Insurance Executives Win; Citizens and Mental Health Advocates Lose

At the end of May, Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy stunned healthcare advocates when he vetoed an important bill that would have required insurance companies to provide data about how much substance abuse coverage and related mental health care they are actually providing Connecticut residents.

The legislation was a product of a major study conducted the Connecticut General Assembly’s bi-partisan Program Review and Investigation Committee.  While insurance companies already report some utilization data, the Committee’s investigation determined that companies were not providing the information necessary for policymakers to determine whether patients were getting the substance abuse treatment and mental health services that they need and deserve.

Considering that the cost of appropriate substance abuse treatment and mental health services is far cheaper and more effective than dealing with the resulting emergency room visits, potential suicide attempts, violence and incarceration that can result from inadequate treatment, the bill was extremely appropriate.

With strong support from Democrats and Republicans, the legislation passed the Program Review and Investigation Committee 11 – 0, the Insurance Committee 15 – 2, the Connecticut State Senate 35 – 0 and the Connecticut House of Representatives by a vote of 143 – 0.

But then, in an apparent gift to insurance executives, who have been extremely generous to Malloy’s political fundraising efforts, the Governor reversed course and vetoed the bill.

Now, according to House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, the Democratic-controlled legislature will not override any of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s vetoes, including the important substance abuse and mental health bill.

The General Assembly’s decision to simply give in and give up the fight to ensure a better and fairer health insurance system for Connecticut is a sad one.

As the CT Mirror reported at the time Malloy vetoed the bill,

“Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has vetoed a bill opposed by the insurance industry that would have required carriers to report information about the substance abuse treatment they have covered and their networks of mental health and substance abuse treatment providers.

Malloy said he supported the objective of the measure, which was intended to increase the amount of information available about substance abuse treatment and coverage, but was concerned that it could lead to inaccurate information being gathered.

Malloy took issue with that last requirement, saying in his veto message that it’s unusual for state law to require private entities to “report on activities to achieve public policy objectives,” and that he worried about the precedent it could set.

In defense of his veto, Governor Malloy actually said that he is opposed to requiring private entities to “report on activities to achieve public policy objectives.”

Malloy’s statement is absolutely absurd considering that private businesses that are engaged in public purposes MUST regularly “report on activities to achieve public policy objectives.”  Just ask the electric companies, the water companies and all the other private entities that serve the public good.

Insurance companies that provide health insurance to Connecticut residents must be held accountable for their actions and the bill Malloy vetoed would have done exactly that.

As Jeffrey Walter, the president of the Rushford Center and an expert on substance abuse treatment, explained in his testimony in favor of the legislation,

“The legislation might not be necessary were it not for the fact that behavioral health is treated differently by the insurance industry than virtually any other health care specialty….care for psychiatric and substance use disorders [are] denied at a rate that far surpasses my other part of the health care system.”

The Connecticut Psychological Association added,

“The provisions…increase transparency related to coverage decisions and complaints, which will facilitate evaluation of the review process, including compliance with federal parity law, which requires equal treatment of medical and behavioral health providers and conditions, as well as network adequacy.”

And Connecticut’s State Health Care Advocate, Victoria Veltri, explained,

“Expanding the data that insurers report to the Insurance Department concerning member utilization of services for the treatment of substance use, co-occurring and mental health disorders will provide additional needed clarity to the issues concerning consumer access to treatment for these conditions.”

Malloy was wrong to veto this bill and the Connecticut General Assembly is failing to do its job by refusing to even consider overriding Malloy’s veto.

You can read more about the bill in this CT Mirror story: http://ctmirror.org/malloy-vetos-substance-abuse-treatment-bill-opposed-by-insurance-industry/?hvid=4ILvLG

Paid for by Pelto 2014, Ted Strelez, Treasurer, Christine Ladd, Deputy Treasurer, Approved by Jonathan Pelto

Important Wait, What? weekend stories you might have missed

Define fiscal irresponsibility….

While most Connecticut residents feel a growing unease about the Malloy administration’s irresponsible and underhanded approach to state budgeting, I’m often asked to give specific examples of how Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy has handled the Connecticut budget during his term in office.

Long-time readers may remember this one, but here is a prime example for readers who are newer to Wait, What?

