Category Archives: Government

Colorado Gov. Offers Marijuana Advice To Connecticut

by Categorized: Consumer, Government, Politics Date:

Forty years ago when he was graduating from Wesleyan University, John Hickenlooper couldn’t have imagined that he’d be back on campus giving advice to the state of Connecticut on how to run a vast marijuana retail network.

Or maybe he could imagine it.  As a full participant in that time and place, Hickenlooper, class of ’74, now says, “I’m way past any point of saying I didn’t inhale.”

Either way, he was back at Wesleyan in Middletown over the holiday weekend, breathing the cleaner air of an honored alumnus as governor of Colorado, which fully authorized pot sales for recreational use at the start of this year.

“So far we’ve rolled it out pretty well,” Hickenlooper said in a talk he gave about legalization Saturday — not, apparently, aware of his pun. “The industry so far recognizes, they’ve got to behave responsibly.”

Colorado, which previously sanctioned marijuana for medical use, now has 250 licensed retail locations, with 100 up and running, along with 61 heavily regulated “manufacturing” sites, mostly growers, and two testing facilities.  Connecticut legalized pot for medical use in 2012 and we expect to see some or all of the six licensed dispensaries open this summer.

“My advice to Connecticut would be to go slow on the recreational,” said Hickenlooper, 62, in response to a question I asked. “I tell all the governors to go slow. We don’t know what the implications are going to be for our kids.”

Now they’re finally worried about the kids? Hickenlooper, in fact, has been hesitant all along. He initially opposed legalization but now has the job of making it happen smoothly.

Full disclosure here, I’m on the advisory committee at Wesleyan that helps the administration organize on-campus seminars and discussions, though I wasn’t involved in Hickenlooper’s visit.

“You don’t realize until you’re trying to create a regulatory framework how complicated it is to make everything work,” he said.

That includes walking a line between marijuana advocates and the business community, making sure motorists aren’t driving stoned and working around the fact that possessing the drug is still a federal crime are all issues. The feds have told Colorado they’ll “find other things to prosecute” as long as the state keeps pot out of the hands of kids and organized crime.

The issues are endless. “Edibles have become a big deal,” he said, but what is a dose? One man who ate too much ended up killing his wife. As a result, the legislature passed a law requiring clear labeling right on the edible product itself — not just the packaging.

Full legalization is coming everywhere, sooner or later, so Connecticut clearly can’t stay put with its small handful of growers and stores. And since we’re a state that loves our sin taxes, it’s a way to pad the coffers.

Hickenlooper isn’t comfortable with that. “I don’t think state revenues should be dependent on something that’s not good for your citizens,” he said.

We ought to get past that guilt trip easily. To borrow the Colorado governor’s phrase, Connecticut is way past any point of saying we don’t tax vices and addictions.

Malloy To Mark Benefit Corporations Measure As reSET Celebrates

by Categorized: Economic Development, Government, Politics Date:

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy indicated he’ll commemorate the state’s new legislation that enables business owners to incorporate as “Type B” benefit corporations, set up for a broader social benefits beyond just profits for owners.

The event, not yet scheduled, won’t be a bill-signing ceremony since the measure was not a separate bill, but was instead included in the 300-plus-page budget implementation bill adopted at the tail end of the legislative session May 7.

Kate Emery, left, the founder of reSET, and celebrate at City Steam in downtown Hartford after the measure creating benefit corporations passed at the Capitol.  Dan Haar/The Hartford Courant

Kate Emery, left the founder of reSET, and Ojala Naeem, incubator and IT manager for reSET, celebrate at City Steam in downtown Hartford after the measure creating benefit corporations passed at the Capitol.
Dan Haar/The Hartford Courant

Members of the Social Enterprise Trust, a Hartford group known as reSET, gathered at City Steam in Hartford on May 9 to celebrate the measure passing.  The group had lobbied for the bill over the last three years at the Capitol, and had secured support from Malloy, who walked to the reSET office and incubator on Pratt Street in downtown Hartford early this year to back it.

The new rules won’t require any firm to do anything differently, but those businesses that establish themselves as benefit corporations, or social enterprises, will have to declare what their social benefit is, and report on it. And in Connecticut, unlike any other state that has a similar law, the registration is virtually impossible to revoke.

That provision could attract socially-minded start-ups to Connecticut, reSET founder Kate Emery and other advocates said.

Last-Minute Bill Would Quietly Exempt UConn Police From State Rules

by Categorized: Education, Government, Labor, Politics Date:

A measure buried deep in a last-minute, 326-page bill at the state Capitol would exempt the UConn police force from state hiring rules, allowing the university to create its own job classifications that could lead to more pay for officers.

