<![CDATA[NBC Connecticut - Connecticut Political News, NY and CT Politics, and More]]> Copyright 2015 http://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/politics http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/NBC_Connecticut.png NBC Connecticut http://www.nbcconnecticut.com en-us Thu, 28 May 2015 10:05:09 -0400 Thu, 28 May 2015 10:05:09 -0400 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Teachers Union Alarmed Over Use of Student Data]]> Wed, 27 May 2015 21:41:47 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/hamden+public+schools.jpg

The Hamden school system turned over data to an education research group and leaders with one of Connecticut's largest teachers' unions say the group is worried about how it will be used.

"We’re very very concerned about the rights of students and parents of such education data," said Mark Waxenberg, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association.

At issue is a study commissioned by the Hamden Board of Education through a memorandum of understanding with the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, a group commissioned by former Gov. Jodi Rell.

The non-profit organization provides data analysis and reports to school districts free of charge. The study in Hamden was focused on system-wide expenditures.

The CEA is critical of the wide-ranging data that includes information about students, layouts of schools and that fact that parents were not informed that the information had been released at all.

"They’re capable of selling all of this information to be used to manipulate a variety of different ways for purposes that are unknown to us other than they own the data," Waxenberg said.

Hamden Public School officials couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.

Jeffrey Villar, executive director of CCER, said he was "disturbed" by the way the CEA characterized the work done by the non-profit. He said the study has a value of $103,000 based on consulting fees.

Villar said a district attorney reviewed the group's agreement with Hamden and the memorandum of understanding has a clear confidentiality clause that prevents anything the CEA alleged from happening.

"The data is not student or personally identifiable. We don’t receive a full data set that would allow us to put things together to determine that this is an individual student’s record. We don’t need that data. We’re not interested in that. We’re looking to do a high level district analysis," Villar said.

CCER has conducted analyses for multiple large school systems, including Waterbury, Meriden and Bridgeport.

Villar said the group takes safeguards to make sure the data, which does include information about students, is safe from hackers.

"We use secure protocols on servers, we don’t send emails with files, we don’t use thumb drives or that sort of thing," he said.

Waxenberg isn't convinced and wants to see policies at the state level that ensure that all student data is kept in the right place.

"We do not believe that that data should be allowed outside of the local board of education, the state board of education, and without parental consent to a third party," he said.

Parents waiting outside a school in Hamden said they want to be informed before the school system enters any agreement that involves the sharing of student information.

"Well it depends what it is but still they should talk to the parents first" said Yerika Cruz. "Doesn’t matter what it is. They should just let the parents know before they do anything."

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com]]>
<![CDATA[VA Hospitals Improving But Not There Yet: Blumenthal]]> Mon, 25 May 2015 19:48:29 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/VA00000000.jpg

After marching in the Stratford Memorial Day Parade, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Veterans' Affairs hospitals still need to take major strides a years after the scandal that cost the agency's secretary his job.

“We are still falling way short of providing the care that our veterans need to keep pace with our veterans," said Blumenthal. "Particularly in mental health care, we lose 22 veterans a day to post-traumatic stress and the invisible wounds of war."

Early last year, the Arizona Republican reported on long wait lines for VA beneficiaries to see doctors and said online tracking records had been falsified to make it look as if the wait times had in fact decreased.

The scandal eventually cost then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki his job. Congress then acted on several reforms meant to improve services and outcomes for VA patients, such as cutting down wait times and even allowing some patients to see private doctors if they meet certain criteria.

Blumenthal said there have been efforts to take funds from Connecticut Hospitals in efforts to shore up resources in places where VA facilities have significantly lagged like Arizona, Alabama and Colorado.

"I will not allow that to happen," Blumenthal said. "I will fight any effort to short change our veterans in health care, particularly mental health care, to compensate for the shortcomings in other states."

Bob Johnson, a Vietnam veteran and current Veterans of Foreign Wars commander in Stratford who marched with Blumenthal, said he was in awe of the show of support at the Stratford parade those who lost their lives in combat.

"I was taken aback," he said.

Johnson has volunteered at the West Haven VA Hospital in recent years working with the blind unit as they use kayaks and rowing to help the disabled.

He said programs like that have improved outcomes and other veterans have told him the same in general about conditions at the VA.

"The care is getting better, yes it is. The people, the government who have made the changes, the care at the VA hospitals is much better it was a year ago," he said.

<![CDATA[Firefighters, Police Could See More Workers' Comp]]> Fri, 22 May 2015 19:03:54 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/COPSPTSD00000000.jpg

Late Thursday and early into Friday the Connecticut Senate debated and eventually passed a measure that would increase workers' compensation for cancer diagnoses and post-traumatic stress disorder for first responders.

"What it will do is allow people to go out and feel inspired as police officers, going out into the field and facing the things that we do and seeing the things we do," said Connecticut State Police Union President Andy Matthews.

The measure received bipartisan support. If the House approves the bill and the governor signs it, professional firefighters with five years of service will be covered. Volunteers will need 15 years of service and certification to fight interior fires.

For police, the victory is in the form of coverage for post-traumatic stress disorder. It came within hours of a state labor board siding with a Newtown officer who suffered mental anguish during the Sandy Hook school shooting. He'll be more than $380,000 until he reaches retirement age, at which time he will collect on his pension.

Cities and towns argue they were shut out from negotiations on the bill, which they say could cost taxpayers and town budgets millions of dollars due to abuse and waste.

"Think about all of the detectives who go to crime scenes and say, 'Well, you know what, I was very upset with that,'" said South Windsor Town Manager Matthew Galligan, who serves as the current President of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.

Galligan says the new coverage amounts to an unfunded mandate that puts firefighters and police on a different benefit scale.

"We have veterans come home from Iraq, Afghanistan and Iraq, who are coming home with real, serious issues, we’re doing nothing for them, they’re out there in the streets, with no helping hand, and now because somebody walks into a crime scene, we’re going to pay through the nose for the rest of our lives," he said during an interview Friday.

Police unions in Connecticut are thrilled with the passage by the Senate.

They argue that coverage for PTSD, which they say amounts to mental health improvements, will only make the police force stronger and is good for the communities they serve.

“Wouldn’t the towns want their police officers to be mentally healthy carrying a gun and a badge, being able to respond to a critical incident where they may have to save someone’s life or their own?" said Matthews with the State Police Union. "There’s no price tag for that, right?"

Matthews says any talk of abuse is meant as a scare tactic aimed at killing the bill.

"Not every bad scene we go up to will we put in for a workman’s comp benefit for post traumatic stress. Everybody handles it differently," he said.

Galligan says he's uncertain as to how the Connecticut House will view the legislation. His fear is that the organized labor groups who pushed the bill in the Senate will have similar success, which may lead to millions in payouts for firefighters and police.