In January 2010 there was a tragic school bus accident on Route 84 in Hartford that killed a young Rocky Hill student who was attending one of the CREC magnet schools.

As politicians are wont to do, state legislators kicked into action, and on May 1, 2010 the Connecticut General Assembly passed Public Act 10-83.  The new law created a special protected trust account called the Connecticut School Bus Seat Belt Account and required the Department of Motor Vehicles to administer a program to use the funds to help Connecticut school districts pay for the cost of equipping school buses with lap/shoulder (3-point) seat belts.

To pay for the program, the legislature increased the cost associated with restoring a suspended driver’s license from $125 to $ 175 and directed that $50 of each license restoration payment be deposited into the Connecticut School Bus Seat Belt Account.  The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated the higher fee would raise about $2.1 million a year.

Now fast forward two and a half years…

Governor Malloy had been in office for two years and none of the $4.7 million collected for school seat belts had been spent.

And then, rather than using the money for its intended purpose…

We witnessed the following;

As part of the December 2012 “deficit mitigation bill” Governor Malloy and the legislature included language that overrode the existing law and quietly transferred $4,700,000 from the School Bus Seat Belt Account into the General Fund to help eliminate the projected FY 2013 $415 million deficit.

Gone was the money for school seat belts.

For more go to:  http://jonathanpelto.com/2014/05/31/define-fiscal-irresponsibility/

 

Does it really only cost $30,000 to get Governor Malloy to veto a good bill?

Over the past few months Governor Malloy and his political operatives have raised more than $30,000 from major insurance companies and their corporate executives.  The funds were deposited into the special Democratic State Central Committee account that will be used to augment the $6.2 million that Malloy will be getting from the State’s public financing system.

Then late last week Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy stunned healthcare advocates when he vetoed an important bill that would have required insurance companies to provide data about how much substance abuse coverage and related mental health care they were actually providing Connecticut residents.

The legislation was a product of a major study conducted the Connecticut General Assembly’s bi-partisan Program Review and Investigation Committee, a committee I chaired in 1993 during the last year I served in the Connecticut House of Representatives.

The Program Review and Investigation is the only committee charged with fully investigating major public policy issues and developing comprehensive solutions.

In this case, the committee produced a comprehensive report entitled, “Access to Substance Use Treatment for Privately and Publicly Insured Youth.”  Phase I of the report, and its corresponding legislative initiatives, was adopted on December 18, 2012.  Phase II of the report was adopted on June 7, 2013.

This past legislative session, one of the legislative proposals arising out of the report, was introduced in the form of House Bill 5373, An Act Concerning the Reporting of Certain Data by Managed Care Organizations and Health Insurance Companies to the Insurance Department.

The bill was a common sense, first step toward ensuring insurance companies actually pay the bills they are supposed to be paying.

More at:  http://jonathanpelto.com/2014/06/01/really-cost-30000-get-governor-malloy-veto-good-bill/

 

And then this one…Will the Working Families Party stand up for working families in this year’s election

Define fiscal irresponsibility….

While most Connecticut residents feel a growing unease about the Malloy administration’s irresponsible and underhanded approach to state budgeting, I’m often asked to give specific examples of how Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy has handled the Connecticut budget during his term in office.

Long-time readers may remember this one, but here is a prime example for readers who are newer to Wait, What?

In January 2010 there was a tragic school bus accident on Route 84 in Hartford that killed a young Rocky Hill student who was attending one of the CREC magnet schools.

As politicians are wont to do, state legislators kicked into action, and on May 1, 2010 the Connecticut General Assembly passed Public Act 10-83.  The new law created a special protected trust account called the Connecticut School Bus Seat Belt Account and required the Department of Motor Vehicles to administer a program to use the funds to help Connecticut school districts pay for the cost of equipping school buses with lap/shoulder (3-point) seat belts.

To pay for the program, the legislature increased the cost associated with restoring a suspended driver’s license from $125 to $ 175 and directed that $50 of each license restoration payment be deposited into the Connecticut School Bus Seat Belt Account.  The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated the higher fee would raise about $2.1 million a year.

Now fast forward two and a half years…

Governor Malloy had been in office for two years and none of the $4.7 million collected for school seat belts had been spent.