The change was not proposed and did not receive a public hearing during the session that ends at midnight Wednesday, though it has come up in the past, most recently in 2013.

UConn police officers would still be in the union that represents protective services officers. But under the change, UConn, which has an authorized force of 76 sworn officers, would “establish classifications” for the police force jobs at all of the university’s campuses, including the health center in Farmington.

UConn Police Chief Barbara O’Connor has pushed for the change, saying it would add flexibility and speed by giving her the ability to hire from a list that is tailor made, rather than the longer list of approved applicants compiled by the state Department of Administrative Services. She told CTMirror last year it would let her department “control the…process.”

O’Connor declined to comment on the pending bill through UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz late Wednesday, but Reitz said that on the state’s list of applicants, “there may be people whose original intent was not a campus police position. It just helps you kind of narrow it.”

It also could lead to abuses of the sort that the Department of Administrative Services is designed to avert.  And if it’s enacted, it shouldn’t happen as a last-minute slip-in in a midnight bill in the waning minutes of the legislative session, buried amid dozens of unrelated measures, unknown to most lawmakers who had to vote on it.

State Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, co-chairman of the legislature’s public safety committee, just found out the measure was in place Tuesday — and tried to stop it. He said the carve-out could lead to lower standards and other problems and that some unions had concerns about it. Sneaking it into law, he said, “is not fair, it’s not right.”

UConn came under criticism in 2011 after my colleague Jon Lender revealed that then-UConn Police Chief Robert Hurd made $256,000 a year — far more than most of his counterparts in similar jobs around the country — and Maj. Robert Blicher made $202,000 a year. Both retired that year, in their mid-50s.

O’Connor was hired in 2011 at a salary of $164,000 and now makes $172,935.

The measure is designed to not allow UConn the leeway to pay higher wages to its police force, said Ben Barnes, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget chief.  That may be true under his tight controls, but a reading of the language appears to show some wiggle room, and some, including Dargan, believe UConn could pay its officers more than state troopers earn under the measure, by changing their job descriptions.

Broadly, the change is part of a trend under which UConn and other state agencies carve out their own rules for hiring, construction and other activities.

“We’ve made a lot of carve-outs for UConn,” said state Rep. Steven Mikutel, D-Griswold. “How many projects ended up being not done competently?”

He named a few, in construction. And when it comes to removing significant groups of unionized state employees from the classified services, an open debate — unlike what’s happening at the state Capitol — seems the better way to run the show.

As Lawmakers Wind Down, Three Languishing Business Bills Prove A Point

by Categorized: Economy, Government, Health Care, Politics Date:

Among the more than 250 bills hanging on with fading hopes as the last day of the state legislative session dawns, three with significance to Connecticut business illustrate different ways a bill can hang on a cliff.

And all three help make the case that a legislature meeting for three or five months a year doesn’t cut it.

The first, a bill that would allow social entrepreneurs to easily establish “benefit corporations,” has not come to a vote in the House or the Senate despite having only minor opposition and broad, bipartisan sponsorship.

The bill would make it possible to incorporate “Type B” businesses explicitly for social benefits beyond just profits for the owners. On Jan. 14, I said the bill “seems like a lock to pass” after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy trekked downtown to the Pratt Street office of reSET, the Social Enterprise Trust, to declare his support after two tries fell short in 2012 and 2013.

The social enterprise bill passed through three committees by a total vote of 95-7. Yet its best hope now is a back-door route, sneaking under the coattails of a broader bill. If it fails amid horse-trading and delay tactics, it would reflect the worst of the legislative process. The only controversy has been over whether to include a provision that locks in a social benefit incorporation irrevokably, something no other state has.

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Obamacare Final Tally For State: Good First Year, Much More Needed

by Categorized: Government, Health Care, Insurance Date:

The final numbers are in for Connecticut residents signing up for health care at Access Health CT, the state’s exchange under the Affordable Care Act. Results for people who met the March 31 deadline show the agency exceeded its goals with a surprisingly high number of Medicaid enrollees.

What we don’t know is how many of the newly enrolled Obamacare customers were previously uninsured. But we do know that on that score, the state still has a long way to go.

Nationally, President Obama announced Thursday that the state exchanges, mostly run by the federal government, reached 8 million enrollees by mid-April — exceeding a 2013 Congressional Budget Office estimate of 7 million. And he said 28 percent were between 18 and 35.

Click here for a White House fact sheet on Obamacare progress.

We’re still hearing reports of problems with the system, including very high prices for people on the individual market who are not eligible for subsidies, and concerns by many that they must keep their incomes under key thresholds.