“We understand government and what it takes to care for people and firefighters and what they do," Galligan said. "[Firefighters] go to the state legislature with these people who are backed by the unions and they know they are going to be able to not negotiate with us and get their negotiations done."

<![CDATA[Hillary Clinton Visits NH Brewery]]> Fri, 22 May 2015 18:21:40 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/228*120/Hillary+Clinton+smuttynose+2.jpg

Hillary Clinton received information on her private email server about the deadly attack on US Diplomatic facilities in Benghazi that has now been classified.

It's new information that came to light about the former Secretary of State as she campaigned at the Smuttynose Brewery in Hampton, New Hampshire, her second visit to the state as a presidential candidate.

Clinton says she wants people to be able to see all of the nearly 300 emails that have been released

"I'm aware that the FBI has asked that portion of one email be held back - that happens in the process of FOI responses," she said. "But that doesn't change the fact that all of the information i the emails was handled appropriately."

No laws were violated. But Friday's redaction shows that Clinton received information considered sensitive on her unsecured personal server, which came to light just as she was beginning her presidential campaign.

Clinton also seemed to give a more definitive answer when asked about her views on the future of US Policy in Iraq.

"This has to be fought by and won by Iraqis," said Clinton. "There is no role whatsoever for American soldiers on the ground to go back other than as trainers and advisers."

The candidate got an earful from small business as she spoke in defense of the Export Import Bank which guarantees loans to help U.S. exporters - opposed by some Republicans.

On the subject of the controversial Trans Pacific Trade Partnership, Clinton says she is still deciding her position.

"I do have concerns," she said. "I have concerns that the standards will not be tough enough. They will not be enforceable."

The Clinton Campaign has announced that her official announcement rally will be June 13. The location has not yet been announced.

Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Minority Lawmakers Call for Body Cameras for All Police]]> Thu, 21 May 2015 22:14:31 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/body-camera1.jpg

Members of the General Assembly's Black and Legislative Caucus called on the legislature to approve an amendment that would allocate $15 million in bonds to police body cameras.

The cameras would be distributed to large and small police departments across Connecticut, including state police.

"Our view is that body cameras serve a mutual benefit," said Rep. Bruce Morris, a Democrat from Norwalk. "It protects police officers. It protects them from being in those opportunities when someone is falsely accusing them and it also protects victims because now we can actually get to see the story and get it correct."

Supporters say the cameras would cut down on unnecessary use of force and improve relations between police and minorities in the state.

The amendment, which has not yet been written or submitted, would be added to an existing Senate bill that addresses the use of excessive force by police and would require investigation in the event that a officer had to act.

Opposition to the proposal comes from the Connecticut State Police Union. Union President Andy Matthews argues that the legislature shouldn't make a decision on the cameras without consulting the union first.

"We’ve said this publicly. We’re willing to work with the legislature to address their concerns but it’s a working condition issue. It’s a collective bargaining issue," said Matthews.

He said his organization would be open to discussing the issue with lawmakers, the Connecticut State Police and community organizations with concerns over policing.

He argues that troopers have been proactive in their modern policing efforts and that body cameras aren't a perfect solution, especially when it comes to meeting with informants.

“We got out in front of this in 2001," Matthews said. "Every cruiser in the state of Connecticut on patrol has a vehicle recorder on it with audio."

Supporters, including Winfield, said police will be able to turn the cameras on and off and said there would be language in the amendment to address how the data from the cameras would be stored.

Top Republican Sen. Len Fasano, of North Haven, voiced his support for the $15 million bond package Thursday.

"Many times we get accused of being reactive in this building, but today this is very much proactive," Fasano said.

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[Connecticut House Passes Bill Allowing for Sale of Tesla Cars]]> Thu, 21 May 2015 17:58:28 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/06-05-2014-tesla-logo-emblem.jpg

A bill that would allow Tesla Motors to sell its electric cars in Connecticut is moving forward in the state legislature.

With a vote of 116-32, the Connecticut House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday to allow the car manufacturer to bypass dealerships and sell directly to customers.

"Tesla applauds the House of Representatives for their hard work and support for bringing new jobs, revenue and the world's most advanced zero-transmission electric vehicles to Connecticut," Tesla Motors Vice President of Business Development Diarmuid O'Connell said in a statement Thursday.

Opponents have said it's unfair to change the laws governing car sales for a single company.

The Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association, which represents the state's dealerships, has argued that Tesla should have to adapt to the existing franchise model like all other manufacturers selling cars in Connecticut.

A spokesperson for Tesla Motors said the bill approved Thursday reflects a compromise between the automaker and the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association.

The measure now moves to the Connecticut Senate.

"We’ve worked with the dealers association, made compromises and now look forward to the Senate also recognizing that Tesla can bring revenue, ingenuity, and consumer choice to the state," O'Connell said.

Photo Credit: Getty]]>
<![CDATA[House Passes Connecticut “Revenge Porn" Bill]]> Wed, 20 May 2015 10:55:35 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/porncamera+generic.jpg

The Connecticut House of Representatives passed a bill early Wednesday morning that would make “revenge porn” and “upskirting” criminal offenses.

The law that passed the house early this morning also increases the penalties for so-called "Peeping Tom" violations and allows prosecution of these types of cases within five years from the date the victim discovers the recording exists.

The goals of the bill include protecting victims of voyeurism from public embarrassment, as well as to make it a criminal offense to share intimate images of another person to harass, annoy, alarm or terrorize the other person.

The bill also increases the penalty for voyeurism when the victim is under age 16 or the offender has a prior conviction of voyeurism or certain other crimes.

It also increases protections for victims of voyeurism, including their names, addresses, and other identifying information.

The bill passed unanimously, with six people absent or not voting.

<![CDATA[Jim Kenney Wins Philly Mayoral Bid]]> Thu, 21 May 2015 00:15:24 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/214*120/AP142050022358.jpg

Jim Kenney is poised to become Mayor of Philadelphia after winning the Democratic Party's nomination in Tuesday's primary.

"I am honored and forever humbled by the coalition of support that made me the Democratic nominee for mayor of the City of Philadelphia," the 57-year-old former at large city councilman proclaimed during his victory speech surrounded by family, former council members and key supporters.

Kenney was declared the winner at 9:03 p.m. with 62 percent of the vote. Only 24 percent of precincts had reported when the race was decided. The numbers narrowed as more votes were recorded, but he still carried the vote 2-1 or 56 percent.

Kenney bested five other opponents — Anthony Hardy Williams; Lynne Abraham; Nelson Diaz; Doug Oliver; and Milton Street — but his victory is far from a surprise. Heading into May, a poll of 600 likely voters showed Kenney had a huge 42 percent lead over his opponents. The survey was the only independent poll of the primary race and was conducted for NBC10/Telemundo 62, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com.

Williams and Abraham each had 15 percent of pie while the others had 5 percent or less.

