Category Archives: Politics

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.

Not-So-Easy Money On The Boughton Campaign Trail

by Categorized: Labor, Politics Date:

It might not do much to ease unemployment among Republicans, but Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton is offering what he says is a quick buck.

The Boughton campaign is advertising to hire petition circulators, at $2 per signature plus bonuses, in his effort to amass at least 8,190 signed names by June 10.

Boughton and his running mate for Lieutenant Governor, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, need the signatures in order to appear on the Aug. 12 primary ballot.  Boughton qualified with more than 15 percent of delegates at the GOP state convention this month but Lauretti later joined him, so they need the signatures as a ticket.

“It is a great way to make money fast,” says a release from the Boughton campaign issued Tuesday.

It sounds easy, but a circulator would have to be smart and efficient to make real money. There aren’t a lot of densely populated neighborhoods with active Republicans teeming the streets, especially in the part of the state where Boughton’s name is familiar.

Oh, and the circulators must be registered Republicans, under state election laws.

With some already in hand, the campaign needs about 500 signatures a day for the next 15 days to reach the goal.

The $2-per-signature offer is neither a desperate measure nor highly unusual, Boughton’s campaign manager, Heath Fahle, said Tuesday just after issuing the call. We don’t see it very often in Connecticut in part because of the 15 percent threshold for statewide primaries, but, he said, in some states there are people who make their living on election petitions.

No, the Boughton campaign doesn’t have any itinerant, carpet-bagging circulators.  “There are more people volunteering to help than there are accepting payment,” Fahle reports. “The outpouring of support from our volunteers has really been terrific…The staff spent literally the entire Memorial Day weekend dropping off petition forms in at least 60 towns, probably more than that.”

The Boughton-Lauretti campaign must also raise at least $250,000 in increments of $5 to $100 in order to qualify for $1.36 million in the primary in an effort to beat Tom Foley, who won the convention nod, and Sen. John McKinney. “It’s chewing bubble gum and juggling at the same time,” Fahle said.

The campaign checked with the state Elections Enforcement Commission on paying circulators, but not with the state Department of Labor.

If the workers are considered employees, they need to receive at least the minimum wage for all hours they work. If they’re contractors, the arrangement must pass a so-called ABC test. Workers must be “free from direction and control,” for example, and they must be engaged in an “independently established trade.”

Nancy Steffens, a Labor Department spokeswoman, said it was impossible to tell from Boughton’s materials whether the arrangement would meet the standards.

 

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.

As Chaos Clears, Waterbury Hospital Could Be Acquired By September

by Categorized: Health Care, Labor, Politics Date:

The troubled Waterbury Hospital is poised for a takeover by a Dallas-based corporation as soon as Sept. 30 if Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signs a hastily adopted bill that emerged from chaos in the legislature over the last two days.

The bill allows for-profit hospitals to employ doctors, undoing the major hurdle that had threatened a plan by Tenet Healthcare Corp. to acquire Waterbury, Bristol, Manchester Memorial and Rockville General hospitals.

It also adds a new twist that was not part of the public debate: Any hospital that acquires a practice with eight or more doctors must gain a “certificate of need” from the state Department of Public Health, a process hospitals must follow under existing law whenever they add or close medical services.

The bill does not offer the direct protections for workers that labor groups fought for two years to include. But labor groups signed off anyway, clearing the way for overwhelming votes in the House and Senate, because the bill strengthens regulators’ powers to assure quality of care and adds local hearings that must become part of the official record.

Labor groups were also pleased that the bill adds a “firewall” between a hospital system’s for-profit businesses and core, not-for-profit operations. The shifting of employees from core hospital units to profitable satellite businesses is a fierce battleground in health care.

Waterbury Hospital is the furthest along of four that Tenet is moving toward acquiring. On Thursday Trip Pilgrim, the Tenet senior vice president of development and point man for the deals, said the company is still sorting out everything the bill says, but he’s confident it will not stop the mergers.

“We’re pleased,” Pilgrim said Thursday. “We got a bill that we think allows us to continue to pursue these transactions. We’re going to do that.”

That was not assured. Tenet had said all along that it would pull out of the state if lawmakers added new regulations, and at 11:44 p.m. Wednesday, just after the bill passed, the company issued a statement casting doubt.

Tenet and Waterbury Hospital are about halfway through the rigorous certificate of need process with state regulators. That approval could come within two to five months, Pilgrim estimated, and with other state and federal reviews, the deal appears likely to close in 2014.

Bristol is the next furthest along but has not yet sought a certificate of need, and Manchester and Rockville are not far behind Bristol in the process, Pilgrim said.

All four not-for-profit hospitals have signed letters of intent with Tenet, a for-profit, publicly traded chain of 77 hospitals.  All four would be owned by a new joint venture that’s partly owned by Yale New Haven Health System, with YNH, already Connecticut’s largest hospital system, helping to coordinate the statewide care.

The bill passed overwhelmingly by bleary-eyed lawmakers in the last hour before the session expired, with little or no debate and with little chance for rank and file members to review it and ask questions. But people who had been on both sides of the issue said it represented a fair solution for now, with more battles likely to come.

“The compromise bill passed late last night is a good start toward protecting patients and local economies faced with conversion of their community hospitals,” said Melodie Peters, president of AFT Connecticut, which represents hundreds of nurses, and a former state senator. “There is still much work to be done to assure a clear, transparent process for holding health management corporations seeking to take over our acute care facilities accountable.”