And then, rather than using the money for its intended purpose…

We witnessed the following;

As part of the December 2012 “deficit mitigation bill” Governor Malloy and the legislature included language that overrode the existing law and quietly transferred $4,700,000 from the School Bus Seat Belt Account into the General Fund to help eliminate the projected FY 2013 $415 million deficit.

Gone was the money for school seat belts.

That tragedy was yesterday’s news and no one even spoke out against the inappropriate raid on the School Bus Seat Belt Account.

Just a year later, adding insult to injury, Governor Malloy and his administration were crowing about a projected FY 2014 budget surplus.

But instead of using a portion of that surplus to pay back the $4.7 million taken from the School Bus Seat Belt Account, Malloy used the surplus funds to pad this year’s budget and even promised a series of election-year tax rebates and tax cuts before the fiscal reality facing Connecticut set in and he had to “postpone” those tax cut promises.

The fact is that over and over again, Governor Malloy has claimed that the state and its state budget have benefited from his good management skills.

But if a governor was truly dedicated to good management he or she would never have raided the School Bus Seat Belt Account or, at the very least, would have returned the money when it was clear that the state had the resources to do so.

Oh, and as an aside, when you hear the Republicans claim that they are the party of “fiscal responsibility,” remember that Malloy’s Deficit Reduction Plan passed the State Senate 31-3 and passed the State House of Representatives 140-3.

It was Democrats and Republicans, working together, who stole the money from the School Bus Seat Belt Account and then refused to pay it back when they had the chance.

Out here in the real world, when we talk about the need for leaders who are truly committed to fiscal responsibility, it has become painfully clear that we will have go outside the “incumbency” party to find them.

Even more students lose as the “cost” of the Common Core Testing grows

The Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test of a test means more testing and less learning.

The Common Core test will cost Connecticut’s students and teachers hundreds of hours of lost instructional time.

The Common Core test will cost schools and taxpayers tens of millions in computer and internet upgrades so that students can take the inappropriate computer-based test.

And reports are coming in from around the state that another major problem is undermining our students, teachers and public schools.

As schools divert their computers and internet to the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Test of a test, students who take computer related courses are being pushed aside, unable to even complete the courses that require access to those computers.

As everyone but the proponents of the Common Core Smarter Assessment Field Test scheme understand, there are literally dozens of courses that require access to computers.

In addition to classes that teach an array of computer skills, there are a wide variety of business and art classes that require daily access to the computer.

But in the name of getting students “college and career ready,” Connecticut’s school systems are being forced to commandeer the schools’ computers for the Common Core testing; leaving students without the equipment they literally need to become “college and career ready.”

Business teachers, art teachers, and computer teachers have all written to say that access to their computers has been restricted for weeks at a time.  Teachers are being prevented from teaching course content and students are being prevented from completing their coursework.

Teachers report that as computer labs and classrooms with computers have been converted to testing factories, students taking courses that require access to those computers have been sent to the library, cafeteria or hallways to wait for the testing periods to come to an end.

As the end of the school year comes into sight, one school reports that rather than having fifteen class periods to work on their semester projects and prepare for their required presentations, students will have less than half that number.

Another school is reporting that as result of the Common Core testing frenzy, business and graphic art students have been prohibited from using their classroom computers for more than a month during the spring Common Core testing period.

As a result of the massive standardized testing program, students are losing out.

College and career skills are NOT being developed, knowledge is NOT being acquired, and precious opportunities ARE being lost.

The Common Core testing debacle is truly undermining our public schools and the students they serve.

It leaves parents, teachers and taxpayers asking… Why won’t Governor Malloy, his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, or the General Assembly stand up, step forward and put an end to this travesty.

Connecticut to end non-credit remedial courses at public colleges

No really….  A Connecticut law passed in 2012 made it illegal for Connecticut public colleges to provide non-credit remedial courses starting in 2014.

Long time Wait, What? readers may remember the discussion on the blog.

Led by Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy and the Democratic controlled General Assembly, Connecticut adopted a corporate education reform initiatives aimed at ensuring that all students were “college and career ready,” while at the same time passed legislation that prohibits public colleges and universities from providing non-credit remedial courses.

