Sexual harassment, tax bill, Flynn’s plea dominate the week

Allegations of sexual misconduct loomed large for a third straight week – this time taking down NBC Today show co-host Matt Lauer and longtime star of The Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor.

There was also a call by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., to step down in the wake of sexual harassment accusations from his longtime deputy chief of staff.

That revelation and others brought into focus Congress’s practice of paying for secret settlements of sexual harassment cases – something that bothers former Connecticut Rep. Chris Shays, who helped establish the Office of Compliance 20 years ago.

Chris Shays

Chris Shays

The unsettling news resonated in workplaces and homes around America, nearly eclipsing talk of the Republican tax reform plan that was moving toward passage despite concerns here and in Washington that it will drive up taxes for many Connecticut residents, depress housing prices, reduce charitable giving and inflate the national deficit by about $1 trillion over the next ten years.

The version approved early Saturday by the U.S. Senate would end the deductibility of state income taxes and — in an element important to Connecticut owners of crumbling foundations caused by tainted concrete — also end the so-called “casualty deduction” they recently won IRS permission to use to offset their losses.

Yet even the highly contentious tax bill had to compete with Friday’s dramatic guilty plea by President Donald Trump’s national security advisor, Michael Flynn, to charges of lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

The impact of the development on the presidency remains to be seen, but Flynn’s plea confirmed earlier predictions by Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal that Flynn was “in deep trouble.” It also added steam to the senator’s recent concern expressed to Vice President Michael Pence regarding Flynn’s “actions on behalf of foreign governments” while working in the White House.

mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org

Attorney General George Jepsen making his announcement

One bright spot in Washington was apparent bipartisan support for a bill to strengthen the nation’s gun purchaser background check system; but the Trump administration’s disinterest in approving an agreement to build a casino in East Windsor compelled the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal nations and the state to sue the Department of the Interior.

Among others, U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, is a little frustrated with the pace of progress on turning Hartford’s Coltsville neighborhood into a national park.

Meanwhile a surprise announcement by State Attorney General George Jepsen that he would not seek reelection stirred the state’s political stewpot. The new opening will be attractive to many, but only open to a select few.

Gubernatorial hopeful and Bridgeport Mayor and convicted felon Joe Ganim got some bad news from a federal court about his eligibility for public campaign financing; and twice-unsuccessful conservative candidate Peter Lumaj declared his candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor.

Connecticut’s budgetary problems aren’t over, either. The long debate before passage of the budget put the state in a bad cash-flow position — one that might require borrowing from operating funds to finance capital projects. That did not stop the bond commission from allocating $1.4 million for the purchase of body cameras for 14 police departments.

This is a photo of Pedro Lopez asking how long it will take to sign up for insurance at the Access Health CT store in New Britain.Friday, Comptroller Kevin Lembo confirmed Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s earlier statement that the budget is running at a $207.8 million deficit pace — significant enough to require developing a mitigation plan.

Healthcare continued to be a concern. The damage caused by a seven-week contract standoff between Hartford HealthCare and Anthem brought calls for corrective legislation.  Enrollment in the Affordable Care Act in Connecticut, despite all the uncertainty over the future of the program, is projected to be on a par with last year.

Homelessness in Connecticut is also down to a five-year low.

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