Kenney had the most endorsements including vital support from former colleagues on city council and several unions including the electricians, FOP and teachers. Some of the most important backing came from prominent African-American politicians from Northwest Philadelphia including Councilwomen Cindy Bass and Marian Tasco and state representative Dwight Evans.

"Our campaign was a broad and unprecedented coalition of diverse groups many of whom came together for the first time to support me," Kenney said.

Known for his big personality and sometimes brash comments in person and on Twitter, the South Philadelphia-native said he'd like to provide universal prekindergarten education, raise minimum wage to $15 an hour and banish stop-and-frisk. They're all topics that were of top importance to voters, our polling showed.

Kenney spent 23 years in council and was seen for being progressive on issues like the environment, ethics and marijuana decriminalization. He's long supported the LGBT community, police and firefighters as well.

But he has walked back on comments about police's use of force, which some likened to brutality, and, years ago, distanced himself from former state senator Vince Fumo, who was convicted of corruption.

Kenney will now face lone Republican challenger Melissa Murray Baily in the November general election, but he's expected to win as Democrats outnumber Republicans 7-1 in the city. He said he'll be spending the next six months earning every vote.

"We need this coalition to grow even larger," he said "Together I know we can achieve even greater things, so let’s get to work."

Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[State Could See 1 New Casino Instead of 3]]> Tue, 19 May 2015 19:45:28 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/CASINO051915.jpg

During negotiations behind closed doors, lawmakers in the Connecticut Senate have decided over the past month that a new casino in Connecticut will have to wait at least another year.

"This has really become a two-step process and we need to make sure we do that process to save the 9,000 jobs that we’re so concerned about," said State Sen. Bob Duff, a Democrat from Norwalk and the second-ranking member in the Connecticut Senate.

The two steps would clear the way for tribes that already operate casinos to work with municipalities that have approved them, then allow for construction to begin next year. A vote could come as soon as Wednesday on the measure.

The original proposal included the possibility of three new casinos, one each along sections of Interstates 95, 91, and 84. Now, the most likely location for a third casino in Connecticut is in between Springfield and Hartford. The aim is to cut off traffic to a new casino being built in Springfield that should be finished by 2017.

Opponents fear legal issues with the new plan.

"We potentially open a can of worms, a Pandora’s box of due process and equal access among other potential Indian tribes and the Steve Wynns and the gambling establishment as a whole," said State Sen. Tony Hwang, a Republican from Fairfield who has been outspoken on some of the other pitfalls of gambling.

"The fact is we have not done a thorough analysis of the societal cost of gambling," he cautioned.

Hwang said the deal being worked on in Hartford would allow for a casino outside of tribal land, which the attorney general has warned could jeopardize the existing compact that sends millions to the state in tax revenues.

The Mashantuckett Pequot and Mohegan tribes endorsed the deal with a statement Tuesday through spokeswoman Patty McQueen.

"Our goal from the outset has been to protect the 9,300 jobs and revenue that will be lost to competition on Connecticut's borders, and we believe this bill, if approved, will give the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot Tribes the ability to begin to take action to do so," McQueen said.

Duff, who's been involved with negotiations from the start, said the entire effort is meant to maintain the workforce of casino employees in Connecticut while keeping the state in a solid legal position when it comes to other tribes and efforts.

"We want to make sure that we save those jobs and do it in a way that we protect the state of Connecticut and in a way that respects the process," Duff said.

<![CDATA[Should College Be Free? Bernie Sanders Says So]]> Tue, 19 May 2015 19:35:57 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/471658670.jpg

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, announced a proposal Tuesday that would make undergraduate tuition at four-year public colleges and universities free to students. The idea would be largely funded through new fees on Wall Street.

“It'll strengthen our economy and give us a better-educated workforce,” said Sen. Sanders, who is also running to the left of Hillary Clinton in seeking the Democratic nomination for the White House.

The Wall Street speculation fee would be levied on investment houses, hedge funds, and other speculators, according to a summary of the legislation posted on the website of Sen. Sanders. The fees would amount to $.50 on every $100 of stock. A .1 percent fee would be tacked onto bonds and a .005 percent charge would be levied on derivatives.

It is estimated that the fees could raise hundreds of billions of dollars a year, Sanders said. Through that, the federal government would cover two-thirds of the free college tuition, with states responsible for the remaining third, according to the legislation summary.

Nationally, total tuition at public colleges and universities amounts to about $70-billion a year, according to the office of Sen. Sanders.

The Independent, who is a self-described Democratic Socialist and admirer of how several European nations provide free higher education, also wants lower interest rates on student loans. The legislation Sanders introduced would give borrowers the ability to refinance student loans at lower interest rates, as homeowners can currently do with their mortgages.

“It is totally absurd that in America today, we have hundreds of thousands of bright young people who can no longer afford to go to college,” Sanders told necn.

Other reforms the College for All Act would implement include expanding the federal work study program, which offers part-time employment to students, and simplifying the student aid application process, Sanders added.

As for Sanders' proposal to tax Wall Street to make college free, many observers believe the GOP-controlled Congress will pay little or no attention. Still, Sanders said Washington has to do a better job of listening to families struggling to pay for education.

Separately, education leaders in Vermont announced Tuesday that high schoolers can continue taking up to two college courses free.

“This is really quite a big deal,” said Jeb Spaulding, the chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges. “It’s really a major economic advancement tool for many students who wouldn’t otherwise get to post-secondary education.”

A state law was about to make towns kick in half the costs, possibly stifling participation in the so-called “dual enrollment” program which more than 1,000 Vermont students took part in in the past year, according to Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont.

A new fix means the state education fund will now cover the costs of that coursework, Shumlin announced, noting he would like to see more students apply to dual enrollment programs before upcoming deadlines.

Kenyan-born Lule Aden, 18, a senior at Burlington High School, said she enjoyed taking University of Vermont classes well before she even graduated high school. She said she will be the first in her family to go to college when she heads to UVM in the fall, planning to study communication sciences and disorders.

“Taking these courses, getting a feel of how college feels, and how the courses are, and how long classes are, I feel more prepared for it,” Aden said, describing how her dual enrollment experience left her more ready for college. “And I'm going to be able to do it and hopefully be successful.” 

<![CDATA[Firefighters, Municipalities Clash Over Cancer Position]]> Tue, 19 May 2015 19:31:28 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/111714statebudgetdeficitj00000000.jpg

The fight between firefighters and cities and towns they serve is reaching a critical stage as lawmakers approach the end of the legislative session.

At issue is whether there should be a "rebuttable presumption" that firefighters who are diagnosed with cancer contracted the disease as a direct result of doing their jobs.

Research from the CDC concludes that there is a "causal association" between firefighters and an increased risk for cancer as a result of their proximity to burning carcinogens; however, experts urge "cautious interpretation" of the data.

Cities and towns, through their association the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, paid for radio advertisements this week criticizing the measure as an "unfunded mandate" they can't afford.

