Monthly Archives: November 2013

Connecticut lawmakers sponsor bills that go nowhere

Capitol dome looking up

Washington — When Sen. Chris Murphy returns from his Thanksgiving break, he hopes to introduce a bill that would pressure colleges to keep tuition rates down.It will be the 14th bill Murphy, D-Conn., has introduced since he was sworn into the Senate in January. His co-sponsor is someone with nearly as little seniority, Brian Schatz, a Democrat who was appointed to represent Hawaii in the Senate last December.Murphy admitted it may be hard to win approval of his bill in the 113th Congress, but he said he’s looking at the long term.“We’re a long way before these ideas will become standard,” he said.The fact that most legislation introduced by members of Congress will never become law doesn’t faze lawmakers who introduce thousands of bills, resolutions and amendments every year. Only about 200 of the nearly 12,000 bills introduced in the last Congress made it to President Obama’s desk to be signed into law.There are plenty of good reasons that otherwise accomplished people have adopted a behavior that seems doomed to failure, analysts say. The biggest reason is to please constituents, said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.“Over the years, I have come to realize that a good portion of the public doesn’t know the difference between introducing a bill and passing a bill — or at least they seem to give legislators about equal credit for simply trying, as opposed to actually achieving,“ Sabato said. “Introducing a bill means a lawmaker can air a TV ad that breathlessly declares Congressman X is ‘fighting for [insert popular issue].’”In the Connecticut congressional delegation, there’s a wide variety in the number of bill introductions and the focus of legislation.Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., leads the delegation with his introduction of 68 bills, resolutions and amendments so far this year.Himes is dead last with the introduction of one piece of legislation — a resolution that would recognize May 2013 as the “National Pediatric Stroke Awareness Month.” It failed to pass.But Himes spokeswoman Elizabeth Kerr pointed out that he won approval in the Intelligence Committee of an amendment to an intelligence bill aimed at protecting personal information amid the nation’s cyber wars.Like other members of Connecticut’s House delegation, Himes is stymied because he’s a Democrat in a GOP-led chamber. Continue Reading →

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College officials to get Christmas raises … but amounts will be kept secret

The Old Main building at Western Connecticut State University

Dozens of administrators and top officials at the Board of Regents for Higher Education will get raises in their Dec. 27 paychecks, but how much of a raise they receive will be a secret.The 279 managers and administrators could see their pay increase by 6.5 percent this fiscal year. Regardless of what they’re earning now, their salaries will rise by 3 percent to reflect cost-of-living increases; and, all are eligible for an additional 3.5 percent merit raise following their evaluations.These raises –- which will cost the colleges and universities $515,000 this year and $638,00 next year –- were approved by the college system’s governing board last week, a step bypassed last year when Robert A. Kennedy, the former college president, unilaterally approved raises for his staff. That move, among other missteps, led to his resignation.A spokeswoman for the system said Wednesday that the college system cannot release the amount of the raises because state law forbids the release of an employee’s evaluation without his or her consent.”If we weren’t prohibited by law to release this information, we would,” Juliet Manalan, the spokeswoman for the 92,000-student college system, said during an interview Wednesday.Naomi Cohen, chairwoman of the regents’ Administration Committee, said last week that the raises are warranted.“We do it based on two things: our ongoing policy process and also the regard and appreciation that we have for the men and women managers and confidential employees [administrators] who are vital to the work of our system on behalf of the students in our state,” said Cohen.These raises come as the system grapples with closing a multimillion deficit that has led officials to put off hiring full-time faculty, custodians and other staff at the 16-campus and online college system. The colleges and universities have also been forced to cut their operating expenses by taking steps such as reducing the hours their libraries are open.The Board of Regents denied the Mirror’s requests for the current salary of these non-union employees eligible for raises. Continue Reading →

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Murphy travels to Europe to smooth relations after NSA spying revelations

