Monthly Archives: December 2013

Rifle Registration: Upward Of 30,000 Gun Owners And Counting

by Categorized: Firearms, Government Date:

As the deadline for gun-owners arrived Tuesday, upward of 30,000 Connecticut residents declared that they own at least one assault weapon and registrations were still arriving in the mail.

The big question looking forward, which we’ll never be able to answer, is this: How many owners of military-style rifles didn’t register their weapons, thereby becoming criminals as of Wednesday? And what will state officials do about it?

State officials estimated 25,000 people registered as of Friday, and since then, thousands more came in by mail and in person at State Police headquarters in Middletown. Many owned just one firearm, said Lt. Paul Vance, state police spokesman. But, he said, “There are some who have many assault weapons.”

Separately, as of Friday, 17,000 people had registered magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, with many more coming in — and some declaring dozens of magazines.

A final count of all registrations won’t be available for several days, Vance said.

The numbers have been a mystery even to people watching the process closely. Some estimates circulating in the state Capitol last spring had more than 100,000 assault weapons in Connecticut, perhaps as many as 250,000, under the broader definition established by the law that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed April 4.

Lines at state police headquarters in Middletown were moving smoothly, down to about 20 people by late Tuesday morning, Vance said. Earlier, and on Monday, he said, “It wrapped around the building, it was extremely long.”

Vance said employees were helping people in the lines so that many didn’t have to wait until they reached the front. “We took some people out of the office in special licensing and firearms to accomplish the task,” he said. By afternoon, the lines were gone.

Under the April 4 law, most rifles with semiautomatic action, meaning they reload a round with each pull of the trigger, and with military-style characteristics such as a pistol grip, were classified as “assault weapons” even though the gun industry considers an assault weapon to be a fully automatic firearm, shooting multiple shots with one pull of the trigger — which is illegal for civilians to own except in rare cases.

Firearms defined by the state as assault weapons were not legal for sale in Connecticut as of April 4, and anyone who owned one prior to that date had to register it by Tuesday. As of Wednesday, it is a Class D felony to own an unregistered assault weapon made after 1993, when a state law outlawed the sale of a narrower group of assault weapons. It’s a misdemeanor if the resident has owned the gun since before the 1993 law.

Owners of those firearms that were made illegal for sale in 1993, and again when the state’s definition of assault weapons was broadened in 2000, were required to register them, but that list totals only a few thousand, said Mike Lawlor, undersecretary for criminal justice at the state Office of Policy and Management.

Gun owners on the line who spoke with a Courant reporter on Friday did like having to register, and did not like the idea that the law is creating a new class of felons who were previously law-abiding citizens. Though an exact count of unregistered guns will be impossible to tally, there are records of retail gun sales, which could tell officials who in Connecticut owns a gun — assuming that gun had not been sold privately.

“It would be interesting to compare those names,” Lawlor said. He stopped short of suggesting the state would conduct an active search for owners of unregistered guns.

The felony charge is already in effect for anyone who owns an assault weapon that he or she did not own prior to April 4, as happened in the case of a University of New Haven student who was charged with illegally owning a Bushmaster.

And starting April 1, 2014, all transfers of rifles in Connecticut, including private sales, will be subject to registration. Since 1994, owners have had to register handgun transfers.

The numbers, once tallied in a few days, will tell a story about firearms in Connecticut, though an incomplete one, said Lawlor, who, as a lawmaker, was instrumental in the earlier gun registration and ban laws.

“At the end of the day the goal is to enforce responsible ownership,” Lawlor said. “The goal is to have fewer people getting shot.”

Lawsuit Over Alternative Power Says Esty Overstepped Authority

by Categorized: Energy, law, Utilities Date:

Connecticut’s headaches over two long-term deals for renewable power, including a large contract with a Maine Wind Farm, now include a lawsuit by a New York firm that owns competing solar generation facilities.

Allco Renewable Energy Ltd., based on Wall Street in New York City, submitted bids from five solar facilities when the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection sought bids in July for 15-year contracts to sell power to Connecticut Light & Power.  In September, the department awarded contracts to a Maine wind project and a solar project located in Connecticut — but not to Allco.

Allco filed a lawsuit against Dan Esty, the DEEP commissioner, in U.S. District Court in Connecticut, claiming the contracts amount to the state setting wholesale power rates. That’s against the Federal Power Act that gives U.S. regulators the exclusive right to oversee wholesale markets, Allco said in the lawsuit, which was filed Nov. 27 and seeks to have the deals revoked, along with other relief.