"A bunch of us are quite confident that this particular legislation is going to end up costing the property tax payer a lot," said Scott Shanley, Manchester's town manager. "It’s not about insurance. Employees have insurance. They have retirement, pensions."

The "rebuttable presumption" is a legal position that would require cities and towns to prove in court that a firefighter's cancer was not caused by his or her job. They argue that public employees like firefighters and police already have wide levels of coverage through insurance and workman's compensation.

Supporters of the legislation in the general assembly have said they support the legislation for volunteer firefighters who do not have the same benefits as professional firefighters.

Mark Hopkins, a professional firefighter in Waterbury, had been living with Hodgkin's Lymphoma since August and was recently declared cancer free. He went through chemotherapy for treatment.

"I don’t care what they say about keeping your mask on, when you’re in a fire there’s smoke everywhere," Hopkins said of how he believes he got cancer. "It gets in your turnout everywhere. Pretty much if you’re in a fire, everything is black and it’s everywhere, where the seams meet, and stuff like that."

Cities and towns want to hold off on any legislation before there is more conclusive scientific evidence that links cancer to firefighters.

Until then, Shanley says he wants to see more closer analysis of the lifestyles of all public employees.

"I think we need better awareness but you have to be careful what you wish for because if you’re going to make the property tax payer and the employer responsible for somebody’s cancer, then we need to take a look at the person’s lifestyle," Shanley said.

Sources in the Connecticut legislature say they won't allow the measure to be brought up for a vote unless and until cities and towns and firefighters reach some kind of compromise on the legislation.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com]]>
<![CDATA[White House: Less Military Gear for Local Police]]> Mon, 18 May 2015 19:29:46 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/POLICEPIC051815.jpg

President Barack Obama announced Monday that police departments around the country will receive less "military style" equipment.

Federal agencies have provided some gear to police departments over the past 20 years or so that closely resemble the types of weapons, protective equipment and vehicles used by armed forces.

"Certain kinds of equipment just don’t make sense," said Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. "You don’t need camouflage gear in a city, for example."

Southern Connecticut State University Police Chief Joseph Dooley is the president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association and said the action by the White House is consistent with what he's seen across the country and around Connecticut.

"Some of the things that have come up have to do with a vehicle looking like a military vehicle, which is something I completely understand," said Dooley.

He said armored vehicles all double as all-terrain vehicles during severe weather issues like floods and snow storms. Dooley said they are useful for rescue operations that regular trucks and police cruisers just can't handle.

Hartford Police Deputy Chief Brian Foley said the department does have an armored vehicle but conceded, "I've never even seen it."

Foley said the goal of the Hartford Police Department is to actually look like police officers in the community and not to be decked out in military-style armor.

"If you look at how we approach everything, we don’t want people to think that we’re military officers," Foley said.

He added that the police have a vital role which does require some extra equipment.

"We are the last line of defense and the first responders to a terrorist attack or a major weather event in the city here," Foley said.

Officials with the White House said it will implement a more stringent review process to determine what police departments need when it comes to extra gear and make sure training processes are in place for how to use the equipment.

"You do need other kinds of gear in certain circumstances, but the local police should describe what those circumstances are, and they should have training procedures in place to make sure they know how to use that equipment safely," Munoz said.

<![CDATA[Malloy Takes "Second Chance" Message to Hartford]]> Mon, 18 May 2015 19:07:41 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/malloy+second+chance+hartford.jpg

Gov. Dannel Malloy met with religious leaders and resident of Hartford's North End neighborhood to strike up more support for his legislative proposal that would remove mandatory minimum sentences for minor drug possession.

"I think the whole idea is to make people uncomfortable that you can be treated one way in Avon and a totally different way in Hartford," Malloy said outside the Cozy Spot, a local breakfast and lunch staple in one of the city's roughest neighborhoods.

Marcus Brown now owns the barber shop down the street where he worked for his father years ago. He says the North End is a shell of its old self and doesn't resemble thriving cities and towns in other parts of the country.

"You go to other states and you see right off the highway lots of other businesses and companies and manufacturing," Brown said. "Down here in the North End, in the Meadows, you don’t have that."

Last week, Malloy took strong criticism from Republicans who accused the governor of inappropriately injecting race into the conversation by saying that opposition to the Second Chance proposal was "if not racist in its intent, racist in its outcome."

On Monday, State Sen. Len Fasano, a Republican from North Haven, criticized the governor for not discussing the specifics of his proposal with members of the General Assembly.

"I don’t get it. He thinks he’s in a totally different role," said Fasano. "This is the legislature. We know what the issues are. We should be sitting down. We have 13 days left. He should be saying, 'Hey, let’s sit down, let’s talk.'"

Fasano also said of the governor's comments last week, "I think the governor’s name calling was just unnecessary. That’s sixth grade."

Malloy took the opportunity to snipe at Republicans, on the notion that Democrats are concerned a vote for Second Chance could become a campaign issue.

"Republicans want to oppose a package that will lower crime so that they can score cheap political points, that’s what they’re trying to do," Malloy said.

<![CDATA[Obama to Visit New London, Stamford This Week]]> Mon, 18 May 2015 17:47:12 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/President+Barack+Obama+Wave+Camden.jpg

President Barack Obama will visit Connecticut this week.

The president will be the keynote speaker at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy commencement in New London on Wednesday, May 20, according to the White House.

He will then travel to Stamford to attend a Democratic National Committee event, the White House announced Monday.

Air Force One will both arrive at and depart from Stamford.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Connecticut House Votes to Ban Powdered Alcohol]]> Mon, 18 May 2015 16:57:49 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/powdered+alcohol+2.jpg

The state House of Representatives has voted to ban a powdered form of freeze-dried alcohol from store shelves in Connecticut.

The Connecticut House passed the measure overwelmingly with a vote of 143 to 2, with six representatives absent, according to the House clerk. The bill, previously approved by the state Senate, now goes to Gov. Dannel Malloy for his signature.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal has also called for a federal ban on powdered alcohol.

The product, Palcohol, is a powdered version of vodka, rum, and three cocktails, according to the company website. Powdered alcohol is designed to be mixed with liquid such as water or juice.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved Palcohol in March, but Blumenthal said it should never have received federal approval.

The manufacturer, Lipsmark, has suggested in the past that the product can be snorted to get drunk "almost instantly" or be added to foods or snuck into events, according to a news release from Blumenthal’s office, which said the suggestions have since been scrubbed from the company’s site.

<![CDATA[Governor Proclaims Officer Wellness Day]]> Mon, 18 May 2015 16:31:41 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/police-lights-shutterstock_1318124124.jpg

The state will recognize Officer Wellness Day on Tuesday, May 19 "in light of recent negativity directed toward law enforcement nationally," the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association announced Monday afternoon.

The association said Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a proclamation recognizing Officer Wellness Day "to show law enforcement officers that our citizens recognize the difficult and sometimes impossible career they have chosen."

State officials will hold a seminar called "Law Enforcement Wellness Training" from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Connecticut Police Academy at 285 Preston Avenue in Meriden.

It comes after protests over Freddie Gray's death in Baltimore prompted threats against law enforcement nationwide.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA["Hello, Twitter!" President Obama Gets His Own Account]]> Mon, 18 May 2015 12:43:35 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/obama-blackberry-459365998.jpg

President Barack Obama has joined the Twitterverse. 

With his second term more than halfway through, the president sent his inaugural tweet from a new @POTUS Twitter account on Monday. 

The verified account, which attracted more than 146,000 followers within 30 minutes of posting the first tweet, carries the bio "Dad, husband, and 44th President of the United States."

The official @WhiteHouse account retweeted the message and posted confirmation of its own.

The tweet wasn't the first 140-character missive sent from the 44th president. The White House's existing practice was to sign tweets from the president on the @BarackObama handle with his initials, "-bo." That @BarackObama account, launched in March 2007, is run by the staff of Obama's non-profit Organizing for Action group. 

The new account followed all major Chicago sports teams except one — the Cubs. 

Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images
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<![CDATA["SNL" Heralds the Summer of Hillary Clinton]]> Sun, 17 May 2015 06:37:59 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Hillary-Clinton-SNL-Louis-CK-16-May-2015-2.jpg

Summer is only a calendar page away. But nevermind the sunny skies and balmy breezes: the season of straw polls and caucuses has arrived, and Hillary Clinton was in campaign mode on "Saturday Night Live."

In the musical opening sketch, the former senator and secretary of state (portrayed in her latest "SNL" incarnation by a manic, delighftully unhinged Kate McKinnon) took to beaches and sand castles to introduce herself to a younger generation.

"May I have just a moment of your summer? I'm Hillary Clinton and I'm running for president of these United States," said Clinton, clawing at the air, her hands like pincers.

"But that's not for a long time," one (Kenan Thompson) said. "Now it's summer vacation."

"My last vacation was in 1953," she replied. "I played one round of hopscotch with a friend. I found it tedious. Why hop when you can march — straight to the White House."

She then issued her percussive laugh — something like "ah HA HA haaaaaa" — as her mouth curled into a snarling rictus.

She spoke with some kids (Aidy Bryant and Pete Davidson), whose parents remained resolutely against her political aspirations.

"I like your sand castle," she said.

"Thanks," Bryant's character replied. "It's our dream house."

"That's nice. This is my dream house," Clinton said, embracing a massive, sandy model of the White House.

Also on the campaign trail were a few surfers (Kyle Mooney, Jay Pharoah and Beck Bennett).

“Hey there, 18-to-25-year-olds," she said, stiffly hula-twisting up to a surfboard. "How does it hang?”

Blank stares.

"You know what's cool? In two years I'll be 69," Clinton said. (More blank stares). "You like that? Bill told me to tell that to young males."

The former president made a brief appearance himself (in the person of longtime "SNL" impersonator Darrell Hammond), if only to help a young woman (Sasheer Zamata) apply sunscreen.

"Billary Rodham Clinton, what are you doing?" the former first lady hissed at her husband.

"Sorry," Mr. Clinton told Zamata's character. "It's my mom."

The Clintons weren't the only political dynasty to take some flak on Saturday night. On "Weekend Update," co-host Colin Jost skewered Jeb Bush for his fumbled responses to questions related to his brother's record in Iraq.

"Jeb Bush said in an interview this week that, like his brother, he would have authorized the invasion of Iraq," Jost said. "But he wouldn't have done it for the same George did: to capture the genie from Aladdin."

Jost also noted that Jeb Bush faced criticism during a Nevada town hall meeting, where a college student said George W. Bush "created ISIS."

"But that's really not fair," Jost said. "It's more like he co-created it," as a photo of Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney appeared.

Photo Credit: Broadway Video
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<![CDATA[Murphy Wants More Oversight for College Spending]]> Fri, 15 May 2015 20:38:37 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/connecticut+state+capitol1.jpg

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy says the College Affordability and Innovation Act of 2015 will provide more accountability for all colleges across the United States.

The proposal would monitor spending and federal aid in relation to the success of students once they graduate from an institution.

"If you have students that can’t pay back their loans at 30 to 40 percent of their graduates, then you should have some penalties applied," said Murphy.

Murphy said the measure would create a list of institutions that aren't living up to the promise of a degree that leads to a job and in turn the student being able to pay back loan debt.

"If they don’t get better then they’ll get a little bit of their federal aid docked. That will get their attention," he said.

Murphy said his bill is mainly targeted at "for-profit" colleges. Institutions like Corinthian and the University of Phoenix are governed by federal law that does require graduates to earn a certain salary in relation to their debt.

Murphy wants to see a more strict bill with more accountability.

"A lot of these colleges that have popped up are really defrauding students and kids are graduating with hundreds of thousands of dollars of loans and degrees that are worthless," he said.

An issue that has hit Connecticut in recent weeks is the fact that UConn, the state's flagship institution, doesn't accept about 20 percent of all state community college credits.

In a statement, a UConn spokesman said the university goes to great lengths to tell students which classes will get credit and which don't. UConn says the responsibility is on community college advisers to explain to students which credits transfer.

Murphy and state senators in Connecticut said that has to change.

"It’s a real problem when the average transfer from a state community college to the University of Connecticut is losing one semester worth of work because their credits are being rejected and that shouldn’t happen and Connecticut should fix that," said Murphy.

Higher Education Committee Chair Sen. Dante Bartolomeo said she's working with the Board of Regents to streamline the process for credit transfers and even said the system will develop particular courseloads for students.

"We’re working on getting these pathways for these community college students if they select a pathway, 100 percent of those credits will transfer from their two years at the community college to their university," Bartolomeo said.

<![CDATA[Senators Fire Back at Boehner Over Amtrak Spending]]> Fri, 15 May 2015 20:37:56 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP402581084193_Amtrak.jpg

Connecticut's U.S. senators didn't hold back with their comments when it came to Amtrak spending approved by the U.S. House of Representatives.

"No matter what Speaker Boehner says, a cut for Amtrak jeopardizes lives," said Sen. Chris Murphy.

When asked about whether increased funding for infrastructure and technology upgrades for Amtrak would have prevented Tuesday's fatal crash in Philadelphia, Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, responded by calling the question "stupid" and added that he saw a different reason for the crash.

"Obviously, it's not about funding. The train was going twice the speed limit. Adequate funds were there. No money's been cut from rail safety and the House passed a bill earlier this spring to reauthorize Amtrak and authorizes a lot of these programs, and it's hard for me to imagine that people take the bait on some of the nonsense that gets spewed around here," Boehner said.

Murphy and Blumenthal criticized a $250 million cut for Amtrak from Congress. They argue that the train line could see vast improvements with investments just north of $100 million, which they say is a paltry sum when one considers that the line is responsible for billions in commerce.

