Monthly Archives: February 2013

Sequester now certain, but impact unknown

Washington — In largely symbolic moves Thursday, the Senate made one last-ditch effort to avoid sequestration, or automatic spending cuts that will affect most government agencies and many federal programs and services. Now the sequester will take effect Friday. But its full impact is under debate — and could determine which party has an edge in future debates over the federal budget. On Thursday, Republican and Democrats in the Senate put forth bills that would avoid the sequester by cutting the budget in a different way. Both attempts failed. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Newtown father reaches out to reluctant senators

Washington — The day after giving emotional testimony in support of an assault weapons ban, Neil Heslin, who lost his 6-year-old son Jesse in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, continued to reach out to lawmakers on gun control.As senators filed into the Senate chambers to vote on budget legislation, Heslin dodged lobbyists and reporters, trying to snare the attention of Republicans who might be persuaded on the issue of gun control.”I’m doing everything I can,” Heslin said.He introduced himself to lawmakers simply as someone who lost his child in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. Neil Heslin at the Capitol, where he has spent the last two days advocating for gun legislation. Heslin spoke to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who may be a swing vote on bills to expand FBI background checks and increase federal penalties for “straw purchases” or buying guns for those who are banned from owning them.McCain said he reminds victims of gun violence like Heslin that “it was in my state that the shootings in Tucson occurred.”On Jan. 8, 2011, an event outside a Tucson supermarket turned deadly when a gunman opened fire, killing six people and wounding former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 13 others.McCain said he will continue to meet with gun violence victims, including Giffords, who advocates for gun control.Shortly after the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, pledged to raise money and assist in the gun control campaign.Heslin was accompanied in his rounds of citizen lobbying by Steve Grinch, who also lost a son in December. Grinch’s son was shot to death during a robbery at South Carolina’s Clemson University.Using that connection, the pair approached South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican who was at the center of a drama at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday that featured Heslin as a witness.Milwaukee police Chief Edward Flynn and Graham had a heated exchange when the lawmaker said data shows a majority of those who lie on background check forms are never prosecuted.Flynn argued that law enforcement was working hard to prevent illegal purchases, not conducting “paper prosecutions.”Graham might be a hard sell on gun control. But he and fellow Judiciary Committee member Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., invited Heslin and Grinch to witness the debate and votes on four gun-control bills scheduled to be considered by the committee next week.One of those bills will be an assault weapons ban, which is unlikely to be approved by the full Senate.But those lobbying for gun control — like Heslin, Grinch and more than 30 Newtown residents who blanketed Capitol Hill this week — may be moving the needle on other legislation, even if it’s not the full package President Obama and others wanted.”You can’t fix the world in a day,” Grinch said.Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said other measures, including a bill that would increase penalties on gun trafficking and straw purchases, might win enough GOP support to pass the Senate.He told the Connecticut Mirror he would even consider supporting the expansion of background checks — conducted now only at gun dealers — to private sales.”I’d have to see the language,” Grassley said.Grassley would join a growing number of Senate Republicans who are likely to support the expansion of background checks. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Despite limited research, lawmakers scrutinize violent video games

In response to the horrific Newtown massacre, state and federal lawmakers have proposed at least four bills to study and regulate the impact of violent video games on children’s behavior. The bills all come in reaction to published reports that Adam Lanza, the gunman who shot and killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School, appears to have spent hours playing violent video games on his computer before the shooting. But research on video games is conflicting and inconclusive so far, partly because the impact of these games is difficult to measure. Many researchers believe there is a tendency for those who play violent video games to become more aggressive and less empathetic, particularly if they play excessively. But that’s a long way from becoming a school shooter. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

UConn quietly boosts tuition $40 more

The University of Connecticut has quietly implemented an additional tuition increase over and above the 25.6 percent increase going into effect. A spokeswoman at the University of Connecticut says the additional $40 increase for fiscal 2014 was tucked into the fiscal 2013 budget approved last June and is in addition to the $2,112, four-year increase put in place 14 months ago. When the Board of Trustees approved the majority of the increase in December 2011, the trustees built in an asterisk to the tuition schedule. It provided that, in the event state funding decreases, tuition could be increased another 2.1 percent overall without another vote by the college’s governing board. “If the State appropriation decreases or the current fiscal climate worsens, the University may revisit the approved tuition increase amounts,” an accompanying board resolution from 2011 reads. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Popular NYC-Boston Bus Company Service Temporarily Shut Down