Among other things, it was sold as a way to reduce the state budget.

The irony, of course, goes without saying.

The same individuals who were willing undermine Connecticut’s public education system by pushing the Common Core, the Common Core testing frenzy and the unfair teacher evaluation system all in an effort to prepare children for college were reducing the budgets for Connecticut’s public colleges and universities by record amounts.

But by prohibiting public colleges from providing courses for students who needed extra help, Malloy et. al. could simply remove a significant cost those colleges were facing.

The issues has remained in the background until now, when students, their families and the public are  finally learning about this incredibly bad policy.

As the New Haven Register recently wrote,

About 10,000 incoming freshmen at state colleges enroll in no-credit remedial courses across the state every year.  This year, that number will drop to zero.

The courses will no longer be offered at state colleges once Public Act 12-40 goes into effect this fall semester.

Signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in 2012, the act requires colleges to abandon lower-level, no-credit remedial courses and embed support into entry-level courses or a college-readiness program.

High school graduates who do not place into entry-level courses by way of adequate SAT scores or college entry exams will be out of luck.

The urgency of the act going into effect this year has sparked strong reactions from state legislators, community colleges and high school educators.

Strong reaction from state legislators?

Who by the way passed the bill, after heavy lobbying from the Malloy administration and over the objections of the House Chair of the Education Committee who made it very clear what the ramifications of the legislation would be.

Instead of taking the non-credit remedial courses, students are expected to turn to local public schools and community based adult education programs.  The original argument was that this would save the state and students money.

But due to an insufficient number of programs, many students who were college bound will be discovering college, even Connecticut’s community colleges, are beyond reach.

Welcome to the Malloy Administration’s definition of college and career ready.

And the problems will be evident across the state of Connecticut.

As the New Haven Register goes on to report,

“At Northwestern Community College in Winsted, Dean of Academic and Student Affairs Patricia Bouffard said she anticipates there will be students who fall below the level of remediation community colleges can now offer. Based on test scores from fall 2013, about 15 percent of entering students at NCC would not have been eligible for remedial courses if the requirements were already in place.”

While Northwestern serves a significantly smaller population than Gateway [Community College in New Haven] — about 1,700 students — Bouffard said about the same percentage of students fall into the developmental level.”

[…]

The college is in the process of developing appropriate programs in reaction to the legislation but doesn’t yet have a partnership with nearby high schools. Bouffard said the college is in the second run of an 11-week, college-math proficiency program offered to students who are below the remedial course. 

The program is computer-based with faculty in attendance. Bouffard said English is a little more difficult in terms of developing a computer-based program.

Opponents of the corporate education reform industry will recognize the pattern.  Set standards that limit a cohort of students and then buy more technology and software to deal with the problem.

In Connecticut, this policy will mean that some of the students who need the most hands-on help will be provided programs that require them to “learn” what they need to know by sitting in front of a computer.

The New Haven Register article quotes State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, who was just elected to the Connecticut State Senate in a Special Election.

Holder-Winfield’s comments represent the thinking of many  legislators who voted in favor of the original proposal.  The New Haven Register story explains that Holder-Winfield said that we was not, “’a fan of doing away with remedial courses’ but understood the logic behind it: ‘Many of our young people who go to college don’t graduate within the four to six years that we would think is normal.”

The New Haven Register reports that “Holder-Winfield understood that the bill would be rolled out and then legislators would determine if they were doing what was needed. Now, he said he isn’t sure it worked the way it was intended to work.”  He concluded, “I’m a fan of taking another look at what we have done and maybe pulling back off it. I don’t think that that was the solution.”

There are legislative proposals to  modify Malloy’s plan to end non-credit remedial courses at Connecticut’s public colleges.

Check back for updates.

You can also read the New Haven Register article here:  http://www.nhregister.com/social-affairs/20140222/concern-grows-as-connecticut-colleges-to-drop-no-credit-remedial-courses

 

America’s Most Un-American Tradition: Racial Profiling

A court decision in New York City focuses attention on Connecticut’s failure to deal effectively with racial profiling.