Washington — Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said he took a quick trip to Europe this week to try to improve strained relations in the wake of revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency spied on Europeans, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.He said he was met in Brussels and Berlin by “anxiety, frustration and even anger.”“This was first and foremost, a mission of goodwill,” Murphy said.One purpose of the trip, inspired by a recent visit of European Union officials to Washington, was to save a pending trade agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, Murphy said.After the revelations of NSA spying, some European leaders wanted to scuttle the trade pact.While he tried to smooth U.S.-European relations, Murphy said he also reminded officials that Europeans were complicit in some of the NSA spying.“But I believe personally that the United States crossed the line by listening in on the cellphone of Merkel,” Murphy said.He was accompanied on the trip by Reps. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.Murphy is subcommittee chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee panel on Europe, but the rest of the delegation does not have high-ranking positions on any committee involved in foreign policy.The three-person delegation was also small, especially considering its stated purpose. “The reason the delegation was so small is that it is Thanksgiving week,” Murphy said.  Continue Reading →

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Malloy’s 2013 Thanksgiving proclamation

On the eve of Thanksgiving, Governor Dannel P. Malloy shared the following message with Connecticut residents:“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.” Continue Reading →

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Wind power blocked again in CT — political charges fly

For the fourth time in a little less than a year, a legislative committee has declined to approve regulations for wind turbines in Connecticut, leaving in place a moratorium on wind power projects that has been in effect for more than two years. It reaffirms Connecticut as the only state in the region, and possibly in the nation, that specifically does not permit wind projects. Continue Reading →

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Judge orders police to release tapes of 911 calls from Sandy Hook Elementary

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A Superior Court judge refused Tuesday to stay the Freedom of Information Commission’s order that Newtown police release tapes of the 911 calls made after gunfire erupted at Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing 26 students and staff.Judge Eliot D. Prescott ordered police to release the tapes by 2 p.m. on Dec. 4 unless Danbury State’s Attorney Stephen J. Sedensky III can convince the Appellate Court that the ruling should be reversed.”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 undermines confidence in our law enforcement officials,” Prescott wrote.Sedensky said he was reviewing the decision.The FOI Commission ordered the release of the tapes Sept. 25 in response to a complaint by the Associated Press. The order was made after the FOI hearing officer reviewed the tapes privately, as did the judge.It is well-established that 911 tapes are public records under the Freedom of Information Act, but Sedensky argued that they should be withheld as relating to an incident of child abuse or that they be treated as signed witness statements. He also said that their release would have a “chilling effect” on others who may need to call 911.The judge rejected those arguments as a matter of law and logic.”There is no dispute in this case that the audio recordings of the 911 calls made from the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. Continue Reading →

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Malloy picks Dzurenda to oversee prisons

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Gov. Dannel P. Malloy named James E. Dzurenda as Correction Department commissioner Tuesday, choosing the career employee over two out-of-state finalists and making it clear that Dzurenda impressed during his six months as interim boss.Dzurenda, 48, of Stratford, takes over at a time when parole and correction professionals are trying to formalize risk-assessment procedures, part of a national movement to lower the risk of recidivism.Malloy said he wants the new commissioner to work with the Office of Policy and Management, the Parole Board and the Judicial Branch to expand the department’s research and analysis capabilities.“At the end of the day, the criminal justice system exists to prevent crime,” Malloy said.Dzurenda described his 26-year career as the byproduct of a job he took as a jail guard in Bridgeport, intending to earn enough money to pay for college.“I never even thought I’d continue my career in corrections,” Dzurenda said. He described seeing more and more opportunities as he advanced, working in five correctional institutions and eventually becoming the deputy commissioner for operations.He was named interim commissioner at the retirement of Leo Arnone.“I plan on being around for a long time,” Dzurenda said.He oversees a system that housed 17,151 inmates as of the monthly census Nov. 1. With no system of county or city jails, the Department of Correction houses sentenced inmates, who comprise about 75 percent of the prison population, and those awaiting trial.The population has dropped from 19,551 five years ago.A 2012 study that tracked 14,398 male offenders for five years after their release in 2005 found a re-arrest rate of 79 percent, with 50 percent returned to prison.“Public safety is my No. 1 priority,” Dzurenda said, adding that one of the most effective ways to safeguard the public is to reduce recidivism and give offenders the support they need to succeed after release. Continue Reading →

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Nearly half the students from Hartford now attend integrated schools

Nearly half of the students from Hartford now attend integrated schools, the state reports — 17 years after the Connecticut Supreme Court ordered the state to eliminate the educational inequities caused by the segregation of Hartford’s overwhelmingly black and Hispanic school population. “We are proud of the progress we’ve made to date,” said Kelly Donnelly, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Education. The news that 8,374 Hartford students attend “integrated” schools — a term used when less than three-quarters of a school’s student population are minorities — comes as state officials and plaintiffs’ attorneys in the Sheff vs. O’Neill desegregation case negotiate whether to provide even more students with an integrated education. “We will continue to work toward our collective goal: ensuring that all children in Hartford have access to the quality educational opportunities they deserve in their community,” Donnelly said in a statement. Continue Reading →

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Malloy administration defends its deficit forecast

Calandro and Barnes, Nov 2014

No one’s disputing that Connecticut’s budget is heading for a deficit after next year’s gubernatorial election.The only question is how big it will be: $612 million? Or $1.1 billion?Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration defended its rosier view of state finances Monday, though it told lawmakers that major new spending must likely be postponed for at least two years.But Republicans on the legislature’s budget panels argued that the forecast ignores inflationary and other costs to minimize the deficit awaiting Connecticut after the 2014 state elections.“We attempted to provide an estimate which reasonably captures the challenge we face,” Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes, Malloy’s budget chief, told the Appropriations and Finance, Revenue & Bonding committees during a joint meeting.Barnes’ office estimated Friday that the state is on pace to run a $612 million shortfall in 2015-16 — the first fiscal year after the gubernatorial election. That’s a gap of 3.3 percent.At the same time, the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis pegged the post-election shortfall at $1.1 billion, or 6 percent.Barnes’ office didn’t count a $305 million inflationary adjustment used by the nonpartisan analysts, nor about $124 million worth of town aid increases required by law.The budget director noted that legislatures and governors haven’t built across-the-board inflationary increases into agency budgets in more than two decades. And mandated hikes in town aid are waived year after year — with the deficit otherwise stretching beyond $1 billion, it was realistic to assume lawmakers would withhold these funds once again.“I think we’re trying to reflect the reality,” Barnes said, adding that failing to take this approach would lead to a state budget “that would entail large tax increases.”But Republican lawmakers argued that the Democratic governor’s budget office was motivated more by politics than by fiscal prudency in its latest forecast.Fiscal analysts for both the governor and the legislature used to include inflationary adjustments and statutory town aid levels in past deficit forecasts.“Why now have you made that change?” Rep. Jason Perillo, R-Shelton, asked Barnes, who again insisted his office concluded this was the most accurate assessment of the post-election deficit.Malloy hasn’t launched a campaign but all indications, including his participation in various party fundraisers, are that he is running.Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, a veteran member of the finance panel, called the administration’s new forecast “more of a wish list.”Even if lawmakers ultimately choose not to increase agency budgets or grants to towns after the election, they still need to know the cost of these initiatives, Candelora said.The top House Republican on the Appropriations Committee, Craig Miner of Litchfield, drew a parallel with 2009, when Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s administration avoided proposing tax increases by forecasting a much milder recession than Connecticut ultimately faced.The Democratic-controlled legislature responded by enacting a requirement — over Rell’s veto — that budget analysts for both branches develop consensus revenue reports three times annually.“Maybe we need to take some action to centralize the decision-making process” in forecasting deficits, Miner said.Leaders of the Democratic-controlled budget panels backed the administration’s decision.Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, said later that while state finances are much better off than when Malloy inherited an 18 percent budget shortfall in 2011-12, Connecticut can’t afford any major new spending yet.“When we know we can’t afford it, why not say it?” she said.“That’s reality, folks,” said Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, who co-chairs the finance panel.  Continue Reading →

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CT one of four states meeting Head Start quality benchmarks

Only four states require their Head Start preschool programs to meet certain benchmarks recommended by child experts: keeping class sizes under 20 students, and below eight students for infant classrooms; and keeping certain adult-to-child ratios. Continue Reading →

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