By: Georgia Lobb

One of the cheapest ways to get from Boston to New York is by taking a bus. And for fifteen dollars a trip, it’s hard to beat the Fung Wah bus, which runs from Manhattan to Boston’s transportation epicenter, South Station.  News broke earlier this week that Fung Wah busses are being ordered off the road by the federal government due to safety issues. A day later, the MBTA banned Fung Wah from operating in and out of South Station. “Due to the safety issues involved in the suspension of your company’s right to operate a passenger bus service for a substantial portion of your bus fleet, the MBTA insists that your company immediately cease all passenger bus operations from SSBT until further notice,” read a letter from MBTA to the Fung Wah Bus Transportation company. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Report Shows Recent Rise in Teen Driving Deaths

By: Georgia Lobb

Photo courtesy of ghsa.org
The year 2011 marks an increase in what was previously a steadily declining rate of teen driver deaths, according to a Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) report earlier this month. The GHSA reports that driving related deaths of 16 and 17 year old drivers have risen a staggering 19 percent in the first half of 2012. The report documents only 1 death of a 16-year old driver in Connecticut in 2011 (and none in 2010), which was that of Ridgefield native Jacqueline Brice. 

A problem that seems to be plaguing the younger generation of drivers, and which is perhaps the reason for the recent spike in teen driving deaths, is distracted driving. Distracted driving can be anything from eating and drinking behind the wheel, to fiddling with the radio, to grooming. But the most dangerous distraction currently is texting while driving. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

One MORE reason why the speaker is a wonk

The revival Thursday of a legislative commission on regional issues is not going to quicken the political pulse, but it says a few things about the new speaker of the House, Rep. J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden. Sharkey
Unlike the House Democratic version created by his predecessor, this panel is bipartisan and bicameral, involving Republicans and senators. Sharkey says it is a signal of how he intends to run the House. And then there is the topic itself. Even in Sharkey’s view, regionalism is a bit wonkish, as most politicians shy away from the decidedly unsexy goal of efficiency, especially when it bumps up against the ingrained New England tradition of local independence. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Labor committee endorses longshot minimum wage raise

The legislature’s Labor and Public Employees Committee voted along party lines today to endorse increasing the $8.25 minimum wage. That’s the easy part of raising the wage for the first time in three years. Getting a vote in the Senate and House seems unlikely. The Senate refused to bring a minimum wage bill to a vote last year, concluding that it was bad for business in a weak economy, and the new House speaker has no interest in taking up the issue this year. House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said today he thinks the timing is bad to raise the wage. Continue Reading →

Filed under: ,

Ash tree beetle bores further into state

The invasive and destructive beetle that attacks ash trees seems to have dug in even more deeply here. The emerald ash borer, which turned up in five New Haven County communities last summer after being held at bay for years across the border in New York, has been found in three more communities. Continue Reading →

Filed under: ,

Malloy supports Marcus on eve of confirmation hearing

On the eve of her confirmation hearing, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday he has learned nothing about Shelley Marcus of Branford that would disqualify her since nominating her as a judge. But the legal advice Marcus gave to participants involved in a “gifting table,” which is a form of pyramid scheme, is likely to be explored Friday as she and 14 other Superior Court nominees are subject to hearings before the legislature’s Judiciary Committee. Marcus was nominated to the Superior Court on Jan. 24. The next day, Marcus emerged as a witness in a federal fraud trial, facing questions about the advice she and her father, former Democratic State Chairman Ed Marcus, gave to women running a gifting table in their hometown of Branford. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Jepsen joins amicus briefs supporting gay marriage

As one of the states that has legalized same-sex marriage, Connecticut has joined a dozen other states in filing amicus briefs urging the U.S. Supreme Court to support lower court decisions striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, which limits marriage under federal law to the union of a man and a woman. “Discrimination based on sexual orientation has no place in our society or under our laws,” Attorney General Jepsen said in a statement today. “I urge the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm these decisions and recognize the same equal protection rights for all married couples.” Jepsen signed onto to amicus briefs in defense of a California decision that struck down Proposition 8, a referendum making same-sex marriage illegal, and a New York case in which a federal appeals court struck down DOMA. The New York case is especially important in Connecticut, because it affirms the rights of all married couples to equal benefits under federal law, including the economic benefits of filing a joint tax return or receiving a survivor’s benefit from Social Security, Jepsen said. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