“So I…pull over to the side of the road
And I heard “Son do you know why I’m stopping you for?”
Cause I’m young and I’m black and my hat’s real low
Do I look like a mind reader sir, I don’t know
Am I under arrest or should I guess some mo?
“Well you was doing fifty five in a fifty four”
“License and registration and step out of the car”
“Are you carrying a weapon on you I know a lot of you are”

– “99 Problems” by Jay-Z,

Racial profiling is illegal, immoral, Unconstitutional and isn’t even an effective crime fighting tool…but it is standard operating procedure commonly used at the national, state and local level.

Connecticut’s anti-racial profiling law is called the Penn Act and was named after an African-American state senator who was the victim of racial profiling.

But a decade later, Connecticut’s law is little more than a toothless symbol of political pandering.  Just this year, Connecticut media outlets reported that the Connecticut General Assembly “Unanimously Strengthens Racial Profiling Law.” But that report was far from the truth.

Meanwhile, while Connecticut’s anti-racial profiling law remains a hollow example of fighting this crime, a New York Judge has ruled that the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk policy is unconstitutional, saying that the policy amounted to “indirect racial profiling,” and violated the fourth amendment of the Constitution.

As the Judge explained in her ruling, “No one should live in fear of being stopped whenever he leaves his home to go about the activities of daily life.”

The New York class action was the result of a nine-week trial that determined that African-American and Latino residents are illegally discriminated against by the NYPD’s racially-driven stop and frisk policies.

In Connecticut, where the Hartford Courant reported this past legislative session that the General Assembly, “voted…to expand the state’s racial profiling law to include more police departments,” the 1999 Alvin Penn racial profiling law remains little more than a requirement that certain police departments maintain records and report on the racial and ethnic make-up of the people they stop.

As the Connecticut Community Party wrote in a commentary piece in the Hartford News in May of this year, “The Connecticut General Assembly passed the Penn Act advisory board’s toothless racial profiling bill without adding any of the Community Party’s amendments. Last week this legislation was literally passed by the state Senate under the cover of darkness with no prior notice that the bill was coming up for a vote. The advisory board bill focuses solely on data collection with only a cursory nod towards enforcement, despite the fact that a Department of Justice investigation found that the East Haven police were engaging in racial profiling of Latinos. Instead of crafting legislation aimed at preventing a reoccurrence of this crime, which was the focus of an avalanche of gun control bills that were introduced following the Newtown school shooting, Gov. Dannel Malloy, Office of Policy and Management Under Secretary Mike Lawlor and the CGA continue to portray racial profiling as a theory which must be proven as fact. Our position is that this disparate reaction underscores a racial double standard at the State Capitol. The passage of the advisory board bill kills all of our enforcement language which was passed last year, including our traffic stop receipt provision that was scheduled to go in effect July 1st.”

Even watered-down, the bill’s effective date was set at July 1, 2015, a year after nearly every other new law was scheduled to go into effect.

As the Community Party went on to report, “Blacks and Latinos in this state will continue to be left vulnerable to the type of police abuse which occurred in East Haven because [Connecticut politicians] are more interested in using the racial profiling issue as a political football than in actually protecting people of color.”

So here we are.  As a result of yesterday’s bold action by a judge, New York City’s racial profiling policies are thrown out, but here in Connecticut, political games remain the order of the day.

It almost reminds one of the situation we face with Paul Vallas’ attempt to illegally hold onto the superintendent’s position in Bridgeport.

It is a sad commentary that it takes the actions of a judge to force politicians and our government to do the right thing.

For more on the New York Case check out: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/13/nyregion/stop-and-frisk-practice-violated-rights-judge-rules.html and http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/13/opinion/racial-discrimination-in-stop-and-frisk.html?hp&_r=0

If you want to read more about Connecticut’s racial profiling issue start with: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_W65Rju7n4 and https://www.facebook.com/PennAct.

Connecticut’s Governor and elected officials play: “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”

During the last gubernatorial campaign, each side claimed that they had a deeper commitment to fiscal responsibility and government transparency. 

Now more than two and a half years later we are further away from both concepts than most people could have possibly conceived of.

In an announcement that will come as no surprise to Wait, What? readers, a report by the Fiscal Policy Center, which is part of Connecticut Voices for Children has determined that we should consider changing our state song from Yankee Doodle Dandy to Bob Dylan’s famous ballad, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).”