Peters noted that the bill “comes up short” on protections.

The issue at the heart of the bill is the measure allowing for-profit hospitals to employ doctors — a relationship that could create incentives for docs to make decisions based on finances, not just health.  To avert those potential conflicts, existing law allows hospitals to affiliate with and essentially control “medical foundations” that employ doctors — but that system is only available to not-for-profit hospitals, a limit in place only in Connecticut.

The new bill extends it to for-profit hospital companies such as Tenet.

Tenet had originally fought hard for the bill, then changed course — saying it could affiliate with doctors at all of its Connecticut hospitals through Yale New Haven Health System.  Attorney General George Jepsen, in a strongly worded letter to lawmakers last week, warned that there was no assurance he would approve that scheme.

Jepsen’s letter drove both sides to reach a deal. Labor groups accepted lower protections because they feared the Tenet-Yale plan would work, leaving them with nothing.

And supporters of the merger feared a long, bloody court battle if Jepsen rejected the plan — so they agreed to protections such as the new regulation on doctors’ groups and new limits on shifting work.

 

 

 

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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Forums Scheduled on Hospital Takeovers In Rockville, Manchester

by Categorized: Health Care, Labor, Politics Date:

The Eastern Connecticut Health Network, which includes Rockville General and Manchester Memorial hospitals, has scheduled community discussions about the proposed sale of the hospitals to a for-profit chain.

Under the plan, ECHN, a not-for-profit corporation, would become part of a joint venture majority owned by Tenet Healthcare Corp., based in Texas. The Yale New Haven Health System would have a minority ownership and would be a “clinical partner,” helping to coordinate care.

Many are wondering how the sale would affect local employees and medical services. My in-depth column published Sunday makes it clear it’s too soon to know, but that there is no clear evidence that for-profit conversions lead to service reductions in former not-for-profit hospitals.

Eastern Connecticut Health Network has signed a letter of intent with Tenet but has not yet negotiated a sale agreement — which could be a crucial way of protecting services. Representatives of ECHN, Tenet and Yale New Haven will be at the meetings.

The public sessions are tonight, Tuesday, at 6 p.m. at Rockville High School and Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Manchester Memorial Hospital auditorium, which has limited seating.

 

 

 

 

 

Cities Must ‘Get Their Act Together,’ Malloy Says

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

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, standing in front of a bank of Rentschler Field upper-level windows overlooking Hartford and East Hartford, recounted his achievements to a roomful of local and regional economic development officials Wednesday — but added a blunt twist.

Malloy at Rentschler Field Wednesday Dan Haar/the Hartford Courant April 23, 2014

Malloy at Rentschler Field Wednesday
Dan Haar/the Hartford Courant April 23, 2014

When someone asked the governor about struggling cities, he didn’t just cite all the money his administration has spent, and will spend.

“Cities have to get their act together,” said Malloy, who’s seeking re-election this year. “I did this for 14 years.”

Malloy had a somewhat easier time of it as Stamford’s mayor, since that city, alone among the Big 5 of Bridgeport, Stamford, Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury, has a vast, stable base of rich and upper-middle-class neighborhoods, not to mention Wall Street firms.

But as governor, even his critics must admit he’s had some success bringing a bit of efficiency to entrenched agencies.

“We have more than 1,000 fewer people working in state government than the day I came in,” Malloy told the gathering, organized by the state Department of Economic and Community Development. “But some of this has to be done at the local level.”

Was he suggesting staff cuts at cities and towns? No, at least not right away. Rather, he’s calling on them to find ways to be more efficient through technology and management — and therefore less dependent on the state and able to operate with fewer people.

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra proposed a budget this week with deep cuts and perhaps layoffs. Without referring to that, Malloy said, “I can look you in the eye and say I am not responsible for a single layoff at a municipality,” as state aid to cities and towns has remained stable.

 

Democrats Using Gun Control As A Weapon

by Categorized: Firearms, Politics Date:

It’s clear that Connecticut’s post-Newtown gun control law will play a loud role in the legislative campaigns and we expect Second Amendment advocates to attack supporters. But Democrats are also using the issue as a weapon against anyone who hints at opposition.

That leaves Republicans who voted for it — most prominently Sen. John McKinney, the candidate for Governor who helped negotiate the law — caught in the middle if they make one false move, or even if they don’t.  And it leaves Democrats who voted against the law, including Rep. Linda Orange, facing a battle from the left.

The state’s Democratic Party issued a breathless release Wednesday morning, titled “SHOCKER: John McKinney Says He Would Repeal The Gun Control Bill ‘SB 1160.’”

It looked big. But that’s not what McKinney said.  The Democrats, who attend and record many events of McKinney and other GOP candidates for governor, issued a YouTube Video and a transcript showing McKinney answering a question at a meeting of the Quiet Corner Tea Party Patriots in Putnam.

QUESTION: …if Republicans took over the General Assemblyand if they put forward a repeal of SB 1160if you were elected governor, would you sign that?

MCKINNEY: If the legislature repeals something, I think the governor owes a great deference to what the legislature does, and I would.

McKinney spent two hours with the group of about 30, all of them opposed to the gun control law, he recounted to me Wednesday.  He explained to the group that he continues to support the law, though it contains some measures he would not have added.

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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.