"Saving billions of dollars is worth the money we would spend to invest," said Blumenthal. "The approach of the United States has been to patch and pray."

On the issue of positive train control technology, which uses satellites, track sensors and remotes inside the engine of the train, both senators said the technology is vital for saving lives.

Amtrak tracks from New York to New Haven do not currently have PTC, but the technology will be installed by the end of the year. The stretch from New Haven to Boston does have PTC installed and the new stretch of commuter railroad from Springfield to Hartford and New Haven, which is set to be ready by 2016, will also have PTC installed.

Blumenthal sides with NTSB investigators in that he believes that, had PTC been installed and more money been devoted to the line, the derailment in Philadelphia could have been avoided.

"This tragedy never would have happened and eight people would be alive today had positive train control been in place on that section of the Amtrak route," Blumenthal said.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Lawmakers Appeal for Safety Upgrades After Train Crash]]> Thu, 14 May 2015 20:02:14 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Train00000000.jpg

The top member of the General Assembly's Transportation Committee said in the wake of Tuesday's deadly Amtrak derailment that Connecticut has to invest in ways to prevent such tragedies from happening.

"These are the things that we need to get into place as soon as possible, and obviously with this accident that just occurred, it shows you that safety is of the utmost importance, no matter what we talk about – whether it’s trains, airplanes, cars – no matter what it is, and we need to get those procedures and safety mechanisms in place as soon as possible," said Rep. Tony Guerrera, a Democrat from Rocky Hill.

Guerrera has helped to usher the governor's 30-year $100 billion infrastructure and transportation improvement package through the legislature. He says any projects can't happen without new revenue.

"That is why need to get some kind of revenue coming back into the state whether it’s tolling, congestion pricing, whatever it is," Guerrera said.

According to Gov. Dannel Malloy's administration, the state has invested $142 million in positive train control technology for Metro-North's New Haven Line.

The technology is a combination of Internet and satellite connections with the ability to track a train as it moves and slow it down if the processors determine it's traveling too fast.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board said that, had positive train control been installed along the route and on the train that crashed, the accident could have been prevented.

Guerrera said the technology is a vital part of the state's transportation improvements.

"What I don’t understand is with all of the technology that’s out there, why we don’t implement procedures to make sure that there’s always going to be human errors at times but there are mechanisms that can prevent that," Guerrera said.

George Cahill is an attorney and railroad expert.

"The infrastructure’s very old, it needs to be inspected more often, more money needs to be put into the track and the road bed and the bridges. We’re neglecting that," he said of Connecticut's aging system.

Malloy said the Amtrak crash shouldn't deter train riders nor should it slow the investment being pursued in rail in Connecticut.

"Overall it’s a very safe way to travel, but having said that, we need to do everything in our power to make it as safe as possible and here in Connecticut that’s what we’re doing with our proposal."

The Connecticut Department of Transportation declined to answer any media inquiries regarding the Amtrak crash or rail infrastructure in Connecticut.

<![CDATA[Malloy Comments Spark Outrage Among GOP]]> Thu, 14 May 2015 19:05:40 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/gov00000000.jpg

House Republican Leader Themis Klarides said Gov. Dannel Malloy's comments Wednesday about the opposition to his "Second Chance Society" proposal aimed to reduce penalties for minor drug offenses amounted to "name calling."

The comment in question came during a press event touting why the reforms were necessary, especially considering the likelihood of stiffer penalties in the event of a drug possession charge in a school zone.

When illustrating his point that more minorities live in urban and densely populated areas, Malloy told reporters, "To treat those folks different because they live in those communities is patently unfair and if not racist in intent is racist in its outcome."

Klarides, a Republican from Derby, along with other members of the GOP, put a halt to the discussion of bills in the Connecticut House when she was informed of the comments, and many members later walked out.

She interpreted the comment as being a jab at GOP members who voiced criticism of the governor's plan, many of whom live in suburban areas with few minorities or instances of drug-related crime.

Malloy wasn't available Thursday to discuss his remarks.

Klarides stands by what she said. She added that she thinks Malloy's comments are meant to garner national attention, which she said doesn't help the General Assembly conduct business.

"If he is interested in running for something nationally, then all the best of luck to him, but if he is not interested in the job he was elected to do then he should consider where he wants to go," she said.

Democratic leaders in the Connecticut House joined with Klarides to say the comments from the governor were not constructive toward the Democratic process.

"I think the governor raising the issue of race is important but the way it came across in his speaking was more along the lines of racism so it made it difficult," said House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, a Democratic from Berlin.

He added that there is some merit to the spirit of the governor's comments.

"Look, nobody should be selling drugs. There should be consequences to that but given where they live it really has an effect on the term of their sentence," Aresimowicz said.

Malloy's proposal would remove mandatory minimum sentences for minor drug possession. For a minor possession, a prosecutor could pursue no more than a one-year maximum prison stay. In school zones, possession of a drug by a non-student would carry a three-year maximum sentence without a minimum.

Part of his argument is that – in major cities with dense populations and crowded neighborhoods such as Hartford Bridgeport, and New Haven – a minor drug possession almost certainly includes the more serious charge of being in a school zone, which he says is unfair to many minorities who live in those cities.

The governor has not proposed removing mandatory minimums for charges relating to intent to sell.

Luke Bronin, a candidate for Hartford mayor and former legal adviser to Malloy, wrote the Second Chance Society legislation. He says conversations about race are critical to getting at the heart of the matter of mass incarceration of young people in Connecticut.

"I think the important thing to acknowledge is that there is a disparate impact based on geography and because of the way our state is built, that often means a disparate impact based on race," Bronin said. "The drug sentences in our cities have had a disparate impact on people of color and we should have an honest conversation about that."

Rep. Edwin Vargas, a Democrat from Hartford who is a member of the Black and Latino Caucus, said race is worth discussing but it shouldn't dominate conversation about the Second Chance Society proposal. He conceded that the idea of second chances does take on an urban-versus-suburban tone.

"I believe that some people in some towns represent different constituencies, will tell you that this is not as big an issue, but to bigger cities like the city of Hartford, it is an issue," Vargas said.

<![CDATA[Hartford Launches Program to Groom Police, Firefighters]]> Tue, 12 May 2015 19:05:18 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/hartford+public+safety+presser.jpg

Joined by Hartford's fire and police chiefs, education leaders, members of the city council and students, Mayor Pedro Segarra announced the launch of a new program aimed at recruiting emergency responders who live in the city.

"What we have learned is that as young people are exposed to public safety careers at a young age, they seem to develop more of an appreciation and an understanding of what these departments are meant to do," the mayor said during a press conference Tuesday.

The Public Safety Initiative has been in effect for about a year at some public schools in Hartford, but the mayor wants the city council to pass an ordinance authorizing it further.