U.S. House Democrats name Himes as lead fundraiser

Washington — The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the political organization in charge of raising campaign cash and planning strategy to get Democrats elected to the U.S. House, has named Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, as its lead fundraiser. Himes will succeed Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., as the DCCC Finance Committee chairman, said Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., the DCCC chairman. Schwartz has decided to run for governor of Pennsylvania. “The DCCC is in our best financial position in years, and Jim Himes is the right person to build on our terrific operation so that we can wage a strong battle to roll back the Tea Party Republican House,” Israel said. Himes represents one of the wealthiest districts in the nation, a prime source of campaign funds for both parties. Continue Reading →

Filed under: ,

Newtown residents push for assault weapons ban

Washington — Nearly three dozen Newtown residents, including family members of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, have joined an 11th hour effort to win congressional support for an assault weapons ban.”The damage done by an assault weapon, compared to a regular gun, is horrific,” said William Begg, an emergency room doctor from Newtown. Posters of Jesse, 6, were part of Neil Heslin’s testimony Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Heslin is seated at the table, and Dr. William Begg is to his left. Begg, who treated victims of the school shootings, was one of two Newtown residents who testified at a hearing Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the proposed ban.The other was Neil Heslin, father of 6-year-old Jesse, who died in the massacre.Heslin gave riveting and tearful testimony about dropping Jesse off at school on the morning of the shooting and of how his son died — from two bullets to the head.”Both bullets were fired from the front,” Heslin said. “That means the last thing my son did was look (shooter) Adam Lanza straight in the face and scream to his classmates to run.”Heslin also told lawmakers that he and his son were familiar with guns, and that Jesse had even looked through a gun magazine at home the night before the shooting. But, Heslin said, there is only one purpose for assault weapons like the Bushmaster used to shoot Jesse. “They are used to kill people.”Heslin and others who testified in support of the ban, including Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and law enforcement officials from Colorado and Wisconsin who say these guns slaughter cops, are unlikely to change many minds in the Senate, where newly proposed gun control measures will face their first test.Most Senate Republicans, with the possible exception of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, are expected to oppose the reinstatement of a federal ban on military-style rifles that expired in 2004. At least 10 Democratic senators also oppose reinstatement of the ban.Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., sponsored the legislation that would outlaw the sale, transfer, importation and manufacturing of 157 specifically named semiautomatic assault weapons. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Mental health panel to endorse educator training, case management, not outpatient commitment

A bipartisan legislative panel crafting policy changes in response to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School is expected to recommend that case management be available to people with serious mental illness and that educators receive “mental health first aid” training to recognize signs of problems.
The committee will also recommend creating a task force to look at ways to improve the mental health system for adolescents and young adults, including addressing gaps in private insurance coverage. And it’s likely to endorse a Massachusetts program that helps pediatricians intervene when children have psychiatric needs, the group’s co-chairwomen said Wednesday. The details of the recommendations — like whether to encourage or mandate the teacher training — are still being finalized. But the panel is not expected to endorse changes to insurance coverage, or to recommend the use of court-ordered outpatient treatment for people with mental illnesses, a controversial concept that had gained some support in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting. “Instead of outpatient commitment, what we thought would work better would be programs that provide case management-slash-coordination for individuals who seem to be recycling in and out of [probate] courts,” said Sen. Toni Harp, a New Haven Democrat who co-chairs the panel. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

The price of attending UConn to rise by 5.1%

The University of Connecticut is raising student fees by $116 next fall, when a previously approved tuition increase is to take effect: State residents will pay $574 more in tuition and fees, a 5.1 percent increase. For students living on campus, the cost will jump $954. The increase brings the price for Connecticut residents to attend UConn to $11,936 a year. For in-state students living on campus the cost is $23,410 a year. Photo source: UConn
College officials say the additional costs to students are necessary to help offset reductions in state support and the cost of hiring additional faculty, but student members on UConn’s board of trustees aren’t convinced. Continue Reading →

Filed under: