Bertolini was quoted as saying. He apparently wasn’t asked how other, smaller insurers were able to pull it off and do other things.
The reality is that it might have cost the company some money that otherwise would be available for profits — and shareholders would no doubt take a dim view of that.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) thinks shareholders might also take a dim view of receiving inaccurate information on an issue they would be asked to vote on at the company’s annual shareholders’ meetings. In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in New York on behalf of an Aetna shareholder, CREW accuses the company of violating the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 by sending out false and misleading proxy statements to shareholders.
CREW alleges that Aetna tried to hide nearly $8 million in contributions to the American Action Network (AAN) and the Chamber of Commerce to influence recent elections.
“Aetna pretends to be a model of corporate transparency, but in truth, shareholders have almost no idea which dark money groups the company is funding or how much it is contributing,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a statement. “Who knows where else Aetna has been funneling money?”
In its last two proxy statements, which contain information about executive compensation and company governance, Aetna management recommended that shareholders reject two proposals that would have required the company to disclose more information about how it spends policyholders’ money to influence elections and legislation.
Aetna says it provides enough information about political spending to comply with the law, but the company did not disclose to shareholders the specific contributions it made to either American Action Network or the Chamber of Commerce, according to CREW.
CREW says that in recommending a vote against one of those shareholder reform proposals, Aetna maintained that its “Political Contributions and Related Activity Report” was adequate, accurate and could be found easily on its website.
Not so, says CREW. “In reality, Aetna has disclosed inaccurate information in those reports, which are hard to locate on the company’s website.”
CREW found out about the donations to AAN and the Chamber not from the company’s website but from reviewing the tax forms of the Republican and Democratic Governors Associations. CREW says those forms indicate that Aetna contributed far more to AAN and the Chamber than it actually reported elsewhere between 2006 and 2012.
CREW also questions Aetna’s contention that its 2011 contribution to the Chamber was for “voter education.” CREW says the money was actually spent “to run negative ads in hotly contested congressional elections.” Further, CREW says the contribution to AAN was not reported by Aetna at all — at least not on its website.
CREW first learned of Aetna’s contributions to AAN last year when it came across a document Aetna filed with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, an organization comprising the country’s state insurance regulators that establishes industry operating standards.
Aetna apparently disclosed the contributions by accident because such contributions are not required to be reported to the NAIC. When the company amended the filing later, it didn’t list the donations.
Both the AAN and Chamber have spent millions on ads calling for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. While Aetna stands to gain financially from the law, it and other insurers have been critical of the potentially profit-threatening consumer protections and regulations in it. About the only way insurers can get rid of the parts of the law they don’t like, however, is to help elect enough Republicans to ensure that the GOP can control both the House and Senate and take back the White House in 2016.
As the Center for Public Integrity reported, AAN conducted a campaign last year that targeted “select liberal members” of Congress and urged 35 Republican members of the House facing tough re-election fights to continue pushing for the repeal of Obamacare. The Chamber has also spent millions of dollars on anti-Obamacare ads. More than $100 million spent by the Chamber in 2009 and 2010 on such ads came from the insurance industry.
“We intend to vigorously defend against this lawsuit,” Aetna spokeswoman Cynthia Michener was quoted as telling the CT Mirror. “Aetna meets or exceeds disclosure requirements of current laws and regulations.”
Bertolini has said previously that Aetna’s donations to the groups were for “educational” — not political — purposes.
It will be interesting to see if Aetna can convince the court of that.
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.
Tags: Health, Business and Finance, Economy of the United States, Medicine, Aetna, Health maintenance organizations, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange, dh
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Should Connecticut Look For Other Rail Operators?
Members of the legislature’s Transportation Committee wanted to know Wednesday whether the derailments, power outages, and fatalities over the past eight months are enough to renegotiate its contract with Metro-North or is it time to find a new operator?
Transportation Commissioner James Redeker was asked during a public hearing by lawmakers to give his assessment of what happened and what the state can do to hold Metro-North accountable. The state’s contract with Metro-North comes up for review in 2015.
In May, a train on the New Haven Line derailed in Bridgeport injuring 76 people. Later that month a worker was killed when a train was rerouted to the track he was assigned. In late September a power outage sent commuters scrambling for weeks as Con Edison looked to replace an electrical cable. Then earlier this month four people died when a Metro-North train derailed in the Bronx.
Could the state, which owns the tracks and the cars, find a new operator?
“There are other operators in the rail world,” Redeker said. But he said “it would not be easy” to switch operators.
He said Metro-North is the “busiest, biggest railroad in the country.” The second issue is that while Connecticut owns the track to its border, Metro-North owns the rest and “the service is pretty well woven together.”
If the state decided to hire a new operator, it would probably be hiring the same personnel because there just aren’t “that many railroaders just hanging out willing to come in and start a new service,” Redeker said.
Sen. Andrew Maynard, co-chairman of the Transportation Committee, said relying on one operator for the railroad concerns him because it means the state has very little leverage.
Redeker acknowledged there’s a lot of uncertainty in general about what’s being done and if the system is safe and he thinks it may be a matter of better communication.
“No one knows there’s been millions of dollars to bring the system to a state where it’s never been before,” Redeker said. “...I’m more confident than ever in the railroad.”
He said he hopes that communication will improve. Just this week Metro-North and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority agreed to submit monthly reports to the state at the request of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
“They’re in investing in people. They’re investing in technology. And they’re investing in track and infrastructure,” Redeker said.
He said more importantly they’re moving away from a “rules” culture and toward a safety culture where employees are encouraged to report or make decisions about anything that could impact safety.
Rep. Antonio Guerrera, the other co-chairman of the committee, said when the state of Connecticut is paying 70 percent of the bill, it should have a much bigger voice when it comes some of these decisions.
Sen. Toni Boucher, the ranking Republican on the committee, told Redeker that a lot of what he was hearing Wednesday was “anger.”
“Cause that confidence that you’ve expressed has been eroded,” Boucher said. “Right now there is a credibility issue.”
She said for the first time from commuters who say they “feel at risk in taking our trains. I’ve never heard that before.”
She said it might be good to vet other vendors to get a lot of these issues to the forefront and see where the problems lie. She said the derailment in Bridgeport on May 17 highlighted the fact that cyclical maintenance wasn’t being done.
The incident on May 17 is still under investigation by the National Transportation Strategy Board, Redeker said. He said they suspect it was track condition, so Metro-North engaged a consultant to come in an inspect the rails. That inspection has slowed down service from Connecticut to New York City and those slowdowns aren’t expected to end until April.
“To their credit, Metro-North inspects and maintains its track infrastructure at and above federal railroad guidelines,” Redeker said.
Redeker stressed that each of the incidents this year were different and technology does have a role to play to some extent. He said it’s the communication that’s lacking.
However, Boucher said that the state has a fiduciary responsibility to look at the contract Metro-North and the MTA have with the state.
When the General Assembly reconvenes officials from Metro-North will be invited to address the committee, Guerrera said.
Republican Lawmaker Questions Access Health CT’s Success
Sen. Kevin Kelly, a Republican from Shelton who voted against a 2011 bill that created Connecticut’s insurance exchange, held a press conference Wednesday to say that he wants to make sure residents who lost coverage under the federal law are able to get it.
In Connecticut, the Insurance Department determined back in November that 38,561 policies will not be continued under the Affordable Care Act. That means residents with those policies will have to find new health insurance plans either through the exchange or outside the exchange.
“Every policyholder in the individual market was offered either early renewals of their existing policies, or if their policies were being discontinued, were offered ACA compliant policies by their carrier,” according to Access Health CT. “No one was left without an option for coverage as required by law.”
At a hearing on Nov. 22, officials from the Insurance Department told the legislature’s Insurance and Real Estate Committee that they spoke to all of the carriers to find out if they would take advantage of President Barack Obama’s offer to continue offering the non-compliant plans in Connecticut.
“The simple answer is that they would not,” a memo from the Insurance Department reads.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy decided back on Nov. 22 that the state would not take Obama up on his offer to give insurance companies an opportunity to continue those plans for one year.
“The insurance companies have made it clear that the policies they have not extended, they are not going to extend,” Malloy said. “They’ve also made it clear some people have misinterpreted the information that’s out there and not renewed when they could have. And they also pointed out a lot of people who could renew have renewed.”
Kelly, who is the ranking Republican member of the Insurance and Real Estate Committee, said that the idea behind the Affordable Care Act is to insure more people, not fewer people.
“Now that we have this law and we have this program we need to make sure that it works,” Kelly said.
Access Health CT maintains that’s exactly what it’s doing. “To date, we have enrolled over 46,000 members, over half of whom enrolled in private health insurance plans, the highest percentage in the country,” Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan said Wednesday in a statement.
Frustrated with the lack of information from Access Health CT, the quasi-public agency in charge of Connecticut’s insurance exchange, Kelly held a press conference Wednesday at the Legislative Office Building to highlight a number of issues raised in recent news reports.
He pointed to the 2,400 policies sold to residents while incorrect pricing information was being displayed on the exchange website.
Inaccuracies regarding deductibles and co-insurance rates impacting all 19 individual health plans were discovered Sept. 26, Counihan said last week. But the decision was made to go live with the website on Oct. 1 regardless of the errors in the system.
Counihan has said that around Sept. 29 his team brought the problem to the Connecticut Insurance Department, which agreed that it would be a good idea to create a warning statement for the website. He said the warning was placed in three locations on the site, and those have since been removed after the rate information was corrected.
“I do not believe that this situation was handled in a transparent manner by Access Health CT, and I would like to know exactly what went wrong, who knew about the issues, and what was done,” Kelly wrote in Wednesday’s letter to Counihan.
Counihan said last week that the issue was resolved by the end of October and that the 2,400 policyholders were contacted by both phone and letter to make sure the plan they chose was the one they wanted.
But aside from early failures, Kelly said he’s hearing “numerous” complaints from his constituents about the usability of the website.
“The process of signing up for health insurance through the site can take as long as three hours, according to some of the complaints I have heard,” Kelly wrote in his letter to Counihan. “These technical issues may not be as widespread as the problems faced by the federal insurance exchange, but they do exist in Connecticut.”
Kelly said his goal is to make sure that people who want to purchase insurance on the exchange have an opportunity to do that.
For those who want coverage on Jan. 1 the deadline to sign up is midnight Monday, Dec. 23. Open enrollment will go through the end of March and anyone can purchase a plan if they lose insurance through an employer or experience any number of other life changing events.
In an effort to serve an increasing number of customers as that first deadline approaches, Access Health CT said it increased call center staff by over 80 percent in the past week to better serve the significantly higher call volume.
Tags: Kevin Kelly, Kevin Counihan, Access Health CT, healthcare, October, enrollment, dh
Merrill Announces Re-Election Bid
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill filed paperwork Wednesday to run next year for a second term as the state’s top elections official. Merrill announced her re-election bid in a press release then spoke to reporters in the state Capitol press room.
“I suppose the only surprise would be if I weren’t running, right?” she joked.
Merrill said she intended to campaign on a record of reforming and modernizing the state’s election system. She said she will work to qualify for the state public campaign finance system.
“In just three short years, we have worked to shore up the integrity of our elections, modernize voting for all Connecticut citizens, and expand voting rights to increase participation in democracy. We have also greatly improved business services, better utilizing technology to improve responsiveness, efficiency and transparency,” she said.
Merrill touted election policy changes the state has adopted during her tenure. This year, she oversaw the first Election Day during which some Connecticut residents were permitted to register to vote and cast ballots on the same day. In January, the state will begin allowing online voter registration.
She also has advocated on behalf of a process which will have voters next year deciding whether to change the state constitution to allow early voting or “no-excuse” absentee voting as well as other election administrative changes.
Merrill said she will focus on her re-election and is counting on “good government” groups like the League of Women Voters and Common Cause to encourage voters to embrace the constitutional amendment.
“I’m hoping there will be a big push to support the constitutional amendment. I’m definitely supporting the idea of opening up our voting process but it won’t be my primary job,” she said. “I’m particularly relying on people like the League of Women Voters. They have classically been the people educating the public about these matters.”
Once people understand what they’re being asked to approve, Merrill said she believes they will support the constitutional change.
“I get the impression that the public is very positive on this. They want early voting. They see it in other states they hear about. They’re constantly calling our office and saying ‘Why can’t we have that?’” she said. “The answer is it’s really restricted by our state constitution.”
Merrill has formed an official campaign committee called “Merrill 2014.” Connecticut Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo released a statement calling Merrill a “champion of modernizing our elections to meet the needs of an increasingly mobile electorate.”
Only one Republican, Peter Lumaj, has so far filed paperwork to run against Merrill next year. Lumaj is a Fairfield attorney who immigrated to U.S. from Albania. He ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.
Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. called Lumaj a strong candidate but said it is still early in the race and a number of prospective candidates have expressed interest in running for under-ticket positions.
“I’m confident that at the conclusion of our vetting and nominating process we will offer voters an outstanding Republican ticket from top to bottom,” he said.
Labriola urged voters to reject the constitutional amendment to allow changes to the voting system.
“We strongly support any measures to increase voter participation but we believe in the tradition that an election should be held on Election Day. Anything beyond this opens the door to abuse and election fraud,” he said.
Connecticut Enters Collaborative Agreement With Israeli Tech Organization
The state of Connecticut and an Israeli technology association have entered a collaborative agreement following years of summit gatherings and a trade mission this month by state officials.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced the memorandum of understanding with the Israel Tech Transfer Organization in a Tuesday press release. The goal is to encourage more economic collaboration between businesses and universities in the two states.
The Israel Tech Transfer Organization is a nonprofit group representing the country’s technology transfer companies, according to the press release. The group is affiliated with institutions like the Weizmann Institute of Science, The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, The Technion, and Tel Aviv University.
During the past three years, the MetroHartford Alliance and the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford have hosted annual Connecticut-Israel Technology Summits to help build partnerships between companies and institutions.
This month Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith participated in a trade delegation to Israel to encourage networking in some of the state’s industries aerospace, biotechnology, and precision manufacturing.
In a statement, Malloy said Connecticut needs to increase its global presence if it wants to ensure its long-term economic growth.
“We are making sure that industry leaders all over the world recognize what we have to offer here in Connecticut and letting them know our state is a great place to enter or expand in the North American market,” he said.
Smith said the Israeli organization will be an innovative partner for Connecticut.
The agreement “establishes the basis for a long-term relationship that will increase collaboration and investments in key areas such as research and development, science and manufacturing,” she said.
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‘It Shifts the Burden from the Government to the People’
A proposal adopted Tuesday during the lengthy final meeting of a panel on privacy and public disclosure asks the legislature to approve policies to allow residents to inspect — but not copy — law enforcement records of homicides.
The recommendation applies to photographs and videos depicting homicide victims as well as recordings of 911 calls and other police communications describing their bodies.
Although the proposal would create a process for a resident to petition the public release of the records, it takes the significant step of shifting the burden of justifying such a release onto the person requesting them. Currently, the burden to prove a document should not be disclosed is on the public agency.
The recommendation was approved in a divided vote during the final meeting of a legislative task force. The group met for close to eight hours Tuesday in the Legislative Office Building, where most other activities were cancelled because of the weather.
The panel was created under a hastily-passed law intended to prevent the disclosure of crime scene photographs and certain audio recordings collected by police following the Sandy Hook shooting and other homicides.
The task force, which is made up of of both open government and victim advocates, has had a difficult time reaching consensus since it began meeting in August. Although the panel approved the core recommendation in a 14-3 vote, it took hours of various iterations and heated debate to arrive at the vote.
At one point in the meeting, James Smith, president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, described a proposal the group was considering as “the wholesale destruction of Freedom of Information.”
Smith, who has voiced concerns from the beginning that the group as weighted too heavily in favor of reducing public access to information, was not happy with the final recommendation, either. He called it “a sad day for the peoples’ right to know.”
“It shifts the burden from the government to the people. Forever, since 1975, the burden has been on the government to say ‘here’s why you can’t have it.’ The assumption is the information should be there. So it’s a huge new restrictive era in Connecticut FOI,” he said.
Other task members saw the proposal as a compromise, which preserved the public’s ability to inspect law enforcement documents. Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane said he felt the group struck a fair balance between victim privacy and public disclosure.
“As we’ve said all along, this is a hard, hard issue. There are serious interests on both sides. It was a hard balance to strike and, yeah, the process was a little hard to follow,” he said. “The important thing is with 911 tapes and the photographs, it gives people the right to look.”
The proposal will need to be considered next year by the legislature where its fate is less than certain. In its only unanimous vote, the task force asked lawmakers to consider the fiscal impact their recommendation will have on the agencies that it charges with acting as a venue for the public viewing of records. In most cases, this will be state and municipal police departments.
Emergency Protection and Public Protection Commissioner Reuben Bradford asked the panel to recommend considering additional appropriations for the State Police.
“I’ve got one reservation. This places an undue burden on my agency and there needs to be some kind of fiscal note with this dealing with appropriations . . . This really does force a whole lot of work on my agency that is already over-tasked,” he said.
The panel also recommended the legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee take a more detailed look at issues facing crime victims.
Tags: privacy, secrecy, public disclosure, FOI, task force, James Smith, Reuben Bradford, Kevin Kane, dh
Rail Officials Promise To Give Malloy Administration Updates On Improvements
Connecticut officials were satisfied Tuesday with the steps that the Metro-North Railroad and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have taken to improve the safety of the rails after a year of fatal accidents and derailments.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wrote Metro-North Railroad President Howard Permut and Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Thomas Prendergast earlier this month and asked them for an “action plan that addresses communication, safety reporting, inspection and maintenance programs, remedial short term action plans, and longer term capital investment programs to upgrade the infrastructure.”
The report they provided Malloy details the action the organizations have taken after each incident from the May 17 derailment to the Sept. 25 electrical outage at the Mount Vernon substation that caused the New Haven Line to lose power. It also includes information about how it plans to communicate better with Connecticut Transportation Commissioner James Redeker in the future.
“As requested by Governor Malloy, Metro-North has agreed to increase communication to the Commissioner of the CT DOT, both on an emergency basis and on a routine basis,” the report reads. “Metro-North will develop a monthly report for the commissioner that summarizes right-of-way inspection and maintenance activities as well as provides a look ahead for future scheduled work.”
In addition, Metro-North promises a return — by April if not sooner — to the regular weekday train schedule that was in effect before the May 17 derailment and collision of two trains at the Bridgeport/Fairfield border on the New Haven Line. Since that derailment, “slow orders” have been imposed, reducing train speeds and adding minutes to virtually every train schedule.
“I am anxious to return to normal service for the thousands of commuters that use this service on a daily basis, and hope the MTA will beat their April deadline,” Malloy said in a press release.
But beyond the issue of timeliness, is the issue of safety.
There’s been a hefty focus on safety as well since the fatal train derailment in the Bronx where four people were killed, and the May 28 accident in West Haven where a train was rerouted and ended up killing an employee who was working on the track. About 76 people were injured in Bridgeport on May 17 when trains carrying about 500 passengers collided.
One of the biggest, most expensive improvements the railroad has been mandated by Congress to install is called “Positive Train Control.” The system prevents collisions by automatically halting trains when they come dangerously close to each other or when they are going too fast.
“Connecticut has fully funded the implementation of Positive Train Control, and Metro-North has been asked to expedite full implementation of PTC throughout the network,” Metro-North wrote in it’s report to Malloy. “This is an essential investment in safety that is a top priority.”
It’s unclear however when exactly the system will be installed on the line.
“Any essential safety investments that are identified will be made a priority,” the report concludes.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said the MTA should be more specific about its deadline for installing safety features that would have prevented serious crashes in Bridgeport and the Bronx.
“These safety features include an alerter system in the back and front of every train, automatic speed control to enforce speed restrictions, and cameras in all operator cabs,” Blumenthal said. “I welcome the MTA report as a first step to be followed by more specifics in future regular reports that will overhaul and upgrade clearly lacking safety practices and culture.”
The General Assembly’s Transportation Committee will hold a public hearing on rail safety and infrastructure 2:15 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18 at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.
Tags: Metro-North, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Richard Blumenthal, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, train, railroad, dh
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Economist: Connecticut Lost A Year of Job Growth Thanks to Washington
If it wasn’t for the policy uncertainty in Washington, another 20,000 people might have been employed in Connecticut today, the editor of the University of Connecticut’s economic journal said Tuesday.
Essentially, “we lost a year of recovery based on the uncertainty in Washington,” Steven Lanza, the editor of the quarterly Connecticut Economy told a small group gathered at the Capitol for its release.
From the 2011 budget showdown and debt ceiling crisis to the fiscal cliff in 2012, and the sequester and government shutdown in 2013, the federal government and Congress have “lurched from one artificially manufactured economic calamity to the next,” Lanza said.
All that uncertainty took a toll on Connecticut residents and businesses.
Connecticut lost nearly 120,000 jobs in the recession that started in 2008 and it’s unemployment rate doubled from less than 5 percent to more than 9 percent. Connecticut added jobs during 13 of the last 14 quarters and it has recovered more than half or about 64,000 of the jobs lost since the start of the recession. But Lanza concluded that it would have added more.
“Absent the policy uncertainty in Washington, however, the gains might have totaled 20,000 more,” Lanza wrote. “Uncertainty, then, has cost Connecticut a year’s worth of employment recovery.”
If Congress is able to deal with the budget and debt ceiling deadlines it set for itself, then Connecticut is expected to add 6,300 jobs each quarter next year. But Lanza said that if it fails to do that then this year’s slowdown in job growth to about 5,300 jobs per quarter could be “an early harbinger of the troubles the state economy might face should Washington again allow the federal government to grind to a halt.”
The good news is that for the first time in three years the labor force increased because more people were looking for work, but recovery is still fragile, Lanza said.
Connecticut saw job gains this year, but some of that growth dropped off in September and October because “we were feeling some of the effects here in Connecticut of what was going on in Washington D.C.,” he said.
At that time the federal government had no budget in place and it ended up shutting its doors until Oct. 16, one one day before the United States would have exhausted its borrowing capacity.
Until the third quarter of this year a lot of workers had “simply in frustration exited the labor force,” Lanza said. But the economy seems to be rebounding because those workers are returning.
“The workers are saying ‘a-ha the jobs are coming back, let me go look for one’,” Lanza said. “So that will instantly raise the unemployment rate because they’re now in the labor force — not working, but looking for work.”
That’s good news for Connecticut’s economy going forward.
“As long as we are, in fact, able to avoid the kinds of problems that we had this fall with the government shutdown and all of the gridlock, the prospects are for growth in 2014 and beyond,” Lanza said.
As long as GDP growth remains at about 2.8 percent and absent a fiscal crisis, the state will add about 23,000 jobs next year, Lanza said.
But that optimistic outlook depends heavily upon what happens in Washington and some key sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing and financial services.
“Ever since the economy started to recover we’ve been buffeted by all these different bouts of uncertainty,” Lanza said.
In another analysis, Lanza determined that economic angst doesn’t necessarily carry the same weight across the nation. States where the word “uncertainty” received the most media attention during the 2010-2013 recovery were clustered closer to Washington. However, uncertainty also correlated with real economic variables and the use of the word also was higher in states where the unemployment rates have been slow to fall. Lanza based that analysis on a Google news search of the word “uncertainty.”
Tags: Steven Lanza, Washington D.C., economy, uncertainty, dh
AT&T Sells Landline Service To Stamford Company; AG Jepsen Says He’ll Evaluate Deal
(UPDATED 2:30 p.m.) AT&T sold its Connecticut landline phone business Tuesday to Frontier Communications Corp. for $2 billion in cash. The announcement had Attorney General George Jepsen and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal concerned about possible impacts on prices, competition, and public safety for people still using landlines.
—More from CTTechJunkie: Who Is Frontier Communications?
Frontier, which is headquartered in Stamford, also will acquire AT&T’s U-Verse video and satellite TV customers in the state.
“We have deep experience in acquiring and migrating large-scale operations onto our networks and systems, adapting them to our sales model, and extending our brand into new communities,” Frontier President and CEO Dan McCarthy, said in a press release. “AT&T’s Connecticut business is substantial, well-defined and covers nearly the entire state. Based upon our track record, we are extremely confident that we will leverage this opportunity to deliver an excellent customer experience and shareholder value.”
The move will give AT&T greater flexibility to concentrate on its wireless business as it migrates away from its roots as the dominant provider of landline service.
“AT&T remains committed to Connecticut; and will invest in the state to provide wireless service on the nation’s fastest and most reliable 4G LTE network and networking, application solutions and professional services for Connecticut business customers,” Patricia Jacobs, president of AT&T New England, said.
She said the transaction isn’t expected to close until the second half of 2014 and until that time there will be no impact on customers.
“We will work closely with Frontier to make the transition for customers as seamless as possible,” Jacobs said. “Frontier is a Connecticut-based company, which will help ensure a smooth transition — and Frontier will honor customers’ existing contracts.”
Shortly after the announcement of the sale, Jepsen’s office released a statement from the Attorney General.
“The proposed transaction could have substantial impact on the quality and affordability of wireline telephone, internet broadband and video services for residential and business customers throughout Connecticut,” Jepsen said. “I will closely examine this deal and fight to ensure that the interests of the state of Connecticut and its residents are fully protected.”
Jepsen continued, “My focus will be on evaluating the effect that this transaction will have on quality of service provided at reasonable rates, as well as the impact on competition, Connecticut’s workforce, and the state’s efforts to streamline and improve the use and control of utility poles. Reliable and affordable wireline telephone service remains a critical public service in Connecticut. Even with the expanding use of wireless, landline service maintains a vital place in public safety and in the lives of many, many Connecticut residents, including our elderly and more vulnerable populations.”
Blumenthal, the state’s previous Attorney General before Jepsen, also issued a statement:
“While this deal may be good for AT&T and Frontier, I want to make sure it is right for consumers,” Blumenthal said. “I look forward to reviewing what it means for the people of Connecticut, and I will fight to make sure their interests are protected as DOJ and the FCC review this transaction.”
Blumenthal also said Frontier will be required to file with the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Communications Commission, and Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to ensure the deal doesn’t violate antitrust regulations.
Tags: AT&T, Frontier, landline, Connecticut, wireless, phone, jepsen, Blumenthal, dh
Nutritional Supplement Company Gives Malloy A Boost
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s stop Monday at a nutritional supplement company in Hartford came with the first “Malloy 2014” sign.
It was not authorized and technically Malloy isn’t even a candidate for re-election. But the words “Malloy 2014” were written on a whiteboard stuck to a refrigerator in the test kitchen and on a button worn by one of the employees of ThinkItDrinkIt.
Malloy’s administration has given the startup more than $430,000 in loans and grants to help it get off the ground and start hiring employees.
The company, headquartered in the south armory of the Colt Building, used a $225,000 small business express grant to create five jobs. It now has 22 employees, including seven previously unemployed veterans who were helped by the Department of Labor’s Step Up program. The program gives the company more than $12,000 per employee for up to six months while the employee trains.
“This is exciting stuff. This is how you grow the economy in the long run,” Malloy said.
As for running for re-election in 2014, Malloy said he would take it under consideration.
During his first three years in office, Malloy has made assistance to employers who agree to create jobs a centerpiece of his economic strategy. After touring ThinkItDrinkIt’s Hartford offices, the governor was asked how heavily he expected residents to weigh such programs as they assess his first term.
Malloy, who has consistently deflected questions about his re-election plans, said, “I think that’s a fair question if I wanted to be judged.”
Malloy paused and the group of ThinkItDrinkIt employees laughed.
“I think what we have tried to do in Connecticut is change our outlook from short term, short term, short term to long term, long term, long term,” Malloy said.
He said he knows the strategy has been difficult for some to get their arms around, but the “companies you have today are not necessarily the companies you’re going to have tomorrow.”
However, is it dangerous to tie the state to a nutritional supplement company since providing funding for the company makes the state a defacto partner?
“As a guy who purchased chondroitin for his dog yesterday at 16 years old, I think there are supplements that make a lot of sense,” Malloy said. “Then there are people who have mis-marketed things.”
But overall “I think this is a great product that ties in very well with what people are and what we’re learning about health,” Malloy said.
David Kania, co-founder of ThinkitDrinkit, said there’s a strong educational component to the personalized nutritional drinks they are selling.
“Whether it’s online or through the retail store you’ll actually be able to check out all the ingredients before you purchase them,” Kania said. “All of the ingredients we’ve been using are FDA approved.”
Will that keep U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal off their backs?
“We have to be careful with the marketing of products that need to be age appropriate and that’s a reality,” Malloy said. “I think there has been historically some very broad advertising of these very high caffeine, high-energy-boost type stuff and that can have detrimental effects.”
At the same time as Malloy was visiting ThinkitDrinkit, Blumenthal was holding a press conference criticizing big energy drink companies like Rockstar, Red Bull, and Monster for marketing to children through toys.
Dr. Stephen Fowler, who is consulting with ThinkItDrinkIt, said all of the supplements are completely safe and they would never allow children to get their hands on dangerous levels of any of the supplements, such as caffeine and guarana.
Kania explained that the idea for the company came to him when his 7-year-old son started suffering vocal cord and respiratory problems from the dyes in sports drinks. As an entrepreneur, Kania said he thought to himself that “there has to be a better way” and the result was ThinkItDrinkIt.
He said in addition to an application that will allow customers to come into the store and create a supplemental drink that meets their health needs, the company also will offer genetic testing to help steer customers to a more exact supplemental drink tailored to suit their personal needs.
There will be blood and urine tests available typically used by naturopaths to help customers find the right combination of nutritional supplements, Fowler explained.
“You won’t be paying for nutrients you don’t need,” he said.
The retail store will open at Storrs Center near the University of Connecticut campus in the next few months.
Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra also attended the event Monday and was happy that the company chose Hartford for its headquarters.
Hartford has seen a net growth of 134 small businesses with fewer than 100 employees open over the past few years, Segarra said. He said it’s not “happenstance” that the work being done with personalized nutritional supplements ties into the work that’s being done at the University of Connecticut regarding genomics.
Tags: ThinkItDrinkIt, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Step Up, Small Business Express, Colt Building, Storrs, nutrition, supplement, dh
Blumenthal Will Vote ‘Yes’ on Budget Deal
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Monday he intends to vote in favor of the two-year budget deal passed last week by the House and expects enough Republicans to join him to clear the Senate’s 60 vote threshold.
The budget agreement was negotiated by congressional leaders from both parties and passed through the Republican-controlled House overwhelmingly last week. The proposal seeks to avoid another government shutdown and scales back some of the automatic budget cuts scheduled under sequestration.
However, support for the deal is expected to be closer in the Senate where the Democratic majority will need some support from Republicans in order to pass the bill with 60 votes. Blumenthal, a Democrat, said Monday he expects the deal will pass the Senate this week with close to, if not every Democrat, and a some Republicans voting for it.
“I think Republicans ought to share the same interest we all have in ensuring that we avoid the self-inflicted, manufactured crisis. We can’t lurch from one fiscal cliff to another, one shutdown to the next. We need to avoid these self-inflicted crises and harms to the economy. I think Republicans will share the view that this budget is far from perfect but a compromise that advances us and avoids the kinds of crises that we’ve seen all too often,” he said.
Blumenthal called the bill a “far from perfect” compromise. He and other Democrats would have liked to see the proposal include an extension of long term unemployment benefits. The emergency unemployment program is set to expire this month.
Here in Connecticut, between 20,000 and 22,000 unemployed residents could claim their last unemployment benefit payment on Dec. 28, three days after Christmas, if Congress does not act to extend the program. However, unemployment is not among the issues addressed in the budget agreement.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro was the only member of Connecticut’s congressional delegation to vote against the budget bill. In a press release, she said her vote was in large part based on the bill’s failure to address the unemployment insurance issue.
“Most troubling is this bill’s failure to extend unemployment insurance for the millions of long-term unemployed, during the Christmas season. Federal unemployment insurance will expire on December 28, throwing 26,000 in Connecticut into a desperate state. It is unconscionable for Congress to go home after leaving such critical work undone,” DeLauro said.
Blumenthal said he would be supporting the bill “with some reluctance because it is a compromise and avoids the continued sequester cuts, the slashing, across-the-board cuts, in favor of smart cuts.”
In a statement, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said he also intends to support the budget bill, even if it is not the legislation he would have written.
“This budget deal will spare our country from another senseless government shutdown and from even more automatic budget cuts scheduled to take effect in January. It also begins to roll back those damaging sequestration cuts over the next two years. That is welcome news in Connecticut, where tens of thousands of defense jobs hang in the balance, and countless other education, medical research, and infrastructure investments are threatened,” Murphy said.
Both senators said they intend to keep working on the unemployment issue. Blumenthal said he hopes to see a bill passed to extend the emergency benefit early next year.
“I think extending unemployment insurance is critical not only to the men and women who have been out of work for so long in record numbers but also to our economy. We need higher levels of consumption that come with the extension of unemployment insurance,” he said.
Tags: Blumenthal, budget, senate, unemployment benefits, congress, sequestration, dh
Tax Department Suspends Debit Card Refund Program
The state has suspended its debit card tax refund program in response to a security breach at its contractor, JP Morgan Chase, Revenue Services Commissioner Kevin Sullivan announced Monday.
An attack on JP Morgan’s website between July and September affected customers all over the country. In Connecticut, the attack impacted residents who have prepaid debit cards that the state uses in lieu of checks to administer payments like tax refunds, child support, and unemployment benefits.
The attack potentially exposed the personal information of about 14,000 Connecticut card holders, including holders of about 7,000 cards issued by the Department of Revenue Services.
In response, Sullivan said Monday his department was suspending the debit card program for tax refunds and sending thousands of residents their refunds via paper checks for the rest of the year.
In 2014, the Revenue Services Department will give taxpayers the choice to receive their refunds either by paper checks, direct deposit, or a debit card, according to the statement. He said the state also was looking to reopen the debit card contract as soon as possible to seek new competitive bids from vendors.
Sullivan, who announced the debit card tax returns almost two years ago, defended the concept Monday.
“The use of debit cards for many state purposes, including tax refunds, still makes business sense and costs less. However, at DRS, we owe it to the public to seek a new contract that assures security and far greater responsiveness,” he said.
Tags: tax refunds, debit cards, jp morgan chase, dh
Blumenthal Slams Energy Drink Companies For Marketing With Toys
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal called upon major energy drink companies to quit allowing their logos to be used on toys. Blumenthal compared the tactic to strategies tobacco companies once used to market to children.
At a state Capitol press conference, Blumenthal named energy drink makers Red Bull, Rockstar, and Monster. The companies have allowed their logos to be printed on toys. Blumenthal displayed a remote control toy boat with the Rockstar energy drink logo and a remote control helicopter with Red Bull decals.
“They are plainly a pitch to children that should alarm parents,” Blumenthal said.
The concern is that the energy drinks contain high levels of caffeine and other ingredients considered dangerous for consumption by children. Blumenthal said the drinks have been linked to high blood pressure, liver damage, kidney failure, and other ailments in kids.
“They should not be marketed to anyone under the age of 18,” he said. “Whether adults can drink them healthily certainly is open to debate.”
Blumenthal said the companies told the Senate Commerce Committee they would not market their products to kids under the age of 12. He said the toys are a clear violation of that agreement. He said he and other lawmakers have written to the Food and Drug Administration asking it to review its regulation of energy drinks.
“This kind of marketing tactic has very much the feel of the tobacco industry, when they were targeting children and at first denied it, then admitted it and refused to change their practices,” he said.
Jennifer Harris, director of Marketing Initiatives at the Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, agreed. She said the goal of marketing on toys is to create positive associations for kids so when they can buy products on their own, they remember the energy drink brands.
It is “a strategy that the tobacco companies used for a long time with things like Joe Camel. That’s a very deliberate marketing strategy,” she said referring to the cartoon camel on a pack of cigarettes.
The energy drink companies did not immediately return requests for comment.
In the meantime, Blumenthal advised parents to watch what toys they buy this holiday season to avoid buying gifts that market energy drinks to kids.
Tags: energy drink, Blumenthal, marketing, children, dh
Survey Finds That Condition of Roads & Rails Is Impacting Businesses
From highway gridlock that makes them late to meetings to an unreliable rail system, a survey of 651 business executives found that getting from one place to another in Connecticut is a big problem that has big consequences for the state’s economy.
The survey, which was conducted by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, Stamford Chamber of Commerce, Connecticut Construction Industries Association, and Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, found that improvements to the state’s transportation system ranked third behind economic development and education, for desired state government spending priorities.
It also found that an estimated 74 percent support legislation that would prohibit the use of special transportation funds to cover general fund shortfalls, 72 percent said increases in the state’s gas and diesel taxes impacted their businesses, and 42 percent of companies surveyed say road congestion limits their market.
The survey is being described as the first major survey of statewide transportation issues. It was released last week at an event in Stamford.
“This survey proves that Connecticut’s future economic health is highly dependent upon an upgraded transportation system,” Michael Riley, president of the Motor Transport Association, said. “For too long, the highways and bridges of this state have been allowed to slip into disrepair. And, congestion now daily chokes the circulatory system which the business community needs for the safe and efficient movement of goods and people.”
On July 1, Connecticut’s petroleum gross receipts tax on gas increased about 4 cents per gallon and diesel fuel climbed about 3.7 cents per gallon. In total, the two increases in taxes were expected to bring in about $60 million a year.
But not all of the money will go toward improving roads. About $91 million in special transportation funds were swept into the general fund in the 2014-15 budget.
According to the survey about three-quarters of respondents said they wanted to make sure the special transportation fund was “off-limits.” About the same number also said recent hikes in the state’s gasoline and diesel taxes had a negative impact on their businesses.
The business executives said that highway delays impact meetings with customers, delivery times, and their ability to get to work. In some cases, it makes it difficult to find staff who are willing to suffer through a rough commute.
A whopping 88 percent of business executives who responded to the survey said businesses want better traffic movement on I-95.
Stamford Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Jack Condlin noted that traffic volume on I-95 was more than three times the highway’s capacity of 50,000 daily vehicle trips.
Presently, there are 164,000 trips per day, which is 312 percent over capacity.
“It’s no wonder that this highway structure is among the state’s — and even the country’s — worst and most unsafe,” Condlin said.
Forty-two percent of companies surveyed say road congestion limits their market; 64 percent believe better transportation options would increase their ability to attract and maintain a quality workforce; and 15 percent considered relocating their businesses because of regional transportation concerns.
About 55 percent of the survey respondents identified highway improvements and expansion as providing the biggest benefit to the state’s residents and businesses, followed by 20 percent who want to see an improved rail system.
The survey was conducted at the same time that Metro-North was forced to scale back its service to New York City when one of the electric cables failed. The survey was emailed to in late September and early October to top executives at 6,000 firms across the state, with a response rate of 10.9 percent and a margin of error of 3.92 percent.
Tags: transportation, CBIA, gridlock, highways, petroleum gross receipts, taxes, survey, dh
What Does 2014 Hold for Lawmakers?
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Posted to: Education, Election 2014, Town News, Health Care, Labor, Nonprofits, Pension, Public Safety, State Budget, Taxes, State Capitol, Transparency
From bringing back tolls to regulating drones and the sale of puppies, the Office of Legislative Research offered a 25-page report that predicts which bills and concepts may be raised during the 2014 legislative session.
“We identified issues based on interim studies; research requests; non-confidential discussions with legislators, other legislative participants, and executive branch agencies; and our general subject matter knowledge,” the report states.
The session, which starts in Feb. 5, will be a short session. That means individual lawmakers won’t be introducing bills. Instead, legislative committees will introduce and write legislation.
Some of that legislation will be based on the work of task forces formed during the 2013 legislative session that ended in June.
One of the more active and visible is a 17-member task force that was created under a hastily-passed law intended to prevent the disclosure of crime scene photographs and certain audio recordings collected by police following the Sandy Hook shooting and other homicides. The task force, which calls itself the “Task Force on Victim Privacy and the Public’s Right to Know,” will hold its last meeting Tuesday to make recommendations to the legislature.
Under the same topic of privacy, the legislature may explore legislation regarding unmanned drones, like those that Amazon.com wants to use to deliver packages. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 13 states (not including Connecticut) have enacted laws on drones, and 10 have adopted resolutions on their use.
There also is a task force investigating the sale of puppies in pet stores. Lawmakers on the task force are weighing proposals, including whether the state should prohibit the sale of cats and dogs at pet shops to prevent animals raised in puppy mills by commercial breeders from being sold in the state.
A more perennial issue for Connecticut’s legislature is the return of highway tolls.
“In recent sessions the idea of electronic tolling has been explored both to raise money needed to maintain and repair state highways and to finance the extension of Route 11 from Salem to I-95. None of these proposals has succeeded,” research staff wrote in the report.
But the fuel efficiency of new vehicles and the shoddy conditions of Connecticut’s roads and bridges means there’s always room to debate the issue. This year, Connecticut’s petroleum gross receipts tax increased about 4 cents per gallon and diesel fuel climbed about 3.7 cents per gallon. In total, the two tax increases are expected to bring in about $60 million a year.
Since 2014 is an election year, it’s unlikely legislators will be looking to increase taxes. And while it’s predicted the state will end this fiscal year and the next with a surplus, nonpartisan analysts are predicting a deficit of $1.1 to $1.4 billion over the following three fiscal years.
It’s also a budget adjustment year, so technically every piece of legislation needs to be related to making a change to the state budget. However, there are few issues with no impact on the budget.
When it comes to public safety, the issue of dispatch consolidation has again captured the attention of lawmakers in the eastern and western portion of the state most impacted by the move by the state police to centralize their dispatch functions.
“The division says the consolidation will increase efficiency in dispatching emergency services, but the state police union says it will endanger public safety and put troopers at risk. Legislators may want to review this issue, especially as it affects response times and staffing,” legislative research staff wrote.
One of the hardest hit areas of the budget in 2013 was the state’s reduction in funding to hospitals. Most hospitals in the state are nonprofit but are exploring the possibility of converting to for-profit to give them access to more capital.
“By law, nonprofit hospitals seeking to convert to for-profit status by a sale or change in control of operations need the approval of both the Department of Public Health and the attorney general. The Public Health Committee held informational sessions on this issue, and the legislature may consider changes to the approval process for such transactions,” the report reads.
Also in the healthcare arena, the legislature may debate a bill that would require the state’s health insurance exchange to negotiate rates with insurance carriers.
The Senate passed a bill that would have forced Access Health CT to negotiate premiums with carriers, but it failed to get raised in the House. A few months later a White House report found that Connecticut had the fourth highest insurance premiums in the country being offered through government insurance exchanges. Legislative researchers believe it’s an issue that could get raised in 2014.
Another issue that may be revived this year is how juvenile offenders are sentenced.
In less than a decade, the U.S. Supreme Court has three times upheld a position that juvenile criminals are less culpable and therefore less deserving of severe punishment than are their adult counterparts. But Connecticut has failed to take action on the issue.
The 2013 legislation also would have eliminated life sentences for offenders under the age of 18 and would have required the courts to consider certain factors when sentencing juveniles between the ages of 14 and 18. The bill passed the House almost unanimously by a 137 to 4 vote, but was still on the Senate calendar on June 5 when the legislative session ended.
Big changes are on the horizon for students and teachers across Connecticut.
Connecticut is one of 45 states rolling out the new Common Core State Standards for math and language arts, transitioning away from its Connecticut Mastery Test and Connecticut Academic Performance Test. Full implementation of the new testing criteria will start in the 2014-15 school year. The legislature may decide how they want to implement the new test and the new teacher evaluation system.
“To avoid too many changes taking place simultaneously in the education system, the state may seek a delay in full implementation of the evaluation system until there is more time for teachers and students to adapt to CCSS [Common Core State Standards],” researchers wrote. “Connecticut is currently waiting for federal flexibility approval regarding testing tied to CCSS and the timing of the full implementation of the teacher evaluation. The General Assembly may need to consider legislation that would help the state gain federal approval.”
Also, since the new tests are administered on computers the technological capability of school districts to administer them also may pose challenges.
Tags: education, transportation, legislative research, 2014, common core, highway tolls, hospitals, healthcare, dispatch, dh
Bond Commission Approves Money For Home Repair Company
In its last meeting of the year, the state Bond Commission approved $1 million in borrowing Friday to help an emergency home repair company move its headquarters from Stamford to Norwalk.
The bonding will assist the HomeServe USA Corporation in relocating its headquarters as part of an agreement to create 130 jobs and maintain another 109. In addition to a $1 million grant, the company is also eligible for a $3 million, partially forgivable loan and up to $5 million in tax credits. The project was the only item on an unusually short bonding agenda to be opposed by the group’s two Republican members.
Senate Republican leader and gubernatorial candidate John McKinney raised questions about HomeServe in a press statement Thursday evening. McKinney pointed to news articles on questionable business practices by HomeServe USA and its UK-based parent company.
The company has been fined and has been investigated by government agencies in the UK and states including Massachusetts, which fined the company $85,000, as well as Kentucky, and Ohio. The Better Business Bureau also has warned consumers of complaints against the company in various states across the country.
Among the allegations against Homeserve are claims the company sent communications to customers falsely appearing to be from local utility companies, or using logos intended to look governmental. The company also is accused of misleading customers on their insurance products.
“Here we are, handpicking another company for state funding even though that company has had several questions raised about its business practices. It is reckless and careless,” McKinney said in a press release.
A spokeswoman for HomeServe declined to comment on for this story. However, McKinney also leveled criticisms against Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration for entering into the deal with HomeServe.
“Does the Malloy administration vet the companies it is providing millions of our taxpayer dollars to? Did anyone do any research or did they just write out the check?” he said. “Through a simple Google search, this is what I found.”
Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith said the state was aware of the issues McKinney detailed Thursday.
“We looked at and discussed with the company pretty much all the issues that you have seen,” Smith told reporters after the Bond Commission meeting. “We became satisfied that they had dealt with and managed, to the satisfaction of their customers . . . all of the issues that were raised.”
Smith said the administration researched the company before it engaged them on the economic development deal.
When picking companies to partner in economic development programs with, Smith said the state prioritizes practical issues like whether the company is following state rules and regulations, is doing appropriate business, paying their taxes, and has a business plan that seems likely to succeed.
But she said the department also considers the public image of a company it plans to help financially support.
“And yes, do we also look at the softer side of this? Yeah, we learned from TicketNetwork that it’s a good idea to do a little bit of research and make sure we understand who we’re doing business with,” she said.
TicketNetwork is an online ticket exchange company that withdrew last year from a state economic development agreement following the arrest of its CEO Don Vaccaro. Vaccaro also had a lawsuit pending against him at the time his company entered into a deal with the state.
“To be honest with you, in HomeServe’s case, they raised the issue with us, which I found was extremely useful,” she said. “It is something that we want to take into consideration. Why? Not because we’re worried about [news reports] when we do the deal, but because we want to make sure the taxpayer dollars are being managed in a fiduciary sense, in a smart and careful way.”
Despite concerns about the HomeServe agreement, Friday’s Bond Commission meeting was not marked by partisan arguments. The commission ended up borrowing less than $1.8 billion in 2013. That number was a self-imposed bonding limit the governor set back in January.
During the meeting, Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, thanked Malloy for not exceeding the limit.
“When I received the agenda for today’s Bond Commission meeting I felt like it was an early Christmas or holiday gift, at only $10.5 million. Clearly, this is below your soft bonding cap you gave us in the month of January,” he said. “I just want to say thank you for respecting it.”
Tags: Bond Commission, homeserve, malloy, mckinney, catherine smith, dh
OP-ED | What Is The Next Great Battle For Justice?
Last week the world lost a legend in former South African President Nelson Mandela. As someone who has spent a (short) life in politics, it was good to see our nation turn its eyes, at least temporarily, to something both overseas and uplifting. Although we are obviously saddened by his death, we are in awe of his life, what he was able to accomplish, and what he meant to people all around the world.
We were also treated to a rare moment of national, if not international, unity. It was difficult to find a person in power willing to say an ill word. (The Internet was not immune to some sniping but then it never is.) One of the amazing gifts of a life well lived is that it leads us to pose questions, as well as ponder accomplishments. Spending even a little time on those questions is a good way to honor the memory of someone who gave so much of himself for the betterment of others.
1. What current U.S. foreign policies might we regret as we now do apartheid?
Now that South Africa is free, democratic, and relatively prosperous, it is tempting to assume that everyone was on President Mandela’s side all along. In fact, that is far from the case. It is easy to have principles in hindsight; it is a far greater challenge to have them in the moment.
For complicated, geo-political reasons, the United States stuck with the apartheid regime in South Africa for far too long — just as we stuck with segregation at home for far too long. We now can all rally around the anti-apartheid movement, as we do with the domestic civil rights movement, and act as if no one could ever have held the opposite views. But of course they did — strongly. We must acknowledge that, yet we must do more.
It is important to think now about what actions in the world that we may regret as much as we now do our “tacit” support for apartheid. What current U.S. foreign polices might we look back on in 30 years and feel as we now do with respect to apartheid? There is not an obvious answer, nor should every problem be seen as the equivalent of apartheid. But it is important to view contemporary problems not merely in terms of what will work, but also in terms of how history will judge us.
2. How do you lead like President Mandela?
As he is canonized as a near secular saint, it is easy to forget that President Mandela was a politician. He was a powerful and important symbol for the struggle against apartheid. Yet, what is particularly remarkable is how he led South Africa toward reconciliation. It would have been reasonable and, in some ways just, for the people involved in the apartheid regime to pay a great price for their crimes, facing actual legal charges and losing the property they received as the result of benefits they enjoyed under apartheid.
Although perhaps fair, this approach could have led South Africa toward disaster, as capital would have abandoned the country. It would have been a catastrophe for South Africa, and more in line with what happened in other countries in the region. The courage of Mandela was to seek forgiveness and, in so doing, turn enemies into respected citizens of the new South Africa. He made a wise decision that was aided by his considerable skills as a politician.
The key lesson is to value political opponents almost as much as allies, and to value the overall good over particular interests. It is a complicated lesson, however, because Mandela’s iconic stature gave him more power than other politicians would and perhaps should have otherwise. The right leader with power — even too much power — can do great things, whereas the wrong leader with too much power is a tyrant. Still, we would all benefit from studying Mandela, not just as a symbol but as political leader, who made tactical as well as moral decisions.
3. What is the next great battle for justice?
Although almost all the credit for the downfall of apartheid has to go the South Africans who battled valiantly to see an end to that oppression, we shouldn’t ignore the many Americans who worked tirelessly to have sanctions imposed on the apartheid regime and to push corporations to divest their holdings in companies that did business with the oppressors. These economic measures helped to change the calculus for those in power. Those wishing to make social change therefore should study the divestiture movement intently. As importantly, we should be asking where and on what issue is the next great fight for justice going to take place. It takes work to be on the right side of history.
In the end, President Mandela is a sterling example of what can be accomplished by a life of struggle for principle coupled with an appreciation of politics. Although few can lead such a life, we should all strive to spend some time in the political arena. As we do that, we should remember that while President Mandela’s actions were politics, so were those of the apartheid regime. Politics is just the use of power for good or ill. We can’t separate ourselves, no matter how we try.
Compared to apartheid, our problems in this state may feel small, yet we should not forget that all change requires collective action, and that all progress is made together. That is how we can best remember a great man like Nelson Mandela.
Jason Paul of West Hartford is a partner in a campaign consulting company called What’s Next. He is also a student at the University of Connecticut Law School.
Tags: Nelson Mandela, Jason Paul, justice, apartheid, South Africa, dh
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OP-ED | Trumbull High, RENT, and Why the Fight for LGBT Equality Didn’t Stop with Marriage
Two things happened in LGBT news this week: first, New Haven scored a “100” on the Human Rights’ Campaign’s municipal equality index. But second, and more worrisome, is that Trumbull High School’s administration continues to drag their feet on students performing the musical “RENT,” which contains LGBT themes and characters.
The latest from Trumbull is that “RENT” will happen, but the date’s been pushed back to May, where it will conflict with SATs. That would mean many students wouldn’t be able to perform in the play. Originally, the administration didn’t want to allow the musical at all, and only backed down after a serious backlash from parents, students, and people all over the state and country.
The administration says they need time to prepare a plan to “educate” students about the themes of the musical, though what it is the administration thinks kids need to know about LGBT people, HIV/AIDS, or skipping out on paying rent for a year while living in New York is beyond me. What a weasely way to try to shut down the musical. They should be ashamed of themselves.
It bugs me that this sort of thing still goes on. In 2002 I was a high school teacher in a rural Connecticut town, and the drama club decided to put on “The Laramie Project,” which was a play about the vile murder of Matthew Shepard. I was the assistant director — one of several faculty involved in the show. Originally, school administrators didn’t want this play to go on either, and although the principal eventually relented she personally went through the script, “editing” out huge chunks of material she deemed inappropriate. There were letters sent home to “inform” parents, and some parents did protest. Apparently, a play about the murder of a gay man that featured gay characters speaking was so outrageous that all kinds of precautions needed to be taken.
The students put on the play anyway, and they were brilliant. There weren’t any LGBT kids or teachers who felt safe enough to come out in those days, but the fact that the show went on at all was a victory. I remember crying when the final song played, Melissa Etheridge’s “Scarecrow.” The show made me feel more like me than anything else I did at that school, though at the time I couldn’t have told you why.
That’s why what’s going on in Trumbull is so disappointing. This isn’t 2002 anymore; so much has changed between now and then. But when the administration tries to shut down a musical because, at least in part, of characters who are LGBT living with HIV/AIDS, what message does that send to LGBT students, or people struggling with HIV/AIDS? It very clearly says “You are different, possibly dangerous, and people will object to you,” and that’s just for starters.
A lot has changed since 2002, which is where these administrators seem to be stuck. Connecticut legalized same-sex marriage in 2008, and passed a non-discrimination act protecting transgender people in 2011. But obviously more work needs to be done.
This is why I sometimes think the focus on marriage by high-profile LGBT activists is not always a good thing. There was once a fantastic advocacy group called Love Makes a Family here in Connecticut, but once equal marriage became legal they decided that they’d accomplished what they’d set out to do, packed up, and vanished.
We could really use them now.
Here’s the cold, hard facts: Life for LGBT kids is still very difficult. LGBT youth report high rates of bullying and violence at school, and are at a much higher risk than their straight peers for suicide. LGBT youth are much more likely than their straight counterparts to become homeless, where they face higher rates of sexual violence. Depression, unemployment, discrimination, the loss of family and friends — all these are dangers LGBT people face. Marriage equality didn’t make this go away, and the attitudes on display in Trumbull prove that.
The world has changed since 2002. Things seem to get better every year, at least in some places and for some people. New Haven, for instance, is doing fantastic work. But it’s become painfully obvious that it’s easier to legislate equality than it is to actually achieve it. We shouldn’t rest until we’ve created a world where everyone feels welcome and safe.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
Tags: LGBTQ, Trumbull High School, Rent, equality, Susan Bigelow, dh
Party Won’t Pay State Back For Governor’s Security Detail
Republican State Sen. Toni Boucher is calling on the state Democratic Party to return the $13,760 it cost state taxpayers to send state troopers with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on a fundraising trip to California in October.
“I believe that it is wrong to use state resources for the fundraising activities of any political party, and the state Democratic Party should reimburse the state for these expenses immediately. If the party does not do this, taxpayers need to know it and the administration must explain why,” Boucher, who is considering a run for governor, said.
Boucher said the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection told her that $8,080.71 of the $13,760 was payroll costs, including $2,570.70 in “compensatory time earned by an individual who is not part of the NP-1 bargaining unit” and $5,679.54 for airfare, lodging, transportation, and meals. Three troopers were involved in the planning of the trip.
Malloy traveled to California in October with Jonathan Harris, the executive director of the Democratic Party, to help it raise money. Malloy has not announced his 2014 re-election campaign, but earlier this year he signed a bill that changes how state parties participate in the electoral process. The bill gives parties the ability to give unlimited amounts of additional money to publicly funded candidates unable to raise money after receiving the public grant.
Asked Friday whether the Connecticut Democratic Party would reimburse the state, a spokesman for the party said “no.”
After the state Bond Commission meeting Friday, Malloy said the state has a long tradition of providing security to governors and he doesn’t believe he’s being treated any differently than previous governors.
“If I go to McDonald’s I have security,” Malloy said. “If I go to a movie I have security. If I travel anywhere in state or out-of-state, I have security. I don’t get to make those decisions.”
He said to some extent he wishes he had more privacy, but “when you’re in my position you turn yourself over to other people who make those decisions.”
He said he remains outside of the decision-making process when it comes to security details.
OP-ED | Numbers Don’t Lie, Unless Someone Wants Them To
You’ve probably heard how the editors at Oxford Dictionaries proclaimed selfie the word of the year because of its 17,000-percent increase in frequency in 2103. The officials at Merriam-Webster, meanwhile, had a different choice — science — because that word saw the biggest increase in inquiries over the past year — 176 percent.
Said Editor-in-Chief-at-Large Peter Sokolowski, “Our data shows . . . that many of the most looked-up words in the dictionary are words that reflect the big ideas that are lurking behind the headlines.”
Sokolowski said the growing popularity of the word science indicates its ever-increasing importance in political discussions such as those regarding “climate change and education as well as Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, criticized as a misrepresentation of science.”
Ah hah! Science linked with education and the idea that it’s sometimes misrepresented. Now we’re on to something.
Never in my career as a high school English teacher — as an instructor of reading and writing, as a purveyor of literature — have I been asked to collect more “student data” and create more “spreadsheets” than I have in the past several years.
And people think Malcolm Gladwell’s not a scientist!
But science is where public education is hanging its hat right now, from the “metrics” applied to teacher evaluations to the data collected from standardized tests. And why not? Science turns a frustratingly nebulous concept — educational progress — into a black-and-white, numbers-don’t-lie picture.
If only it were so easy.
Call me a cynic, but numbers can lie. Or, at least, they can be manipulated by people who want to prove a point.
Take the recent results of the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which compares 15-year-olds in 65 global locations by their ability in math, science, and reading skills.
“Three years ago, I came here with a special report benchmarking the U.S. against some of the best performing and rapidly improving education systems. Most of them have pulled further ahead,” said Andreas Schleicher of the Department of Education. “The math results of top-performer Shanghai are now two-and-a-half school years ahead even of those in Massachusetts — itself a leader within the U.S.”
So there you have it — a scientifically-calibrated test proves that American students continue to fall behind schoolchildren from the rest of the world. A closer look, however, reveals a murkier picture.
“Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the school system in Shanghai is not equitable and the students tested are children of the elite because they are the ones allowed to attend municipal schools [due to] restrictions such as those that keep many migrant children out. ‘The Shanghai scores frankly to me are difficult to interpret,’ Loveless said. ‘They are almost meaningless’.”
OK, but don’t the PISA results still show how far American students have slipped from the top?
“The United States has NEVER been first in the world, nor even near the top, on international tests,” writes Diane Ravitch. “Over the past half century, our students have typically scored at or near the median, or even in the bottom quartile.”
Perhaps it has something to do with the sample of students worldwide. That is, are other country’s test takers truly representative of their population? Such scientific details somehow get lost in the discussion.
What we have here, simply, is a patently unscientific strategy called “juking the stats.”
Popularized by the classic HBO series “The Wire,” juking the stats was how Baltimore cops in the show bent numbers and words, such as crime rates and categories, to prove they were getting the job done.
A real-world example of juking the stats occurred this year when the Amistad Academy, a charter school in New Haven, announced a “100-percent college acceptance rate” for its graduates. “This year, that means all 30 seniors are headed to college, to schools ranging from Gateway Community College to the Ivy League.”
Wow! Who could argue with a 100-percent success rate?
“The ‘100 percent’ figure does not give the full picture for the whole group of kids who entered Amistad four years ago. Data show that for nearly [each] one of them who walked across the stage Wednesday, another was ‘lost’ along the way.”
I guess transfers and dropouts don’t count. So much for the science of statistics — especially when applied to educational progress.
What education needs most, it seems, is a large dose of integrity — a word, incidentally, that placed 9th on Merriam-Webster’s 2013 list. It doesn’t rank up there with science, but there’s always next year.
Tags: Barth Keck, juking the stats, statistics, misrepresentation, science, education, cooking the books, Amistad Academy, Diane Ravitch, Malcom Gladwell, Oxford Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, education reform, dh
OP-ED | What To Do With Connecticut’s Aging Office Campuses And Malls
It’s a problem that won’t go away anytime soon. As Connecticut tries to right its economy and reinvent itself as a friendly place to do business, the state is also grappling with what to do with structural vestiges from a different economic era.
Several decades ago, it was the mills. Once those manufacturing jobs became obsolete, or were moved either to southern states or overseas, corporations and towns had to find suitable uses for the hulking structures. Some towns, such as Beacon Falls, have done a commendable job converting them into living space. Others, such as Torrington and Winsted, have been less successful at finding uses for the abandoned mills.
Now we can add to that list of obsolete structures. Those sprawling corporate office campuses that have sprung up since the mills died are rapidly becoming a thing of the past, as The Courant’s Ken Gosselin documented recently.
Chief among them is The Hartford’s 641,000-square-foot office building set on 173-acres in Simsbury. The sheer size of the anachronistic campus is staggering: it’s as big as four Wal-Mart supercenters and the square footage is half that of the Chrysler building in Manhattan. Sadly, the venerable insurance company is in a cost-cutting mode (who isn’t these days?) and has put the campus on the block.
To give you an idea of the economic impact such a facility has on a relatively small town like Simsbury, The Hartford pays $1.6 million a year in property taxes to a town that has an $83 million budget. The Hartford employs almost half of Simbury’s 3,315-person workforce at an annual expense to the company of $8 million per year. Perhaps shockingly, the Simsbury campus opened in 1984 at a cost of $50 million, which gives you an idea of how quickly the market for office space can change.
And there are numerous other examples cited by Gosselin. Aetna couldn’t find a use for its 1.3-million-square-foot campus in Middletown and so demolished it in 2011. The resulting vacant lot remains for sale.
Pfizer is demolishing a 750,000-square-foot research center in Groton. The town of Ridgefield bought the shuttered the Schlumberger-Doll Research Center in 2011 for $7 million, but hasn’t been able to do much with it and is trying to flip the property.
To be sure, there are some exceptions to the trend. The architecturally distinguished Union Carbide campus in Danbury was successfully sold for half its construction price in 2007, despite being in a state of flux for much of its existence. And a new research center is being opened in Farmington. But the state had to bribe Jackson Laboratories to the tune of $291 million in borrowed money to get the company to make the move from Maine to Connecticut.
In addition to the general downsizing trend, a variety of factors is contributing to the decline of these sprawling corporate behemoths. Telecommuting has become more commonplace and has reduced the demand for office space. And technological advances have obviated the need for the legions of workers who performed time- and space-consuming data entry tasks.
But suburban corporate headquarters aren’t the only endangered species in the neighborhood. Online shopping has hurt the bottom line of shopping malls. As recently as 1990, 19 shopping malls were built in America. But there hasn’t been new one built since 2006.
The more upscale malls such as Westfarms are doing fine but mid-market affairs like Buckland Hills are having a tougher time maintaining market share, researcher Ryan Severino told John Dankosky on WNPR.
So what do we do with these monstrosities once they’re no longer useful? Perhaps the best suggestion came from a caller to Dankosky’s show who owns a farm near Buckland Hills. Downsize the malls to one floor and convert the top floor to affordable housing for the mall workers, many of whom toil away at little more than minimum wage.
Perhaps the same could be done to some of these empty corporate hulks. Mixed-use residential and retail might be just the tonic needed to bring back a sense of community in some of our fragmented suburbs.
Tags: terry cowgill, obsolete buildings, suburban blight, downsizing, outsourcing, empty mills, empty malls, dh
OP-ED | This Holiday Season, Consider the Value of Volunteerism
The holiday season is an occasion to spend time with family and friends. It affords us a shared opportunity to express gratitude for life, love, and food.
For many, the holidays also present an opportunity to volunteer, to donate our time and talents to support the most vulnerable members of our communities — the homeless, poverty stricken, disabled, and the ill. But while volunteering during the holidays is valuable, the rewards it brings both to the community and to the individual are becoming more and more vital to a country which is increasingly separated by the labels that “identify” us. Connecticut needs a mechanism to engage its youth in experiences that will teach, empower, and mature them as well as offer them a means and reason to continue living here.
That’s why I have gathered a small group of like-minded individuals to embark with me on a mission to make Connecticut a national leader in incentivizing and facilitating youth volunteerism.
Serve Here CT is a private initiative funded through a donation from the Child and Family Agency of Southeastern CT seeking to provide incentives for high school and college students to serve in their local communities. We are working to form a partnership with the state government, as well as a handful of not-for-profits, to fund a model program which will offer school debt forgiveness or financial aid to men and women between the ages of 18 and 25 in return for a year of service at a non-profit organization. They will also receive a living stipend in order to be able to afford to participate full-time in the program.
Volunteers will have the amazing opportunity to boost their resume, build a network, and grow as a person. We believe that the slow economic recovery within the state and the drain of our talented youth makes Connecticut the ideal state to foster this program; a program that forges societal bonds, enriches communities, and builds financial capital.
This season let us not simply encourage volunteerism during the holidays; let us weave it into the fabric of what it means to be from Connecticut.
Alva Greenberg is founder and president of Serve Here Connecticut
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Officials Painted Rosy Picture on Oct. 1 Despite Pricing Problems
Despite assurances to the contrary from both Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan, the Access Health CT website was offering inaccurate pricing information when it opened for business.
Staff at the exchange were aware of the incorrect information when the site went live on Oct. 1, according to state officials, and a disclaimer message was added in three locations on the site. But Wyman and Counihan didn’t mention that on Oct. 1 when asked about the veracity of the pricing information made available upon launch.
Inaccuracies regarding deductibles and co-insurance rates impacting all 19 individual health plans were discovered Sept. 26, Counihan said Thursday. The problem may have impacted about 2,400 residents who signed up for plans through the Access Health CT website in October.
Counihan said that around Sept. 29 his team brought the problem to the Connecticut Insurance Department, which agreed that it would be a good idea to create a warning statement for the website. Counihan said the warning was placed in three locations on the site, and those have since been removed after the rate information was corrected.
“Access Health CT acknowledges that there are some inaccuracies on the shopping screens,” the warning read. “For example, cost sharing for out-of-network benefits should apply only after the deductible is met; the skilled nursing benefit should show a 90 day visit limit; and the standard silver plan’s specialty drug tier should show a 40 percent co-insurance after the prescription deductible is met.”
It goes on to say that the insurance carriers — Anthem, ConnectiCare, and Healthy CT — are not responsible for the mistakes.
“The insurance carriers have provided the exchange with complete and accurate information about each plan,” the warning reads.
But Counihan said Thursday that “nobody has given us 100 percent accurate information all of the time.”
Karen B. Clarke, HealthyCT vice president of external affairs, said that “HealthyCT submitted accurate information to Access Health CT for its website. When we learned shortly before October 1 that there were inaccuracies, a short-term solution was to include a PDF with correct information, along with Access Health CT’s plan to conduct outreach.”
The other two insurance carriers didn’t return requests for comment. The 12 small business group health plans were unaffected.
It’s still unclear exactly how or why the information was coded into the system incorrectly if the insurance carriers did in fact provide the exchange with accurate information.
CTNewsJunkie asked Wyman, who co-chairs the Access Health CT board of directors, about the accuracy of the benefit information offered on the website at an Oct. 1 press conference celebrating the launch of the exchange.
“Is there information in the database, if you go online, that’s not accurate at the moment?”
Wyman replied, “No, we believe everything is accurate.” Counihan can be seen shaking his head affirmatively in the background.
In a phone interview Thursday, Wyman explained that everything on the site was accurate because the “warning was already posted on there.”
She said the warning was already informing people what they needed to do “while we were fixing the problem.” And she said the problem was corrected much faster than anticipated.
Asked how long the bad information was being offered along with a warning, no one had an answer. However, officials said the problem was corrected before the end of October and the warnings were removed.
Counihan, who was in Washington at a conference sponsored by America’s Health Insurance Plans, was unable to recall Thursday whether he told Access Health CT board members about the inaccuracies before the launch. Wyman said Counihan had told her.
The inaccuracies on the website in October were limited to “benefit descriptions on the shopping screen,” according to a letter Access Health CT sent to the 2,400 individuals potentially impacted by the glitch.
The letter, which followed phone calls, asked enrollees to make sure they selected an accurate schedule of benefits and asked them to confirm it by returning a form within 10 days. A self-addressed stamped envelope was included in the letter.
All shopping screens were corrected by Oct. 30. It’s unknown how many enrollees opted to switch plans after receiving a letter from Access Health CT about the problem.
The Courant and Fox61 were the first to report on the problem.
‘Somebody Made A Mistake’
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday that “somebody made a mistake” when the Democratic Party accepted a $10,000 donation from a state contractor, but he dismissed the “pay-for-play” allegations the incident has drawn from political opponents.
A Democratic spokesman said Wednesday night that the party would be returning an August donation from Edward Snider, whose Pennsylvania-based Comcast Spectacor is the parent company of the state contractor that operates the Hartford XL Center and Rentschler Field in East Hartford.
State law prohibits state contractors and lobbyists from contributing to state party accounts. The contribution made news this week as the state is poised to borrow $1.8 million to fund capital improvement planning for the Hartford XL Center.
Malloy downplayed the significance of the donation and returned check after an unrelated event Thursday. He said such errors were not exclusive to Democrats.
“Obviously a mistake was made. In this case the Democratic Party and in other cases the Republican Party or leadership PACs, that sort of thing, have returned money from time to time and that’s what’s appropriate from time to time,” he said.
However, Republicans have said the donation proves Democrats have not followed the legal standard they have set for fundraising. In a Wednesday statement, Republican gubernatorial hopeful and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said Democrats need to answer more questions on the donation.
“Returning the donation they accepted illegally does little to dispel the perception that there is a ‘pay for play’ system alive and well in the governor’s office and the State Democratic Party,” he said.
A television reporter asked the governor Thursday whether he could assure the public that companies the state has given money to are not being “shaken down” for contributions.
“First of all, I had nothing to do with this contribution,” Malloy answered. “So let’s just start with the reality. But, yeah, absolutely. I could do that.”
The controversy over the donation also led to calls to delay approving the $1.8 million in state bonds to pay for improvements to the XL Center. Malloy defended the importance of the project and said it was tied to the prospects of returning “big time hockey” to Hartford.
“There’s a lot of loose lips running around on this issue. I’m doing my best to bring ‘big time hockey’ to Connecticut. We have to make improvements to that facility if we want to” see hockey played there, he said. “No apologies. We need to turn that facility around.”
The $1.8 million in funding is needed by the end of the year in order to meet the project’s timeline. The project is scheduled to begin in March and conclude by next October to accommodate the 2014 hockey season of the Hartford Wolf Pack and UConn hockey teams, according to a press release.
Tags: Gov. Malloy, Spectacor, Comcast, Global Spectrum, XL Center, Bond Commission, Democratic Party, dh
Federal Regulators Say Networks Are ‘Adequate’
Back on Nov. 5 before a federal judge agreed with two medical associations that UnitedHealthcare should stop dropping doctors from its Medicaid Advantage network, Attorney General George Jepsen asked federal regulators to “aggressively scrutinize” the decision.
Federal regulators at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services looked at the decision and concluded the insurance company’s networks were adequate.
“Our review of the anticipated provider network in Connecticut has not found any issues with network adequacy,” Douglas Edwards, associate regional administrator at CMS, wrote in the letter.
The review of the networks that CMS conducted were based on time, distance, and number standards. It did not take into account “the special needs of the disabled, elderly, low income, without personal transportation, and non-English speaking members,” Edwards wrote.
Jepsen called the decision disappointing.
“I have repeatedly pressed CMS to aggressively scrutinize UHC’s network to determine its adequacy, but have seen no evidence that it has done so,” he said in a statement.
“Remarkably, CMS concedes that it failed to consider the special needs of the disabled, elderly, low income, those without personal transportation and non-English speaking patients. In other words, CMS has approved UHC’s network without considering the needs of those who most need protection,” Jepsen said. “Nor has CMS independently verified that existing patients are being offered suitable alternatives for their terminated doctors — that is, substitute doctors with the appropriate expertise and capacity to accept new patients.”
Last week, a federal judge ruled in favor of the two medical associations that took UnitedHealthcare to court. The judge said the insurer needs to stop dropping doctors from its network and to reinstate the ones it planned to drop.
U.S. District Court Judge Stefan Underhill wrote that while UnitedHealthcare argued it was terminating the physicians without cause based on their contract, the company failed to “provide written notice of the ‘reasons for the action, including, if relevant, the standards and profiling data used to evaluate the physician and the number and mix of physicians needed by the MA organization.’ That did not occur here, in apparent breach of both Medicare regulations and the Physician Contract provisions regarding termination.”
UnitedHealthcare is appealing the decision to the 2nd Circuit Court.
Earlier this week UnitedHealthcare told the Hartford Courant it plans to proceed with network cuts to doctors who aren’t members of the associations.
The insurance company has declined to say how many physicians it intends to terminate from its network. According to the two medical associations, the insurance company was planning to drop 2,250 physicians from its network.
Federal regulators have also decided not to release termination numbers.
“We are not releasing specific numbers regarding provider terminations at this time, but as noted above, we are investigating all complaints relating to the network changes,” Edwards wrote in his letter to Jepsen.
Meanwhile, medical associations across the country are filing court briefs in support of the Fairfield County Medical Association and Hartford County Medical Association’s complaint against UnitedHealthcare.
Tags: CMS, George Jepsen, UnitedHealthcare, physicians, court, Stefan Underhill, Fairfield County Medical Association, dh
Malloy Checks In On Farmer Who Weathered Storm
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy toured an East Hartford hydroponic farm whose owner used state assistance to rebuild after some of his greenhouses were crushed by snow during a storm in February.
Stephen Weinstein, owner of Connecticut Hydroponic Farm, said Thursday that the weight of the snow crushed the metal frames of some of his greenhouses.
Weinstein received a $79,000 grant under the Production Loss Assistance Needed Today program. The grants were designed to help local farms that suffered damages as a result of severe weather this year.
On Thursday, he showed the governor around a warm greenhouse where rows of bright green Bibb lettuce heads floated on hydroponic tables. The farm is now producing 11,200 lettuce heads per growing cycle. After February’s storm, production had dropped to 2,800 heads, according to a press release.
“It’s been a great help,” Weinstein told Malloy. “If I didn’t have the grant, you would be looking at one table. Instead we have five houses like this. We’re now competing against companies in Quebec and getting our market share back.”
This year the state offered $5 million in grants to help storm-damaged farms. As of October, it handed out more than $4.9 million to fund 239 approved projects, according to Malloy’s office.
“We were able to get those grants out to farmers to help them—not to pay for everything—but to help them recover from floods, from terrible winter storms, and I’m proud that we’re supporting agriculture in the state of Connecticut,” Malloy told reporters.
The governor said local farms are often put at a disadvantage because federal insurance policy has focused on protecting industrial large, single-crop farms instead of local farms which are typically smaller but grow several different kinds of crops.
“The problem for farmers over the last couple years in the state of Connecticut is they’ve really taken it on the chin. They’ve had loss after loss after loss,” he said. “... So we just stepped in to help out. I think it’s the Connecticut thing to do.”
Tags: agriculture, farms, grants, malloy, hydroponics, dh
Bus and Rail Fares Increasing In January
The state Transportation Department will be raising bus and rail fares throughout January, according to agency press releases.
Rail fares on the New Haven Line and Shore Line East will go into effect on Jan. 1. The increase is the last of three rate hikes approved to help pay off new rail cars. According to the department, the new rates will result in about a 5 percent increase on Jan. 1 across all types of rail fares.
Bus fares are set to increase Jan. 19 for most CTTRANSIT and ADA Paratransit services. The one-way cash fare on the CTTRANSIT local bus service will increase 20 cents to $1.50 and one-way ADA Paratransit service will rise to $3, according to the DOT. Ten-trip tickets will now cost $24. The cost of one- and three-day passes will decrease slightly. Travelers who buy “flash passes” won’t see their fees increase until February.
Transfer times also will increase on Jan. 19 from 90 minutes to two hours, according to the press release.
In a statement, Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said the department has held bus fares steady since January 2012.
“We realize that it is a difficult time to raise fares,” he said. “Unfortunately, operating expenses dictate the need to raise fares to maintain the current level of service. We’ve done our best to moderate the impact on our riders by listening to the feedback gathered during the public comment process.”
New bus fares can be viewed on the department’s website at www.ct.gov/dot/lib/dot/Bus_Fares_Effective_01192014.pdf
Information on rail fares for Shore Line East can be viewed at www.shorelineeast.com/fares_passes/fares.php
For info on the New Haven Line visit mta.info/mnr/html/fares.htm
Newtown Community Vigil Today
A vigil to remember the tens of thousands who died as a result of gun violence, including the 20 children and six educators from Newtown, will begin at 3:40 p.m. today.
The service will encompass the themes of remembrance, resolve, hope, and inspiration. The first portion will focus on remembrance with immediate family members of gun violence victims from across the country sharing their stories. The second will center on survivors and others impacted by gun violence who have become advocates. The third portion will consist of young people who have been impacted by violence, concentrating on hope and inspiration moving forward.
The service also will incorporate songs by the World Children’s Choir and Carole King. The vigil will conclude with a candle lighting by the entire Congregation.
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After Criticism And Further Scrutiny, Democrats Return $10K Donation
In the face of criticism and calls to withdraw a request for $1.8 million in state bonding, the Connecticut Democratic Party will refund a $10,000 donation from Edward Snider, CEO of Comcast Spectacor.
Snider, whose Pennsylvania-based Comcast Spectacor is the parent company of Global Spectrum, made a donation of $10,000 to the state Democratic Party in August. It was the maximum donation amount allowed under the law.
Global Spectrum has been contracted by the state to manage the Hartford XL Center and Rentschler Field in East Hartford. The company is further poised to receive $1.8 million from the state Bond Commission on Friday.
Less than an hour before Democrats announced the decision to return the donation, Republican House Leader Lawrence Cafero called upon the Bond Commission to delay approving the item until the issue over whether Snider was a state contractor could be settled.
“There is a contract to manage the XL Center by a subsidiary of Snider’s parent company and state contractors are barred from giving money to the state party accounts. This needs to be addressed immediately,” Cafero said.
James Hallinan, a spokesman for the Democratic Party, said the party relies upon the information provided by its donors on the state contribution form. In Snider’s case, “we had a fully-completed and signed non-federal contribution form.” In addition, Hallinan says it cross-referenced the donor information with the list of prohibited state contractors provided by the State Elections Enforcement Commission.
“Spectacor, which Mr. Snider listed as his employer, does not appear on any of the prohibited contributors lists,” Hallinan said. “After learning further financial information regarding Comcast Spectacor’s relationship with Global Spectrum, the Connecticut Democratic Party has decided to issue a refund to Mr. Snider for his contribution.”
The Capital Region Development Authority, a quasi-public agency Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy created last year, awarded Global Spectrum the contracts to operate the two facilities in February. Malloy also sets the state Bond Commission’s agenda.
Republican gubernatorial hopeful and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney called Snider’s donation to Democrats’ state PAC a clear violation of campaign finance laws because he is considered a state contractor. He said the donation should be investigated.
“Mr. Snider doesn’t live in Connecticut and has never given to the Connecticut Democratic Party before. But, all of the sudden, at the same time his company is bidding for a multi-million dollar state contract, he decides to write a check for the maximum contribution of $10,000 and, lo and behold, is awarded the contract to manage the XL Center and Rentschler Field,” McKinney said in a Tuesday statement.
House Minority Leader Larry Cafero echoed McKinney’s comments.
“This bond appropriation ought to be pulled until the questions surrounding the donation of $10,000 by Mr. Snider to the Democrats can be resolved,” Cafero said in a letter to OPM released by his office. “There is a contract to manage the XL Center by a subsidiary of Snider’s parent company and state contractors are barred from giving money to the state party accounts. This needs to be addressed immediately.”
The contract was awarded by the state before the Aug. 23 donation by Snider.
Asked about the contribution earlier Wednesday, Connecticut Democratic Party Executive Director Jonathan Harris said “we follow all the rules and regulations under state and federal campaign finance laws.”
He said the party will continue raising money “within the law.” He declined to elaborate on whether he thought Mr. Snider was a state contractor. But after further review, the party opted to refund the donation.
Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut which spearheaded the landmark 2005 changes to campaign finance law, said the donation is a “problem” if Mr. Snider is a state contractor. She said the law prohibits state contractors and lobbyists from contributing to state party accounts.
The changes to the law came about after former Gov. John G. Rowland resigned and later pleaded guilty to corruption charges for accepting gifts from state contractors.
On Tuesday after a speech to the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has not announced his reelection bid but has been fundraising on behalf of the party said he would continue to follow the law.
“The standard to apply is whether we are compliant with the law, and we’ll hold ourselves to that standard,” Malloy said.
McKinney called that a a pretty low standard.
“In his own words, the governor established a low ethical standard for his fundraising efforts yesterday,” McKinney said Wednesday. “And today, he and his party have admitted that they have failed to meet even their own low standard. They have broken campaign finance laws.”
Tags: Spectacor, Comcast, Global Spectrum, XL Center, Bond Commission, Democratic Party, James Hallinan, dh
Clients Call For Better Service, DSS Says It’s Listening
Social workers and clients gathered Wednesday at the Legislative Office Building to vent their frustration with the new Department of Social Services system, which seems to have made it more difficult for them to continue their benefits.
Crystal Wilcox of Old Saybrook has a daughter who takes four daily medications for her asthma. That’s on top of a breathing machine twice a day and an inhaler.
In June, Wilcox said her daughter lost her health insurance benefits and she’s been battling with the state agency ever since to get them back. As a result of losing the coverage, Wilcox said two weeks before Christmas she’s behind $2,000 on her rent because she’s been using her rent money to buy her daughter’s medication.
“It was get behind in my rent and possibly get evicted, or keep my daughter alive? I’m going to keep my daughter alive,” Wilcox said.
She said she’s had face-to-face interviews at the regional DSS office in Middletown and called numerous times waiting to talk to a worker to resolve the problem, but after an hour on hold she gets frustrated and hangs up.
Wilcox is not alone among the roughly 750,000 clients who have been experiencing problems with the new “modern” DSS system that was launched in July.
Community outreach workers like Pat Beeman of Suffield said she has a 92-year-old client who was told she would lose her medical benefits.
“What I find so interesting is that the Connecticut Social Services could send me two notices, but did not send me the actual form in question,” Beeman read from the client’s letter.
Another 92-year-old client had her benefits discontinued after Beeman went to her home, filled out the forms, and mailed them to the scan center in Manchester on her behalf.
“There should be no room for excuses,” Beeman told Social Services Commissioner Roderick Bremby, who was listening in the audience. “. . . The way the system is inefficiently meeting the needs of our clients, we couldn’t do business with you if you were a vendor.”
She said in the past that she was able to work the back channels for the most dire and serious cases, but has had trouble doing that under the new system.
Bremby, who listened to the complaints and criticism with his senior staff, said those back channels or “work arounds” no longer exist because they weren’t programmed into the system. But he said they are aware of the complaints from social workers and are using a team to figure out the best way to move forward with technology.
Since May 2011, DSS has expedited about 50,000 cases.
Bremby said he understands that it’s tempting to be nostalgic for the way things were, but he said the system had been broken for a long time.
Nancy Boone, project coordinator for the Connecticut Alliance for Basic Human Needs, said her group, which helped organize Wednesday’s press conference, isn’t for or against the new scanning system.
“I know that DSS had an old system and it’s trying to update that and we absolutely support that,” Boone said.
In August, when it looked like the vendor helping DSS transition to a paperless system was falling behind from an “unanticipated volume of mail,” Bremby decided to extend food stamp and medical benefits to all the clients currently receiving them, even if they may not have qualified for them.
That gave Scan Optics, the Manchester company hired to scan all the paper applications, time to catch up.
Bremby said it’s well-known that the department has been suffering under the weight of an antiquated and obsolete system and it’s only 150 days into the new one.
“What we heard today is very reminiscent of the very same problems we’ve been trying to solve,” Bremby said.
But since its launch in July, 290,000 phone calls have been answered and 2.8 million records have been scanned.
“It’s not enough and we’re not satisfied with where we are,” he added.
He said there were initially some issues with scanned documents that could not be retrieved easily. He said for the first six weeks following the launch of the new system, the documents being scanned by the vendor were not being picked up by the new ConnectCT system. Now there’s a daily reconciliation, Bremby said.
Now the issue is about optimizing the system and making sure “we make it work for the people that we serve,” he said.
Bremby said the problems today are both hardware and software issues. The system is slow and workers can’t pull up a scanned application in a timely manner. He said he’s working with the state’s technology department to come up with a solution, but in some respects his hands are tied.
While he has control over the vendors, he has no control over the Bureau of Enterprise Systems and Technology, which is another state agency in charge of technology. He said he doesn’t have control over the system to make sure it’s up and operational.
“When we have two cluster servers not balancing the load on a daily basis, that’s outside of our purview,” Bremby said. “But what we can do is make sure we’ve got the right resources on the phone.”
He said he has control over Deloitte & Touche and IBM, the two vendors in charge of the phone system, but the Bureau of Enterprise Systems and Technology is a sister agency.
Mark Raymond, head of the bureau, said his agency has been working closely with DSS to correct the load balancing problems. He said they’ve also been working with IBM, one of the vendors on the project, to resolve some of the issues.
“We are all partners in this,” Raymond added.
Lawyers for legal aid organizations have complained in class action lawsuits that the department continues to be understaffed, but Bremby maintains the problems are not related to staffing issues.
“If it was a worker issue we would ask for more staff,” Bremby said. “Right now, it’s an efficiency issue in the system. Putting more people at work in an inefficient and unstable system doesn’t make sense at all.”
He said they are talking to the unions about changing some of the work hours for some of the workers so they can staff the call centers until later in the day.
He said department doesn’t expect the economy to pick up in any significant way so it is building a system that can serve more people than the 750,000 clients it currently serves.
Tags: Roderick Bremby, DSS, Crystal Wilcox, Patricia Beeman, modern, food stamps, Medicaid, dh
State Bond Commission To End Year With Political Fundraising Controversy
(UPDATED 5:11 p.m.) The state Bond Commission is expected to approve $10.5 million in borrowing at its final 2013 meeting Friday, including a $1.8 million project which has Republicans alleging campaign finance violations on the part of the Democratic Party.
Among other projects, the commission is scheduled to approve $1.8 million in bonding for capital improvement planning to the Hartford XL Center, which is managed by Global Spectrum. The funding is needed by the end of the year in order to meet the project’s timeline. The project is scheduled to begin in March and conclude by next October to accommodate the 2014 hockey season.
However, in August, Edward Snider — CEO of the Pennsylvania company that operates Global Spectrum — made a maximum donation of $10,000 to the state Democratic Party.
In addition to managing the XL Center, the company manages Rentschler Field in East Hartford. The Capital Region Development Authority, a quasi-public agency Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy created last year, awarded Global Spectrum the contracts to operate the two facilities in February. Malloy also sets the state Bond Commission’s agenda.
Republican gubernatorial hopeful and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney called Snider’s donation to Democrats’ state PAC a clear violation of campaign finance laws because he is considered a state contractor. He said the donation should be investigated.
“Mr. Snider doesn’t live in Connecticut and has never given to the Connecticut Democratic Party before. But, all of the sudden, at the same time his company is bidding for a multi-million dollar state contract, he decides to write a check for the maximum contribution of $10,000 and, lo and behold, is awarded the contract to manage the XL Center and Rentschler Field,” McKinney said in a Tuesday statement.
House Minority Leader Larry Cafero echoed McKinney’s comments.
“This bond appropriation ought to be pulled until the questions surrounding the donation of $10,000 by Mr. Snider to the Democrats can be resolved,” Cafero said in a letter to OPM released by his office. “There is a contract to manage the XL Center by a subsidiary of Snider’s parent company and state contractors are barred from giving money to the state party accounts. This needs to be addressed immediately.”
The contract was awarded by the state before the Aug. 23 donation by Snider.
Asked about the contribution Wednesday, Connecticut Democratic Party Executive Director Jonathan Harris said “we follow all the rules and regulations under state and federal campaign finance laws.”
He said the party will continue raising money “within the law.” He declined to elaborate on whether he thought Mr. Snider was a state contractor.
Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut which spearheaded the landmark 2005 changes to campaign finance law, said if Mr. Snider is a state contractor then “it’s a problem.”
She said the law prohibits state contractors and lobbyists from contributing to state party accounts.
The changes to the law came about after former Gov. John G. Rowland resigned and later pleaded guilty to corruption charges for accepting gifts from state contractors.
Friday’s Bond Commission agenda also includes $4 million in funding for a home foreclosure prevention program and $1.3 million to help Windham acquire and renovate space for a senior center. It borrows $1.5 million to help the city of Hartford build a new police substation.
The commission will also approve $1 million to help the HomeServe USA Corporation move its headquarters from Stamford to Norwalk. The emergency home repair company is set to receive state aid as part of an agreement to create 130 jobs and retain 109 jobs.
“The state’s investment in support of HomeServe’s relocation will help foster further growth for the company and create good-paying jobs with good benefits for Connecticut residents. HomeServe is a company that continues to be a leader in this innovative segment of the service industry and we are pleased that they call Connecticut home.” Malloy said in a statement Wednesday.
Friday’s meeting is expected to close out 2013 and will leave Malloy less than $10 million below the self-imposed $1.8 billion borrowing limit he set for the year.
Christine Stuart contributed to this report.
Tags: Bond Commission, campaign finance, fundraising, bonding, borrowing, gov. malloy, john mckinney, dh
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OP-ED | The Truth About Pensions
Let me start with full disclosure. I’m a young person and a state employee. I use Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. And I welcome being engaged in any discussion of “dense fiscal issues” like pension liabilities.
Too bad my demographic wasn’t fully represented during the “Make Government Work” forum that was held at the fancy Hartford Club and covered by Hugh McQuaid for CTNewsJunkie. Then again, how could I quarrel with a panel comprised of middle-aged and older men from organizations like Connecticut Business and Industry Association telling young folks like me how to take back their democracy by grabbing hold of this thorny pension problem?
How could I not have faith in a panel moderated by David Walker, founder and CEO of the Comeback America Initiative? After all, Walker is a loyal minion of Pete Peterson, whose “Fix the Debt” crowd believes that middle class “entitlements” must be cut especially without telling us why (because billionaire corporate executives should continue to enjoy their over-the-top compensation while collecting their pensions).
Okay, I get it. Real workers and unions were not welcome. But with such imbalanced representation, the panel’s message was doomed to a narrow focus and a flawed narrative.
For instance, nobody talked about the fact that expenditures from state and municipal pension benefits supported more than 29,000 jobs and $4 billion in total economic output in Connecticut, according to the respected National Institute on Retirement Security.
So you see, the problem isn’t that state employees have pensions. The problem is that too few private sector workers have them (with the exception of the big business folks who want to gut our pensions before cashing out on theirs). Steep declines in employer-sponsored plans and employee participation have put us on the brink of a retirement crisis.
Earlier this year, the New School’s Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis (SCEPA) issued a report that confirmed the scope of the problem. As of 2010, roughly half of Connecticut workers — about three-quarters of a million residents — were not participating in an employer-provided retirement plan (for most of the non-participants, the “plan” is a savings account with no employer support). If this trend continues, the number of seniors living in poverty will skyrocket as workers lack sufficient assets to afford even basic expenses when they retire.
The New School’s research also finds that the average person in Connecticut who is over the age of 65 and in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution lives on $7,368 per year, including Social Security and public assistance programs. People in the 20th to 40th percentile of the income distribution live on $14,673 per year.
I shudder to think of the social and economic consequences of such mass downward mobility of our seniors. But there are ways to fix our broken retirement system.
Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, sponsored a bill, SB 54, during the 2013 legislation that would allow workers who do not have access to a retirement plan through their employer to deposit a percentage of their annual salary into a retirement savings trust fund. The plan would be portable, so workers could take their investment with them from job to job.
And unlike other portable plans this has low administrative costs, because it’s a not-for-profit structure administered through the state treasurer. Whatever administrative costs are associated with the plan are charged to the participants, not taxpayers.
Vehicles like SB 54 make sense for an economy ravaged by gaping income inequality and corporate greed. My union represents more than 32,000 public service workers, the vast majority of whom are fortunate enough to have a real, defined benefit — pensions.
That’s because we’re there to fight for them at the bargaining table, to ensure that after a long career, workers are able to live in dignity, enjoy their families, deal with unexpected expenses — and help Main Street flourish because that’s where they spend their retirement income.
The state legislature and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy should make the enactment of SB 54 a top legislative priority in 2014. Every future retiree should have the opportunity to retire with adequate income and dignity. It’s what we young people call the American way.
Uri Allen is a state employee and union steward for AFSCME Local 269.
2 Legislators Want To Keep Sex Offenders Away From Children
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Posted to: Civil Liberties, Courts, Equality, Law Enforcement, Legal, Public Safety, State Capitol, Derby, Woodbridge
A Republican and a Democrat announced plans last week to push for a law to prohibit sex offenders from living near places where children gather.
The proposal comes from Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, and Sen. Joe Crisco, D-Woodbridge. In a joint press release, the two legislators called for legislation establishing a 1,000-foot radius around schools, daycares, “and other locations where children typically gather.” The bill would prevent any registered sex offenders from residing within these zones.
“The last thing a parent should have to worry about when they send their child to school is whether a depraved sex offender is lurking around the corner from the jungle gym or classroom,” Klarides said in a statement.
The legislation also would ramp up penalties for crimes committed within the zones.
Klarides said she proposed a similar bill in 2007 but was met by “inexcusable opposition” from Democratic lawmakers.
Crisco does not share that opposition. He said the state already has good reason to require sex offenders to register where they live.
“This initiative is a straightforward extension of these safeguards and protections and if enacted, will help separate those on the registry from schools and daycare centers where children congregate,” he said.
The proposal is in some ways similar to the state’s already-existing “drug-free zone” statutes. Another group of state lawmakers have worked unsuccessfully for the past few years to get those policies repealed.
For many lawmakers in urban communities, the problem with the state’s 1,500-foot drug free zones policy is that as it is currently written, the zones often encompass entire urban neighborhoods or even most of a given municipality. As a result, anyone who’s convicted of a drug charge in those cities faces a stiffer penalty than they would in another town.
According to an Office of Legislative Research report from 2007, many states impose varying residency restrictions on convicted sex offenders. The report found the most compelling argument for the laws is that they reduce recidivism by separating known offenders from potential victims.
But OLR also found that the policies can have unintended consequences, like forcing sex offenders to move into rural areas. The relocation can sometimes lead to homelessness, which causes the offenders to go underground and become more difficult for law enforcement to track.
Michael Lawlor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s criminal justice policy adviser, said the state currently imposes residency restrictions on sex offenders on a case-by-case basis. There are 2,284 sex offenders in Connecticut under probationary supervision by a specialized sex offender unit, he said.
“Probation and parole can decide where they can live, where they can work, where they can go, and where they can’t go,” Lawlor said. “That’s all standard for the offenders under supervision. The approach we’ve taken in Connecticut depends on the individual offender. We’ve resisted the ‘one size fits all’ approach.”
Klarides said she believes most people think there already are laws preventing sex offenders from living near schools.
“Keeping sex offenders away from kids is a common sense policy that many people assume is already in place . . . I call on my colleagues to do the right thing for our communities and support this legislation when the 2014 session convenes,” she said.
However, the American Civil Liberties Union and others have questioned the constitutionality of such residency restrictions. Andrew Schneider, executive director of the Connecticut chapter of the ACLU, said Tuesday that his organization will oppose the proposal if it is raised next year.
“Banishing former sex offenders from certain neighborhoods and depriving them from the basic right to freedom of movement would be unconstitutional and counterproductive. It would interfere with their reintegration into society and their rehabilitation, which could harm both them and society,” Schneider said.
Tags: sex offender registry, ACLU, Michael Lawlor, Themis Klarides, drug free zones, Joseph Crisco, dh
Malloy Makes Fourth Supreme Court Nomination
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced his fourth nomination to the state Supreme Court on Tuesday, picking Appellate Court Judge Richard A. Robinson to replace retiring Justice Flemming L. Norcott Jr.
Before being appointed to the bench in 2000 by former Gov. John Rowland, Robinson worked as a lawyer for the city of Stamford where Malloy served as mayor. Robinson became an Appellate Court judge in 2007 under former Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
Robinson’s nomination will need to be approved by the legislature when it reconvenes in February. In the meantime, he thanked Malloy at a Capitol press conference. He said he realized the responsibility that comes with the position.
“I promise you, the Judicial Branch, the Connecticut Bar, and the people of this state that, if confirmed, I will fully and eagerly devote to my obligations as a justice of the Supreme Court,” he said.
The governor said he worked with Robinson in Stamford and wrote him a letter of recommendation when he was appointed by Rowland in 2000.
“[Robinson] has won the respect of his peers on the bench and attorneys throughout the state as a dedicated, thoughtful, and measured jurist,” Malloy said.
Attorney Daniel Klau echoed that sentiment in a Tuesday post on his blog, calling Robinson a “superb choice.” Klau said he has argued before Robinson on several occasions since 2007.
“He is an outstanding jurist: always thoroughly prepared for oral argument, asks insightful questions, writes thoughtful opinions. And he has a gentle demeanor which puts appellate advocates at ease, even when he is asking probing questions,” Klau wrote. “He will a great addition to the Supreme Court.”
Malloy has made a point of trying to encourage diversity among the state’s judges. Robinson, who is African American, will replace Norcott, who is currently the only black justice on the state’s high court. Norcott turned 70 years old in October, the mandatory retirement age.
Since taking office Malloy also has nominated Carmen Espinosa, the first Latino to serve on the state Supreme Court and Andrew McDonald, the state’s first openly gay Supreme Court justice. He also nominated Justice Lubbie Harper, Jr., who has since retired.
“We need a court of varied experiences to make sure that the varied experiences of the Connecticut people themselves are represented on the court,” Malloy said Tuesday. “That’s not simply talking about race or other backgrounds. I’m looking for justices with good common sense . . . and, quite frankly, if they pull for the underdog once in awhile it wouldn’t bother me.”
Former Gov. M. Jodi Rell faced legislative criticism for the lack of diversity of her judicial nominees.
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Democratic Donor Introduces Malloy At Breakfast
An utility company executive who donated $1,500 to the Connecticut Democratic Party’s federal account in October introduced Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Tuesday morning at the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce breakfast.
In introducing the governor, Rodney Powell, president and chief operating officer of Yankee Gas Services Company, was complimentary of Malloy and his energy strategy, which calls for the expansion of natural gas lines in the state.
Malloy joked that Powell and Middlesex Chamber of Commerce President Lawrence McHugh said so many nice things about him that “I thought I’d died and somebody was reading my obituary.” The remark elicited a chuckle from the audience.
But the Republican Party isn’t laughing.
“At this point, it should come as no surprise to anyone that another executive of a Northeast Utilities-owned, state-regulated utility has a cozy relationship with Gov. Malloy thanks to his donations to the Connecticut Democratic Party,” Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. said.
Last week, the Courant reported that a top executive for Northeast Utilities, the parent company of Yankee Gas, asked about 50 of his managers to donate money to help re-elect Malloy next year.
“The next gubernatorial election cycle is upon us, and I am asking each of you to join me in financially supporting Connecticut’s Governor Dannel P. Malloy” in next year’s election, Northeast Utilities CEO Thomas May said in an email The Courant obtained from a source.
Labriola called the donation to the federal account “a thinly veiled effort to circumvent the law.” There are limited uses for a donation to the federal party and as a state contractor, Northeast Utilities and its employees are prohibited from contributing to a state campaign.
Labriola called on Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy Dinardo to give back the donations “to mitigate the appearances of impropriety and corruption.” Asked whether they planned to return the donations today, the state Democratic Party said they would not.
“The Connecticut Democratic Party follows all laws, rules and regulations for fundraising,” James Hallinan, a spokesman for the Connecticut Democratic Party, said Tuesday.
But Labriola said that Tuesday’s events “offer even more evidence that Dan Malloy and his state government are for sale to the highest bidder.” The Middlesex Chamber of Commerce breakfast Tuesday was sponsored by Northeast Utilities, Connecticut Light & Power, and Yankee Gas Services.
This year, NU employees have contributed more than any other single group or company to the Connecticut Democratic Party. They have contributed about $51,500 for the party, according to campaign finance reports. Most of the donations came after May’s email to his managers soliciting contributions.
“I’m not a candidate for governor,” Malloy reminded reporters following his formal remarks at the event. “Who might, or who might not support me, or who supports Democratic causes, or who might not support Democratic causes are [questions] probably best directed toward them.”
But as governor, Malloy is the leader of the Democratic Party in the state and he’s been actively fundraising for it, including a trip to California in October.
“I will, do now and in the future, that which I’ve always done and that is to support Democratic causes,” Malloy said. “And quite frankly that’s what I’m doing. And the standard to apply is whether we are compliant with the law and we’ll hold ourselves to that standard.”
He maintained that he was not a candidate for governor and has not made a final decision on whether he will run for re-election.
“In the meantime, I’m going to support Democratic causes and make sure that those causes and those organizations live within the law,” Malloy told reporters.
His remarks came after a more than 20-minute speech where he reminded members of the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce that when he took office the state was saddled with the “highest per capita deficit” in the country.
Thirty-fours months later, the state budget is balanced and the state is beginning to recover jobs. Pointing to a Labor Department report, Malloy said the state has recovered 67,000 private sector jobs since the start of the recession.
He said that before he became governor, the state invested in 119 companies. But because of changes the General Assembly made in October 2011 during a special session, his administration has been able to give assistance to about 1,400 companies, including more than 940 small businesses.
“When I’m doing this job I’m looking at the big issues and the long-term issues, and the short-term issues. How do we clean our air? How do we get cleaner energy? How do we get our universities to work together? How do we create a tool box for our economy?” Malloy said. “All of these things come together. This is all got to be part of a big package if we are going to move this state forward.”
Malloy acknowledged that his determination in improving the state doesn’t always coincide with the agendas of other people. Some of his policies have made him unpopular with the public according to the last Quinnipiac University poll.
The June poll found that 47 percent of voters approve of the job he’s doing, while another 47 percent disapprove. The same poll showed one of his Republican opponents beating him by three points.
After rattling off what he believes are areas where the state has improved, Malloy said, “that’s why the opportunity to be governor for some period of time is too great an opportunity to waste. Sometimes people are critical of me. I’m a serious guy. I understand that. I don’t tell a good joke. I understand that.”
But he said “nobody has more hope and more expectations for the state of Connecticut and what we can do in the medium-term, and the long-term, than me.”
Tags: Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Rodney Powell, Yankee Gas, Northeast Utilities, Lawrence McHugh, Middlesex Chamber of Commerce
Undocumented Immigrants to Strain Safety-Net Hospitals
Undocumented immigrants are expected to make up a larger share of Connecticut’s uninsured population next year, putting new financial pressures on safety-net hospitals that provide emergency care to everyone, state and national health experts predict.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides coverage options for legal immigrants, but those in the U.S. illegally cannot apply for Medicaid, even if they are poor, or buy coverage at Access Health CT (the new insurance marketplace), even if they have cash. That means illegal residents without coverage will continue turning to local emergency departments for care at a time when Connecticut hospitals face the loss of millions of dollars in federal and state subsidies to help defray the cost of uncompensated care.
“This is a global problem that isn’t going away. This population (of undocumented residents) is not being addressed by any state or federal initiatives. It’s operating under the radar screen,” said William Gedge, senior vice president for payor relations for Yale New Haven Health System, the state’s largest provider of uncompensated care. The system includes Yale-New Haven Hospital, Bridgeport Hospital and Greenwich Hospital.
Click here to continue reading the report from the Connecticut Health Investigative Team.
Tags: immigrants, hospitals, safety net, ACA
State Withdraws Request For Review of Labor Case Dating Back to Rowland Administration
Attorney General George Jepsen on Monday notified Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and former Gov. John G. Rowland that he had withdrawn a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the unanimous decision of an appeals court in favor of Connecticut’s labor unions.
While state has the ability at any point to decide to refile the petition, Jepsen said he thought withdrawing it now and beginning negotiations with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition will put the state in the best bargaining position to negotiate a settlement.
Earlier this year, an appeals court found that the state, under Rowland’s leadership, was wrong to lay off about 2,800 employees. The damages in the case and exposure to the state could climb into the tens of millions of dollars, but since negotiations haven’t started neither side wants to throw out a number.
Jepsen, a former labor attorney who ran on a ticket against Rowland in 2002, said he tries to “strip away the politics” and think about a case as if he was in private practice trying to get the best outcome for his client.
“This is the time of maximum leverage,” Jepsen said.
If the petition for review was denied three or four months from now, the state would be sitting across the negotiating table from an “emboldened adversary who’s holding most of the cards,” Jepsen said Monday at a press conference.
David Golub, the Stamford attorney who is representing the union coalition, sent a letter to Jepsen on Dec. 2 to tell him “that it is unlikely that the Supreme Court will decide to hear the case or reverse the Second Circuit.”
The U.S. Supreme Court received more than 7,000 petitions during the 2011-12 term and issued 64 signed opinions. Jepsen said the chances that the court would decide to review the case are slim considering the Second Circuit decision was unanimous and the circumstances of the underlying complaint were unique.
A three-judge panel found that it was wrong for Rowland and his budget chief, Marc Ryan, to lay off more than 2,800 state employees because they belonged to a union. Rowland and Ryan are being held personally liable for their decision.
“Defendants have not shown why the state’s fiscal health required firing only union members, rather than implementing membership-neutral layoffs,” Judge Gerard Lynch wrote for the panel in June.
In a statement, Rowland and Ryan, expressed disappointment in Jepsen’s decision to withdraw the petition and weren’t confident a settlement could be reached before the Supreme Court makes a decision to hear the case.
“We are mystified about why the state would now relent on this case at this critical juncture,” the statement reads.
Rowland and Ryan also have filed a petition with the court to review the appeals court decision. They maintain that if the Second Circuit decision stands, it “fundamentally hobbles public sector chief executives at all levels during the collective bargaining process. It will turn the collective bargaining process on its head and so favor unions in negotiations that public sector finances will be critically undermined in the future.”
Attorney Daniel Klau, who represents Rowland and Ryan, declined comment.
In his Dec. 2 letter, Golub maintained that the circumstances and facts were unique to the Rowland administration.
“The plaintiff unions did not challenge the constitutionality of the layoffs in either 2011 or 1991,” Golub wrote. “As you know, the case was decided by the Second Circuit on the basis of a highly-particularized stipulation of facts entered into for tactical reasons by the prior administration and prior counsel.”
Malloy applauded Jepsen’s decision to withdraw the request for review.
“By agreeing to withdraw the appeal for now and pursue negotiations while preserving the right to appeal to the Supreme Court at a later date, the Attorney General is putting Connecticut in a position to get the best possible resolution for Connecticut taxpayers,” Malloy said.
Jepsen said the state has made no request to Rowland to withdraw his petition for review of the decision. Rowland’s request for the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision is based more on his individual liability, Jepsen said.
At a Monday press conference, Jepsen, who served as head of the Democratic Party for one year during Rowland’s tenure as governor, said the conversation informing Rowland of the state’s decision to withdraw was “very cordial.”
“John Rowland’s a very capable analyst,” Jepsen said, adding that what people have to understand is that if the state does not reach a negotiated settlement, there will be a hearing on damages and what’s decided at that hearing would be a final judgment. The state General Assembly would be asked to approve any settlement over $2.5 million.
During an half-hour press conference, Jepsen maintained that his decision the withdraw the complaint had nothing to do with politics or his relationship with organized labor or gubernatorial politics.
“Dan Malloy didn’t create this mess. It was one of the many messes that he inherited in this state,” Jepsen said.
Tags: george jepsen, David Golub, Daniel Klau, John Rowland, Marc Ryan, State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, Second Circuit, dh
Second Strictest Gun Laws In The Nation
Connecticut now has the second strictest gun regulations in the country following the passage of this year’s firearm regulations in response to the Sandy Hook shooting, according to a Monday report by two gun control groups.
A scorecard released Monday by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brady Campaign concluded that only California has tighter gun regulations than Connecticut. In prior years, the two groups had released separate scorecards. Last year, they ranked Connecticut fourth and fifth respectively.
But the state adopted stricter regulations this year following the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which left 20 children and six adults dead. In addition to other changes, the new law expanded the number of weapons prohibited in Connecticut and ended the sale of magazines that can carry more than 10 rounds.
Like the law itself, news of Connecticut’s new ranking was praised by some lawmakers and gun control groups and condemned by Second Amendment advocates.
Ron Pinciaro, executive director Connecticut Against Gun Violence, praised the scorecard.
“We have always ranked high on the scorecard, usually fourth or fifth, but the response to the Sandy Hook rampage resulted in one of the most comprehensive gun violence prevention reform packages in the nation,” he said. “. . . The people of Connecticut demanded change, and they got it. And it was a truly bipartisan effort.”
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said the report acknowledged a bipartisan effort by Connecticut lawmakers to pass the types of regulations that have eluded lawmakers in Washington.
“I’m proud that the Brady Campaign has recognized our state’s effort, but what is really needed is a Congress that puts partisan posturing aside in favor of the kind of gun safety laws that will make our country a safer place for everyone.”
Scott Wilson, president of the Second Amendment advocacy group Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said the lawmakers who supported the law “should be ashamed” for making law abiding citizens less safe.
“[The law] is antithetical to everything that I believe in as an American. Infringing on our rights in the name of so called ‘public safety’ is a political means to an end for too many elected officials,” Wilson said. “The criminals on the street, and the violently ill will not be affected by these laws. People bent on committing heinous acts will always find a way.”
Tags: Guns, gun control, brady campaign, ccdl, ct against gun violence, dh
Manufacturers Turn Out For Airbus
Connecticut aerospace manufacturers and suppliers packed a conference room Monday to network with Airbus, a France-based aircraft giant that spent $5 billion in the state last year and is looking to expand.
More than 80 aerospace companies met with Airbus representatives at a conference at the Sheraton Hartford Hotel at the Bradley International Airport. Most in attendance had operations in Connecticut.
David Williams, the procurement vice president for Airbus Americas, said Airbus was spending $10 billion in the U.S. in 2010 and was seeking to double that amount by 2020. That could mean a lot of new business for the aerospace industry in Connecticut.
“Clearly, Connecticut is right at the top of the list,” he said. “It’s a huge opportunity for Airbus and the Connecticut aerospace industry to be a big part of the doubling of our spending. That’s why we’re here today, to find even more supplies and technology to take part in that growth.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal the company’s growth plan has the potential to greatly benefit Connecticut’s manufacturers. He said he hoped to see Airbus double its business in the state to the tune of $10 billion.
“It’s an enormously successful and important company for the whole world but particularly for Connecticut because we have a growing and vibrant aerospace industry here,” Blumenthal said.
Kevin Flanagan, of Glastonbury-based Flanagan Industries, said the conference with Airbus representatives gave his company an opportunity to grow his business beyond jet engine work.
“We’ve been doing work with the Pratt & Whitneys and GEs of the world. This will allow us to hopefully get on board with the Airbus and the Boeings,” he said.
Despite icy road conditions Monday morning, the Airbus conference was well attended. Anne Evans, Connecticut district director for the U.S. Commerce Department, said the conference was at its room capacity.
“It sold out in days. It was amazing. This is what Connecticut companies need and wanted right now,” she said.
Airbus’ planned expansion also comes as the state’s defense manufacturing industry is bracing for possible cuts to federal defense spending. Blumenthal said he believes that key military programs for Connecticut, like submarine construction and the F-35 fighter jet program, will be preserved.
“But some of the other defense contracting may be reduced,” Blumenthal said. “There’s no question that the commercial market will be more important than ever for many of our aerospace partners.”
Williams said Airbus has eight years of guaranteed orders and Connecticut is well positioned to continue supporting the company. However, he said Connecticut’s potential share of the planned expansion remains to be seen. Currently, only Ohio outpaces the state with regard to the amount of work its businesses do for Airbus.
“But it is a competitive environment. It’s a growth industry, so people all around the world look at the opportunity and I think everybody wants a piece of the pie,” Williams said.
Blumenthal agreed, saying the company had a global presence and can do business where ever it chooses.
“That’s a great advantage for Connecticut because we produce the best,” he said. “If the competition is global, we’ll be neck and neck . . . Not every contract, not everywhere, but I think a level playing field is good for Connecticut.”
Asked if he wanted to second Blumenthal’s assertion that Connecticut produces the best products, Williams pointed to the business Airbus already does with companies in the state.
“We spend $5 billion here,” he said. “That’s a stronger statement than any words.”
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Can Government Help Create Jobs?
The headline of this story was the question posed to a group of panelists Monday at the “CT at Work” conference sponsored by the Connecticut Humanities Council at Wesleyan University.
Increasing the minimum wage to giving tax credits to companies in order to get them to stay in Connecticut were just a few of the controversial topics discussed by U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, Deputy Economic Development Director Kip Bergstrom, and Dan Haar, a business columnist at the Hartford Courant. The conversation was moderated by John Dankosky, host of WNPR’s “Where We Live.” (Listen to the panel discussion here).
One of the recent policies the group discussed was the decision by the state to give nearly $115 million to Bridgewater Associates, one of the largest hedge funds in the world, to move its headquarters from Westport to Stamford.
Deals like this are only offered by the state if there’s evidence the company is looking to move out of the state, Haar said. If the hedge fund left, they would take with them something like 1,200 workers who easily average six figures a year in income, he said.
“That’s an enormous risk to lose at a bargain rate of only $115 million, considering this company spins off maybe three times that per year in taxes for the state of Connecticut,” Haar said. And while there is no information about exactly how much the employees and the company contribute to the state in taxes, Haar estimated it was far greater than $115 million.
Simmons disagreed with Haar’s assessment. He called is a “lousy” deal for Connecticut’s taxpayers.
“It’s a bribe. It’s crony capitalism,” Simmons said, adding that there are dozens of other hedge funds in Fairfield County and he doesn’t understand how the state goes about picking one over the other.
Bergstrom, who served as economic development director under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy when he was mayor of Stamford, said the state in the last two years has created 12,000 jobs and retained more than 30,000 jobs through a variety of incentive programs like the “First Five” program used to retain Bridgewater Associates.
Another one of those economic development programs is the Small Business Express program, which gives grants and low-interest loans to small businesses with 100 or fewer employees. The companies don’t have to promise to create jobs, but many have, according to the Economic Development department.
Haar said if those small companies are not exporting goods and services from Connecticut, then the state is simply moving money around.
“It’s not that it’s a bad investment. It’s that it’s not an economic investment,” Haar said.
Bergstrom, who was filling in for Malloy, agreed with Haar.
“I would generally agree with that,” Bergstrom said. “It’s the economic base theory of economic development. You invest in the economic base and not in the local businesses that feed off of it.”
However, this is a unique time in the economy and folks who in the past would be given loans by banks weren’t able to get their hands on working capital, Bergstrom added.
“I look at it as a counter-cyclical program that keeps Main Street open, so that it’s still there when the economy recovers,” Bergstrom said.
There also was the issue of the minimum wage. Last week, fast food workers across the country protested the amount of money they’re paid for doing their job. They said it should be closer to $15 to $19 an hour.
Haar said that if the minimum wage was indexed, then it would be around $10 an hour. At the federal level it’s $7.50 and in Connecticut it’s currently $8.25, but after legislative action this year the minimum wage is scheduled to increase over the next two years to $9 an hour.
“Obviously, the economy can not sustain $15 an hour in fast food,” Haar said.
He said it’s not a matter of simply adding 50 cents to the cost of a sandwich to increase wages. The problem is much larger. “Work has been so devalued verses capital and ideas that people can’t get by working full-time and that’s not okay,” Haar said.
Courtney said President Barack Obama, who proposed a $9 an hour minimum wage, is now supporting a $10 minimum wage. He said there’s a bill in the House that would take it up to $10.10 over a three year period, and then index it going forward.
“If you’re working 40 hours a week at a wage level that still says you have to get food stamps to put food on the table and you are still below the poverty line, there’s something amiss,” Courtney said.
He said that even though economists continue to argue about the benefits of the minimum wage, he believes the public will force lawmakers to take action to increase it. Maybe not this year, but in the next few years, Courtney said.
So what does all of this have to do with humanities?
Stuart Parnes, executive director of the Connecticut Humanities Council, said the day-long conference is just the first of many events the group is planning over the next year with the theme “CT at Work.”
He said work is a humanities theme, but it’s also an important theme in Connecticut right now.
“Part of our agenda was to help people recognize that the humanities are relevant. That it’s not an irrelevant, intellectual exercise, but that this is real in our lives,” Parnes said. “The whole work crisis is a huge deal in Connecticut right now, so we wanted to focus on it.”
As part of the initiative, the group brought “The Way We Work”, a Smithsonian exhibition, to the state. The exhibition draws upon the National Archives’ rich photographic collections documenting 130 years of changing work life in America. It opens this week at the New Haven Free Public Library and heads to Torrington’s Warner Theater on January 25.
For more information about the “CT at Work” initiative and events related to it, visit: cthumanities.org/ctatwork.
Tags: CT at Work, Connecticut Humanities Council, Kip Bergstrom, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, Dan Haar, John Dankosky, WNPR, dh
OP-ED | ALEC’s Behind-the-Scenes Influence Peddling Should Be Getting More Attention From The Press
It’s also amazing how the U.K.’s The Guardian is covering this changed behavior — and its potential consequences for every American — without much competition from U.S.-based media. It seems that reporters in Washington in particular can’t be bothered.
Over the past several decades, one of the country’s most influential political organizations — the 40-year-old American Legislative Exchange Council — was able to operate largely under the radar. Never heard of it? That’s by design. Founded in 1973 by conservative political operatives, ALEC has been successful in shaping public policy to benefit its corporate patrons in part because few people — including reporters — knew anything about the organization, much less how it went about getting virtually identical laws passed in a multitude of states.
—Read Wendall Potter’s original work for the Center for Public Integrity here
That began to change two years ago when an insider leaked thousands of pages of documents — including more than 800 “model” bills and resolutions, showing just how close ALEC is with big corporate interests and revealing how it goes about getting laws passed to enhance the profits of its sponsors, usually at the expense of consumers.
The Center for Media and Democracy, a nonprofit corporate watchdog organization, sifted through the documents and posted them on a dedicated website, ALECexposed.org. Those bills and resolutions, drafted by or in collaboration with industry lobbyists and lawyers, “reveal the corporate collaboration reshaping our democracy, state by state,” CMD says on the website.
I reviewed all of the health care legislation in the leaked documents and wrote about what I found for The Nation magazine in July 2011. It became clear from my review that health insurers felt one of the best ways to block the profit-threatening provisions of ObamaCare would be to use ALEC to disseminate bills it had helped write to friendly state legislators. It was also clear that ALEC’s staff and membership had been at work for more than a decade on a broad range of issues important to my former industry, from turning over state Medicaid programs to private insurers to letting them market highly profitable junk insurance.
While ALEC-member legislators hail from every state, the organization has been especially successful in getting bills introduced in legislatures controlled by Republicans. As The New York Times noted in an editorial in February, more than 50 of ALEC’s model bills were introduced in Virginia alone last year.
In addition to insurance companies like State Farm and UnitedHealthcare, ALEC’s corporate membership has included big names ranging from ExxonMobil and Wells Fargo to Johnson & Johnson and Kraft. And it has worked closely with groups like the National Rifle Association as well.
It is the organization’s association with the NRA, in fact, that has led to dozens of corporations severing their ties with ALEC, as The Guardian reported.
Soon after the NRA succeeded in pushing a stand-your-ground bill through the Florida legislature — which George Zimmerman used in his defense in the Trayvon Martin case — ALEC adopted it as a model for other states. The group took that action after a 2005 NRA presentation to ALEC’s Criminal Justice Task Force. As The Center for Media and Democracy reported, the corporate co-chair of that task force at the time was Walmart, the country’s largest seller of rifles. Since then, more than two dozen states have passed laws identical or similar to the ALEC/NRA stand-your-ground model legislation.
News coverage of ALEC’s role in getting the controversial law enacted from coast to coast — coupled with CMD-led disclosures about the organization over the past two years — has caused many of ALEC’s longtime corporate members to abandon it, according to The Guardian.
Documents obtained by the British newspaper indicate that since 2011, ALEC has lost more than 60 corporate members, a hit so severe that during the first six months of this year it has “suffered a hole in its budget of more than a third of its projected income.” It has also lost nearly 400 state legislative members during the same time frame.
The organization has launched what it refers to as the “Prodigal Son Project” to woo back companies like Amazon, Coca-Cola, GE, Kraft and McDonald’s that have dropped their membership. Another “prodigal son” ALEC hopes to welcome back: that big retailer and rifle seller, Walmart. The loss of Walmart alone undoubtedly was a major contributor to the budget shortfall, considering the size of the company.
Meanwhile, just blocks from Capitol Hill where many Washington reporters spend their days, ALEC last week held its annual “policy summit,” but very few of those reporters felt the summit was worth their time, despite the fact that Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., were on the agenda. And despite the fact that even with fewer resources, ALEC is still hugely influential in shaping public policy. As Nancy MacLean, professor of history and public policy at Duke University, noted in a May column for North Carolina Policy Watch, “What ALEC and the companies that provide it with millions in operating funds seek is, in effect, a slow-motion corporate takeover of our democracy.”
That might be a story worth covering.
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.
Tags: Business, Conservatism in the United States, Law, Politics of the United States, National Rifle Association, Corporations law, Standard & Poor's, Corporation, American Legislative Exchange Council, Walmart, Center for Media and Democracy, dh
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Newtown Foundation Heading to D.C. to Remember Victims of Gun Violence From All Over U.S.
This week the Newtown Foundation and survivors of gun violence from across the country will gather at the National Cathedral in Washington to remember the tens of thousands of victims of gun violence.
The foundation started after 20 children and six educators perished at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown a year ago. But according to David Ackert, president of the Newtown Foundation, this week will be about the victims of gun violence from across the country.
“It’s really not about Newtown. It’s about the 30,000 deaths,” Ackert said in a phone interview.
Thirty thousand is roughly the number of people who die as a result of gun violence every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. About 60 percent of those are related to suicide, which is underreported. Slate magazine has accounted for about 11,338 of the gun deaths in the U.S. since Newtown through its unofficial tally.
Ackert said the epidemic is nationwide and that’s why the group chose the National Cathedral for Thursday’s ceremony. He said the venue gives them an opportunity to bring together people from all over the country.
“We hope to inspire a movement to make sure none of the 30,000 victims died in vain,” Ackert said.
Part of that movement has involved a trip to Washington every three months by the Newtown Action Alliance to lobby for stricter gun control measures.
“We’re committed to the long-term change that is needed,” Ackert said.
He said it’s amazing how many people you can meet who have been touched by gun violence. Empowering these people to share their stories is rewarding, Ackert said, adding that no one in the group is a professional lobbyist, and no one could have imagined themselves in the situation they are in. But he said they find the strength to tell their stories.
However, this week’s event is not an attempt to politicize the issue, Ackert said.
In addition to trying to move the remembrance ceremony away from Newtown to give the community the room it needs to heal, the foundation also is asking people to honor the victims by participating in a few acts of kindness in their own community.
Ackert and a group from Newtown will join Connecticut’s congressional delegation in Washington on Wednesday to participate in acts of kindness by lending a hand at local shelters and food banks.
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal are expected to officially launch the “Acts of Kindness” campaign today at 10 a.m. at the New Britain YMCA.
The ceremony at the National Cathedral will be held at 3:45 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 12. For those who can’t attend, the ceremony will be streamed live on the Internet.
The National Cathedral holds 1,000 people and the foundation is asking those who want to attend to reserve a seat at rally.org/vigil.
While the ticket is free, the Newtown Foundation still needs help raising money to help pay the travel expenses of the families of gun victims who want to make the trip to Washington for Thursday’s ceremony.
As of Sunday evening, the group had raised about $4,200 from 88 individuals. Its goal is $26,000. There are two buses from Newtown attending the event. There also are groups from Oakland, Calif., and Chicago planning to attend. The Newtown Action Alliance also is looking to raise money to help pay for travel expenses and meals with donations, holiday cards, and an “I Am Newtown” necklace.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who is not expected to attend the ceremony at the National Cathedral, renewed his called Sunday — in an editorial offered to all the state’s newspapers— for houses of worship to ring their bells 26 times at 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 14. He also asked people who want to participate to donate to a local charity or to volunteer their time in service to their community.
OP-ED | Honoring a Solemn Day in Our State’s History
Nearly a year ago, our state was confronted by an act of confounding evil.
For many of us, the emotions we felt that day and in the days after are still raw, as if the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School happened only a moment ago. Of course, no one feels this more than the families and friends who lost a loved one that terrible day.
There has been much conversation about how to recognize the one-year anniversary of the tragedy in Newtown. Undoubtedly, many of us will seek an outlet for the grief and loss that remains close to our hearts. We saw time and again last year the basic goodness of human character, as the people of Connecticut came together in the aftermath to help each and every one of us persevere.
We remember the mental health professionals who dedicated their days to helping people cope with the unthinkable; the first responders who for all of their training could never have been prepared for something like this to occur and yet preformed their jobs with honor; the craftsmen who worked around the clock to reopen a new school in neighboring Monroe and the countless others.
Our state’s motto during those days became “26 acts of kindness,” and in that spirit, we
came together in grief and helped forge a path forward.
It’s my belief that the best way to honor those we lost is to find again the spirit of compassion and togetherness that we felt in the days that followed the heartbreaking events at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Donate to a local charity, volunteer your time in service to your community or simply come together with friends and family and appreciate the time that we have together.
I also believe that we need a moment to grieve for all that was lost.
Last year on the one-week anniversary, I asked houses of worship and other organizations to ring their bells 26 times at 9:30 in the morning as a way to honor each life. I want to renew that call this year and ask those same institutions to toll their bells again at 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 14.
The message of these two actions is simple: a moment to come together and mourn, followed by acts of kindness to one another.
We can never fully understand and will hopefully never experience the pain that those most affected by this tragedy feel. But what we can do is always keep them in our prayers — and we can act.
A year ago, we responded with a resolve to help our fellow residents. We need that same kind of response now.
It’s my hope that, with every milestone we pass, those who lost a loved one will continue to take steps through their healing. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of them. I can imagine no way better to share in their grief than to resolve to make the world a better place than we found it.
It’s my hope the way we observe this solemn day takes us even the smallest step forward to that goal.
Dannel P. Malloy is governor of Connecticut.
Tags: Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Sandy Hook, Newtown, mourn
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Senator Murphy Optimistic About Budget Deal
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said Friday there is momentum in congressional negotiations on reaching a budget deal that could reduce sequestration cuts and provide more certainty on the nation’s tax and spending policies.
Murphy was the guest speaker at a midday gathering of the MetroHartford Alliance and the New England Council at the Society Room in Hartford. He covered a wide range of topics including ongoing budget negotiations between Republicans and Democrats in Washington.
He said he was hopeful there would be an agreement within the next two weeks.
“We’re hearing some good news. I can’t tell you that this deal is going to get to the finish line but the momentum certainly seems to be heading there,” he said.
Murphy said the agreement represents a partial repeal of automatic federal spending cuts known as sequestration and some minor revenue adjustments on federal fees to make up the difference. He said he believed the remaining spending cuts would still hurt the U.S. economy, but not as much as would leaving all the sequestration cuts in place. He said the certainty will help businesses.
“We can deal even with the pain that comes with some of these cuts as long as we know what’s coming,” he said.
Murphy said members of the Connecticut congressional delegation have been closely watching the progress of budget negotiations because of the negative impact the sequestration cuts are expected to have on the state’s defense manufacturing industry.
“That defense budget matters greatly to us . . . We fought hard for a robust program purchase for the F135, for two submarines a year . . . we’ve won substantial military contracting for this state. We are going to jealously guard those gains as we move into this budget,” he said.
The cuts scheduled for next year represent a 12-percent reduction in defense programing, he said. Murphy said that amount would mean “enormous pain” for the state.
“That is devastating not just for the workforce but for the national security of this nation. Nobody disagrees that over time, we’re going to have to scale back defense spending, but you can not at a 12 percent annual chunk,” he said.
Murphy said the agreement also would provide Americans with about a year and a half of “relative certainty” on spending and tax rates.
“The talks are very close . . . on a budget that, while fairly minimal in the changes it would make to the policies that underlie federal spending, would for the first time in a long time give this country some certainty on how we’re going to spend and tax,” he said.
The continuation of unemployment benefits loom large in those budget negotiations.
House Democrats led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have pushed to include extending emergency unemployment benefits in the budget agreement, according to reports.
Here in Connecticut as many as 22,000 unemployed residents are expected to lose their benefits at the end of the month if Congress does not approve extending the program.
On Friday, Murphy and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal were among 32 senators to sign a letter to the chamber’s leadership, urging it to take action extending the benefits.
“Unemployed workers continue to face a daunting labor market, where for every one job opening, there are approximately 3 unemployed workers,” the letter read. “That’s why it’s imperative that we pass legislation that will get Americans back to work and that we don’t let unemployment insurance terminate at the end of the year.”
Tags: chris murphy, defense, manufacturing, sequestration, congress, federal budget, metrohartford alliance, New England Council, Connecticut, dh
Judge Rejects Request To Dismiss Education Funding Lawsuit
A Superior Court Judge rejected the state’s request to dismiss an 8-year-old education funding lawsuit Thursday.
The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding sued the state in 2005, alleging that under the state Constitution students are entitled to a public education that works, and one that assures them, at minimum, an adequate education. The Connecticut Supreme Court agreed in a 4-3 decision in 2010 and sent the case back to the trial court. Motions have been filed back and forth for the past three years in anticipation of a 2014 trial.
Judge Kevin Dubay’s decision this week clears the way for a trial to begin in July.
The Attorney General’s office, which is representing the state, argued that the 2012 education reforms and 2013 changes to the Education Cost Sharing formula approved by the legislature satisfy the Supreme Court’s decision in the case. State lawyers argued that because of those legislative changes, the case should be dismissed.
In his 34-page decision, Dubay questioned whether the constitutional claims could be severed from the effects of the 2012 reforms. He concluded that the “question of the jurisdiction is intertwined with the merits of the case, and may not be severed.”
How big of an impact did those reforms have on the system? That’s a question that remains unanswered.
“There is no dispute that 2012 legislative reforms, in some respect, implicate the state’s educational system. The extent to which these reforms alter the system for the purpose of meeting constitutional standards in regard to adequacy remains in dispute,” Dubay wrote.
The state conceded that it will take time, perhaps years, to determine whether the changes the state made to the system had an impact. It argued the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding lacked standing and that the issue wasn’t ripe for discussion since it would take time for the reforms to be realized.
The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding prevailed on both claims. In a press release, it applauded Dubay’s decision calling it a “major win for children in Connecticut public schools.”
The group comprised of parents, boards of education, and municipal leaders said the opinion “sets the stage for students of Connecticut to finally get their day in court.”
A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office said they are still reviewing the decision.
“We will review the court’s decision with our client agencies and will determine the state’s course of action after appropriate review,” Jaclyn Falkowski said Thursday.
As Mayor of Stamford, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, but as soon as he was sworn into office in January 2011 he became one of the defendants. Members of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding thought Malloy’s election may help resolve the alleged underfunding of education. It didn’t.
Malloy’s budgets have increased education spending about two percent a year since he was sworn in, but the plaintiffs argue it’s still not enough.
The Education Cost Sharing formula should account for about $4 billion in annual state spending, but it’s funded at about $2 billion a year, according to Jim Finley, CEO of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.
Finley and other town officials who are members of the coalition have submitted affidavits to the court in support of the plaintiffs.
In court documents, Brian Mahoney, the chief financial officer at the state Education Department, said the legislature increased the Education Cost Sharing grant by $51.46 million in 2014 and $41.26 million in 2015. The boost in funding went to 119 towns and about 95 percent of it was directed at 30 of the lowest performing districts, called Alliance Districts, according to Mahoney.
But it’s still not enough for the plaintiffs. Finley argues the new formula still falls short.
Tags: Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, Attorney General, Kevin Dubay, Superior Court, dh
Dems to Donors: Show Me The Money
The Democratic Party has not been struggling to raise money, according to their most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission. However, that’s not going to stop them from continuing to pick your pocketbook.
“Here at the Connecticut Democratic Party, like at most political organizations, we ask for money because we need it,” Connecticut Democratic Party Executive Director Jonathan Harris
said in an email Friday. “We need the money to create the great graphics you love to share on Facebook and Twitter, to provide trainings on how to use the latest software and to engage voters.”
But unlike WNPR, which promises to stop their fundraising drive once they reach their goal, the Democratic Party isn’t going to stop.
“Can you please contribute $5 today?” Harris asks. “It won’t make the emails stop, but it will make an impact on Connecticut’s future.”
The email says, “I’m going to ask you for money today. And probably next week. Just like every other political entity who has managed to get your email address — because it’s that damn important.”
The email and the fundraising efforts are unapologetic.
CTNewsJunkie columnist Susan Bigelow wonders this week if going after “big money” is really a beneficial strategy for the party.
Let us know what you think in the comment section below.
OP-ED | What We See With Government Transparency
Making government more open and accessible is easy for politicians to say but usually hard to implement. At the same time, government transparency is often difficult to see, though its effects are plainly evident. In recent days, these truths have been as brightly displayed as holiday decorations.
The sad but necessary fruit of transparency was harvested on Wednesday this week when the audio from the 911 calls about the Sandy Hook school shooting were released to the public. Many people have not yet steeled themselves enough to listen to the recordings and maybe never will. The significance is in the public’s ability to hear the audio rather than in the need to actually listen to them.
In the case of the Sandy Hook 911 tapes, there is a strong case to be made that the availability of the information was more necessary than actually listening to them. But in the case of the salary increases at the Board of Regents for Higher Education, access to the numbers was only half the battle.
After last year’s “mistaken raises” debacle at the Board of Regents, in which 21 people received big pay hikes without the approval of the board, transparency advocates were alarmed that a CT Mirror request for a list of employees receiving pay raises was initially denied.
Disclosure of salaries is routine in the other branches of state government and local governments in Connecticut are slowly adopting the practice. The assertion that salaries were not public information boded poorly.
But the details revealed the challenges of implementing transparency — the data often reveals more than just names and numbers. It turns out that the raises are partly awarded based on evaluations and there was some concern about revealing the results because it would not be difficult to identify both the highly rated employees and those that fared poorly on evaluations.
Aside from the fact that a student, for example, would benefit from choosing classes with good professors instead of bad ones, the situation does raise important questions about the line between personnel data that should remain confidential and the public’s right to know how tax dollars are being spent.
Ultimately the need for transparency won out when Board of Regents President Gregory Gray signaled intent to release the raise amounts at the end of December.
Another blow for transparency was struck when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed Executive Order No. 38, creating a searchable database of state aid to businesses. Comptroller Kevin Lembo had offered the proposal during the 2013 legislative session, but the Senate failed to vote on the bill before the clock struck midnight back in June.
Although the move seems likely to create another transparency database under the auspices of the Department of Economic and Community Development rather than integrating such information into the already existing Transparency.CT.gov website (one wonders if we will soon need a database of transparency databases), it remains nonetheless a victory for those who would like to know how state government spends tax dollars.
The work of improving government transparency continues not just at the state level but also at the local level. In the coming weeks, the Yankee Institute will release a study of the local government websites for each of the 169 cities and towns in Connecticut. The “transparency audit” evaluates the extent to which local governments make information available on their websites based on a 40 item, 100-point grading system. An initial review of every website was conducted in July 2013 and the results shared with local elected officials in August. A follow-up evaluation was completed recently to measure improvement since the initial evaluation.
The results are mostly encouraging. The vast majority of municipalities do a decent job of posting contact information for local elected officials and administrators, meeting calendars, minutes, agendas, budget information, tax information, and other key data. There remains a great deal of improvement to be made, but there is cause to be pleased.
Reducing the information asymmetry between government officials and citizens has been a problem since antiquity, but modern tools of communication offer the promise of reducing this imbalance more than at any other time in history. The task is often challenging but well worth the effort.
Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com
Tags: Board of Regents, Sandy Hook, 911 calls, transparency, payroll, salary, heath w. fahle, dh
Judge Rules In Favor of Keeping Docs In Network
A federal judge ruled in favor Thursday of the Fairfield County Medical Association and the Hartford County Medical Association when he ordered UnitedHealthcare to stop terminating contracts with doctors in its Medicare Advantage network.
U.S. District Court Judge Stefan Underhill granted the temporary injunction against the insurance carrier after finding the two medical associations demonstrated “that they will suffer harm that is imminent and cannot be adequately compensated through damages.”
He said the reputation of the doctor and the physician-patient relationship would be jeopardized if UnitedHealthcare proceeds with these termination notices. The termination notices, according to court documents, went out to approximately 2,200 doctors in Connecticut shortly after open enrollment in the program began.
The two medical associations asked the court for an injunction on Nov. 6 after they were unable to get answers about how many doctors were terminated and how many patients would be impacted. They held a press conference Thursday in Hartford to bring more attention to damage being done to physician-patient relationships as they waited for Underhill’s decision.
“We still don’t know if doctors are in or out,” Dr. Robin Oshman, president of the Fairfield County Medical Association, said Thursday. “The entire Yale medical group has been dropped from the plan. Dialysis patients are being told to go to Long Island. They can’t do that; they are too sick.”
Cardiologists in Norwalk and Norwich, oncologists in Bridgeport, and the entire Yale Medical Group was removed from UnitedHealthcare’s Medicare Advantage plan, Oshman said.
She said a patient who has six months to live called the medical association in tears because she was told she will have to find a new oncology doctor.