Students have already participated in several aspects of the program.

The initiative includes a five-week summer program for 45 high school students, community outreach and a post-secondary program for students between the ages of 18 and 21 who are interested in law enforcement careers to take between academic semesters.

Jose Torres is a Hartford student who's already been involved with the early iteration of the program. He said he see a future in public safety, despite some of what he was told as a child about interacting with police.

"When I was growing up, I always heard that police officers aren't any good, all they want to do is lock people up, because of where I was living and the people I used to hang around with, but I noticed that they really try and they work their butts off and everything," he said.

Torres now says he can be an example for his family and members of his community by joining the ranks of first responders.

"I grew up around a lot of drugs and stuff like that and I always wanted to make a change for me, my family and everyone around me," Torres said.

Hartford's Chief of Police James Rovella said the city has everything to gain by having more people protecting the community with concrete and deep ties to the neighborhoods where they're working.

Rovella said the success of the program will be based on how the city markets the potential to students.

"There’s a negative pipeline where we discourage arrests from school to jail and there’s the positive pipeline that we’re building that these kids want to become productive members of their community by serving in the police and fire and other public safety positions," Rovella said.

The Public Safety Committee of the Hartford City Council has sent an ordinance establishing the Public Safety Initiative to the full city council. A public hearing on the measure is scheduled for May 18.

<![CDATA[Nursing Home Workers Lobby for Higher Wages]]> Tue, 12 May 2015 18:45:40 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/nursing+home+wages+fight.jpg

Nearly a month after postponing a scheduled strike for thousands of nursing home employees, about 100 of them took to the Connecticut Capitol to call for higher wages Tuesday as budget negotiations continue between the governor and top Democrats.

"Even with the money I make right now, I find it very hard to make ends meet," said Kwasi Asante-Boateng, who has worked as a cook for the better part of 16 years at a Manchester nursing home.

He makes $18 per hour, which is among the highest at nursing homes across the state.

"It’s very hard. The kind of work we do, the kind of sacrifices we make for the people that we love, which are the residents, you know what I’m saying, we get very little for it. We really do," said Asante-Boateng.

SEIU 1199 represents thousands of employees who work in dozens of Connecticut nursing homes. The group has participated in the "fight for $15" campaign to raise wages for the past year. SEIU had notified the governor and nursing homes of a strike that was supposed to take place toward the end of April.

Gov. Dannel Malloy spoke with union leaders and they agreed to postpone the strike until the state's budget was either final or near completion. The deadline for lawmakers to approve a budget is June 3, the last day of the General Assembly's legislative session.

Democrats did put roughly $10 million into the budget for nursing homes, restoring cuts Malloy proposed.

The combination of social services spending and changes to car taxes are items that top Democrats say are cornerstones of their budget proposal.

"It's the right thing to do," said Rep. Jeffrey Berger, a Democrat from Waterbury who chairs the tax-writing Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee.

His committee also proposed about $2 billion in taxes, which he says will guarantee that things like nursing homes will be funded well into the future.

"If it comes to car taxes, or payment in lieu of taxes or it comes to regional sharing, when it comes to fiscal responsibility for municipalities, it does all of that and more, and it brings true property tax relief for the first time in the history of Connecticut," Berger said.

Berger also contended that the version of the budget that the Appropriations Committee approved was the only one in balance, referring to the GOP proposal as "out of whack by about $600 million."

Republicans included a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, in their budget proposal unveiled last month. Rep. Themis Klarides, the Minority Leader in the Connecticut House, said she felt her caucus' budget was a more accurate reflection of how the state should spend its cash.

"When we looked at social services, DDS waiting lists, provider rates, and a two percent COLA for the providers, those are what we prioritized as far as social services go because these are the neediest of the people of the state of Connecticut," Klarides said.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com]]>
<![CDATA[City Makes Millions on XL Center Parking Garage Sale]]> Mon, 11 May 2015 22:29:44 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/XL00000000.jpg

The city of Hartford sold the Church Street Parking Garage to the state of Connecticut for $14 million on Monday.

The state will finance the purchase using bonds.

Mayor Pedro Segarra had said previously that proceeds from the sale would help to balance the city's budget for the next fiscal year and added that the purchase will help him attain his goal of avoiding a mill rate increase for Hartford residents.

"Our budget is balanced with this now. This was counted in as revenue so we will balance this in for this year," Segarra said Monday.

The mayor initially announced plans to sell the garage as an asset for his FY2014 budget. Segarra and members of his staff negotiated the deal over the past year and carried it over the finish line Monday.

Gov. Dannel Malloy said following the meeting of the Bond Commission that he and his administration viewed the acquisition of the parking garage as the first step toward a revitalization of the XL Center.

"At some point, we’re going to have to make a decision and I believe there should be an XL Center or its equivalent in the capital city," said Malloy.

The commission also approved $500,000 in funding for renovations at the XL Center but Malloy indicated that he is on board with a much grander plan for the entertainment and sports venue in downtown Hartford.

A study published several months ago estimated it would cost around $500 million to renovate the XL Center to make it competitive with other similar venues around the country. However, the same study estimated that demolishing the existing structure and build a new facility from scratch would come in at roughly half the cost.

Malloy said he thinks developers and Connecticut residents need to take those figures seriously and added that the parking garage is part of that. He said making a purchase from a municipality will only happen when it makes sense.

"Only when it’s in our best interest and it’s in our best interest to acquire that parking facility because it is a lynchpin to the development of the XL Center or the replacement of the XL Center," Malloy said.

<![CDATA[Business Owners Cry Foul on Proposed Tax Hikes]]> Mon, 11 May 2015 19:36:11 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/connecticut+state+capitol+building.jpg

Dozens of business owners and their associations voiced concerns and frustrations about the Democrats' proposed $2 billion in tax increases to GOP members of the General Assembly on Monday.

House and Senate Republican leaders called the meeting last week as a way for Connecticut residents to publicize their feelings about the proposal.

Paul Miller, who owns a dairy farm in Woodstock, said proposed sales taxes on veterinary services could mean much more out of his pocket and hurt his bottom line.

"This is a fee that we can’t recover by adding to the price of milk," Miller said.

He said veterinarians come to his farm to check on his cattle as many as three times per week, and they charge by the hour.

"We’re budgeted for about $5,000 a month in veterinary fees so that’s going to run roughly $300 per month in additional sales tax or service fees. While it doesn’t sound like a lot, over the course of a year it adds up," Miller explained.

Democrats proposed expanding the services that impose sales taxes.

"Connecticut is already losing businesses and this will cause more to leave," said interior designer Lisa Davenport.

She describes charging sales taxes as a way to take money out of the pockets of residents who would otherwise use the money on her services. Davenport also said businesses like hers that are active in communities won't have money to spend there.

"We’re where the kids go for their little league sponsorships and where they go for the Girl Scout events and where the schools go for help," Davenport said.