The non-partisan Fiscal Policy Center concludes;

“By relying on borrowing and one-time fixes, we’re undermining the long-term stability of the budget and gambling with these investments in our children’s future.”

The reported on the state budget that was proposed by Governor Malloy and approved by the Connecticut General Assembly “warns that the ‘quick-fix’ budget solutions adopted in the budget will deepen the state’s long-term budget deficit and could ultimately endanger funding for child and family services.”

The report goes on to explain that the new budget uses borrowing, one-time revenues, and fund transfers to close budget deficits and cover operating expenses and reports that, “ By relying on these measures, rather than recurring revenues to close the state’s budget gap…state policymakers have opened up a larger revenue hole in future budget years.”

Key problems about Connecticut’s state budget that highlighted in the new report include:

  • The new state budget “relies on almost $600 million in borrowing, over $400 million in temporary fund transfers, and $500 million in one-time revenues to pay for operating expenses.  Because these funding sources will dry up at the end of the two-year budget, there is currently a projected state deficit of $712 million in Fiscal Year 2016 and comparable holes in 2017 to 2018.” 
  • “Reliance on debt and one-time revenues will further increase budget risks for the state if economic growth does not return quickly.  The state’s budget projections assume that robust economic growth will result in increased state tax revenues.  With a nearly empty Rainy Day reserve fund, if this growth does not emerge, Connecticut would have little choice but to turn immediately to deep cuts, steep tax increases, and more borrowing.” 
  • “The state government has transformed over $1 billion in debt it owed itself and its employees into debt it now owes to bondholders, resulting in less flexibility and control of the repayment of that debt.  While the state budget plan pays down funds owed to the state employee and teacher pension systems, it does so by borrowing money from private bondholders.  In addition, the state has borrowed money from the private market to meet stricter accounting requirements under the rules of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).”

You can find the full report, entitled “A Gambler’s Budget: the Fiscal Year 2014-15 State Budget,” at www.ctvoices.org.

Teacher Evaluation Program: Malloy, Pryor and General Assembly slam door on a locally developed plans

Implementing Connecticut’s new “teacher evaluation program” will be the most costly initiative local boards of education will be facing over the next couple of years.  No one dismisses the importance of developing more effective teacher evaluation efforts, but the convoluted and complex system being developed by Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor will have a massive impact on how local schools function.

With limited state support, Connecticut’s cities and towns will collectively have to pay tens of millions to implement the new, state-mandated evaluation system.  Add in the time required of superintendents, principals, administrators and teachers and the impact will be extraordinary, both in terms of cost and time taken away from instructional work.

When Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill passed during the 2012 session of the Connecticut General Assembly it included an important provision that allowed towns to develop their own teacher evaluation systems, as long as those systems were approved by the State Board of Education.

The ability of towns to tailor their own evaluation systems was one of the few provisions that honored Connecticut’s historic commitment to allowing the citizens of each community to govern their own school systems.

At the time, legislators recognized the fundamental right of communities to develop teacher evaluation systems that meet state standards but took into consideration all the factors that go into managing a local school system.

But then, as the clock approached midnight on the second to last night of the recent legislative session, an incredible and stunning amendment was adopted by the legislature.

In the bill that allowed towns to “phase-in” the state’s new teacher evaluation system over the next two years, rather than forcing all of the changes this year, the legislature added two significant restrictions to a town’s right to develop their own system.

Using language provided by Commissioner Pryor’s staff, the legislation was changed to read that towns could only develop their own teacher evaluation systems if they, “expressed an intent, not later than July 1, 2013, to adopt a teacher evaluation program.”

The language means that even though the state system has not been finalized, if school superintendents and local boards of education do not inform Commissioner Pryor by July 1, 2013 that they intend to create a locally-developed system, they are prohibited from ever developing their own plan and must instead utilize the state plan no matter how bad it may be for their community.

Second, under the old language, the Connecticut’s State Board of Education was required to approve or reject a town’s locally developed plan.  The Board’s participation assured that these decisions would be made in an open and transparent way and the local boards of education and the citizens of the community could come to a public board meeting to make their case, hear the discussion and see the vote.