“Several district and circuit courts have found that disruption of the physician-patient relationship can cause irreparable harm that justifies issuing preliminary injunctive relief, particularly when the patient belongs to a vulnerable class or may have a deep trust relationship with the physician because of the serious nature of the patient’s illness or medical needs,” Underhill wrote.
Underhill wrote that while UnitedHealthcare argued it was terminating the physicians without cause based on their contract, the company failed to “provide written notice of the ‘reasons for the action, including, if relevant, the standards and profiling data used to evaluate the physician and the number and mix of physicians needed by the MA organization’.”
“That did not occur here, in apparent breach of both Medicare regulations and the Physician Contract provisions regarding termination,” Underhill wrote.
During oral arguments earlier this week, Underhill said that UnitedHealthcare suggested that it routinely amends its contract without the consent of the participating physician in order to remove physicians from a particular plan. He went on to say that the evidence the insurance carrier provided to him as proof does not support its assertion.
“Although United apparently has added Connecticut physicians to a plan by amendment . . . it has not terminated Connecticut physicians in that way.” He concluded that the medical associations were “likely to prevail on their breach of contract claims.”
A spokeswoman for UnitedHealthcare said the company intends to appeal the ruling.
“We believe the court’s ruling will create unnecessary and harmful confusion and disruption to Medicare beneficiaries in Connecticut,” Jessica Pappas, a spokeswoman for UnitedHealthcare, said. “We continue to have a broad network of doctors that is designed to encourage higher quality, affordable health care coverage. We know that these changes can be concerning for some doctors and customers, and supporting our customers is our highest priority. UnitedHealthcare will continue to stay focused on the people we serve.”
Dr. Bollepalli Subbarao, president of the Hartford County Medical Association, called the ruling a “victory” for both doctors and patients.
“This indicates we are on the right track,” Subbarao said Friday. “We are the right advocates for our patients and our members as well. We know medicine.”
He said UnitedHealthcare tried to ” terminate us by essentially trying to strong arm us into thinking we don’t know what’s going on.” He said he’s glad the judge applied the law appropriately.
Attorney General George Jepsen, who asked federal regulators to step in and stop UnitedHealthcare from moving forward with the terminations, praised Underhill’s decision.
“This decision confirms my view that these terminations — unprecedented in scope — offend public policy and threaten irreparable harm to patients whose relationships with their doctors are at risk of disruption,” Jepsen said Friday.
He urged the insurance carrier not to seek an appeal.
“I urge United to abide by the court’s decision and its clear contractual obligations to all affected physicians, not just those who are members of the Fairfield and Hartford County Medical Associations. Its failure to do so will only compound the confusion United has already caused to thousands of vulnerable Connecticut patients and prospective Medicare Advantage enrollees, who deserve much greater care and respect.”
Tags: UnitedHealthcare, Stefan Underhill, Fairfield County Medical Association, Hartford County Medical Association, dh
OP-ED | Democrats Should Rethink Their Embrace of Big Money
There used to be a time when Connecticut Democrats spoke about getting the money out of politics. That doesn’t happen so much these days, as this week’s eye-popping fundraising numbers illustrate.
First, it turned out that to get a seat at a breakfast featuring Gov. Dannel P. Malloy at the Democratic Governors’ Association it would cost you anywhere from $10,000 to $250,000. Then it was revealed that the head of Northeast Utilities was, ah, “suggesting” that top managers support the re-election of the governor by contributing to the state Democratic Party.
None of what the Democrats are doing is actually against the law, of course. The NU managers dutifully sent money to the federal PAC set up by the state party, which is outside the reach of Connecticut’s more stringent campaign finance laws. It’s the sort of thing that makes most people cringe, but there’s nothing technically illegal about it.
Also, charging suckers a lot of money to sit at a table and clap when the politician on stage says something you like is a time-honored tradition, especially when it might buy you a moment’s worth of “access” to said politician or, better, his staff. It’s gaudy and ostentatious, but it’s also legal.
Connecticut Democrats were vaguely supportive of cleaner elections a long time ago, but apparently now that the cash spigot has been turned to high they’re not so interested anymore. Campaign finance rules have been gutted to allow more donations to the state party, and the governor vetoed a bill put on his desk last year that would have forced corporations and other independent groups that run ads to disclose their donors.
This continuing embrace of big money doesn’t particularly surprise me; I don’t have a lot of faith in the political system to do the right thing these days. I am disappointed, though. I used to be a big believer in campaign finance reform, and its power to change politics. When I was young I went door-to-door for a third-party candidate, talking up the rightness of reforming donations and public campaign financing. This was the Rowland era, so it made a lot of sense, but the Democrats buried my candidate in money and people forgot about reform until Rowland messed up so spectacularly that something had to be done. After he was chased from office they finally reformed the laws and everything was much better.
At least, I used to think that was true. But if huge sums of money are flowing both legally and illegally around our restrictions, and if the heads of companies that are intimately tied to the state are encouraging subordinates to donate to the party in charge, and if the governor is taking big trips out of state for fundraisers and charging six figures for the pleasure of interacting with him, then it doesn’t really seem like the place of big money in our politics is any different.
Republicans are angry, of course, but their indignation has a hollow, phony feel to it. Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, a prospective GOP gubernatorial candidate, shared his indignation in an email to supporters . . . right before he asked them for money. There’s a difference of degree: $10,000 a plate isn’t the same as an email asking for $35. That still may not have been the best choice of fundraising pitches.
In any case, Republicans are stuck with abysmally low fundraising numbers as the state party continues to founder. All of that makes me wonder just what the state Democratic Party is raising all this cash for, especially since Tom Foley is apparently going to use the public financing system this time.
They may be coming around to the idea that the economy is still going to be lousy in 2014, voters are still going to be grouchy, and that whoever Malloy runs against will have a shot at winning if they aren’t some sort of horrible monster, and so the Democrats are going to try throwing a lot of money at the race and hope for the best. I actually think they don’t need to do that. They can do just as well with smart politics, outreach to disaffected party activists, and hard work, rather than an avalanche of suspicious money.
Meanwhile, Democrats should step back and realize just how far they’ve fallen. “Yes, but it’s perfectly legal” is a lousy excuse. The party should give back the Northeast Utilities money, and then think about really reforming campaign finance and adding to the law’s safeguards instead of continuing to erode them.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
Tags: campaign finance, campaign finance reform, Election 2014, Malloy, Northeast Utilities, Susan Bigelow, dh
OP-ED | Christie-Cuomo Envy: Why Malloy’s Approvals Stink
It must keep Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his political advisers up nights. Why is Connecticut’s governor plagued with low approval ratings while those of his more famous regional rivals are edging toward the roof?
A recently released Quinnipiac University poll is a case in point. It shows New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo with 62-25 percent approval ratings, up from 53-30 in June and less than a year away from a presumed re-election bid. Cuomo is a Democrat in a blue state, so you would expect him to have his head well above water. But his numbers are remarkably high in just about every demographic imaginable.
In a hypothetical 2014 re-election match-up against a likely opponent, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, Cuomo is a landslide favorite at 56-25 percent. Cuomo has a commanding lead in every region of the state, including the GOP-leaning upstate at 53-37. And he does surprisingly well even with Republicans statewide, 40 percent of whom say he deserves to be re-elected.
Cuomo’s numbers are particularly surprising when you consider that President Obama’s approvals in the state of New York are only 47-49. Upstate, Obama’s numbers are abysmal at 38-57. But Cuomo continues to soar.
On New York’s southeastern border, Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a regional rival of Malloy’s, just coasted to an easy 60-38 percent re-election victory over state Sen. Barbara Buono. Christie’s big win was expected, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.
As I’ve reported before, Democrats outnumber Republicans in New Jersey by a ratio of almost 2-1 — and the margin is growing — but Christie garnered the support of 32 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of those who identify as liberals, according to exit polls. And Christie carried an astonishing two-thirds of those who aren’t enrolled in either major party.
Meanwhile back in the Nutmeg State, Democrat Malloy limps along with his party in control of both houses of the General Assembly, all the big cities, all of the state’s constitutional offices, and all seven congressional delegates. A June QPoll had him at 47-47. While Malloy’s approvals have been inching up this year as the economy has seen marginal improvement, they are still stuck in the below-50 range. And a QPoll from June had Malloy losing to likely Republican challenger Tom Foley, 43-40.
So why does Malloy’s 2014 re-election appear in doubt while Cuomo looks like a shoo-in and Christie coasted to victory last month? My guess is it’s a combination of substance and style.
Like Malloy, Cuomo and Christie were faced with fiscal crises that demanded decisive action not long after they were elected. Swollen state governments clearly needed to be reined in, but both Cuomo and Christie resisted calls from the usual suspects for large tax increases. And as both Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker demonstrated recently, standing firm in the face of pressure from public-sector labor unions can be both good policy and good politics.
Malloy, on the other hand, wasted little time in calling for what would be one of the largest tax increases in state history. At the same time, he extracted only modest concessions from state employee unions, causing many to feel that his policy of “shared sacrifice” had a hollow ring. While the budget recently has been brought into balance, the Office of Fiscal Analysis sees deficits between $1.1 billion and $1.4 billion over the next three fiscal years. The outlook in New York and New Jersey is better, in part because of an improving stock market.
So the giant tax increase did not solve our problems. And Connecticut has one of the worst-performing economies of all 50 states in the last two years. That might be one of the reasons Malloy made NPR’s list of the five most vulnerable governors in the nation.
Combine those stubborn facts with Malloy’s prickly personality, and his re-election prospects grow more doubtful by the day. But if Foley continues to shoot himself in the foot with baseless charges against the governor, then the weakened Democrat might stumble to victory. Malloy can only hope.
Tags: Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Chris Christie, Andrew Cuomo, Quinnipiac University poll, Tom Foley, terry cowgill, dh
Panelists Say Hunger is Spreading in Connecticut; Solution Requires Wider Perspective
A widespread paradigm shift in how hunger is acknowledged, viewed, and addressed is needed as a long-term solution to the increasing number of people who are hungry or otherwise food-insecure.
“We’re trying to move people away from the idea that emergency food is the answer,” said Lucy P. Nolan, executive director of End Hunger Connecticut! at the group’s first symposium — “Rich State, Empty Plates” — Thursday at Middlesex Community College. “We’re looking at wages and how hunger impacts health, education and the achievement gap.”
About 175 people attended the symposium, which included presentations and the chance for small-group brain-storming sessions on policy options and activities to address issues that compound hunger and that hunger exacerbates. The symposium was aimed at lawmakers and agencies that work with low-income people.
Despite Connecticut’s ranking as the second wealthiest state in the nation, the number of hungry individuals and families continues to grow. Connecticut has the fifth highest rate of child poverty in the U.S., up by 17 percent from 2008, Nolan said. And despite having one of the highest minimum wages — $8 an hour — 21.1 percent of working families are poor. Studies show that the state’s food insecurity rate — which is defined as a lack of assured access to food — is 13.4 percent.
What those who work with families in need know is that hunger impacts children’s development, education, health, and the state’s achievement gap between low and high-income students, which is the highest in the nation, Nolan said. Low-income students are less likely to graduate from high school and pursue higher education, often leaving them stuck in lower-paying jobs.
Poor nutrition among infants and young children can slow development and lead to repeated illnesses, noted Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba, research and policy director for Children’s HealthWatch. One idea being considered in some areas is having hospitals and health centers screen patients for food insecurity and have the means in-house to sign them up for benefits, she said.
Even with benefits such as food stamps, now called SNAP, families often have to make difficult choices about food purchases and sometimes fall back on cheap, fast and junk food, leading to obesity and other health problems, Nolan noted. Recent federal cuts in SNAP benefits are making it even more difficult for people to get by.
The opinions of many legislators that food banks will pick up the slack is simply unrealistic, several speakers said. “We already are serving people who are not eligible for assistance, people not using benefits and people whose benefits have run out,” said Gloria McAdam, chief executive of Foodshare. “There is no way for us to grow that big (to serve more people.) We need a paradigm shift.”
Since many people who are eligible for food assistance don’t receive it, Foodshare is using volunteers to help people apply for SNAP benefits in Hartford and Tolland Counties and enlisting community groups to help fill gaps in support. At the same time, some banks are trying to help clients become more self-sufficient. One group called Fresh Place requires clients to work with staff members on long-term solutions in order to receive food. “We have to figure out how to feed them in line, but also how do we shorten that line so they don’t come back the next week and the next,” McAdam said.
Part of the reason for food insecurity is that while national economists have declared the recession over, Connecticut’s unemployment rate remains high and many of the jobs lost during the worst of the recession have not been replaced, according to Doug Hall, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Economic Analysis and Research Network. “Connecticut never really recovered from the 2008 recession,” Hall said. The state needs to create almost 150,000 jobs to get back to its pre-recession level. At the same time wages have been declining statewide, he said.
Dissension in Congress has made it difficult to keep low-income families’ needs in the forefront, but for those working to end hunger, it is important to keep policy makers and legislators on task, said Ellen Teller, director of government affairs for the Food Research and Action Center. “You have to stay on a common message,” she urged. “You have to agree to do no harm; you can’t fund one program by cutting another.” Encourage lawmakers to visit your agencies and meet the clients, so that they can hear their stories, she added.
Nolan said that she hoped attendees felt energized by the discussions and were ready to try new approaches to combating hunger. “I think the majority of people are feeling like they can band together and do good stuff,” she said.
Tags: EndHungerCT, hunger, Foodshare, SNAP, food stamps, Children's HealthWatch, Economic Policy Institute, Food Research and Action Center, Rich State Empty Plates, Lucy Nolan, Ellen R. Delisio, dh
Enrollment In Connecticut Exchange Expected To Increase In December
It’s unclear how many residents may have been directed to the Connecticut’s health insurance exchange website from the revamped federal HealthCare.gov website, but what is clear is that enrollment in Connecticut’s exchange continues to grow.
An estimated 23,440 individuals have enrolled in a health insurance plan through Connecticut’s exchange since Oct. 1. That number is expected to increase to 60,000 before the end of the year.
According to officials at Access Health CT, some 14,365 residents enrolled with one of three private insurance carriers and 9,075 had enrolled in Medicaid through the close of business Dec. 4.
But it hasn’t been easy. Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan said its been a challenge getting people to understand the difference between Connecticut’s exchange and the beleaguered federal exchange.
He said that recently some customers have asked what happens if there continue to be problems with the federal data hub. He said they want to know if they will be forced to pay the full monthly premium without the subsidy. The advanced premium tax subsidy is expected to lower the monthly premium for individuals and families with incomes under 400 percent of the federal poverty level. The subsidy will be paid by the federal government directly to the insurance carriers.
Counihan said customers are completely “held harmless” and will only be liable for the monthly premium amount after the subsidy is applied.
“It is a liability between the federal government and the carriers,” Counihan told the Access Health CT Board of Directors on Thursday.
According to information distributed at the meeting, an estimated 9,660 of the 14,365 individuals enrolled through the exchange in plans with private carriers will receive a tax subsidy, and an estimated 4,169 will not.
About 40 percent of those enrolled are on Medicaid plans and about 60 percent are enrolled with a private insurance carrier. It continues a trend of more people signing up with private carriers than in Medicaid.
Access Health CT officials predicted that December would be its busiest month. Enrollment in the exchange runs through March 31, but in order to receive coverage by Jan. 1 residents must sign up by Dec. 23.
Of the three private insurance carriers participating, Anthem has about 62 percent of the plans, while ConnectiCare has 36 percent, and HealthyCT has 2 percent.
Peter Van Loon, Access Health CT’s Chief Operating Officer, said about 26 percent of the enrollees thus far were under the age of 35 and about 41 percent were over the age of 55.
He said he expects the number of individuals under the age of 35 will increase with all the outreach the exchange is doing.
Counihan said the number of younger people enrolled has fluctuated, but he stressed that age distribution isn’t as important as some in the national media may be making it out to be.
He said the federal government is providing “rich reinsurnace, risk adjustment programs to help ameliorate potential selection of risks . . . It’s not as if all the plans are flying without a net here.”
He cautioned Access Health CT’s board of directors Thursday to recognize that this is a multi-year enrollment effort and there are protections in place for the plans for adverse selection.
The plans offered on the exchange are divided into tiers. Fourteen percent of enrollees have chosen bronze plans, 55 percent have chosen silver plans, and 29 percent have chosen gold plans, which have higher monthly premiums but lower deductibles. About 2 percent of the enrollees have chosen catastrophic plans, which are only available to individuals under the age of 30.
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Unemployment Benefits Will Run Out At The End of The Year If Congress Fails To Act
More than 20,000 Connecticut residents are expected to lose unemployment payments at the end of the month if Congress does not pass legislation to extend federal assistance, according to the Labor Department.
The Emergency Unemployment Compensation program passed in 2008 is set to expire at the end of December. When that happens, about 1.3 million people around the country will lose benefits, according to a Thursday report by the White House and the U.S. Labor Department.
Here in Connecticut, inaction by Congress could mean that between 20,000 and 22,000 unemployed residents will claim their last benefit payment on Dec. 28, three days after Christmas.
That’s according projections from the state Labor Department. The termination of the emergency benefits won’t impact everyone on unemployment in Connecticut. The EUC program only applies to residents who have exhausted the 26 weeks of traditional unemployment insurance and have begun collecting federal benefits.
However, the program will end without being phased out. That means that even if a resident only collected a week or two of emergency benefits, payments will still be cut off at the end of the month.
“To give you a sense of the magnitude . . . a third of the people receiving [unemployment benefits] would all of the sudden receive their last check at the end of December,” said Betsey Stevenson, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers, on a conference call with reporters Thursday.
Stevenson was referring to nationwide figures. In Connecticut, the EUC program makes up more than a third of the total population receiving unemployment benefits. As of the end of November, about 69,400 people in Connecticut were collecting unemployment, and about 25,700 of those residents were doing so under the EUC program. According to the White House report, about 330,000 people have used EUC benefits in the state since 2008.
“This is obviously devastating for individual families who are trying to put food on the table,” she said.
During the Thursday conference call, Stevenson stressed the potential damage cutting off benefits to thousands could have on the economy.
“It’s actually a crucial program for our economy because when these families are cash-strapped who don’t have access to credit are forced to simply stop spending because they don’t have money, their reduction in spending hurts all of us,” she said.
The report predicts that the drop in economic activity would have consequences with regard to job creation. The White House report estimates that extending the benefits until the end of 2014 would save about 5,800 jobs in Connecticut.
The report urges Congress to extend the benefits before their holiday recess. Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, said the expiring program is a problem lawmakers in Washington need to address, “and soon.”
“Obviously it’s a concern. While the economy is improving, losing unemployment benefits is a scary proposition at any point. The Department of Labor is reaching out to everyone that is being affected to inform them of the different job placement services that are available to them,” Doba said in an email.
Tags: Congres, unemployment, unemployment benefits, dh
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Security Breach Puts Connecticut Residents At Risk
A security breach at JPMorgan Chase has potentially exposed the personal information of 14,000 Connecticut residents with prepaid debit cards issued by state agencies, according Treasurer Denise Nappier.
In a Thursday statement, Nappier said an attack on the bank’s website may have impacted as many 465,000 accounts nationwide. The accounts affected in Connecticut are prepaid debit cards the state uses rather than checks to administer payments like tax refunds, child support, and unemployment benefits, the statement said.
About 7,000 of the cards were debit cards issued by the Department of Revenue Services. The others were issued by the departments of Labor, Social Services, and Children and Families.
The information the bank says may have been exposed includes data that cardholders entered online in the process of activating the cards or moving their balances. Exposed information may include names, social security numbers, bank account information, birthdates, passwords, phone numbers, and email addresses, the statement said.
“I want to assure all citizens who have these cards that my office considers this incident a serious breakdown in security, and holds JPMorgan Chase accountable,” Nappier said. “We expect JPMorgan Chase to take immediate steps to notify affected account holders, to offer credit protection services to those impacted, and to properly safeguard all private personal information of citizens who receive payments from the state via JPMorgan Chase debit cards. Our constituents deserve nothing less.”
In a short statement, JPMorgan Chase spokesman Michael Fusco said the company has “found no evidence that the information was used improperly and we will continue to monitor. As a precaution, we will notify all affected cardholders and offer free credit monitoring.”
The attack apparently occurred between July and September. Nappier said she was “dismayed” that the bank waited more than two months to notify her office of the security breach.
“They should have picked up the phone immediately and called us. That the company failed to communicate this security breach in a timely manner raises concerns over its culture of compliance and broader governance issues,” she said.
Nappier said the company will be notifying affected customers of exactly what information may have been compromised and providing them with two years of free credit monitoring.
Nappier and Revenue Services Commissioner Kevin Sullivan said they would be scrutinizing the company’s contract and “evaluating JPMorgan’s future as a vendor.”
According to the contract JPMorgan Chase has with the state, which was expanded to include Revenue Services back in 2012, the bank is expected to contact the state within one day if fraud is detected or reported. It also is expected to issue the cardholder a new card and card number within two weeks if fraud is detected.
Tags: fraud, hacker, Chase, tax refunds, denis nappier, JPMorgan Chase, Connecticut, prepaid debit cards, Hugh McQuaid, dh
Lawmakers, Physicians & Patients Call On Insurance Carrier To Stop Dropping Docs
(Updated 3:04 p.m.) A group of doctors, patients, and lawmakers have made it their mission to stop UnitedHealthcare from dropping physicians from its Medicare Advantage network.
Their plan of attack includes a lawsuit and a public relations campaign to make sure the public is aware of what’s happening as they continue to search for the reasons behind it.
On Thursday, while they waited for a federal judge to rule on their restraining order, officials from the Fairfield County Medical Association and the Hartford County Medical Association held a Capitol press conference in Hartford with state lawmakers, patients, and doctors.
With the deadline to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan just two days away, there doesn’t seem to be any easy answers for patients like Larry Thompson.
At a Thursday press conference, Thompson said his wife has glaucoma and “what I don’t want to do is go to another doctor.”
He said his wife has been going to the same doctor for 10 years and the doctor knows what works and what doesn’t.
“We don’t want her starting over again with another physician,” Thompson said. “Continuity of care is critical . . . Will my wife go blind because of some administrative ruling by UHC? That’s wrong.”
Cardiologists in Norwalk and Norwich, oncologists in Bridgeport, and the entire Yale Medical Group was removed from UnitedHealthcare’s Medicare Advantage plan, according to Dr. Robin Oshman, president of the Fairfield County Medical Association.
Since UnitedHealthcare began dropping doctors about two months ago, Oshman said they haven’t received a straightforward answer about why UnitedHealthcare allegedly ended its relationship with an estimated 2,250 doctors from their network in Connecticut. Those doctors, according to Oshman, serve about 20,000 to 30,000 of the company’s 58,000 Connecticut patients.
Jennifer Pappas, a spokeswoman for UnitedHealthcare, said she could not confirm those numbers. She said the reconfiguration of the networks is based on geography, quality, and efficiency.
But physicians said finding out if your doctor is on the plan or off the plan isn’t as easy as calling or checking UnitedHealthcare’s website.
“If you go to the computer one week your doctor’s there, the next week they could be dropped,” Oshman said. “So it’s very confusing. It wasn’t done properly.”
The allegation by the two medical societies in the federal lawsuit is that UnitedHealthcare is dropping doctors who serve some of its sicker patients. Those patients end up costing the insurance carrier more money and may make it more difficult for it to receive a five star rating under the Affordable Care Act. The higher the rating, the more money the carrier will receive in federal reimbursements.
“Although no reason was provided for this unilateral termination, United’s motives are nonetheless clear: By terminating numerous physicians from the MA Networks, United seeks to stem financial losses occasioned by reduced federal payments under the Affordable Care Act,” the lawsuit claims.
Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, said what UnitedHealthcare was doing is wrong.
“The fact that they have not been forthcoming about the reason why doctors are being dropped makes one take the most cynical, suspicious attitude about what their motivations are,” Steinberg said. “I’ll be candid about this I believe that they are taking advantage of the Affordable Care Act and this borders on profiteering.”
He said getting rid of sicker patients undermines the Affordable Care Act, but if it works other insurance carriers may being following their lead.
Pappas said that the company is “absolutely not” making these changes to get rid of sicker patients. She said 80 percent of the Medicare population has at least one chronic condition and 60 percent have two or more chronic conditions.
“We have to be able to serve those with complex health care needs,” she said. At the end of the day “we still have one of the most robust networks in the state.”
But doctors who attended the press conference Thursday were skeptical.
“What they have done essentially is they’ve undercut doctors,” Dr. Bollepalli Subbarao, president of the Hartford County Medical Association, said. “They’ve betrayed the trust of the public and I think this has to stop.”
He said the two medical societies are in this battle for the long haul and while they might not “be as rich as UnitedHealth” they have the public behind them.
Lawmakers like Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, who also is a doctor and a member of the Hartford County Medical Association, said he’s had an hour-long conversation with senior officials from UnitedHealthcare. He said he left them with a list of questions he wanted answered and has not gotten any response back.
But he’s not alone. Attorney General George Jepsen and members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation have not received satisfactory answers to their questions, either.
“Two months into the story and nothing has really changed,” Srinivasan said. “And that is the frustrating part.”
While it’s frustrating for legislators, Oshman said there are some things they can do. They can insist on having network adequacy in the state of Connecticut. That means mandating the number of specialists and general practitioners in a given health insurance plan in each geographic part of the state to provide care to patients.
“Network adequacy should be defined by the state of Connecticut, not by CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services], Medicare, or UnitedHealthcare. We know what’s best for our patients,” Oshman said. “It’s a local issue for the state and we should make that determination.”
Other things lawmakers can do to bring transparency to the issue is to require insurance carriers to disclose what benefits are covered under the plan and if the company is giving economic incentives to physicians to give more or less care to patients. They should have the right to appeal for treatment decisions and “they should have something called continuity of care.” She said that under continuity of care, a patient can request that a doctor continue treating them until the end of the patient’s contract with an insurance carrier.
Oshman said that if they are not successful in court, they will be launching an education campaign to make sure patients know about the continuity of care clause in their plans.
Pappas said UnitedHealthcare is reaching out to its patients by letter and telephone to let them know about the changes and continuity of care.
Tags: UnitedHealthcare, Medicaid Advantage, Larry Thompson, Robin Oshman, Fairfield Medical Society, Hartford Medical Association, insurance, dh
Connecticut Drivers Are Driving Less
Connecticut commuters are driving less and utilizing public transportation more, especially in the state’s urban areas.
That’s according to a report released Wednesday by the Connecticut Public Research Institute.
“There is a shift away from driving in our cities here in Connecticut and across the country,” Sean Doyle of ConnPIRG said.
The Stamford-Bridgeport area saw a 5.5 percent decrease in vehicle-miles traveled between 2006 and 2011. Driving in New Haven and Hartford also declined by 2.6 and 1.9 percent, respectively.
Instead of commuting by private vehicle, more Connecticut commuters are opting for public transit. Between 2005 and 2010, transit passenger miles per person increased by 14.2 percent in New Haven, and 8.6 percent in the Bridgeport-Stamford area.
Not all of the decline in driving can be blamed on the 2008 economic recession. Research has shown that there is a weak relationship between increases in unemployment and decreases in driving, said Doyle speaking at a ConnPIRG transportation forum at University of Connecticut last month. This suggests that the decline in driving has more to do with lifestyle choices than with economic struggles.
More commuters are choosing to travel by bicycle in Hartford and New Haven especially. New Haven is ranked 10th nationwide regarding increases in bicycle commuters. The city saw an increase of 0.3 percent between 2000 and 2010, ConnPIRG found.
A new generation of drivers also is making the choice to utilize more public transit. Between 2001 and 2009, Americans between 16 and 34 years of age reduced their average driving miles by 23 percent.
“Millennials are choosing to live in urban places . . . places where they don’t have to rely on a car,” Doyle said.
With the decline in driving and the increase in public transportation, Connecticut’s aging infrastructure poses a problem for commuters. The average age of a Connecticut bridge is 53 years, even though the average lifespan of a bridge is only 50 years. The 100-year-old rail infrastructure also is in need of repair as many Connecticut commuters are well aware. In September, Metro-North, a railroad that services more than 125,000 commuters a day, suffered a power-outage that forced many commuters to find alternative routes to New York City during a 12-day period of limited service.
“Policy makers need to wake up and realize the driving boom is over. Based on these national and local trends, we should be investing in public transit and biking for the future,” Doyle said.
In order to finance the state’s infrastructure needs, the Department of Transportation is going to need more funding than what the highway trust fund can provide. The highway trust fund is financed primarily by the gas tax, but as Connecticut commuters are opting to drive less and vehicles become more fuel efficient, that source of funding is dwindling fast.
“The gas tax is no longer a sustainable source of transportation funding,” the Department of Transportation’s David Elder said at a UConn transportation forum last month.
The federal gas tax is not indexed to inflation and has had the same flat rate since 1993.
At a news conference Wednesday morning, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenaur, D-Oregon, announced his proposed bill that would raise the federal gas tax to 33.4 cents per gallon if adopted.
On WNPR’s Where We Live on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy indicated that he would support an increase to the federal gas tax in order to fund Connecticut’s transportation needs.
“Until we find a better way to finance transportation improvements than the gas tax, then you have to support an increase in the gas tax if you want to be intellectually honest about supporting increased investment in infrastructure . . . For Connecticut there is virtually nothing else that matters more to our economic salvation than improving the viaducts to New York and to Boston” Murphy said.
Tags: transportation, bicycle, cars, gas tax, ConnPIRG, Sean Doyle, Emily Boushee, dh
Lawmakers Hear Puppy Plea from Pet Industry
Representatives of the pet store industry sought Wednesday to discourage lawmakers from banning the sale of puppies from commercial breeders.
A legislative task force heard hours of public testimony on puppy mills — a term for commercial breeders where dogs are produced in high numbers and inhumane conditions. Advocates contend that many of the animals sold in pet shops were born at these commercial breeders.
Lawmakers on the task force are weighing proposals, including whether the state should prohibit the sale of cats and dogs at pet shops to prevent animals raised in those conditions from being sold in the state.
During the several-hour hearing, the panel heard from people on both sides of the issue, but representatives of the pet industry told the group they believe the problem is largely the result of a number of bad actors who are not regulated by the federal government.
Michael Stolkey, director of corporate sales for the Hunte Corporation, said his Missouri-based company has been the victim of “outright smear campaigns.” Hunte buys puppies from breeders and distributes them to pet stores around the country.
Stolkey said his company is a leader in pet care education and only works with breeders who have been licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“I think every puppy that’s sold, from any place, including shelters, should be coming from a U.S.D.A.-licensed professional breeder. The holes in the system right now are because that is not necessarily the case,” he said.
Stolkey said licensed breeders are open to inspection “and they welcome that inspection because they are professional and they want to do the right thing for the dogs.”
However, others at the hearing questioned whether a license from the U.S.D.A. actually indicates a high-quality environment for puppies.
“I read all the time that we don’t have enough inspectors for nuclear plants. How many inspectors do you think are out there in the field finding these violations?” asked Kenneth Bernhard, a lawyer and former state representative.
Bernhard said many dogs are raised in “horrific conditions” and most breeding facilities are either not inspected or are inspected so rarely by the federal government “that it doesn’t matter.”
“There’s no sanctuary in the definition of a U.S.D.A. sanctioned facility because the standards are so minimal it doesn’t give me any comfort,” he said.
The panel is expected to make recommendations to the General Assembly to inform legislation to be drafted next year on the sale of dogs and cats. The task force was a compromise for several lawmakers who sought legislation this year to prohibit selling pets in the state unless the pets came from family-owned breeders, animal rescue operations, or shelters.
Rep. Brenda Kupchick, a Fairfield Republican who co-chairs the group, said she believed pet stores mobilized their staffs to testify against the ban at the hearing. Kupchick favors limiting pet stores so they can only sell “humanly-sourced” dogs. She said she has emails from residents around Connecticut who overwhelmingly favor the ban.
Dogs from puppy mills are “treated worse than livestock and these are dogs. Dogs require human attention, they thrive on being around humans,” she said. “To lock them in a cage all day long, no human interaction day after day . . . it’s abuse.”
According to the Legislative Research Office, the U.S. Department of Agriculture received 129 complaints about Connecticut pet shops between January 2010 and July 2013. Thirty-seven of the complaints were pertaining to sick or defective animals, the report found.
Nationwide, at least 28 municipalities have enacted prohibitions on pet sales, according to the legislative research. In July, advocates in the town of Branford tried unsuccessfully to pass such a ban.
Although Kupchik and other supporters want to limit where pet stores can buy their puppies, some lawmakers have opposed the ban. On Wednesday, Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, told the panel he thought the pet industry had been demonized on the issue and, as a result, some business owners in the state are concerned.
“In my district we just experienced Black Friday and these pet stores are being picketed constantly and I think that some of the information that’s out there is just not accurate,” he said. “They’re good neighbors. I think we can all work in unison and come up with an appropriate solution for the state of Connecticut.”
Tags: puppy mills, pet stores, puppies, dh
Compensation Deal Reached For Sandy Hook First Responders
First responders and state employees impacted by trauma during the response to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School will receive 40 hours of compensatory time under a deal reached by the state and six state employee unions.
The comp time benefit is intended to recognize the extraordinary nature of the tragedy and that many of these individuals took sick and vacation time to deal with personal matters related to the incident.
The money for the benefits will come from a privately-funded foundation set up by the legislature earlier this year.
It’s unknown at the moment how many employees will receive the benefit, but the 40 hours must be used by the qualifying employee within a year. It will be up to the respective state agencies to offer up the names of the employees involved in the response by Dec. 31. If an employee from one of the six unions feels they should have been included they can attempt to get their name on a list, but the final decision would be made by the Office of Labor Relations. The benefits also will be extended to similarly impacted, non-represented employees.
“The men and women directly involved in the response to this horrible tragedy in many cases needed time to recover from the severe nature of what they experienced through simply doing their jobs,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a statement. “This is only one step, but it is important that we recognize the professionals who are there during unimaginable moments of difficulty, and that we continue to support them.”
The announcement of the benefits from Malloy’s office included statements from the heads of all six labor unions and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman.
Sgt. Andrew Matthews, president of the Connecticut State Police Union, thanked Malloy for his work following the tragedy.
“There is no question that everyone’s life changed that day and every state employee who witnessed the tragedy firsthand was in need of the Malloy administration’s support to cope with the consequences of the horrific scene that may never be erased from their minds,” Matthews said. “State troopers, both on and off-duty, ran towards the face of evil and witnessed one of the most violent events our country has ever seen. As a result, some continue to suffer from the effects.”
The General Assembly will have an opportunity to vote on the deal when it returns in February. If it does nothing, the plan will go into effect within 30 days.
Tags: first responder, Newtown, Sandy Hook, state employees, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Andrew Matthews, dh
Sandy Hook 911 Recordings Released
Recordings of 911 calls from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting show town dispatchers calmly responding to a janitor, a teacher, and others and assuring them help was on its way.
The operators urge the people inside the school to take cover as they reach out to town officials and state police for help. The operators also ask about the welfare of the children.
A gunman shot his way into the school on the morning of Dec. 14 and killed 20 children and six educators with a semi-automatic rifle. He committed suicide as police arrived.
The calls to Newtown police were posted Wednesday on a town website. A court ordered the release of the tapes last week, despite the objections of prosecutors, after a legal challenge by The Associated Press.
The Associated Press waged a year-long battle to get the 911 recordings released. The release of the recordings comes after a state prosecutor’s report that closed the case last week. That report included a timeline of events, which showed the first police officer arrived at the school within four minutes of the first 911 call, and officers entered the school about six minutes later. The 20-year-old shooter, Adam Lanza, shot and killed himself within one minute of the first police officer arriving at the scene.
Click here to listen to the audio uploaded by the New Haven Register.
Click here to continue reading the New Haven Register and Associated Press report.
Astronaut, Esty Encourage A STEM Education
Being in space is like swimming in a pool, Astronaut Randolph Bresnik told a group of Farmington High School students Monday, drawing some laughter.
Bresnik was showing video of what it is like to eat, drink, and float around the International Space Station.
“You chuckle, but it is that much fun,” Bresnik said. “It was physically joyful just to be free to do the things that you’ve always envisioned or that you’ve seen someone do in a movie. The closest thing to it is swimming in a pool.”
Bresnik, who spent 12 days in space in 2009, was speaking to Farmington High students with U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty. The two are trying to get more students excited about science, technology, engineering, and math — often referred to as the STEM subjects.
Bresnik admitted that he was not particularly excited about his science classes as a young person, but he assured students that with STEM education and some hard work, they too could one day find themselves in space.
“These are just ordinary people who happen to be able to work hard in school and become pillars of whatever it was they chose to do, and got selected to do this particular job,” Bresnik said gesturing to a photo of his fellow astronauts.
But sending men and women to space is not a small task. In the past few years, government funding has been drastically reduced and commercial space flight has begun to fill in the blanks.
President Barack Obama’s administration and NASA are moving forward quickly with plans to get the government out of the low-earth-orbit business. As a result, budgets have been cut. The shuttle program has been shelved and in 2011 Obama canceled the $9 billion Constellation program that was supposed to succeed the shuttle.
Bresnik told students that NASA is suffering as a result of those decisions. Only 0.4 percent of the national budget is allocated to NASA. This is about $58 per American per year, or as Bresnik put it, about one tank of gas per year. This lack of NASA funding has led to the U.S. no longer being a leader in space, said Bresnik.
“Now our only to ride to space is the Russian Soviet vehicle and we’re paying our Russian friends $65 million per astronaut to go up there for six month missions. If we’re going to consider ourselves a leader . . . it would be much better if we had our own capability.”
He also emphasized the many practical applications of NASA’s science and research. On his mission, about 85 percent of the water they used was reclaimed through filtration. Bresnik says this technology can be applied here on Earth in regions suffering from water scarcity.
NASA also is working hard to answer some important questions about the future of the human species.
“How do we exist when Earth suddenly becomes a place not habitable for us anymore?” he asked. “. . . Are we spending all our money on the problems of today or are we actually looking out toward the future and putting something in the bank and investing in . . . what will help us survive as a country?”
Those are just a few of the difficult questions Bresnik and NASA are trying to answer.
In order to make sure the next generation of students are ready to answer those questions Esty, a member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, has submitted two bills.
The first is the STEM (Supporting Teachers and Enhancing Manufacturing) Jobs Act which seeks to enhance STEM support for K-12 educators through professional development opportunities. If passed, the bill would provide some fellowship grants that would encourage educators to learn more about STEM and impart that knowledge on students.
The bill is about more than just providing grants and funding, though, Esty said, adding that she hopes that incentivizing educators to learn more about STEM courses will lead to a stronger interest in science and technology among students.
“There are exciting careers in math and science, none of which are possible unless you’ve got that basic skill set and you’re not likely to get that skill set unless you get excited about science, engineering and math,” Esty told Farmington High School students
The STEM Jobs Act also is an attempt to bridge the gap between the state’s underemployed and unemployed, and manufacturing community’s need for a skilled workforce.
“As I’ve visited manufacturers across our district, I’ve heard again and again from employers and employees about the need to boost workforce training and STEM education to ensure our young people have the skills they need to succeed in the high-tech manufacturing sector,” Esty said.
Esty’s other bill, the First STEP Act would work towards having nationally-recognized credentials for those graduating from STEM courses or apprenticeship. Having standardized credentials would help encourage a more mobile workforce, she said.
Esty says there is good bipartisan support for both bills and the hearings on the legislation will begin in January.
Tags: Randolph Bresnik, astronaut, space, Elizabeth Esty, science, STEM, Emily Boushee, dh
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Report Says $19.44 An Hour Is A Living Wage For a Single Adult
Most Connecticut job openings pay less than a “living wage,” according to an annual report by the Alliance for a Just Society, which also suggested that there are dozens of job seekers for every opening.
The report, released Tuesday by the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, defines a living wage based on the size of a household.
For instance, the alliance considers $19.44 an hour at 40 hours a week to be a living wage for a single adult. For this group, the report suggests that 49 percent of all openings are paying less than living wages. Meanwhile, $24.12 an hour is considered livable for a two-income family with two kids. In this group, the study indicated that 79 percent of all openings are paying less than living wage rates.
By these standards, Connecticut job seekers are facing stiff competition for positions paying a living wage. The report suggests that there are 25 single job seekers for every living wage opening. For households with two adults and two children, there are 61 seekers for every opening.
“Too many workers in Connecticut earn poverty-level wages that leave them without the means to provide for themselves and their families,” researchers wrote.
The report credits Connecticut with having one of the highest minimum wage rates in the country. The wage is scheduled to increase under legislation passed this year. The report suggests the state should do more to increase wages and invest in higher education support programs and initiatives to help residents pay off student loan debt.
Tags: living wage, minimum wage, jobs, dh
Committee Hears Pros & Cons of For-Profit vs. Nonprofit Hospitals
Tempers flared at the end of the this year’s legislative session over a bill that would have made it easier for a private, for-profit hospital company to purchase physician practices from a nonprofit hospital that it planned to take over.
It’s an area where the state has little experience. The only for-profit hospital in Connecticut is Sharon Hospital.
Lawmakers, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, and union officials have been wary of unknowns when it comes to for-profit hospitals and what they mean for the residents of Connecticut. The legislature’s Labor and Public Employees Committee heard Tuesday from both hospital executives and union officials about the pros and cons of converting from a nonprofit to a for-profit model.
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.
Tenet has been in negotiations with Waterbury Hospital and has been courted by Bristol Hospital, and Eastern Connecticut Health Network.
But the question lawmakers will have to answer is: Would a for-profit risk quality care in order to achieve savings for shareholders?
The answer to that may come down to who you believe: the hospital executives or the labor unions.
“In a few years or less, Connecticut’s nonprofit hospital landscape could be radically changed, with for-profit chains dominating and gobbling up hospitals and private doctor practices everywhere,” Barbara Simonetta, president of Connecticut Health Care Associates, an AFSCME affiliate, told the committee Tuesday.
She said Tenet wants to take away the nurses’ pensions. “They tell nurses constantly if they don’t give up their pension, it’s their fault when the hospital closes in two years,” Simonetta said.
She cited a long list of complaints, fines, and legal settlements over the past decade from some of the 15 other states were Tenet operates hospitals. The company paid more than $1 billion to settle fraud, overbilling, and kickback allegations over that time period. It also paid about $641 million to settle hundreds of civil lawsuits.
Trip Pilgrim, senior vice president of development for the Tenet Healthcare Corporation, said nearly all of the settlements were made prior to the installation of the current management team.
“It is a very, very different company than it was 10 to 12 years ago,” Pilgrim said.
He said the hospitals in the state looking to be acquired by Tenet have done their due diligence on the company and feel comfortable enough to move forward with a deal.
Sen. Cathy Osten, co-chairwoman of the committee, asked why a for-profit company like Tenet will do a better job with the hospitals than a nonprofit.
“Scale,” according to Pilgrim. He said Tenet is successful because it is able to leverage its purchasing power. He said it’s “tough to make it as a standalone” nonprofit.
Osten said one of her biggest concerns is the benefits employees have today and what benefits they will have in the future.
The state of Connecticut, according to Pilgrim, has lost 1,400 hospital jobs over the past 12 months. He said that some of the hospitals his company has acquired have actually increased employee pay, which in turn increased the quality of care. He said the quality of care is important because it helps hospitals retain good doctors.
Darlene Stromstad, president and CEO of Waterbury Hospital, said the proposed merger with Tenet is the best option for her community.
“Quite frankly, we continue to limp along until that point when we can’t,” Stromstad said. “I can’t change the economy of Waterbury. I can’t change the state reimbursement. We all have to live within our means.”
She said hospitals do go bankrupt and Waterbury Hospital was losing money “really rapidly.” She said they tried to buy themselves some time to “right the ship and to be able to find a partner.”
She saidstate budget cuts may be coming next year and she is unsure where she would be able to cut her budget because there’s “not a lot of fluff left in our organization.” She said Waterbury Hospital would benefit from economies of scale.
Rep. Peter Tercyak, the other co-chair of the committee, asked if economies of scale would really save that much money.
She said just a small amount of savings would allow the hospital to reinvest in new equipment. Buying something like a CAT-scan machine would cost a lot less through Tenet, which operates 77 other facilities throughout the United States.
Tags: Labor and Public Employees Committee, Cathy Osten, Peter Tercyak, Waterbury Hospital, ECHN, Bristol, Trip Pilgrim, Tenet, Vanguard, dh
Bacon and Eggs For Six For $100K?
If you or your organization donates $100,000 to the Democratic Governors Association you get six tickets and preferred seating today at the Winter Policy conference in Hartford.
For that price you get breakfast, a chance to participate in policy discussions, and access to discounted rooms at the union-run Hartford Hilton hotel.
It also means you got to attend a two-hour cocktail event Tuesday at the Wadsworth Atheneum, and will have an opportunity to speak with Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, and — last but not least — Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
That’s right, the Democratic Governors Association is in town and for the right price your company will get to bend the ear of one of the four Democratic governors attending the event.
Asked Tuesday if he and other governors would be meeting with individual attendees, Malloy said, “Yeah, something like that would not be unusual, to hear what service somebody might want to provide or a new product or an interest in relocating to a state.”
When asked if his staff would also be participating in the event, the governor said some would attend.
“Members of my staff will be there. You know, the definition of what participating is as opposed to listening is subject to definition, I suppose, but members of my staff will be there,” he said.
The DGA was unable to coordinate with the Malloy campaign, but the negative ad ran at saturation levels.
Malloy went on to become the finance chair of the DGA. As finance chair, Malloy helped raise $20 million in 2011. However, his tenure as finance chair has already concluded.
In the first six months of this year, the DGA has raised $13.4 million, putting it on pace to raise more money than it did in the past few years.
Hugh McQuaid contributed to this report.
Tags: DGA, hartford, Hilton, bacon and eggs, coffee, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Democrats, dh
Executive Order Creates Economic Assistance Database
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy took executive action Tuesday to enact a proposal by Comptroller Kevin Lembo to develop a searchable database of the state’s economic assistance programs.
This year, Lembo pushed lawmakers to pass legislation that would have required the state to allow the public to easily access data on the hundreds of millions of dollars the state spends each year on tax credits and forgivable loan programs for companies promising to create jobs in Connecticut.
Since 2011, the state has given more than $475 million in economic assistance to 1,114 companies, according to numbers provided by the administration Tuesday. That does not include tax credit assistance.
Although the House unanimously passed a version of the bill, the Senate did not take action on the proposal before the end of the legislative session. Lembo said he would continue to push the Malloy administration to use its authority to require disclosure of economic assistance data.
Malloy signed the executive order calling for the database at Salamander Designs, a Bloomfield furniture manufacturer that has received state assistance to hire six additional workers. The order requires the Economic and Community Development Department and Revenue Services Department to establish the site by March 31.
“Taxpayers have a right to know what their state is doing to promote economic development and job creation,” he said. “And they should have easy access to that information.”
Lembo called the executive order a “significant step toward open government.” He said making more information available also gives academics the opportunity to asses the economic impact of the state’s assistance programs. The comptroller said he hoped to build on the order to make more government data available to Connecticut residents.
“For government, transparency is a value in and of itself. Transparency that leads to accountability, leads to positive change, which ultimately leads to increased constituent confidence in their government,” he said.
Malloy said he had supported the legislation approved by the House and thought it was important to accomplish its goals through executive order.
“I felt that we needed to get this done and Kevin [Lembo] agreed. I’m happy that this day has arrived,” he said.
However, during the legislative session the proposal did get some pushback from Malloy’s administration. Both his budget chief, Benjamin Barnes, and his Economic and Community Development Department Commissioner Catherine Smith testified against the bill when it had a public hearing before the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee in March.
“I’ve never been against sharing appropriate information with the public. What we needed to do was build that capability and we have now built it,” he said.
Smith, who demonstrated a map containing economic assistance data, said Lembo worked with her office to ensure that the information he requested could be released under state and federal law.
“In spirit, I think we met all the needs [of Lembo’s proposal], we just fine-tuned it to make sure we had the ability statutorily to provide the information,” she said.
Like the version of the proposal that passed the House, Malloy’s executive order eliminated some of the specific information Lembo had originally called for to be disclosed in the database. The tax information made available will be general in an effort to protect the privacy of companies participating in the public assistance programs.
“The commissioner of [Revenue Services] will be required to provide the commissioner of DECD with as much detail as the law allows about how certain tax credits are claimed,” Malloy said.
Rep. Sean Williams, R-Watertown, said he was glad Malloy signed the executive order, but said it should have been done a long time ago. He said many of the recipients of economic assistance packages have attracted negative publicity.
Williams used Back9Network as an example. Last month, the golf-themed television station that had received assistance from the state apologized for publishing videos containing lewd humor on its website.
“It’s a good thing. It’s a long time coming. But there’s a reason they’re doing it,” Williams said. “. . . Right now you’re seeing sagas like the Back9Network and all of the sudden people are saying ‘How did this company get public money?’”
On Tuesday, Malloy’s office also released a report on the state’s economic assistance programs. The report concluded the programs have helped to create 11,817 jobs and to retain 30,887 jobs.
Sal Carrabba, chief executive officer of Salamander Design, said the assistance helped him create jobs and expand at a time when banks were not lending money and the company was struggling to get by.
“It really wasn’t much of a time for making investment. It really was about survival for awhile,” he said. “When we learned about the program the state was offering, it put some wind in our sails.”
Tags: economic assistance, transparency, lembo, malloy, dh
Republican Party Struggles With Fundraising In A Blue State
While the Democratic Party in the state of Connecticut has been aggressively raising money from individuals, PACs, and state contractors, the Republican Party seems to be struggling, according to its most recent fundraising report.
The Connecticut Republican Party raised about $579,000 from Jan. 1 thru Oct. 30. That’s less than half of what the Connecticut Democratic Party raised during the same period.
The Democratic Party raised about $1.2 million this year through the end of October, according to its November filing with the Federal Election Commission. The most recent fundraising numbers for its state account won’t be available for either party until Jan. 10.
“We need to be more actively engaged to combat what Gov. [Dannel] Malloy is doing,” Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney said Monday. McKinney is running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination and acknowledges that parties will have a much bigger role in the 2014 campaign than they have in the past.
McKinney alleges that the Democrat-controlled General Assembly changed the campaign fundraising rules in order to benefit Malloy’s 2014 campaign, even though Malloy has not announced that he is running for re-election.
“If you look at all the state contractors and people who do business with the state who have been hit up by the governor for fundraising, it’s embarrassing,” McKinney said.
He said he’s hearing from people who do business with the state and they’re being told exactly how much the party wants them to give and where to direct the money. However, none of those allegedly being pressured to give money have come forward.
“We need one of those to come out publicly and say it, but we know it’s happening,” McKinney said. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you he’s the first governor to do it, but putting pressure on state contractors to deliver for the governor and the party is wrong and we need to talk about it.”
As far as the Republican Party is concerned, “we need to do a better job of raising money as a party,” McKinney said.
At the end of October the Republican Party only had about $15,350 cash on hand in its federal account, which is largely responsible for funding its operations.
Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. has stopped taking a salary.
Zak Sanders, a spokesman for the Republican Party, said it’s not uncommon at this time of the year for party coffers to run low. He said Labriola, who is paid $52,000 a year to run the party, won’t be taking a salary until there’s more money in the bank and more Republicans in elected office.
Sanders said Labriola would rather spend the money on electing candidates. He dismissed the notion that Labriola decided not to take a salary because he felt bad he was unable to raise enough money for the party.
McKinney said Labriola did the right thing by giving up his salary during what seem to be lean times.
“We have an aggressive fundraising strategy going forward to 2014,” Sanders said.
He declined to offer any specifics regarding strategy, but there’s little doubt in anyone’s mind that the changes the General Assembly made this year to the campaign financing rules boosted the role of parties.
Earlier this year, the Democrat-controlled General Assembly with Malloy’s support insisted that the party had to play a more important role in the electoral process and decided to allow it to donate unlimited amounts of money to clean election candidates. Malloy was the first governor elected under the public finance system, but the system he ran under in 2010 would not have allowed candidates in 2014 to receive additional funding. Under the previous system a gubernatorial candidate could not receive more than $1.25 million for the primary and $6 million for the general election through the Citizens’ Election Program.
Now the party can spend an unlimited amount of money on any candidate participating in the Citizens’ Election Program to augment the campaign’s funding.
Up until the new law was passed, individuals were only able to give up to $5,000 to the state party, but now they can give up to $10,000. Also, state contractors are allowed to give $10,000 to the federal committee even though the same contribution is banned at the state level.
According to the past two months of federal reports, the only individual to cut the Republican Party a $10,000 check was Vince McMahon of World Wrestling Entertainment.
Tags: Republican State Central Committee, Democratic State Central Committee, public finance, fundraising, John McKinney, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, dh
Deadline To Register Your Assault Weapon is Jan. 1
Connecticut residents who own guns categorized as assault weapons under firearm regulations have until the end of the month to register the weapons with the state before risking felony charges in some cases.
The registration requirement was included in gun control regulations approved in April as part of a state response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The law expanded the number of firearms prohibited in Connecticut and banned the sale of ammunition magazines that carry more than 10 rounds.
Although the law did not require gun owners who had previously purchased the weapons and magazines to get rid of them, it did require them to register the equipment with the state. The deadline for declaring the guns and high capacity magazines is Jan. 1.
As of mid-November, the state had received about 4,100 applications for assault weapon certificates and about 2,900 declarations of large-capacity magazines.
Michael Lawlor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s criminal justice advisor, said that so far fewer people than expected have registered weapons under the new law. However, he said gun owners should take seriously the consequences of ignoring the law. Disregarding the registration requirements can carry felony charges in some cases, which can make Connecticut residents ineligible to own guns.
First-time offenders who can prove they owned the weapon before the law passed, and have otherwise followed the law, may be charged with a class A misdemeanor. In other cases, possessing one of the newly-banned guns will be considered a felony that carries with it a sentence of at least a year in prison.
“If you haven’t declared it or registered it and you get caught . . . you’ll be a felon. People who disregard the law are, among other things, jeopardizing their right to own firearms. If you’re not a law-abiding citizen, you’re not a law-abiding citizen,” Lawlor said.
Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said he believes there are a number of gun owners in the state who have yet to register their weapons. Wilson counts himself among that number, although he said he plans to declare his rifle before Jan. 1. The CCDL is a Second Amendment advocacy group opposed to the new law.
Wilson said many Connecticut gun owners were holding off on registering their weapons while a lawsuit filed by his group makes its way through the court system. The complaint challenged the constitutionality of the new law and asked a judge to bar its implementation.
“I have a hunch that there’s at least 4,000 more [unregistered weapons.]” Wilson said. “I think a lot of our members were hoping there would be injunctive relief before the year’s end.”
Although the lawsuit is still pending, the court has not ordered an injunction and CCDL is advising its members to register their weapons and magazines before the deadline.
Wilson said there is grumbling about the requirement among Connecticut gun owners. Many of them fundamentally oppose the idea of declaring the firearms to the state. He said he agrees with their position, but does not want to see anyone become a felon for not following the new law.
“We’re law-abiding citizens. CCDL is law-abiding. Until we can get this law changed, we feel it’s in our best interest to register. I understand the mindset [of those who chose not register]. It runs contrary to pretty much everything I believe in,” he said. “I’ve dragged my feet. It doesn’t feel right to me but I’m going to do it.”
Wilson said gun owners looking for help complying with the law could visit his group’s website: http://www.ccdl.us/
The new law added about 100 guns to a list of weapons specifically banned in Connecticut and broadened a “physical characteristic test” of military-style features that make it an assault weapon. The expanded definition of assault weapon includes the AR-15 style weapon the gunman in Newtown used to murder 26 people.
The law includes an exemption for military service members who move to the state after the deadline. They have 90 days to apply for a certificate to keep the gun. Everyone else who moves to the state has a 90-day period to permanently disable it, sell it to a gun dealer, or move it out of Connecticut.
For first time offenders, possession of an assault weapon will be a Class A misdemeanor if the person can prove they owned the gun before the new law passed on April 4 and has otherwise complied with the law.
In other cases it will be a class D felony, which comes with a sentence of at least a year in prison. If someone is convicted of selling or giving someone else one of the newly-categorized assault weapons, it carries a prison sentence of at least two years. The law requires an additional six years in prison if someone gives one of the weapons to a minor.
Punishments for undeclared large-capacity magazines also will vary. Anyone who bought one before the law passed but did not register it will be subject to a $90 fine on the first offense and then will face a Class D felony on subsequent offenses.
Tags: Connecticut Citizens Defense League, assault weapon, Michael Lawlor, registration, ammunition, military
Federal Judge Dismisses Challenge To New Gun Laws
On Monday, a federal judge dismissed the National Shooting Sport Foundation’s challenge to new gun laws passed in April in response to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
U.S. District Court Judge Janet C. Hall concluded Monday that the trade organization lacked standing, and did not rule on its underlying allegation that the General Assembly “misused” the emergency certification process when it passed the legislation.
The 139-page bill passed in April circumvented the normal committee process because legislative leaders declared it an emergency.
By bypassing the process, the state deprived “the citizens of Connecticut of any opportunity for their voices to be communicated to the legislators and incorporated into SB 1160,” the National Shooting Sports Foundation claimed when it filed the lawsuit in July.
However, Judge Hall said the NSSF complaint “does no more than state a ‘generally available grievance about government,’ which grievance is insufficient to support standing.”
Michael Bazinet, a spokesman for NSSF, said the organization will be reviewing the decision and weighing its options.
The NSSF lawsuit was one of at least three lawsuits filed in state or federal court challenging the legislation. The law expanded the number of firearms prohibited in Connecticut and banned the sale of ammunition magazines that carry more than 10 rounds. Attorney General George Jepsen’s office asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed.
Tags: NSSF, gun, Janet Hall, lawsuit, Newtown, Sandy Hook, dh
McKinney Endorses Greenberg, Who Doesn’t Return The Favor
Senate Republican leader John McKinney endorsed Mark Greenberg’s congressional bid Monday, but Greenberg didn’t return the favor.
McKinney is running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, but Greenberg, while complimentary of McKinney, said he will support the candidate that emerges victorious from the Republican primary. At the moment there are four other Republican candidates considering a run for governor.
Greenberg, who has run for the Republican nomination in the 5th Congressional District for the past two election cycles, said he’s trying to solidify support early to “have a full year with unity” to challenge first-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty.
At the moment Greenberg is the lone Republican challenger, but Dr. William A. Petit said in October that he was weighing a bid for the Republican nomination in the 5th. However, Petit has not filed any paperwork that would make it official.
Less than a year away from Election Day, McKinney, whose late-father Stewart McKinney served Connecticut’s 4th Congressional District, gave Greenberg his endorsement. The announcement took place on the manufacturing floor of Noujaim Tool in Waterbury, which is owned by state Rep. Selim Noujaim.
“It takes the right person running for the right reasons to fix what’s happening in Washington,” McKinney said. “And Mark has that.”
McKinney said Greenberg is the right candidate at the right time, even if he’s not returning the favor and endorsing McKinney’s campaign for higher office. Greenberg lost the 2012 Republican primary by 1,503 votes to former state Sen. Andrew Roraback of Goshen. Roraback, who was the least conservative of the four candidates, lost the General Election to Esty by about 7,461 votes.
When it comes to social issues, McKinney and Greenberg are far apart. But that didn’t bother either of them Monday.
“It’s better to have someone you agree with 80 percent of the time than someone you agree with zero percent of the time,” McKinney said. “We agree on a lot of issues.”
Greenberg concurred that agreement on every issue would be impossible. He said that he doesn’t agree with his wife 100 percent of the time.
One of the issues that divides the two Republicans may be gun control.
Newtown is part of the 5th Congressional District and is part of the district McKinney represents. Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, McKinney supported legislation that helped strengthen Connecticut’s gun regulations.
Greenberg said he doesn’t believe gun laws should be changed at the federal level.
“I’m very, very strong on the constitution as well as fiscal responsibility,” Greenberg said. “I would be very careful about changing laws on the federal level.”
In 2012, Greenberg was perhaps the most conservative of the Republican candidates running for the 5th Congressional District nomination. He won the support of Tea Party groups and he supports raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to at least 69. He would repeal what he called the “Unaffordable Care Act.”
Even though Greenberg didn’t endorse McKinney, he described him as a “strong advocate for sane government in Connecticut.” He added that “any of our gubernatorial candidates is way better than what we have now.”
Greenberg estimated that it will take about $4 million to run a successful campaign against Esty. A wealthy real estate investor, who has spent millions of dollars of his own money on his previous contests, Greenberg declined say exactly how much of his own funds he planned to dedicate to the 2014 campaign.
In 2012, Greenberg loaned his campaign about $1.4 million and came in second. He placed third in the 2010 primary with 28 percent of the vote and spent $1.37 million of his own money.
He said he already has lined up about 175 endorsements from Republican Town Committees and individual Republican state and local lawmakers. He said one of the keys to success in 2014 will be the campaign for city voters.
Tags: Mark Greenberg, John McKinney, Noujaim Tool, Waterbury, William A. Petit, 5th District, Elizabeth Esty, dh
Sedensky Won’t Appeal Order To Release 911 Tapes
State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky III will not appeal a judge’s ruling ordering the Wednesday release of the 911 calls made during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Last week, Judge Eliot Prescott denied a request by Sedensky to prevent the release of the recordings. Sedensky had asked the court to issue a stay while he appealed a decision by the Freedom of Information Commission, which called on Newtown police to release the recordings to the Associated Press.
Prescott ordered the release of the tapes but gave Sedensky until Dec. 4 to appeal the ruling. Sedensky issued a short statement Monday, saying he would not appeal the ruling.
“After consultation with the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney and the attorney for the Town of Newtown who is a party to the appeal in the Superior Court, we have decided not to pursue an appeal on the denial of the application for a stay,” he said in a statement.
The tapes will be released Wednesday afternoon by attorneys for the town of Newtown.
In his decision Tuesday, Prescott dismissed Sedensky’s legal arguments for preventing disclosure of the tapes. He said delaying their release fueled speculation and undermined public confidence in law enforcement.
Tax Amnesty Helps Boost State Budget Surplus
The success of the tax amnesty program and increases in the sales and corporation taxes have put the state on track to end the year with a $245.9 million budget surplus, state Comptroller Kevin Lembo said Monday.
In his monthly letter to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Lembo predicted that the surplus would be $110 million more than the governor’s budget office predicted in late November because of the more than $175 million the state collected through the amnesty program that ended Nov. 15.
The state had only predicted that it would collect $35 million from the tax amnesty program, which allowed individuals and businesses who owed back taxes to receive a 75-percent reduction in the interest owed as part of the program.
But it’s not the only revenue source the state underestimated when putting together the budget. Sales and corporation taxes are each up by $30 million from initial budget targets, and the real estate conveyance tax is $15.6 million above initial estimates.
“Month after month the state’s financial outlook for the current fiscal year is improving,” Lembo said. “This is a great sign for Connecticut’s economic recovery — but there are also uncertainties and future liabilities that we need to brace for.”
One of those uncertainties, according to Lembo, may be “the ongoing federal budget issues.”
Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes agreed in his Nov. 20 letter to Lembo.
“The uncertainty created in the national and state economies by the lack of long-term federal fiscal plan could affect our recovery from the recession and have a material effect on state revenues,” Barnes said.
Congress agreed to keep the federal government open until Jan. 15 after they were unable to reach an agreement and shut the government down for the first 17 days of October. A committee of lawmakers is expected to offer a more permanent budget solution by Dec. 13.
But no matter what happens in Washington, Lembo said he would like to see lawmakers put the additional money in the Rainy Day Fund.
At the end of this fiscal year there was about $270.7 million in the fund, which is about 1.6 percent of planned spending.
“I have called for a reserve level of 15 percent of spending — beyond the 10 percent statutory requirement,” Lembo said. “It is essential to the state’s long-term fiscal stability that sufficient reserves be established as soon as possible. Too often in the past, opportunities to build reserves have been missed as other perceived budget priorities were pursued.”
Lembo said if the state had heeded that advice it “would have weathered the 2009 recession far better.”
At the moment there is no plan to do anything but put the money into the Rainy Day Fund. However, achieving the 15 percent will require legislative action since it’s currently capped at 10 percent of spending.
Since 1990, the General Fund has realized almost $5 billion in revenue windfalls, but most did not go to build reserves, Lembo said.
While there’s currently a budget surplus, deficits are not that far away.
Last week, lawmakers got a look at what the future holds from budget analysts.
Both the Office of Fiscal Analysis and the Office of Policy and Management are predicting deficits in fiscal years 2016, 2017 and 2018. OFA predicted deficits between $1.1 billion and $1.4 billion over the next three fiscal years. OPM predicted smaller deficits of $612.4 million in fiscal year 2016, followed by deficits of $432.5 million in 2017 and $376.3 million in 2018.
Tags: Kevin Lembo, Rainy Day Fund, surplus, Ben Barnes, excess revenue, federal budget, November, 2013, dh
Most CT Hospitals Face Medicare Penalties For Quality Measures
More than two-thirds of Connecticut hospitals will face Medicare penalties for lagging clinical-care measures in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, with smaller hospitals including Johnson Memorial, Windham and New Milford losing the highest percentage of reimbursement.
The penalties, under a federal program known as Value-Based Purchasing, average .26 percent nationally, with Connecticut’s hospitals losing an average of .23 percent, according to federal data compiled by Kaiser Health News. None of the state’s hospitals will lose the maximum possible penalty, 1.25 percent of funding, federal data shows.
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Homelessness Increases in Connecticut, But Decreases Nationwide
In 2013, homelessness nationwide decreased by four percent. However, Connecticut has seen a seven percent increase since 2012, according to the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.
The federal Housing and Urban Development Department released the nationwide data about the decrease in homelessness last week. Connecticut’s information was reported earlier this year.
The Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness coordinates a count of the homeless in Connecticut every year in January and submits those numbers to the Federal Housing and Urban Development Department’s national Point in Time count.
The coalition found that Connecticut had 4,506 homeless individuals as of Jan. 29, 2013. This year, 37 families were without a place to live and since 2010 the number of homeless families has increased by 16 percent. The report also showed that as many as 826 unsheltered adults are living in the state. The data suggests that the state’s homeless numbers are not merely a passing trend.
Connecticut ranks seventh nationwide in the number of chronically homeless individuals. According to a national report there were 430 chronically homeless individuals in the state.
Connecticut also has a significant number of homeless youth ages 18-24. There are 341 homeless individuals in that age group. Of these youth, 39 percent had children of their own and 22 percent of homeless families are headed by a young person ages 18-24.
Although Connecticut has not shared in the nationwide decrease in homelessness, the state has seen a decrease in homeless veterans that is on track with national levels. The country has had an eight percent drop in homeless veterans over the last year, and since 2005 Connecticut has seen its homeless veteran numbers decline by 25 percent. The Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness maintain that those numbers also continued to drop throughout 2013.
However, the numbers may not be dropping quick enough to eliminate homelessness among veterans by 2015. That’s the date the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has set as a goal.
In Connecticut this year, there were 340 homeless veterans counted on a single night in January during the Point in Time Count, which the national VA uses to assess the veterans’ homeless population.
This report comes at a time when Connecticut recently awarded $18.3 million in grants and loans for affordable housing measures throughout the state. The National Coalition for the Homeless cites a lack of affordable housing and limited housing assistance programs as two contributors to homelessness.
The $18.3 million will mostly be put to use in Danbury, New London, Westport, and Hartford. Hartford accounts for as much as 17 percent of Connecticut’s homeless population.
Tags: homelessness, trends, veterans, Emily Boushee, dh
OP-ED | Sandy Hook Report Leaves Us With Only Questions
After substantial delays, the final report on the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown was released this week. It’s harrowing reading, perhaps most of all because it offers so few answers for why this tragedy happened.
There’s not a lot in the report that’s new or particularly surprising. We get a timeline. We learn that the shooter had materials related to previous mass shootings, and that he rarely talked to anyone else. We learn about the confusion and terror of those first minutes, and the response of police. We learn how some of the brave staff acted to save students, or died trying.
But it doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t let us sleep more soundly. It is, in a word, frightening.
The report is frightening precisely because there isn’t a clear motive. There’s nothing to tease out of the information here to give us any idea why this happened, or how we can stop it from happening again. There’s no patterns to match; nothing to single out. The shooter’s mental health, social isolation, and playing of violent video games, all of which have been cited as possible reasons, were determined not to have been significant. The details of his life are not extraordinary, there’s nothing in there to clearly suggest he would do what he did.
The things I keep coming back to are the guns he had and his apparent fascination with media reports of shootings. He had easy access to weapons; his mother even wanted to buy him another gun for Christmas. They found the check she’d given him for it in his room. The other thing I know is that people know the shooter’s name now. He has a sick kind of fame.
But we’re not going to ban all or even most guns. And we’re not going to stop making these individuals famous. If I’ve learned nothing else during the past year, it’s that there’s nothing in the world that can make our leaders brave enough to really try to change things, and that tragedy fades away too quickly from our minds.
I want to believe that the gun laws Connecticut passed will make it somewhat more difficult for people like the Newtown shooter to amass an arsenal, but anyone who really wants those weapons just has to go to a state where they’re legal and drive them home. Who will stop them? The gun laws here are a start, but that’s all.
One detail I missed, somehow, was that Lauren Rousseau, who died with 16 others in Classroom 8 with behavioral therapist Rachel D’Avino, was a substitute teacher. I learned that Principal Dawn Hochsprung and School Psychologist Mary Sherlach ran toward the danger. I learned that Anne Marie Murphy, a behavioral therapist in Victoria Soto’s class, died covering one of the children.
Do you know their names? Do you know the shooter’s?
So, no. There’s nothing comforting in the report. There’s no good way for us to find safety there. How can we possibly think we’re safe? Over 10,000 Americans have been killed by guns since the Newtown shootings; if we count suicides the number is much, much higher. More than 300 of those shootings are classified as mass shootings, according to a crowd-sourced online record.
There’s nothing in the report that will help make us safe. So, since changing our culture on guns and media isn’t something we’re capable or willing to do, we’re going to have to get used to not being safe.
When I was a substitute teacher, and, later, when I was a classroom teacher, I ran through scenarios in my mind. We all did. What would happen if someone came in through that door; what to do to help save the children if necessary. We got training in staying against the walls, locking the doors, turning off the lights and pretending no one was in the room.
And we lived with the reality that none of it would really help. We could train, we could be ready, we could put armed guards at the door, we could lock ourselves in, and we could pray, but none of those things can stop bullets.
So, because American society can’t and won’t change, now it’s teachers and students who must live with the constant possibility that on some cold winter day someone with a gun and motives we can’t even guess at will walk in with death in his eyes, and after it’s all over and done, the only name anyone will remember is his.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
Tags: Newtown, newtown massacre, newtown victims, gun control, Susan Bigelow, dh
OP-ED | Impatience Crowds Out Gratitude
Today is Black Friday and the stores are doubtlessly mobbed. This season a rash of stores will have opened on Thanksgiving Day proper. The holiday was late this year, giving retailers a more condensed window before Christmas. Also, once you start opening stores at midnight on Friday, moving it up four hours to 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day isn’t much of a stretch. One could argue about where the line should be. It might be a good idea to prevent stores from opening until midnight Thursday.
Yet, once the discussion becomes the line, we’ve already lost the fight.
As long as everyone is spending Thanksgiving waiting for Black Friday, we’ve already allowed the values of the latter day to overrun the values of the prior day.
Black Friday, at its core, is about impatience. Black Friday is about the rush to get the newest consumer goods, as fast as possible and as cheap as possible. We cannot wait to begin the season’s shopping frenzy. Sadly, the day of impatience follows what is supposed to be a day of gratitude and is, to some degree, overriding it.
Impatience is simply not compatible with gratitude. This is a bigger problem and one that consumes not just this particular day — or its creep into yesterday — but every day and in a very damaging way.
Of course, patience is not always a virtue. It can be a crutch to justify inaction. Yet, impatience also has its downside. The Obamacare website is a perfect example. Yes, it is terrible the website is slow. Given the amount of time the administration had to prepare for it, it is a disaster. But, the larger fear should be that because the website was initially slow, millions of American will abandon the effort to get the healthcare they need. A laudable goal will become impossible to achieve just because the public isn’t willing to wait for it. It suggests that collective impatience has made it difficult, if not impossible, to do anything collectively.
This attitude, and this problem, isn’t limited to health care. Technology has speeded up the pace of everything. If I decide I don’t like something, it is gone. If something is moving slowly, I can just give up.
We all do this far more often than we would like to admit. The public, or large segments of the public, won’t undertake complicated projects because with complicated projects come problems and with problems come delays. Collective action, rather than becoming easier in an interconnected world, becomes harder as we become less willing to tolerate any obstruction. The willingness to show up at a monthly meeting to work on improving the values we see in media, or the ability to manually gather signatures for ballot initiatives or do the kind of long work it takes to organize a union.
Our only hope is in meeting these problems, not with impatience and aggression, but with appreciation and understanding.
All of which makes it particularly pathetic that the one day we have set aside for thankfulness is being consumed by greed. Most of us live comparatively good lives here in America. We should take the time to acknowledge and enjoy that. Instead, we can’t wait to get to the mall.
As we allow Black Friday to eat into Thanksgiving, we lose not only the holiday and it’s meaning, but also a way of approaching the world and those we love. We can’t be grateful because we’re fretful. We can’t be responsive because we’re restive. We can’t be magnanimous because we’re anxious. And we’re losing a tradition that is important not only for the history but for its place in our culture.
Unlike Christmas, Thanksgiving in itself has not been about consumer preferences. And now it is. Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. It should be something other than a celebration of our impatience. Just waiting until Friday would help.
Jason Paul of West Hartford is a partner in a campaign consulting company called What’s Next. He is also a student at the University of Connecticut Law School.
Tags: thanksgiving, black friday, consumerism, greed, impatience, Jason Paul, dh
OP-ED | Why CRRA Has Been A Disaster
Most capitalists have an abiding belief that the private sector operates with greater efficiency than the government. And they’re largely correct. Government doesn’t have to worry as much about the bottom line and thus is less oriented toward fiscal prudence. Government, for example, often offers above-market compensation packages to its employees.
But if there’s one area that seems even less efficient, it’s that gray area of government — the quasi-public agencies that seem to operate with limited transparency and accountability compared to their public- or private-sector counterparts. For the most part, these entities are expected to generate revenue as a business would, but they don’t attract the kinds of entrepreneurs who can run them as efficiently as the private sector, so invariably they run into problems.
One of 11 quasi-public agencies in the state, the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority is a case in point. We’ve all heard about the massive problems associated with quasi-government federal agencies such the U.S. Postal Service, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. Those organizations made huge mistakes that would have killed off comparable private-sector companies.
But even by those low standards, CRRA is a troubled agency. Established in the early 1970s under the leadership of Gov. Tom Meskill, CRRA operated under the commendable premise that the old “town dump” model wasn’t the most environmentally friendly way to process waste and promote recycling. CRRA moved aggressively into recycling and over the years has built three trash-to-energy incinerators that produce enough electricity to power 150,000 homes. Problem is, the more recycling the authority facilitates, the less energy it produces in its profitable incinerators. In other words, CRRA is at cross purposes with itself.
But CRRA has been plagued with problems for years. In 2001, the authority made an ill-fated $220 million unsecured loan to Enron, the energy trading giant that went belly-up after a widely publicized accounting scandal. When Enron went bankrupt, CRRA raised its tipping fees to cover its losses, resulting in a protracted and costly lawsuit from 70 member towns seeking compensation for the overcharging. Six years later, the arrogant CRRA, which did eventually recover the money from Enron, was nonetheless slammed with a $35-million judgement.
And the bullying tactics didn’t stop there. A couple of years before that, CRRA had begun forcing its member towns to let it cart away recyclables from local transfer stations without paying, even if those municipalities already had deals with other paying haulers that netted the towns tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenues. This angered those towns to the point that they considered arbitration. The towns backed off but the resulting ill will no doubt set the stage for the Enron litigation.
Now we learn from the Courant’s Jon Lender that fully one third of CRRA’s employees earn six-figure annual salaries. CEO and President Tom Kirk, for example, makes $292,586 a year, almost twice what Gov. Dannel P. Malloy makes.
And the authority seems perpetually entangled in the odious lobbyist/lawyer/legislator soup that permeates the Capitol. Yes, CRRA has lobbyists. Why would CRRA hire lobbyists when government agencies don’t? Just another example of quasi-public efficiency, I guess.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten to include some of CRRA’s other missteps, but the final nail in the coffin could be that, as energy prices continue to drop, revenues from its trash-to-energy plants have plummeted, resulting in millions in losses per year, even as CRRA faces capital replacement needs that will increase its overhead by $13 million in 2015. And according to DEEP Commissioner Daniel Esty, additional losses have occurred because of “a reduced volume of solid waste as a result of the diversion of materials from the waste stream.” In other words, the increased recycling the authority was promoting reduced burnable solid waste and therefore eroded CRRA’s profits. Talk about a bad business model.
Consequently, there have been calls from lawmakers and the governor for CRRA to “reinvent itself” and find new revenue streams, or face dissolution.
I vote for dissolution or receivership. It’s difficult to see how such a dysfunctional organization could reform itself from within. If they’re looking for a new leader, I hear there are former Enron executives looking for work.
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and was an editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.
Tags: CRRA, quasi-public, thomas meskill, enron, Thomas Kirk, Terry Cowgill, dh
Task Force Takes First Steps Toward Compromise
A divided task force on public disclosure and victim privacy took a step toward compromise Wednesday with agreement on proposals allowing some police records to be inspected but not copied.
The group was created under a hastily-passed law intended to prevent the disclosure of crime scene photographs and certain audio recordings collected by police following the Sandy Hook shooting and other homicides.
However, until Wednesday the divided panel — consisting of both open government and victim advocates — had yet to tackle the core issues of public access to crime scene photographs and video and audio recordings made by law enforcement agencies.
But the group made progress during a Wednesday meeting when task force members discussed a number proposals, including one by Klarn DePalma, vice president and general manager of WFSB. DePalma suggested limiting access to crime scene pictures and videos involving victims who are minors.
The proposal would create a central location where the public could view the records, but not copy them. The recommendation included a process for reporters or other members of the public to make a case for releasing certain protected records if they believe disclosure would serve the public interest.
It also includes a punishment. Anyone who removed or photographed protected records could be charged with a crime punishable by up to a $10,000 fine and a 20-year prison sentence.
“This is truly a huge compromise for my industry — a huge compromise. Because right now the public act takes away our ability to see any crime scene photos or listen to audio,” he said.
Klarn said the appeals process to make some records public was necessary for the proposal to work in his point of view.
“If we don’t have that, the whole world of open government goes away,” he said. “I can’t serve the public and hold people accountable if I can’t . . . see what happened at a crime scene.”
The idea seemed to have some appeal among members of the task force. Other sets of recommendations discussed Wednesday, like those proposed by co-chairman Rep. Angel Arce, also called for viewing records with a process to make them public if such disclosure would serve the public good.
Where the two sides seem likely to clash, however, is over just what law enforcement records would be subject to the process. DePalma’s proposal was narrowly written to capture only crime scene pictures and videos involving child victims.
Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said lawmakers considered including a similar process when they passed the law that created the task force. He said he liked the idea, but not quite as DePalma had written it.
“Just so it’s clear, when we talked about it at the legislature, it was all crimes — we didn’t differentiate between age,” Fasano said.
Rep. DebraLee Hovey, a Republican whose district includes part of Newtown, agreed. She said lawmakers wanted the law to protect all victims of homicide.
“That was very important to a number of people. With regards to Sandy Hook, the only victims were not just minors. There were adult victims also,” she said.
However, James Smith, a task force member and president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, said a compromise proposal should apply only to child victims.
“I think the word ‘minor’ is brilliant. If we’re looking for a compromise, the word ‘minor’ pulls us right back to Newtown,” he said. “I for one, am very worried about trying to sanitize crime in Connecticut . . . Some of these things we need to see. We shouldn’t be trying to find ways to hide them.”
Although the scope of the proposal may prove divisive, Don DeCesare, a general manager of a radio station who serves as one of the group’s two chairman, called Wednesday’ discussion “a huge leap” for the group.
The task force is charged with making recommendations to the legislature by January. They have one final meeting scheduled next month.
Malloy’s 2013 Thanksgiving Message
Thanksgiving is our traditional American holiday, one that only seems to get more important given how easy it is to get caught up in the fast pace of our daily lives.
Technology, while a blessing in countless ways, makes it all too easy to stay connected to work or other distractions, and in some sense can blind us to what is really important: spending time with friends and family and giving back to the communities that made us the people we are today.
The idea that we can set aside a day to take stock of our lives and give thanks for the things we hold dear seems all the more important given the hardships we have faced over the last few years.
From a once-in-a-lifetime economic downturn, to dangerous storms, to unthinkable tragedy, we have faced challenges that no one would ever have asked for. Yet, in those darkest moments of need, I have been thankful for the tremendous grace and compassion we have shown to one another.
While I know that universal consensus is not possible, I believe that our ability to pull together and fight for common causes in the aftermath of the unthinkable is in some ways the true mark of the people of Connecticut. We have seen that kind of resolve throughout this slow but steady recovery, one that has led to the lowest unemployment rate in more than four years.
We’ve seen it in the faces of the thousands of parents who came to the state capitol and gave their voice to the effort to pass common sense gun violence prevention legislation.
We’ve seen it in the resiliency of our coastal towns and cities as they rebuild the lives they worked a lifetime, or in some cases generations, to create.
And we’ve seen it in the thousands of people who are taking it upon themselves to sign up for quality, affordable healthcare that is now available to them because of the Affordable Care Act. Not one of these endeavors is perfect.
There is much work left to be done. But what we have accomplished represents real progress, and I am thankful for the belief in this one indisputable truth — that we have the resolve to see all of our biggest challenges through to the end. We all want the same things.
We want to be able to earn a good living with good benefits so we can help to support the people we love. We want our kids to go to good schools and achieve their dreams.
We want to live in communities that are safe and take care of their own, so that no one — young or old — gets hurt or left behind.
And I am also thankful that we are working to accomplish each of these goals together.
Tags: thanksgiving, connecticut, governor, Dannel P. Malloy, dh
Commissioner Says Residents Who Didn’t Qualify Got Benefits In September
Connecticut residents who may not have qualified for food stamps or Medicaid received benefits in September, Department of Social Services Commissioner Roderick Bremby wrote Monday in a letter to legal aid attorneys.
In the letter, Bremby explained that the department decided to extend benefits to everyone who received them in August when the new scanning vendor, Scan Optics, fell behind because of an “unanticipated volume of mail.”
Scan Optics was hired to help the state transition from paper to an electronic format as part of the department’s modernization effort. Once scanned, the applications are 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, and only that casework had access to the client’s paper application. 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 four months ago, according to state officials.
Because of complications with the new system at the end of August, Bremby decided to extend benefits to everyone who was receiving them for another month while they worked out the kinks in the new system.
“Subsequent reviews of this action indicate that while many clients were properly extended and had no changes in circumstances, many others received benefits that they were not eligible for because they had not timely submitted required documentation or completed the redetermination process,” Bremby wrote. “Every month, thousands of clients have benefits end because they are no longer eligible or because they fail to comply with program requirements.”
The result was that benefits were “improperly extended.” The amount of benefits that went out to ineligible clients in September was not immediately available, according to state officials.
But Bremby defended the decision. “The decision to unilaterally extend benefits at the end of August, which we continue to believe was the best course of action under the circumstances, was based on an extraordinary situation that has since been fully resolved,” he wrote.
Three legal aid attorneys wrote Bremby earlier this month because they learned some of their clients who were qualified to receive benefits were dropped off their food stamps or Medicaid benefits at the end of October. All of those clients had timely submitted the paperwork to DSS to process their continuation of benefits.
However, part of the problem was that DSS had no way to prioritize those notices in a timely manner to prevent eligible individuals from losing their benefits when they had done everything they were asked to do.
But that all changed on Monday.
“Redetermination documents now have a dedicated ‘queue’ where workers can access those documents to be processed more efficiently within the usual monthly work cycle,” Bremby wrote.
Kristen Noelle Hatcher, managing attorney of the benefits unit at Connecticut Legal Services, said she’s pleased to learn of a new functionality.
“We share DSS’ expectation this new system will be a ‘change for the better’,” Hatcher said. “It is critically important that DSS be able to process timely-submitted redetermination forms before the end of the eligibility period to ensure that benefits are not abruptly terminated to eligible recipients and that medically necessary services are not denied.”
Legal aid attorneys shared stories of clients unable to get their medications and those who went without money for food for at least a week before benefits were restored after two-hour phone conversations.
Hatcher said she hopes the new system also will help reduce the number of inaccurate warning notices that go out to clients who have already submitted their paperwork to the department.
“Such notices have created anxiety and put unnecessary strain on DSS’ operations,” Hatcher said.
Bremby said he believed the new system would minimize those notices, but warned that with all new technology and business processes, “it will likely take some time.”
Legal aid attorneys said they probably won’t know until January if the system is working properly because their clients usually contact them around the middle of the month.
Tags: legal aid, Roderick Bremby, DSS, Kristen Noelle Hatcher, Medicaid, food stamps, dh
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West Hartford Senator Snags Coveted Committee Assignment
West Hartford Sen. Beth Bye was appointed co-chairwoman of the powerful Appropriations Committee on Wednesday by Sen. President Donald E. Williams Jr.
Bye will fill the vacancy left by Sen. Toni Harp, who will become the first female mayor of New Haven in January.
“Beth brings passion and an incredible work ethic to the position,” Williams said. “She’s also committed to a collaborative approach. Succeeding Toni Harp is no easy task but I know that Beth will do a terrific job.”
Bye, who currently co-chairs the Higher Education Committee, lobbied hard for the job.
“I am honored that Senator Williams has placed his trust in me to oversee this incredibly important position,” Bye said in a statement. “The state budget is really a statement of public policy priorities. Toni Harp leaves a great legacy as co-chair of Appropriations and I’m excited to meet this challenge and follow in her footsteps.”
Bye will co-chair the committee with state Rep. Toni Walker of New Haven. The committee is responsible for proposing and negotiating the spending side of the state budget.
Williams said he will announce other revisions to committee assignments at a later date.
Tags: Beth Bye, Toni Harp, West Hartford, Appropriations Committee, dh
Wind Energy Regulations Stalled . . . Again
For the fourth time this year, a vote on wind generation regulations — which include legal framework for how the state should regulate those towering turbines — has been postponed.
After a huddle with a liaison from the governor’s office, Robert Stein, chairman of the Connecticut Siting Council, asked Tuesday to withdraw the proposed regulations for wind generation in Connecticut.
He said there simply wasn’t a consensus within the committee to approve the regulations that the council had submitted.
Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said he would like to understand why the committee was at an impasse.
“What are we trying to get at?” Duff said. “At some point we need to be able to move the ball forward on these regulations.”
Sen. Leonard Fasano, R-North Haven, said it should have been no surprise to the Siting Council that the Regulations Review Committee was going to reject its proposal since it submitted the same proposal it rejected without prejudice back in September.
He said the conditions under which the Siting Council can waive certain provisions of the regulations is a concern and is “giving a lot of people some angst.”
Consider the issue of decommissioning a wind turbine. Fasano said the Siting Council has the right to ask for a bond from the company that wants to erect the turbine. The bond would help ensure that if the company decides 20 years later that wind turbines are not the wave of the future, the taxpayers don’t have to pay to take it down.
“If these companies leave these towers where they are, you have problems,” Fasano said.
He said the taxpayer shouldn’t be on the hook if a company decides to abandon a turbine. There’s also issues about giving the council the power to waive noise, setback, and flicker regulations for projects.
Rep. Selim Noujaim, co-chairman of the committee, said they had a number of questions two months ago and it was the job of the Siting Council to get the answers. Instead, the Siting Council resubmitted the same application.
“We’re not against wind power,” Noujaim said after the meeting. “I’m a fan of doing things right.”
Chris Phelps, executive director of Environment Connecticut, said he was disappointed in the decision of the Siting Council to withdraw its proposal.
“We’re probably the only state in the country banning wind power,” Phelps said.
For Phelps, this isn’t about the regulations as much as it’s about renewable energy.
“Six or seven legislators are sending a loud message about Connecticut that it doesn’t want clean, renewable energy in its own backyard,” Phelps said. “They want no wind power at all.”
Noujaim said that’s absolutely not true. He said he just wants to make sure it’s done right.
Joyce Hemingson, president of Fairwind CT, said she was happy lawmakers were taking their time. She said the regulations as they stand now are the most lenient in all of New England.
She said the organization is not for or against wind power. It’s an organization, according to its website, that is concerned about the the social, health, and economic impact of unregulated wind turbines near busy roads and near residential neighborhoods.
“It’s not a NIMBY issue,” Hemingson stressed.
The state has had a moratorium on wind generation for almost two years as it has struggled to come up with regulations.
“I think we should have regulations,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Tuesday at an unrelated press conference.
He said he’s not being critical at the moment, but at some point if the state keeps picking off alternative sources of energy it shouldn’t be surprised when the state doesn’t meet the goal of obtaining 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.
Tags: wind turbine, fairwind, Bob Duff, Leonard Fasano, Selim Noujaim, Siting Council, dh
Judge Orders Release of 911 Tapes
Recordings of the 911 calls made during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting will be released by Dec. 4 under a Tuesday decision by a Superior Court judge in New Britain.
Judge Eliot Prescott issued the decision Tuesday, denying a request by State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky to prevent their release. Sedensky had asked the court to issue a stay while he appealed a decision by the Freedom of Information Commission, which had ruled in favor of the Associated Press, which had asked Newtown police to provide copies of the recordings.
The judge gave Sedensky until Dec. 4 to appeal the ruling. Sedensky is reviewing the decision and will determine his next course of action by that date, according to a statement from the state Division of Criminal Justice.
Earlier this month, Prescott concluded he could not rule on the case until he had listened to the recordings. The tapes were made available to the court on Monday as sealed evidence.
After reviewing the recordings, Prescott said they did not meet the requirements for exemptions that would prevent their disclosure under the state Freedom of Information Act.
Sedensky had argued that in this case, the tapes should not be released because they represented records of child abuse. He also suggested that making them public may discourage residents from using the 911 system in the future. The judge dismissed those arguments.
“There is no factual or legal support for this claim,” Prescott said of the potential that the release could “chill” 911 use.
Prescott said issuing a stay could leave the AP “hamstrung” in its attempts to report on a tragic but significant moment in Connecticut history. It could take years for Sedensky’s appeal make its way through the court system.
“Given the weakness of the plaintiff’s claims on the merits, such a result is difficult to justify,” Prescott wrote.
The judge said he recognized that the release of the tapes may be a “searing reminder of the horror and pain” of Dec. 14 for those close to the incident. However, he said that fact must be tempered by the knowledge that the tapes likely will be released at some point.
When they are released, Prescott said they will help the public gauge the law enforcement response to the incident. He said they may “vindicate and support” the efforts of first responders who have been in pain and emotional turmoil from what they witnessed at the school.
“The public has weighty interest in addressing these questions now, not possibly two or three years from now when this case may have finally concluded. Delaying the release of the audio recordings, particularly where the legal justification to keep them confidential is lacking, only serves to fuel speculation about and undermine confidence in our law enforcement officials,” the judge wrote.
Prescott heard arguments in the case earlier this month.
Malloy: 2014 Won’t Be A Gun Session
The final report on the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting may warrant a state policy response, but it is unlikely to involve legislation on gun regulations, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Tuesday.
“I don’t think that , at this point, is going to be a gun session — a gun safety session,” he said Tuesday.
The comments were part of the governor’s first public remarks on the report released Monday regarding the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The report was the product of almost a year-long investigation into the incident, in which a gunman murdered 20 children and six adults at a Newtown elementary school.
Lawmakers spent time during the 2013 legislative session negotiating a bipartisan but controversial response to the shooting. The bill, which Malloy signed into law in April, made sweeping changes to the state’s firearm regulations.
The law expanded the number of firearms prohibited in Connecticut, banned the sale of ammunition magazines that carry more than 10 rounds, and imposed new eligibility requirements for the purchase of all guns and ammunition. It also created the first statewide gun offender registry.
Although the legislation was supported by gun-control activists and some of the families who lost relatives during the Sandy Hook murders, it was bitterly opposed by the firearms industry and Second Amendment advocates.
Malloy said Monday’s final report on the shooting does raise “the possibility of additional work” on issues like mental health services and school safety. But he said there likely won’t be additional legislation on gun control issues beyond technical fixes to the language of the law he signed in April.
“I think that we wrestled with this issue very extensively [in the] last year,” he said.
Malloy said the report should help the advisory commission — which he created to make recommendations in response to the murders — complete its work. He said the state already has invested about $24 million to fund school safety projects at schools around the state.
“But more work may be required. Whether it’s financing and funding or thinking about how we build schools differently and therefore setting different standards,” he said. “On the mental health front, I think we’ll continue to evolve and look for best practices and best ideas.”
Although he had been critical of the time it took state’s attorneys to compile the report, the governor said the document accomplished its goal by answering certain questions. He said it concluded that the shooter acted alone and that the emergency response to the incident was “timely and effective.”
Other questions, like why the shooter assaulted the school, will likely never be answered, he said.
Malloy said the report should also raise questions for gun owners and people thinking about owning guns. The document confirmed that the weapons used in the shooting were purchased legally by the shooter’s mother, who was murdered by her son with a firearm at the start of his rampage.
“These were foolishly purchased guns by his mother. The poor woman was murdered herself using those guns. I think if anybody pauses at any time in the state of Connecticut, it should be around the issue of A: do you really want to have guns in your house? B: particularly if you have someone who’s suffering from mental illness,” he said.
The April legislation also created a task force to look at behavioral health services for young adults. That task force is expected to make its recommendations to the legislature in January.
In the meantime, the bill passed in April requires mental health and substance abuse services to be considered “urgent care” by health insurance carriers, and it shortened the review time for service requests from 72 hours to 24 hours.
The legislation also required:
—insurance companies to inform consumers that they have the right to appeal a denial of care;
—the Insurance Department to evaluate and report on compliance with mental health parity laws, and;
—the health professional reviewing an insurance claim to have similar qualifications to the medical professional prescribing it.
The bill also expanded some capacity in the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, added case management for individuals involved in the Probate Court system, and established a program that provides support to pediatricians to help them intervene on behalf of families with children who have mental health conditions.
Tags: gun control, sandy hook, malloy, newtown, shooting, firearms, dh
Interim Head of The State’s Prison System Gets The Job
After a nationwide search for a new correction commissioner, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made an internal appointment Tuesday and announced that James Dzurenda, the interim head of the state’s prison system, would stay in the position.
If approved by the legislature, Dzurenda will become the permanent replacement for Leo Arnone, the previous commissioner who retired in April. Like Arnone, Dzurenda began his time in the department as a correction officer. He joined in 1987 and was assigned to the Bridgeport Correctional Center.
At a Tuesday press conference outside the governor’s office, Dzurenda said when he first joined the DOC, he was working on his college degree and did not anticipate making a career out of correction work.
“Obviously it’s a great opportunity I was given” he said. “. . . As you keep getting more experiences in the department you start seeing opportunities that are open more and more for you to succeed. You start advancing and you get to that point where you can’t turn around and come back.”
As DOC Commissioner, Dzurenda will make $160,000 a year. Following Arnone’s departure, Michael P. Lawlor, Malloy’s criminal justice policy advisor, headed up a nationwide search for a new prison administrator. In a job posting from July, the state offered as much as $239,000 a year as an incentive to attract qualified candidates.
Malloy said he interviewed two “extremely attractive candidates” for the job from out of state, but chose to stick with Dzurenda because he had “the right experience, the right skill set for Connecticut.”
The governor said Dzurenda will be expected to work on upgrading DOC’s data tracking systems, which he said have indicated that inmate recidivism has been declining. An October report from Lawlor’s office found the department’s data tracking tools outdated, leaving the system “too complex to manage effectively.”
Malloy said the executive branch was working to bring its analytics in line with those being used by the Judicial Branch. He said the upgrade will help the department better evaluate recidivism.
“We know what works and what group of people it works for, so taking that with proper data and proper evaluation and it applying it earlier may have significant additional success. So I’m excited,” he said.
Dzurenda was first promoted to warden in 2002, and has served as the chief administrator of both Webster and Garner Correctional Institutions. After being appointed a district administrator with oversight over half the state’s prisons, Dzurenda was made deputy commissioner in 2010.
OP-ED | Being Thankful
Most of us are preparing to gather with friends and family and give thanks for each other and the feast before us. I also give thanks that I was never caught up in the juvenile justice system. Admittedly, I was a pretty straight arrow as a kid, a church-going, soccer-playing, volunteering honor student. And yes, on some level I chose to be those things. But the circumstances of my life made the choices easier, and that is nothing short of a blessing. Actually, a long list of blessings:
1. My brain works the way schools want it to
I’m an enthusiastic reader and even enjoy listening to a good lecture. So I was successful in school, a fact that’s helped me be successful in life. Nationally, we know that 30 percent of youth in custody have diagnosed learning disabilities — more than seven times the rate we see in the general population. My friends who teach in juvenile facilities would argue that far more kids come in with undiagnosed learning disabilities.
Children with special education needs are at high risk of suspension, expulsion, and even arrest at school. One educator told about following a kid around who wandered the hallways and left the building most days because he couldn’t understand the lessons. “He was voting with his feet,” she said. Rather than reporting him as truant, she got him a special education evaluation. (I’m extremely thankful for her.)
2. There was always a responsible adult available to care for me
That’s not a slam against parents whose children become involved in the system. I know how many of them are working two or more jobs, trying to navigate a poorly functioning public transportation system and struggling with barely affordable and hardly adequate childcare.
I, on the other hand, had two parents with steady jobs. Though there was a lot of coupon clipping, there was never fear that we wouldn’t have food on the table. We had two cars and a telephone. A parent would always be at the ready if I had a problem. I never had to turn to a less benevolent “authority figure.”
3. I never witnessed violence
My parents wouldn’t let me watch Road Runner cartoons. Too many anvils dropped on too many heads. So any television involving violence between real people was obviously out of the question.
While I was shielded even from imaginary brutality, real violence is a part of many American childhoods. In a national survey of youth in custody, 70 percent said that “something very bad or terrifying” had happened to them; 67 percent had seen someone injured or killed; and 32 percent said they had bad thoughts or dreams about a bad or scary event that had happened to them.
4. People expected the best of me
That has a lot to do with accidents of birth, like being female, white, and suburban.
Reviewing data for the state’s juvenile justice system, we’re always struck by how much harsher punishments are in some court districts than others and how student arrest rates vary widely by town. Where a child lives has an enormous bearing on whether he or she will get involved with the justice system.
National surveys tell us time and again that young people of all races engage in strikingly similar behaviors. Yet our juvenile justice system is disproportionally filled with children of color, especially at it’s deepest end — incarceration. In other words, we judge some kids more harshly than others, simply because of race.
I have been the beneficiary of a lot of biases, biases that research tells us even the best-intentioned people hold at some level. The Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, along with the state’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee and Connecticut Public Television, is involved in a project aimed at helping people combat those biases. Find out more at www.ctjja.org/colorofjustice.
So I’d submit that the path I’ve taken in life is a matter of hard work, (mostly) good choices, and a whole lot of circumstances over which I had no control. I’m thankful that I caught the breaks. But I’d be more thankful if there weren’t breaks to catch, if every child had an equal chance of thriving. That’s simply not the case now. We often punish children not just because of what they did — but because of who they are.
It’s always been that way. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be. If a critical mass of people come together and decide that we need to start supporting kids — all kids — rather than criminalizing them, far more of our young people will find themselves on the road to success.
That’s something we could all be thankful for.
Abby Anderson is executive director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance.
Lawmakers Hear About Future Budget Deficits
If state budget analysts had used the same method of accounting, the difference in the projected deficit for the next biennium would have been about $66 million. Instead, it’s about $488 million.
Alan Calandro, the head of the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis, told the two budget writing committees Monday that his office chose to use the current services method of accounting when it released its fiscal accountability report last week. The method takes into account inflation and statutory funding requirements for things like municipal aid.
However, for the first time since 2005, the Office of Policy and Management used a “current practices” form of accounting, which didn’t account for inflation and tried to predict spending levels based on past practice.
Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes told the two committees that the last time inflation was funded in the state budget was 1988. He dismissed the differences between the two reports during a two-hour public hearing Monday.
Republican lawmakers, who have been critical of the administration for switching to the new accounting method before an election year, wanted to know what factors went into making the spending assumptions and why, after the second largest tax increase in the state’s history, is the state still on a path toward deficits in the future.
“How can we say this is a sound structure of budgeting?” Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, asked.
The packed hearing room chuckled at the politically charged question. Barnes, who is the governor’s budget director, decided to let Calandro answer the question.
“At the end of the day when a budget is put before us by the governor, the margins become kind of meaningless,” Calandro said. “That is what drives the actual budget process and the differences between what we’re projecting and OPM is projecting become a side-story and minor.”
He said the executive branch will put real numbers behind the budget proposals in the future and at the end of the day the legislature and the governor will have to find a way to balance it. The current year’s budget is running a surplus.
Barnes continued: “The reality is that the budget is in balance today, with a strong surplus projected for the end of the year. It will be balanced next year, with no new taxes,” he said.”
The deficits projected by both OFA and OPM are in fiscal years 2016, 2017, and 2018. OFA predicted deficits between $1.1 billion and $1.4 billion over the next three fiscal years. OPM predicted smaller deficits of $612.4 million in fiscal year 2016, followed by deficits of $432.5 million in 2017 and $376.3 million in 2018.
The revenue estimates used by both OFA and OPM to make the predictions were the same and one lawmaker wondered if the legislature shouldn’t force the two offices to reach a consensus on spending three times a year like it does on revenue. Others speculated the change in accounting was due to the fact that 2014 is an election year and it’s the next governor and legislature that will be left to deal with the deficits.
Democratic state Sen. Andrew Maynard defended Barnes and the Democratic administration by asking how much of the spending the state has to do to pay off the obligations postponed by past Republican administrations.
Barnes said that if the state didn’t have to pay the amortized unfunded pension obligations, then the state would have approximately $1.9 billion in lower expenditures. The administration has sped up payments to the State Employee Retirement System in order to make up for lost time and to avoid a balloon payment in the future.
Former Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the Democrat-controlled legislature agreed to delay pension contributions of $50 million in 2009, $164.5 million in 2010 and $100 million in 2011.
“Cleaning up these previous messes are causing us to have these deficits,” Maynard said.
Barnes concurred, adding that the weakness of the economic recovery has not helped the budget get back on track.
According to Barnes, if this recovery had been similar to the 2003 recovery, income tax revenue would be $1.3 billion higher, while sales tax revenue would be $600 million higher.
By 2018, according to Barnes’ presentation Monday, the state will be getting 58.2 percent of its revenue from the income tax and 23.9 percent from sales and use taxes. The rest will be made up of federal grants, cigarette taxes, and other special revenue.
“Income tax revenue has fluctuated dramatically due to the performance of the stock market and two recessions,” the presentation reads. “Unfortunately, a record high year for capital gains realizations can be immediately followed by a record low year, creating extreme volatility in state finances.”
State Closes Newtown Investigation, But Still Has Few Answers
The Danbury State’s Attorney closed the investigation into the Newtown shooting Monday, concluding that the shooter acted alone in his deadly assault on the elementary school. But in the initial chaos, police worked as if another shooter was on the premises.
Danbury States Attorney Stephen Sedensky III released his final report Monday on the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School (SHES). Avoiding the use of the names of many of the witnesses or victims involved, Sedensky’s report helps to shed light on what transpired during and after the incident that left 20 school children, six educators, and the shooter’s mother dead, as well as others wounded at the school.
The report details a timeline of 20-year-old shooter Adam Lanza’s attack on the school and of communications between first responders. According to the report, the first police officer arrived at the school within four minutes of the first 911 call, and officers entered the school about six minutes later. Lanza shot and killed himself within one minute of the first police officer arriving at the scene, about 4 to 5 minutes before officers entered the school.
In the report, Sedensky concludes that Lanza acted alone and says none of the evidence gathered points to the existence of any co-conspirators. He points out that it’s not clear which classroom Lanza entered first, but what the report appears to show is that regardless of whether officers had plunged through the doors within seconds of their arrival, most if not all of the damage had already been done.
However, some early encounters between officers and bystanders during the incident led police to believe they could have been dealing with more than one shooter.
According to the report, the first Newtown officer arrived at the scene at 9:39 a.m. — that’s about 9 minutes after the shooter began his rampage but only about four minutes after the first 911 call. Within a minute of arriving, a Newtown police officer encountered a man running alongside the building carrying something in his hand.
“From the time the unknown male was encountered by the Newtown police outside of SHES until after the staff and children were evacuated, all responding law enforcement operated under the belief that there may have been more than one shooter and acted accordingly,” Sedensky wrote.
The first man turned out to be a parent carrying a cellphone, but until police could determine his identity and reason for being on the scene, he was handcuffed and treated as a suspect.
According to the state police timeline of communications, the officer used his radio to inform a supervisor that he had detained a man, which led to an advisory that a secondary shooter may be involved. The transmission also drew the attention of other Newtown officers who had responded to the scene.
Police detained at least three other people outside the school, according to Sedensky’s report.
“Two reporters located in the woods around SHES, who were held at gunpoint by Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) police officers until their identities could be determined,” he wrote.
The other man detained by police was a Samaritan from New York who was in the area and wandered onto the scene on foot after an automated emergency response message on his cellphone alerted him to a situation at the school.
Peter Massey, a former police detective and head of the undergraduate program in forensics at the University of New Haven, said the possibility of a second shooter is always on the minds of first responders to such shootings. He said tracking down those leads takes time.
“They’re making big judgments in seconds or milliseconds,” he said. “I think they did the best job they could with the information they had at the time.”
Even after Lanza had shot and killed himself, police were positioned as lookouts in the areas surrounding the school while students and staff were being evacuated from the building. Police dogs also were brought in to search the area.
According Sedensky’s report, the notion that there may have been several shooters continued to be a consideration even after Dec. 14.
“It was only after potential leads were investigated that investigators became confident that the shooter was not aided in any way by others and that no one knew of the shooter’s plan prior to Dec. 14, 2012,” he wrote.
Lanza was described by many as a loner who liked to play video games. He seemed to have an obsession with school shootings and firearms.
When state police searched Lanza’s home they found a copy of “Amish Grace.” The book details the 2006 school shooting in Pennsylvania. There also were old newspaper articles detailing a school shooting in 1891. Both were in a drawer in the computer room where Lanza had smashed his hard drive and where the gun safe was located.
The gun safe contained an “Enfield” Albion bolt action .303 caliber rifle and was open when police arrived. There also were numerous boxes of ammunition strewn around the closet and the safe. There was black tape on the windows.
Lanza’s computer included images of mass murders, which were broken down into categories by number of victims killed. It also contained several video clips of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the pair who carried out the Columbine High School shooting. Police also found a Word Document of a screenplay that was presumably written by the shooter about four male characters who have a delusional discussion and all but one of them ends up being killed.
But none of the evidence collected at either crime scene seemed to point to a motive.
“The obvious question that remains is: Why did the shooter murder twenty-seven people, including twenty children? Unfortunately, that question may never be answered conclusively, despite the collection of extensive background information on the shooter through a multitude of interviews and other sources,” Sedensky said in his 43-page report.
“The evidence clearly shows that the shooter planned his actions, including the taking of his own life, but there is no clear indication why he did so, or why he targeted Sandy Hook Elementary School.”
Lanza’s toxicology report did not show any types of drugs in his system at the time of his death.
“It is known that the shooter had significant mental health issues that affected his ability to live a normal life and to interact with others, even those to whom he should have been close,” Sedensky said. “As an adult he did not recognize or help himself deal with those issues. What contribution this made to the shootings, if any, is unknown as those mental health professionals who saw him did not see anything that would have predicted his future behavior.”
Earlier Monday, a New Britain Superior Court judge agreed to listen to the 911 tapes from the day of the shooting in order to determine whether they should be released publicly under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. His decision is expected later this week.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has been critical of state prosecutors for failing to release the report sooner, but was confident it would provide enough information so that an advisory commission he created to make recommendations in response to the murders would be able to complete its work.
Christine Stuart contributed to this story.
Tags: Sandy Hook, Newtown, shooting, Stephen Sedensky III, Adam Lanza, dh
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Lawmaker Pre-empts Task Force To Make His Own Recommendations
A lawmaker who chairs a panel weighing victim privacy against public disclosure law made his own recommendations Friday, including a proposal restricting public access to audio of the of 911 calls.
The task force was created under a hastily-passed law intended to prevent the disclosure of crime scene photographs and certain audio recordings collected by police following the Sandy Hook shooting and other homicides. But the split panel has had difficulty reaching consensus on any issue.
Rep. Angel Arce, one of two chairmen on the task force, has been a vocal advocate of reducing access to law enforcement records in an effort to protect the privacy of victims. Arce’s father died after a hit-and-run accident in Hartford. Although the perpetrator was caught after Hartford police released video footage of the incident, Arce said his family has been traumatized from seeing the video broadcast on television.
Arce’s recommendations come as the task force nears its January deadline without consensus on any of the controversial issues it has been asked to consider. In a statement, he said his recommendations are “an attempt to jump-start a productive conversation.”
Among the recommendations is a proposal for restricting access to recordings of 911 calls to written transcripts unless there is “an overriding public interest in disclosure.” Arce’s proposal would permit a member of the public to listen to the calls in person. In the event that 911 tapes are ordered released based on evidence of negligence by a government official, Arce’s proposal calls for at least 24 hours notice to the person who made the call.
“Most of us agree that, in the Internet era, the world is a much different place than it was nearly 40 years ago when our state adopted the FOI law. I am certain that we have room for improvement,” Arce said in a statement.
Not everyone on the task force agrees. James Smith, a task force member and president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, has suggested that the group’s membership is weighted too heavily in favor of reducing public access to information.
Smith said the state should be proud of its public disclosure law and dismissed the notion that it should be curbed based on the pervasiveness of the Internet.
“I say we should not let technical advances, and we will always have them, erode our basic freedoms and the concept of knowing what the government is doing,” he said in an email.
The task force, which has yet to reach a consensus on any recommendation, will meet at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in Room 1C of the Legislative Office Building.
Tags: Angel Arce, FOI task force, privacy, Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, James Smith, 911, Newtown, dh
OP-ED | Wind Siting Regulations Will Help Secure Connecticut’s Clean Energy Future
When Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection finalized its comprehensive energy strategy earlier this year, they set Connecticut on a direct path to a cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable energy. The strategy stands to reduce energy costs for the state’s residents and businesses and positions Connecticut as a true clean energy leader.
The New England Clean Energy Council applauds Malloy and DEEP for their foresight in undertaking this initiative. However, while the administration has made great strides implementing its comprehensive energy strategy in numerous ways, there remains a clear bump on Connecticut’s road to clean energy leadership. This roadblock is the lack of wind siting regulations that will allow homegrown wind energy to be an appropriate part of Connecticut’s energy portfolio.
This Tuesday, 10 members of the legislature’s Regulation Review Committee have the opportunity to remove that roadblock by approving wind siting regulations that will set permitting standards for wind generators by removing a two-year ban on wind energy projects.
With misinformation about wind energy swirling around this issue, it is important for Connecticut residents, businesses, and communities to understand that wind siting regulations will not mean wind turbines will pop up in every neighborhood, city, and town. They do mean that there will be a clear process for developers to site wind projects appropriately. Reasonable regulations such as those proposed also mean that Connecticut will have the opportunity to realize the significant economic benefits of local wind energy.
Wind energy from homegrown sources creates jobs while circulating money into the Connecticut economy. By building wind projects in-state, Connecticut will join other states taking advantage of wind energy’s benefits, such as high quality jobs for its residents in construction, operations, and maintenance of wind energy projects. Additionally, as Connecticut’s wind energy sector grows, more opportunities in manufacturing and innovation will develop as well.
The economic benefits don’t stop with just jobs. Lease payments for landowners and increased tax bases produce further economic benefits. In fact, wind leases can provide the support landowners need to keep property in current agricultural use.
Thousands of communities across the country are already reaping the economic and environmental benefits of homegrown, clean and affordable wind energy. In 2012, land-based wind energy accounted for 43 percent of all new energy generation in the United States. In fact, wind is becoming one of the most cost-effective sources of new electricity generation with prices of new projects close to competitive with the cost of natural gas electricity, which is the cheapest traditional power source in the current market.
There has been a thorough and deliberative process involving all stakeholders in the creation of the wind siting regulations before the committee this week. And it is time for the legislature to put Connecticut back on track to lead the nation in forward looking energy policy with a truly “comprehensive” energy strategy that includes regulations for wind turbine siting.
Members of the Regulations Review Committee can help secure Connecticut’s clean energy leadership and future this Tuesday, by approving the wind regulations proposed by the Connecticut Siting Council.
Peter Rothstein is the president of the New England Clean Energy Council
Tags: Peter Reilly, New England Clean Energy Council, DEEP, energy, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Regulation Review Committee, dh
Regulators Give Thumbs Up To Natural Gas Expansion, Angering Heating Oil Dealers
A trade association of more than 600 home heating oil and propane dealers is considering all of its options, including legal action against the state for approving a plan that allows three natural gas companies to convert 280,000 customers to natural gas.
Chris Herb, president of the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association, said legal action is just one of the many options his organization is examining as a result of Friday’s decision by state regulators.
“Something is fundamentally wrong in America when the government has the power to convert 280,000 customers from one fuel to another,” Herb said Saturday.
The Public Utility Regulatory Authority gave final approval to a plan by three natural gas companies to expand their footprint in the state.
The final decision concluded that all new natural gas customers will be able to spread the cost of conversion over a period of 10 years.
Homeowners closest to the existing natural gas pipelines will pay an additional 10 percent on their distribution charges, and those further away from gas mains or businesses will pay a 30 percent premium on the distribution component of the standard rate. The distribution component of an average bill accounts for about 40 to 60 percent of the monthly cost.
“Gas pipeline capacity into the New England region is limited, and this has caused prices to spike in the winter when gas is needed both to heat homes and run power plants,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Friday in a press release. “The gas expansion plan called for in my Comprehensive Energy Strategy will benefit both gas and electric customers in the near-term, by helping to expand gas capacity into Connecticut.”
Herb questions the reliability of natural gas. He also points out that once a homeowner converts to natural gas they have to rely on only one utility company to deliver it to their home. They don’t get to go out into the marketplace and decide which company should come and deliver it based on price.
He said the plan is tragically flawed because it assumes natural gas will continue to be cheaper than home heating oil, when already the market is changing.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) households heating with natural gas will expect to spend an average of $80 (13 percent) more this winter than last winter. The growth in natural gas expenditures represents a 14-percent increase in the average U.S. residential price from last winter, with consumption that is slightly lower than last winter nationally.
EIA expects households heating primarily with heating oil to spend an average of about $46 (2 percent) less this winter than last winter, reflecting a 5-percent decrease in prices and a 3-percent increase in consumption.
New England Independent System Operator, the regional electrical grid operator, is studying the reliability of natural gas. According to this Associated Press article, ISO-New England is worried about reliability of the electrical grid in the winter months when demand for the fuel is high.
Herb says there are no storage facilities for natural gas located in the region, so natural gas has to be delivered by interstate pipelines. If demand peaks in the winter, he said it’s possible gas won’t get delivered.
But Malloy argues that it’s the lack of natural gas in Connecticut that has put the state at a disadvantage.
“A greater percentage of homes and businesses in neighboring states benefit from the use of natural gas than do people in Connecticut,” Malloy said. “This has put us at a competitive disadvantage — but with this plan in place we will now move forward to change that.”
When he laid out his vision last year to convert more homes and businesses to natural gas, about 50 percent of Connecticut homes were on home heating oil and 31 percent were on natural gas. An estimated 35 percent of commercial businesses and 53 percent of industrial customers were using natural gas about a year ago.
According to plans filed with PURA, Connecticut Natural Gas and Southern Connecticut Natural Gas plan to convert 29,500 low-use (non-heating) customers to heating, and they hope to add 113,700 new on-main customers and 54,000 new off-main customers by 2023.
Yankee Gas proposes to convert 10,000 low-use customers to heating, add 41,296 new on-main customers and 31,125 off-main customers by 2023.
In addition, regulators decided that instead of crediting existing customers for the excess natural gas sold when demand is low, utilities will be able to use what is called a “non-firm margin credit” to help expand the gas lines. If the new customer surcharge and non-firm margin revenue prove insufficient to cover ongoing expansion costs, a system expansion reconciliation charge on existing customer bills will be used to make up the difference.
In their ruling, regulators vowed to revisit the revenues the utilities would gain as a result of the expansion to make sure the changes don’t adversely impact future rates.
PURA Vice-Chairman John W. Betkoski, who was the lead commissioner on the case, commented that the final ruling “strikes the right balance between ensuring price stability for current customers while maximizing opportunity to expand gas availability consistent with Governor Malloy’s overall energy strategy.”
Tags: home heating oil, natural gas, PURA, regulators, ISO-New England, Chris Herb, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, dh
Jepsen To Regulators: It’s Not Enough
Attorney General George Jepsen said Friday he is not satisfied with the actions federal regulators have taken in response to UnitedHealthcare’s move to drop doctors from its network.
Jepsen called on the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to scrutinize UnitedHealthcare after the insurance company began dropping physicians from its Medicare Advantage network in October and declined to say how many physicians and patients may be impacted.
The attorney general doesn’t have the power to compel the health insurance carrier to come forward with the information about its network or to extend the Medicare enrollment period beyond Dec. 7, so he reached out to regulators earlier this month.
Although the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services agreed to review the issue, it declined to extend the open enrollment period. Jepsen’s office released a statement Friday saying that he hoped the review would be a thorough one, but the action was not good enough and did not leave patients enough time to make informed decisions on their health plans.
“I am not satisfied with CMS’s response, and I am gravely concerned that the burden these terminations place on seniors has been greatly underestimated,” he said. “. . . The scope of United’s reductions is unprecedented, and the process has lacked transparency for both physicians and patients.”
Jepsen said he has written back to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to object to the decision. He encouraged concerned patients and caregivers from Connecticut to also reach out directly to the federal regulators.
Tags: george jepsen, Unitedhealthcare, Medicare Advantage, network, doctors, CMS, dh
OP-ED | Obamacare’s Most Important 100 Days
One might think that the most important days in the history of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, would already be in the past. The law certainly has already had highs and lows.
• Nov. 4, 2008, Election Day, was a key date as it sent then-Senator Obama to the White House and expanded Democratic majorities in both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
• The death of liberal lion Sen. Ted Kennedy on Aug. 25, 2009, arguably the Senate’s biggest champion of health care reform, and the ensuing election of Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown to replace him on Jan. 19, 2010, were major challenges to its legislative approval.
• Obamacare’s biggest day came on March 23, 2010, when Vice President Joe Biden called it a “big f***ing deal” and President Obama signed the bill to make it law.
Yet it seems likely that the most important 100 days in Obamacare’s story are just beginning. The prologue to this time period began Oct. 1, 2013, when federal and state health care exchanges, such as Healthcare.gov and AccessHealthCT.com, went live and promptly became an epic failure. Millions of insurance policies are being cancelled, the website doesn’t work properly, and very few people have been able to purchase insurance through the exchange.
Over the next 100 days, federal and state officials face the challenge of fixing all these problems. How this process plays out will prove decisive for the law. If the problems can be fixed quickly, there is a good chance that Obamacare as originally designed will survive and become the principle conduit for Americans to purchase health insurance. But if the problems linger or grow during these 100 days, Obamacare may end up on the scrap heap of history sooner than expected.
Getting HealthCare.gov and the other state-based exchange websites working correctly is the first major hurdle for the law. Though work on the websites has already started, new testimony before Congress this week reveals that there likely are many more bumps in the road ahead as apparently 40 percent of the information technology infrastructure isn’t built yet.
The health insurance policy cancellation crisis created Mr. Obama’s credibility crisis on the issue since he spent years promising people could keep their current health insurance plan. Political pressure on this issue already led 38 Congressional Democrats, including CT-05 Rep. Elizabeth Esty, to break ranks with their party and vote for an Obamacare “fix.” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced on Friday, however, that there would be no fix for Connecticut residents with cancellation notices.
President Obama apologized and accepted responsibility for these and the other problems of Obamacare so far, but frustration and dissatisfaction are growing. His approval rating has already sagged to 38 percent and skittish Democratic legislators will become more so in the days ahead. They will be the key to the coming days.
They must be content, or compelled, to wait. Democratic legislators like Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor must have faith in the bureaucrats and federal IT contractors that are now writing or re-writing the millions of lines of code that power HealthCare.gov. All the while, political opponents like Sen. Pryor’s likely challenger in next year’s Senate race, Rep. Tom Cotton, criticize him on a daily basis for supporting Obamacare. How long can they survive politically without offering to “temporarily delay” further implementation?
Worse for the President, the politically perilous holiday season is upon us. Legislators won’t be hunkered down in the echo chambers of Washington. They will be home in their districts to listen to their troubled constituents while Mr. Obama’s popularity continues to fade. Staking one’s political career on Obamacare will seem less and less like a good idea.
The President will still have cards to play. The resignation of Health and Human Services Secrectary Kathleen Sebelius, for example, will buy a bit of time, but not much. If the inevitable “things are slowly getting better” narrative doesn’t start to ring true by March, it will be the beginning of the end for Obamacare.
Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com
Tags: health care, heath w. fahle, ACA, obamacare, connecticut, Kathleen Sebelius, dh
Sandy Hook Shooting Report To Be Released Monday
The Danbury State’s Attorney’s Office will release its report on the Sandy Hook Shooting Monday afternoon at around 3 p.m., according to a press release.
State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky III has been working for almost a year to compile a report on the Dec. 14 murder of 20 children and six educators at an elementary school in Newtown.
The report will be published and available to download on the State of Connecticut Division of Criminal Justice’s website. The will be no accompanying press conference or media availability to answer questions about the investigation, according to a Friday press release from the division.
Tags: Newtown, sandy hook, report, stephen sedensky, dh
How Does Connecticut Get People To Care About Pension Reform?
Panelists at a forum Friday grappled with the challenge of engaging the public on critical but dry fiscal problems facing the state like unfunded pension liabilities.
The discussion was part of a “Make Government Work” forum at the Hartford Club sponsored by No Labels, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, and Connecticut Voices for Children.
The conversation spanned a wide range of topics but a member of the audience asked panelists for ideas on getting the general public, particularly young people, engaged on dense fiscal issues like pension liabilities.
Connecticut holds the distinction of having one of the highest unfunded pension liabilities in the nation. That means the pool of money Connecticut has set aside to pay for the retirement benefits of state workers has been underfunded to a higher degree here than in most other states.
Those underfunded pension obligations represent a big problem for Connecticut. Over the years, state government has put off payments to the funds. But it will eventually be on the hook for the payments with interest tacked on.
State Comptroller Kevin Lembo said the state paid more than $1.25 billion last year into the fund and about $1 billion of that payment was made to pay off lingering costs deferred from past years.
Lembo said state’s pension liability problem is a result of “decades of irresponsible decisions that are on the heads of governors, legislatures, and in some cases my friends in labor.”
But how can officials get the public engaged in fixing the problem? David M. Walker, former U.S. Comptroller General who moderated the discussion, said it was important to condense complicated issues into compelling messages.
“So that in 10 minutes, people know you’re on a burning platform. You’ve got make major changes, but then you’ve got to give them hope and show them a way forward,” he said. “It can be done, but it has to be done primarily by the chief executive officer.”
Last year, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy implemented a plan to get the state funding 80 percent of its obligations by 2025 and 100 percent in 2032. In order to get there, he increased required contributions to the fund by around $125 million.
While some economists have called the plan too modest, Lembo said last year was the first time since 1996 that the payment the state made on the fund matched what was recommended. He said it was a good start.
Lembo said it is up to the electorate to decide whether to be engaged on issues and to decide whether to support solutions when they are proposed.
“If we want to be treated as children, if we want to have happy thoughts and sound bytes thrown our way, then you’re going to get more of what you’ve got right now. But when someone stands up and tells you the truth, after you get over the initial hit, you’ve got to be willing to listen to the plan to move forward and decide if you want to get behind that plan,” he said.
Lembo said it can be politically advantageous for politicians to sugar-coat issues for the public.
“It’s dicey. The incentives to lie to you are high,” he said.
Former Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele said it will take courage on the part of elected officials to address the unfunded pension problem. He said it will not only take strategies to pay down the unfunded liability, but also negotiating different retirement plans for new state employees and determining whether the state is properly investing its money.
“Let me tell you, being someone who’s run for public office on the state level, those could be career-ending decisions because you’re talking about union state employees and if not done properly or explained properly that’s a big course,” he said.
Fedele said it is difficult to engage young people who have not been directly impacted by state fiscal policies and do not necessarily feel they have a “horse in the race.” He said social media and forums like Friday’s are important tools to reach out to the public.
“You’re connected. The question becomes when you get that message, what do you do with it?” he said.
Malloy Opts Out of Obamacare Fix
(Updated 2:13 p.m.) Connecticut will join New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont in deciding not to allow insurance plans canceled under the Affordable Care Act back into the marketplace.
“The truth is the solution offered a week ago by the president doesn’t work in Connecticut,” Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Friday.
President Barack Obama offered last week to allow plans that didn’t comply with the Affordable Care Act back into the marketplace for a year, if states agreed.
Malloy said insurance companies have already told the state that it doesn’t plan on continuing policies that already are slated to be replaced.
“The insurance companies have made it clear that the policies they have not extended, they are not going to extend,” Malloy said. “They’ve also made it clear some people have misinterpreted the information that’s out there and not renewed when they could have. And they also pointed out a lot of people who could renew have renewed.”
According to a fact sheet distributed by Malloy’s administration, there are 108,287 individuals with 66,437 individual policies in Connecticut. Of the policies, 27,876 have been renewed, leaving 38,561 policies that will not be continued in 2014, either by choice or because policyholders weren’t given that option.
Malloy said that even if the insurance companies decided to renew those plans, “we know that rates on those plans would increase significantly this year, and again next year.”
After President Obama’s attempt last week to make good on an often-repeated pledge that consumers who like their insurance plans could keep them, America’s Health Insurance Plans’ President and CEO Karen Ignagni said changing the rules now could destabilize the market.
“Premiums have already been set for next year based on an assumption of when consumers will be transitioning to the new marketplace,” Ignagni, head of the national trade association for the health insurance industry, said. The danger is that if “fewer younger and healthier people choose to purchase coverage in the exchange, premiums will increase in the marketplace and there will be fewer choices for consumers.”
In order to help give residents time to transition to a plan on Connecticut’s exchange, Malloy said he would push the enrollment deadline from Dec. 15 to Dec. 22 for anyone who wants to be insured starting on Jan. 1. He also said Access Health CT, Connecticut’s exchange, will work closely with private carriers to make sure they reach out to residents who may lose their insurance as a result of these changes.
Plans offered through the exchanges are much richer plans, in some cases, than plans currently offered in the individual market because the Affordable Care Act spells out what types of benefits need to be covered.
Malloy said part of the sticker shock people are experiencing is that they’re comparing a policy underwritten 16 months ago to a policy underwritten now to start Jan. 1.
“Very different pricing,” Malloy said.
In a letter to the Malloy administration, the Insurance Department said the rates on these policies being canceled under the Affordable Care Act would rise 15 to 25 percent depending on age, gender, and geography.
“In a number of cases, a policy owner keeping his or her current policy would experience higher premium costs as well as much higher cost sharing for fewer benefits,” a memo from the Insurance Department reads. “Further, these policy owners, if eligible due to income, would not be able to take advantage of the federal price subsidies that are available through policies offered by Access Health CT.”
It goes onto say that after conversations with insurance carriers about whether they would avail themselves of Obama’s proposal, “the simple answer is that they would not.”
Insurance carriers told the department that in some cases they gave customers a chance to renew their non-exempt plans and some individuals may still have a few days to take advantage of that offer.
According to a graph compiled by the Insurance Department, Aetna canceled 57 policies and Anthem, the state’s largest insurer, canceled 15,000. ConnectiCare and United Healthcare didn’t cancel any plans.
Keith Stover, a lobbyist for the Connecticut Association of Health Plans, said they’re pleased with the Malloy administration’s decision.
“They came up with the right answer for Connecticut,” Stover said.
He said that looking at allowing these plans back into the marketplace would have a created “a degree of chaos that wouldn’t have been an advantage to consumers.”
But there are those who do want to keep their plans.
Republican lawmakers have called for a special session to fix a Connecticut law that would allow these plans to be offered for another year.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said the decision means there are about 70,000 individuals who will lose their coverage on Jan. 1. The Insurance Department says 38,601 residents would lose their policies.
“State government owes its citizens the assistance and clarity to understand how they can protect themselves and their families,” Cafero said in a statement.
Senate Republican leader John McKinney, who is also running for governor, tried to convince Malloy to convene a special session to change Connecticut’s law so that the policies could be renewed.
“I am disappointed by Governor Malloy’s decision today,” McKinney said.
He said the decision ignores the fact that these policies being canceled represent real people, who likely will have to pay more for their coverage if they don’t qualify for a subsidy in the exchange or forgo insurance.
“Tens of thousands of people in Connecticut are going to lose their health insurance this year because of Obamacare and Governor Malloy’s decision,” McKinney said.
Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. said Democrats who supported Obamacare “lied” when they assured the American public they would be able to keep their health plans and now “thousands of Connecticut’s hardworking families are seeing their healthcare plans cancelled.”
Instead of making sure residents can keep their plans as promised, Malloy is “doubling down on Obamacare and abandoning the Connecticut families who are being stripped of their healthcare coverage,” Labriola said.
Democratic lawmakers and insurance carriers supported the decision.
“Though the need for some modifications may develop, a wholesale change to our system in Connecticut would likely cause unnecessary harm,” House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said.
Anthem, the state’s largest insurance company which canceled 15,000 policies, applauded Malloy’s decision.
“We believe it is important to stay the course, in the interest of the longer term viability of our products both on and off exchange, with our current strategy for plan changes,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.
OP-ED | ‘Gray Thursday’ Is Just the Start of Low-Wage Workers’ Woes
It’s almost Thanksgiving, which means a day of home, family, togetherness and, if you’re unlucky enough to have a job at one of an increasing number of retailers, going in to work that evening.
The creep of Black Friday’s consumer orgy into Thanksgiving itself, called “Gray Thursday,” is still relatively new, but it’s growing fast. Kmart, which apparently started the trend about 20 years ago, is now opening at 6 a.m. on Thursday and staying open for the entire holiday. More department stores and other retailers are jumping on the bandwagon all the time.
The bad news for people working low-wage jobs like fast food and retail doesn’t stop there. There’s been plenty of news lately about the bad relationship between massive, wealthy companies and workers. Walmart in particular is notorious for treating its workers poorly; one Walmart actually had the gall to hold a Thanksgiving food drive for “associates in need.” Why not pay them a livable wage or provide better benefits? Maybe they’d be less needy that way.
Fast food is just as bad. McDonalds recently took heat for making a website that gave its employees shockingly awful advice for making ends meet, like selling unopened Christmas gifts on eBay, “breaking food into pieces” to make it last longer, and, believe it or not, “quit complaining” to reduce stress.
Workers are fighting back. This summer, fast food workers in 60 cities went on strike to demand higher wages, and retail worker groups like OUR Walmart are planning strikes and walkouts on Black Friday.
It would be great if this country had a healthy labor movement to advocate for them.
This isn’t to say that these groups don’t have labor support; they absolutely do. The United Food & Commercial Workers have close ties to OUR Walmart, and the fast food strike’s organizers received training from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). But I’m left to wonder why more unions didn’t join in mass action to support retail and fast food workers, or enjoin their members to actually stay out of Walmart and McDonalds. “Count on the full support of the millions of working people who belong to our unions,” said AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka at a press conference announcing plans to mobilize workers on Black Friday.
I wish I could believe that, for most people, that support will be anything but token. The labor movement is neither strong nor united enough to really force change. It’s not entirely their fault; unions have faced a decline in membership and clout for decades, not to mention a constant barrage of vicious, negative attacks from conservatives who blame unions for just about everything that’s gone wrong with this country. Anti-union “right-to-work” legislation has made gains in many states.
Unions sometimes haven’t helped their cause; the inexplicable behavior of unions during Connecticut’s 2011 budget fight comes to mind. Some unions seem more interested in preserving and expanding what they have instead of fighting for justice for all workers. They are, in some ways, victims of their own success. It’s unfortunate (and probably not a coincidence) that when fast food and retail workers need support, the labor movement is at a low ebb.
So, absent a strong labor movement, what can we do to support American workers who work hard, have jobs, take responsibility for their lives, and yet still can’t manage to make ends meet thanks to low wages?
One thing we can do is continue to raise the minimum wage. Massachusetts’s state senate recently passed a bill that would raise the minimum wage there to $11/hour. This far outpaces Connecticut’s minimum wage hike, which will increase to $9/hour in 2015. This is still much better than the federal minimum wage, which currently is $7.25/hour. Only about 25,000 workers in Connecticut make the minimum wage, but pushing that wage higher often has the effect of raising wages elsewhere.
Another step people can take is to not patronize places that treat their workers poorly. If you’re going out on Black Friday, maybe think about going to Costco instead of Walmart, if you can manage it. Not everyone can do this, of course; budgets are tight everywhere.
Maybe the most important thing people can do, though, is to keep spreading the word. Companies who treat workers badly rely on consumer ignorance; when customers start becoming informed and outraged then things may, at last, change.
As for Gray Thursday, Massachusetts has a law forbidding stores to open on Thanksgiving. It’s a great law. Connecticut ought to think about passing one just like it.
Tags: wages, minimum wage, fast food, Black Friday, retail, workers, workers' rights, labor, Susan Bigelow, dh
Fate of Canceled Plans Likely Will Be Decided Today
California, New York, and Massachusetts have all decided they won’t be giving consumers with plans canceled under the Affordable Care Act a chance to keep them. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy may announce whether Connecticut will join them later today.
Connecticut may be considered the insurance capital, but there are only four insurance carriers competing in the individual market in the state and at the moment no one has any idea how many plans may have been canceled due to the Affordable Care Act.
Insurance Commissioner Thomas Leonardi said earlier this week that of the 27,000 policies offered by Anthem—which has the largest share of the market—about 9,000 policies will be impacted.
The legislature’s two Republican leaders wrote Leonardi earlier this week and asked him to provide more detail about how he’s calculating the number of consumers falling off these plans that were not grandfathered under the new law. These types of numbers are generally not something the Insurance Department collects from the carriers that it regulates.
Sen. Kevin Kelly, a Republican who sits on the legislature’s Insurance and Real Estate Committee, said he’s offended that Leonardi has the time to go to the White House Wednesday, but is sending his deputy commissioner to Friday’s legislative hearing.
“The governor should direct the commissioner to show up at tomorrow’s Insurance Committee meeting ready to answer questions and be honest with the people’s representatives about the real impact of the Affordable Care Act in our state,” Sen. Kelly said in a statement.
In the past two years, the Leonardi has made five appearances before the Insurance Committee to testify on pending legislation. Currently, he is not on the schedule to testify Friday, but Anne Melissa Dowling, his deputy commissioner, is on the agenda of scheduled speakers.
It’s unclear if Leonardi was specifically invited to give testimony. The Insurance Department spokeswoman did not return calls for comment Thursday.
Last week, Sen. Republican leader John McKinney, who is also running for governor, said he doesn’t believe Malloy has the power to unilaterally accept Obama’s directive. He said the General Assembly would need to convene a special session and overturn legislation it passed in 2011 before Malloy could agree to what’s being called the Obama “fix.” McKinney said a simple directive from the president doesn’t change the underlying law, which Connecticut chose to memorialize in legislation..
For the past week Malloy and the Insurance Department have been reviewing their options and talking to insurance companies about what they would like to see happen.
After Obama’s announcement last week, America’s Health Insurance Plans’ President and CEO Karen Ignagni changing the rules now could destablize the market.
“Premiums have already been set for next year based on an assumption of when consumers will be transitioning to the new marketplace,” Ignagni, head of the national trade association for the health insurance industry, said. The danger is that if “fewer younger and healthier people choose to purchase coverage in the exchange, premiums will increase in the marketplace and there will be fewer choices for consumers.”
In the meantime, Malloy has been critical of Obama for attempting to make good on an often-repeated pledge that consumers who like their insurance plans could keep them.
In making that pledge, Obama took state insurance commissioners, insurance companies, and governors by surprise. His announcement forced states to reach a decision about how to treat these canceled policies.
“I think Washington has messed this thing up pretty badly. I’m not happy with them. We’ve done a great job here in Connecticut and I think that we can do a better job helping folks,” he said Tuesday.
Shortly after that at 11 a.m. the Insurance and Real Estate Committee will hold an informational hearing on Connecticut’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
How many people will be impacted?
Families USA, a national organization that supported the Affordable Care Act, released a report Thursday that said about 5.7 percent of Americans purchase their insurance in the individual market. Of those only 0.6 percent have incomes over 400 percent of the federal poverty level and would not qualify for a subsidy through the exchange.
According to the report, which used 2010-2011 Census data, about two-thirds of individuals in the individual market did not purchase insurance that lasted more than 12 months.
“The individual market before the Affordable Care Act was a transitory source of insurance and the “wild wild west” of health insurance marketplaces, with high out-of-pocket costs and few consumer protections,” the organization says in the report. “For most consumers who bought individual market coverage, it was their only health insurance option because they did not have an offer of affordable job-based coverage and their income was too high to qualify for Medicaid.”
Click here to read the Families USA report.