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said during an interview last week that the tax package is mainly aimed at raising revenues from Connecticut's wealthy residents. He and other top Democrats have said the package that includes property tax relief will "restructure" Connecticut's tax system.

"This is the day that we’re actually going to change this by asking billionaires and millionaires to do a little bit more but predominantly give relief to working families in the state," he said.

Senate Bill 1 would create a statewide mill rate that would lead to decreased payments in car taxes totaling hundreds of dollars for many Connecticut residents. With that in mind, Sharkey warned against looking at sales tax increases as the be-all-end-all for dealing with the budget.

"There will be sales tax imposed on some things that aren’t currently but compared to the savings that you’re going to get by your car tax dropping by hundreds of dollars per year, in most cases, that’s a trade off I think most tax payers will understand and accept," Sharkey said.

When asked about the proposed budget with the tax hikes, Gov. Dannel Malloy backed off the possibility of a veto threat.

"I don’t need to threaten to veto things. That sometimes can be viewed a little incendiary, especially when you’re talking about something so big and important as the budget," he said.

The governor maintains that his proposal to cut spending for programs like mental health, autism and care for the elderly are better ideas than tax hikes.

"This is not the time to reverse our path or our trajectory, so I think hard decisions are going to have to be made, but somehow we’re going to find a way to make them," he said.

The deadline for the legislature to pass a budget and avoid a special session is June 3.

<![CDATA[GROSS: Rand Paul Staffer Licks Super PAC's Camera]]> Mon, 11 May 2015 19:47:52 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP759153459907.jpg

A New Hampshire staffer for Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul's campaign licked the camera of a Democratic super PAC trying to videotape the candidate on Monday.

A YouTube video posted by the group American Bridge, which is tracking GOP candidate on the trail, shows David Chesley, Paul's New Hampshire political director, staring into the video camera for several seconds before giving the lens a big lick.

Boston Globe political reporter James Pindell was at the event - a Town Hall in Londonderry - and asked Chesley afterward what the lick was all about, but said he got no answer.

Necn has an email in to the Paul campaign seeking comment.

Photo Credit: FILE
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<![CDATA["SNL" Skewers GOP Presidential Candidates]]> Mon, 11 May 2015 07:33:42 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/214*120/Ted-Cruz-Bobby-Moynihan-SNL-9-May-2015.jpg

The 2016 presidential election cycle has officially begun — and in the comedy world, that means it's open season on the high-profile politicians clamoring for a shot at the Oval Office.

"Saturday Night Live" skewered Republicans running for the presidential nomination in a skit featuring the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, but Hillary Clinton didn't exactly escape unscathed.

In the cold open sketch, GOP leaders emerged onstage at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference accompanied by over-the-top shoutouts from a DJ (Cecily Strong).

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (Beck Bennett) promised to shred the Obamacare and the IRS like his basslines, while Dr. Ben Carson (Kenan Thompson) likewise promised to do the same.

"Put this guy in prison, because he's about to steal your vote!" the DJ said. "But be careful, because if sexuality works the way he says it does, he might turn gay in there." (For the record, Carson apologized for saying that being gay is a choice.)

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (Bobby Moynihan) entered and ripped off his suit jacket, revealing a fluorescent shirt. Former HP executive Carly Fiorina (a loony Kate McKinnon) one-upped that, riding in on a motorcycle flanked by pyrotechnics.

"Her maiden name is Snead, and she's just got what you need — unless it's foreign policy experience," the DJ said over the blaring hip-hop.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (Kyle Mooney) rode in a skateboard as the DJ explained his stance on pro-marijuana legalization: "He's a small man who loves small government and fat blunts."

And Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (Taran Killam), who apparently eschewed an undershirt in favor of tanning oil, entered with a bevy of dancers to a background track from Miami rapper Pitbull.

"Won't it be fun to watch all these guys lose to Jeb Bush?!" the DJ says as the candidates gather onstage.

But Weekend Update co-hosts took a few jabs at Democratic favorite Hillary Clinton, too.

"A new poll shows that Hillary Clinton's poll points have dropped two points since she made her campaign official," Michael Che said. "Because for some reason, once a woman tries to make it official, we suddenly lose interest."

And then there was this, also from Che: "Hillary Clinton reportedly met with potential donors for her presidential super PAC, three weeks after she criticized that practice. The super PAC's name is Hillary's Political Action Committee for Democracy, or HiPACracy."

Photo Credit: Broadway Video
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<![CDATA[Democrats Propose Tax on Veterinarian Visits]]> Fri, 08 May 2015 20:24:27 -0400 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/vetratespic05082015.jpg

Included in the more than $2 billion in revenues proposed by Democrats in the General Assembly is a new sales tax to be imposed at veterinarian offices across Connecticut.

The facilities and physicians that treat household pets and other animals, like golf courses and dry cleaners, have exemptions from charging the sales tax under state law.

"Our biggest concern is that a lot of pets are going go without a lot of missed care. It’s going to fall on the owners who are in this economy already falling on hard times," said Dr. Kristin Haviar, a veterinarian at the Animal Hospital of Rocky Hill.

Haviar worries that some animals could miss important vaccinations for rabies and other ailments, which she says presents a public health risk.

But, according to Connecticut House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, looking at tax proposals for things like veterinarians are easy targets but really small peanuts in the grand scheme of a two-year, nearly $40 billion budget.

“It’s really the bigger picture," said Sharkey, a Democrat from Hamden. "We’re restructuring the tax system to help working families. Lowering property taxes and we’re not asking them to contribute to the cost of this. We’re actually asking them to support this budget because it’s good for working families."

Senate Bill 1 would overhaul the system of property taxes that cities and towns have relied on for decades. Included in the measure is a statewide property tax that would replace local mill rates that residents currently pay. Sharkey and other Democrats contend that the annual savings from that measure alone outweigh what taxpayers will be charged in sales taxes.

"That’s one of the arguments to be made," said Sharkey. "Yup, there will be sales tax imposed on some things that aren’t currently, but compared to the savings that you’re going to get by your car tax dropping by hundreds of dollars per year, in most cases, that’s a trade off I think most tax payers will understand and accept."

Sharkey also pointed out that the proposal includes tax hikes on Connecticut residents making more than $1 million per year.

The General Assembly's Appropriations Committee has already approved a budget that depends on the new revenues.

Republicans in the legislature will hold a meeting Monday at the Capitol for the public to weigh in on the proposed tax and spending increases that have come from Democrats.

House and Senate GOP leaders unveiled their own budget proposal last month that didn't include any tax increases and covered a budget gap by asking for concessions from labor unions that represent state employees.

The budget included more than $1 billion in spending built in from a tax hike that Gov. Dannel Malloy signed into law several years ago.

Malloy has been quoted saying that the tax proposals go "too far" in his mind.

June 3 is the last day of the legislative session which is the deadline to approve a balanced budget.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com]]>