It’s too soon to say whether the mix of enrollees in the private plans — age groups and health profiles — will be adequate to avert sharp increases for 2015. But with an estimated 47 million Americans lacking health coverage, it’s clear that Obamacare in 2015 will have to accelerate.

OVERALL CT:

  • Total Enrolled: 208,301
  • Unofficial Goal Set In 2013: 100,000-130,000
  • Total Uninsured In Connecticut Before Obamacare: About 300,000
  • Total Uninsured Now: ?????
  • Next Open Enrollment Date for 2015 Coverage: Nov. 15, 2014
  • Who Can Still Enroll In 2014? Residents with life changes such as marriage, divorce, birth, adoption or loss of employer’s insurance coverage

PRIVATE PLANS

  • Total Enrolled In Private Plans Through Exchange: 78,713
  • Unofficial Goal Set In 2013: 70,000
  • Federal Target for Private-Plan Enrollment In CT: 33,000
  • Private Plan Enrollees Receiving Federal Subsidy: 61,400
  • Enrolled And Later Dropped Out (not counted in total): About 7,000

MEDICAID

  • Total Enrolled In Medicaid: 129,588
  • Unofficial Goal Set In 2013: 30,000

 

 

 

 

Bill Would Require Labor Breakdown For Companies Receiving Big State Aid

by Categorized: Economic Development, Government, Labor, Politics, Public finance Date:

State taxpayers want to get their money’s worth when they give a company a huge aid package, and to that end, many lawmakers want to add a new hurdle.

Any firm that gets at least $10 million in state assistance would have to file a report showing how it intends to favor Connecticut-based contractors for any construction work covered by the aid, under a bill that advanced Thursday in the legislature.

The firms would also have to report on the names of construction contractors, the total number of full-time construction employees on the site and the wages paid, and the total number of construction workers on the project who live in Connecticut.

“We want to see more Connecticut construction jobs as a result of these state investments,” said state Sen. Gary D. LeBeau, co-chairman of the legislature’s Commerce Committee, which advanced the bill to the Senate floor in a 12-5 vote.

The bill is part of a long debate over how much the state should demand of the companies it backs with economic development aid. Unions support the bill and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association opposes it, saying it’s onerous.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s development commissioner, Catherine H. Smith, told lawmakers she’s concerned the bill “may dissuade some larger companies from considering the state.

The administration’s caution is probably wise. Promoting local jobs is great but we wouldn’t want other states to shut out Connecticut-based construction workers. And when it comes to new business regulations, Connecticut is on the watch list — so we should pass up even some decent ideas, for the greater good.

Smith & Wesson, Sturm, Ruger Exit California Market Over Gun Rules

by Categorized: Firearms, Government Date:

Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger are pulling out of the California market for the sale of some new firearms, Reuters and Fox News report, as the nation’s biggest state rolls out rules requiring gun-makers to offer microstamping of serial numbers on ammunition for new and redesigned models.

The whole gun industry, led by the National Shooting Sports Foundation in Newtown, is fighting the California law, and efforts in other states to adopt similar laws. They say the technology is costly but ineffective in solving crime, and is not sufficiently developed for mass production

It should come as no surprise that Smith & Wesson, of Springfield, is leading the charge against microstamping.  The historic gunmaker has been burned before, when it complied with government rules on smart-gun technology.

Late in the Clinton administration, a coalition of federal agencies and cities tried to adopt rules favoring the purchase of firearms that had advanced safety standards, including technology that could make it harder for people to use stolen or illegally purchased guns.  Seven manufacturers, including Colt’s and Sturm, Ruger, filed a lawsuit saying the proposed rules were unconstitutional.

But Smith & Wesson sided with the government — and paid the price in a backlash by customers.

See The Courant’s Daily Buzz question today; Should Bullets Be Microstamped?

Most companies in the industry, including Colt’s, decline to say publicly how they’re progressing in smart-gun technology, as they oppose mandates but could gain an advantage by coming out first with workable systems.

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.”

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.

Connecticut Innovations Launches New Brand

by Categorized: Economic Development, Government Date:

Connecticut Innovations, the state’s quasi-public technology investment agency, unveiled new logos and branding that emphasizes its broader reach, including a more dynamic website (www.ctinnovations.com) and services that reflect its 2012 merger with the Connecticut Development Authority.

CTI_Logo_Final

The web page opens with an image in the shape of a brain, with a network of multi-colored bands that could be imagined to represent the “entrepreneurial ecosystem” that CI is working to nurture, dubbed CTNEXT.

CTI_Ribbon_Brain

The consolidated CI has become more active in dealmaking under Claire Leonardi, with debt deals, grants, internships, networking and other services to augment its core function, equity deals in start-up and early stage companies. “The early-stage portfolio now contains 91 companies,” CI said in a release.