Allco’s lawsuit also said the pricing of the contracts was not done properly under federal law, and that its offer was for a lower amount than one of the winning bids.

The most controversial of the contracts is for 250 megawatts, with the so-called Number Nine Wind Project in Maine, which has not yet been built. Critics say that agreement raises concerns about transmitting the power, and could lead the state to ignore renewable energy sources that are based locally.

Allco “will suffer irreparable harm” because its solar facilities “are competing for a limited supply of long-term renewable energy contracts in Connecticut, and the defendant’s interference with the wholesale energy market in violation of the FPA will cause the Plaintiff to suffer substantial economic losses,” the lawsuit said.

The Department said it conducted the bidding and awarded the contracts properly after working closely with the state Attorney General’s office, the Office of Consumer Counsel and outside lawyers.

“We are confident we followed all legal requirements during this process and are eager to advance Governor Malloy’s agenda of bringing cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable energy to the residents and businesses of Connecticut,” said department spokesman Dwayne Gardner in a written statement.

 

State Names Board For Bioscience Fund

by Categorized: Economic Development, Health Care, Public finance, Technology Date:

The state’s newly created, $200 million Bioscience Innovation Fund now has an advisory committee filled with some of Connecticut’s high-powered figures in the field.

The fund, overseen by Connecticut Innovations, the state’s quasi-public technology investment and assistance arm, was created by the governor and legislature earlier this year as a way to target drug development projects and other bioscience innovations, at firms or universities, with public money that could also attract private investment.

Chairing the committee is Claire Leonardi, CEO of Connecticut Innovations.

The board, with members appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy or legislative leaders, includes Peter Farina, Ph.D., executive in residence at Canaan Partners; Steven Hanks, M.D., vice president of medical affairs for the central region at Hartford HealthCare; Joseph Kaliko, CEO of Gaming Innovations International; Marc Lalande, Ph.D., chairman of the Department of Genetics and Developmental Biology, and head of genomics and personalized medicine programs at UConn; William LaRochelle, Ph.D., an executive at Roche 454 Sequencing Solutions International; Charles Lee, Ph.D., scientific director at The Jackson Laboratory;  Alan Mendelson, general partner of Axiom Venture Partners; Edmund Pezalla, M.D., national medical director for pharmaceutical policy at Aetna; Carolyn Slayman, Ph.D., professor of genetics and cellular and molecular physiology and deputy dean at Yale School of Medicine; and Eleanor Tandler, founder and CEO of Novatract Surgical.

Jewel Mullen, M.D., the state’s public health commissioner, and Catherine Smith, commissioner of economic and community development, are ex-officio members with voting rights. The fund is run by Jeremy Crisp, Ph.D., the CI executive vice president and chief innovation officer.

The fund, to be disbursed over 10 years to projects that show commercial promise, is scheduled to award $10 million the first two years, $15 million for the third and fourth years, and $25 million in years five through 10.

 

 

 

Busy Scene After Slow Start As Retailers Stretch Christmas

by Categorized: Commerce, Retail Date:

The doors were open at Spruce Home & Garden in West Hartford Center, literally wide open the way manager Mary Goodwin likes it, well before 9 a.m. Thursday. And the markdowns were plentiful.

But customers were slow to arrive — and that’s pretty much how it shaped up in stores around the area, whether they were big boxes like Target and Toys R Us, independent shops or the mothership of Westfarms Mall.

Miranda Basley, store manager at Second Time Around in West Hartford Center, places a sign outside advertising 50 percent off Thursday -- morning only.  Basley said December sales are up 50 percent compared to last year in the consignment store.  John Woike | woike@courant.com

Miranda Basley, store manager at Second Time Around in West Hartford Center, places a sign outside advertising 50 percent off Thursday — morning only. Basley said December sales are up 50 percent compared to last year in the consignment store.
John Woike | woike@courant.com

That seems odd considering that the day after Christmas is yet another landmark day in the mass cultural activity of shopping. Between returns for those pajamas that were too small, to gift cards that are now sold in racks with multiple options at places such as Walgreen’s, to clearance sales with fully stocked shelves, “Boxing Day” would appear to have the ingredients of a retail madhouse.

Maybe it was the light dusting of snow, maybe the quiet start was a continuation of the mixed retail season of 2013, maybe shoppers needed the morning off.  We could be seeing the effects of prosperity not widely shared, and we certainly are seeing a breakout year for online sales.

But if merchants were worried, they didn’t say so in Thursday’s Christmas afterglow. And by afternoon, the parking lots were jammed.

“We had a very successful season,” said Goodwin, at Spruce. “I measure it on the relationships I formed with my customers and the people I’ve met.”

Uh-oh. That sounds like a nice way of saying sales were flat. But no, Goodwin said, on the contrary, the store is up 14 percent for the year and this month already matched December of 2012 with six days remaining.

And that doesn’t even count the increase of 40 percent to 50 percent in online sales at the seven-store chain, based in New Milford, according to Joe Bittner, Spruce’s e-commerce director.

As we will see in the coming weeks, sales at national chains were not so robust in part because the season was shorter than usual.  Although store figures aren’t available yet, firms such as ShopperTrak have reported declines in year-over-year totals in recent weeks, and an alarming drop in foot traffic averaging 24 percent in each of the two weeks before last Sunday.

The National Retail Federation Reported a decline in overall spending during the Thursday-Sunday long weekend of Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and, like everyone else, has reported sharply higher online revenues overall.  But the trade group has not yet reported on how the season fared compared with 2012.

MasterCard Advisors said Thursday that “holiday spending” rose by 2.3 percent from 2012, a decent but not outstanding bump, Reuters reported. MasterCard’s measure shows sales of items such as jewelry and home furnishings, which may or may not be gifts.

For retailers, the season had only four weekends — one of which brought a snowstorm in the Northeast — along with the permanent rise of online and mobile-site shopping that hurts any store not participating. And with deeper discounts this year, profits are likely to remain squeezed.

At Toys R Us, the returns desk was quiet at 10:30 a.m. and a clerk said it had been that way all morning. The whole season has been “more settled down” than in years past, said the clerk, who did not give her name because she is not authorized to speak for the company.  One shopper, Bari DeBenedette, brought in an indoor tricycle for her 3-year-old, all assembled, and quickly returned it for a larger model in a new box.

“He’s growing faster than I thought,” said DeBenedette, who lives in Long Island and was visiting family.

The same can’t be said of the Connecticut economy, though it is headed in the right direction, gradually. We will never know the effect of holiday sales on the state’s economy because there’s no state measure of volume, and, anyway, the stores that are based here add up to just a small fraction of the industry.

At Westfarms, where most stores opened at 8 a.m., traffic was picking up but still resembled a typical Saturday, if that, and certainly not one during the holiday season. “It’s a long day,” Westfarms general manager Kevin Keenan said. “People are not in a panic mode the day after Christmas the way they are before Christmas…Today will be right up there. Today will be in the top five.”

Hard to imagine it wouldn’t be, and that punctuates the season in retail overall: Not bad, not great.

And underlying all of it is the attitude of shoppers like Vilma Castro, who was looking for discounts, but also brought back some games she had purchased as extra gifts at Toys R Us and never even gift-wrapped.

“I’ve got teenagers. They didn’t need it,” said Castro, of Hartford. “They were very blessed.”

Anytime the word “need” finds its way into a conversation about retail, it’s a bad sign for the folks at the cash register.

 

State Rolls Out ‘Mental Health Parity’ Web Page

by Categorized: Government, Health Care Date:

Not a word was said about Newtown, but on Tuesday, 54 weeks after the tragedy, the governor’s office and Insurance Department announced a new web page designed to help families navigate mental health-related coverage through health insurers.

The page includes a “behavioral health tool kit,” a pdf that helps consumers understand what coverage they might be entitled to, how best to seek reimbursement, how to seek pre-authorization for services and what information they must provide to their insurers when it comes to behavioral health and substance abuse treatment.

“Your health insurer needs to hear from your doctor that the care you receive is medically necessary. There are rules on how this is decided,” the tool kit advises.

Those rules are, of course, anything but simple. The state in 1997 and 2000, and the federal government in 2008, advanced laws designed to bring about “mental health parity,” in which substance abuse and behavioral health treatment is managed in the same way as other medical treatment. The Health Reform Act expanded required access to plans that offer parity.

But as a state report of December 2012 noted, a debate continues between advocates for expanded care and insurance companies.

The new web page should bring some of the benefits of the rules closer to the grasp of patients.

“Our focus remains sharply on removing barriers to mental health treatment and allowing families to get the help and support they need,” Governor Dannel P. Malloy said in a written statement. “We continue to enhance our mental health infrastructure in a number of ways and this online resource is one more example of that.”

Although Malloy did not mention Newtown in the statement, he referred to the state enhancing its “mental health infrastructure,” a phrase that gained urgency after the shooting — but which was not fully addressed by the legislature in 2013.

Insurance Commissioner Thomas Leonardi said, “Sometimes those barriers to access are piles of insurance paperwork and it doesn’t have to be that way…“Our staff is here for you – the consumer – to answer your questions, investigate your complaints and get you the care and coverage you need.”

Much was said about mental health access in the wake of the Newtown shootings, though it was not clear that the shooter and his family experienced barriers to needed access.

Still, related to Newtown or not, as with gun control it’s clear that the issue of access now has a higher profile.

As Fed Scales Back Stimulus, New England Prez Objects

by Categorized: Economy, Public finance Date:

It had to happen eventually, and on Wednesday afternoon the Federal Reserve’s policy-setting board, the Open Market Committee, declared  it would scale back monthly purchases of mortgage-backed securities by $5 billion and long-term Treasury bonds by another $5 billion.

That cuts the monthly stimulus to $75 billion from $85 billion, and it could send mortgage rates and other long-term interest rates higher. It could be seen as good news that the Fed sees conditions improving well enough to take the action.

Stock markets reacted favorably with a sharp, 150-point rise in the Dow, either because investors expected an even larger cut or, more likely, because the Fed promised to keep short-term rates near zero until  “well past the time that the unemployment rate declines below 6-1/2 percent.”

Eric Rosengren, Boston Fed president AP photo

Eric Rosengren, Boston Fed president
AP photo

All committee members voted for the action except one: Eric S. Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. As our New England rep on the board, the arch liberal inflation dove has been the most outspoken Fed official when it comes to keeping the pedal to the metal. Now that fellow dove Janet Yellen is the chairwoman-in-waiting, she’ll take a more centrist approach and Rosengren will represent the interests of the 99 percent from Boston.

From the Fed’s statement issued minutes ago:

Voting against the action was Eric S. Rosengren, who believes that, with the unemployment rate still elevated and the inflation rate well below the target, changes in the purchase program are premature until incoming data more clearly indicate that economic growth is likely to be sustained above its potential rate.

Rosengren sees what a lot of us see: A labor market that’s not working for most people, even if it is creating jobs. If the jobs are low-wage and lower-paying than the ones people lost, that’s creating anti-inflationary pressure, and that’s what we have in the economy right now.

Here is the key paragraph from the Fed’s statement:

Taking into account the extent of federal fiscal retrenchment since the inception of its current asset purchase program, the Committee sees the improvement in economic activity and labor market conditions over that period as consistent with growing underlying strength in the broader economy. In light of the cumulative progress toward maximum employment and the improvement in the outlook for labor market conditions, the Committee decided to modestly reduce the pace of its asset purchases. Beginning in January, the Committee will add to its holdings of agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $35 billion per month rather than $40 billion per month, and will add to its holdings of longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of $40 billion per month rather than $45 billion per month. The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction. The Committee’s sizable and still-increasing holdings of longer-term securities should maintain downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, support mortgage markets, and help to make broader financial conditions more accommodative, which in turn should promote a stronger economic recovery and help to ensure that inflation, over time, is at the rate most consistent with the Committee’s dual mandate.

 

New Haven Independent: J. Press Building To Go

by Categorized: Commerce, Economic Development, Real Estate, Retail Date:

New Haven isn’t quite as bad off as Hartford when it comes to its history of tearing down historic buildings, especially the ones that are not landmarks, but rather contributors to the street life of the city.

The New Haven Independent reports that the J. Press building on York Street will be demolished because it’s structurally unsound.  The upscale clothing store will rebuild on the site — and another little piece of urban color will vanish.

 

Bobby V’s To Teletheater Owner’s Employment In State To 370

by Categorized: Commerce, Consumer Date:

After a $4 million upgrade, the Bradley Teletheater next month will open a 300-seat Bobby V’s Restaurant & Sports Bar with Bobby Valentine at the longtime off-track betting venue. The restaurant will include a 17-foot-wide LED video wall and 70 large-screen TV’s — basically wall-to-wall video, as this artist’s rendering shows.

Artist's rendering of Bobby V's Restaurant at Bradley Teletheater.  Courtesy of Sportech

Artist’s rendering of Bobby V’s Restaurant at Bradley Teletheater.
Courtesy of Sportech

Valentine, 63, the colorful former baseball manager, now NBC baseball analyst and athletic director at Sacred Heart University, owns a Bobby V’s restaurant — with a different name — in his native Stamford and has previously owned several other eateries. Valentine had a 9-year playing career starting at age 19 and later managed the Texas Rangers and New York Mets (taking the Mets to the World Series against the Yankees in 2000).

He had a less than successful stint at the Red Sox in 2012 after managing in Japan for several years. Lately, he’s been sighted by patrons at the Bradley Teletheater, owned by New Haven-based Sportech Venues Inc., a U.S. arm of a British firm that bought all 15 off-track betting locations in the state, and rebranded them under the Winners name.

With the expansion, Sportech brings its employment in Connecticut to 370 people — up from 300 a year ago.
“I’ve been talking to Sportech for a while and I like what they have done since buying the Connecticut operation,” Valentine said in a written release. “I’ve enjoyed working with them to design something we are all proud of. There’s nothing like it up here in Southern New England and I’ve not seen a screen as impressive as this outside Vegas! You’re going to have to see it to believe it!”

 

AT&T Selling Connecticut Business To Frontier

by Categorized: Corporate finance, Telecommunications Date:

AT&T has reached a deal to sell its wireline business in Connecticut to Frontier Communications for $2 billion in cash, ending a 15-year venture that led to thousands of job losses as the number of regular phone lines declined, technology improved and the company moved support operations elsewhere.

Stamford-based Frontier, which operates in 27 states, will take over the old Southern New England Telephone Co. business, which legally still has that name. The operations include 2,700 employees, 900,000 wireline telephone connections, 415,000 Internet connections and 180,000 U-verse video subscribers for a total of $1.25 billion in annual revenues, along with the network itself and a lease at AT&T’s New Haven offices.

Frontier will use the U-verse brand name for video services, but not for its bundled voice, video and Internet, as AT&T does. And, the Frontier president said in an interview, the acquisition will not mean higher prices or deep job cuts — although it will bring changes for customers.

The merger, announced separately by both companies, would close in late 2014 after regulators’ approval. Frontier will not cut overall employment numbers among the Connecticut employees it inherits, including 2,400 members of the Communications Workers of America, said Dan McCarthy, the Frontier president and chief operating officer. But he said that jobs will change, so some disruption will happen.

For a full version of this column, go to:

http://www.courant.com/business/hc-haar-snet-att-frontier-merger-20131217,0,2065086.column

 

 

Bobby Valentine To Run Restaurant At Bradley Teletheater

by Categorized: Commerce, Consumer Date:

A $4 million expansion of the Bradley Teletheater, including a 17-foot-wide LED video wall, will have an expanded restaurant — owned by Bobby Valentine, the baseball manager who has the well known Bobby V’s in Stamford .

It’s unclear whether the Windsor Locks teletheater’s 300-seat restaurant will be called Bobby V’s, but sources say the venture will be announced soon — and it makes sense to use the celebrity name on a celebrity-owned restaurant.  The expansion is part of a $10 million upgrade around the state for Sportech, the British firm that owns and operates all 15 Connecticut off-track betting locations, known as Winners.

Sportech Venues Inc., based in New Haven, announced the expansion last week and said it’s expected to be ready in January. The Bradley location, on Schoephoester Road between Route 75 and the airport, will include 70 large-screen TVs, a golf simulator, a meeting room, and outdoor dining alongside the betting venue.

Sportech has owned the Connecticut locations for three years. “This has been a major project and we needed local expertise to make it happen,” Ted Taylor, said Sportech’s managing director, said in announcing the expansion — but not Valentine’s role. “I am delighted that we have been able to use some of Connecticut’s finest craftsmen to help us create this magnificent facility.”

Valentine could certainly be considered one of Connecticut’s craftsmen as a restaurateur and outspoken sports figure who doesn’t shy away from controversy. The Stamford native, 63, had a 9-year playing career starting at age 19, managed the Texas Rangers and New York Mets (taking the Mets to the World Series against the Yankees in 2000). He had a less than successful stint at the Red Sox in 2012 after a 10-year hiatus from the dugout.

Now athletic director at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Valentine has been sighted by patrons at the Bradley Teletheater recently.