Instead, the new amendment removed the role of the State Board and simply authorized Commissioner Pryor to decide the fate of any community-developed teacher evaluation plans.

One moment the law guaranteed that the state’s decisions were made in the light of day and in a public setting and the next, local communities were left twisting in the wind, forced into a situation where their local plans will be simply approved or rejected behind closed doors.

So now, as a result of the changes put forward by the Malloy Administration and Commissioner Pryor, and approved by the Connecticut General Assembly, superintendents and local boards of education have only TWO WEEKS to submit their intent should they want to develop their own local teacher evaluation systems…and even if they do submit a plan, its fate rests solely in the hands of a Commissioner who has no educational experience.

The new law now reads as follows:

“Section 10-151b (d) A local or regional board of education may phase in full implementation of the teacher evaluation and support program adopted pursuant to subsection (b) of this section during the school years commencing July 1, 2013, and July 1, 2014, pursuant to a teacher evaluation and support program implementation plan adopted by the State Board of Education, in consultation with the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council, not later than July 1, 2013. The Commissioner of Education may waive the provisions of subsection (b) of this section and the implementation plan provisions of this subsection for any local or regional board of education that has expressed an intent, not later than July 1, 2013, to adopt a teacher evaluation program for which such board requests a waiver in accordance with this subsection.”

The amendment passed the House of Representatives unanimously, with all Democrats and Republicans voting yes, on June 4th, 2013 at 10:49 p.m.

When it comes to our state’s economy, our elected officials are our own worst enemies…

With a state-economy ranked 50th in the nation, one would think that Governor Malloy and our elected officials who drop their economic development strategy that relies on corporate welfare to lure hedge fund companies and other corporate giants to move or stay in Connecticut.

But in the legislative session that just ended, Malloy and the majority decided to stay the course and, in the process, throw Connecticut’s hospitals under the bus.  Despite the rhetoric from the Malloy Administration that the massive cut to hospitals would have no impact, policymakers knew the consequences and turned a blind eye to the fact that the new state budget would lead to the loss of hundreds of Connecticut jobs.

The CT Mirror summarized the situations when they listed Connecticut’s hospitals as one of the biggest “losers” during the recent session.  The CT Mirror wrote:

“Hospitals: Hospital officials decried the governor’s proposal to cut more than $500 million in funding from hospitals, saying it will lead to job cuts and hurt patient care. But their pleas went largely unanswered. The next two-year budget slashes payments hospitals receive to compensate them for treating uninsured and underinsured patients, and money they currently receive as reimbursement for a provider tax they pay. The Malloy administration says the hospitals will still receive more money because more people will have health insurance, but hospitals counter that the funds will only come from treating thousands more poor patients…”

The impact of the Malloy administration’s approach started to be seen earlier this week when, according to the Connecticut Post, St. Vincent’s Medical Center “eliminated 100 positions and laid off nearly 50 employees this week, including some nurses and doctors. The cuts are expected to save the hospital about $10 million.”

As hospital’s vice president for health services explained, “This is a case of trying to look forward and protecting the direction and mission of our organization as the ground shifts beneath us.”

There is no question that many senior hospital administrators are overpaid and are diverting scarce resources away from patient care, but rather than confront that controversy head on, Malloy and the legislature simply slashed the amount of state funds going to hospitals and left the overcompensation issue unaddressed.

According to the Connecticut Post article, “Layoffs began Monday and continued Tuesday. The cuts were across all levels of the hospital, and included some nurse and doctor positions…Of the positions cut, 48 were filled and resulted in layoffs.”

As the Connecticut Hospital Association warned during the legislative session, “A state budget that cuts hospitals by $550 million will result in job loss and the loss of programs and services…”

There is simply no question that most hospitals around the state will be laying off employees as a result of the new state budget.

And for the record, these aren’t mythical six figure jobs that companies are supposed to be creating over the next ten years; these are the very real jobs of the very real residents in communities across Connecticut.

Adding to the disaster is the fact that not only will Connecticut residents be losing their jobs, but access to quality health care in our local hospitals will be undermined.

You can read more about the St. Vincent’s Medical Center layoffs here:  http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/St-Vincent-s-to-eliminate-100-jobs-4593474.php

Commissioner Pryor, where is your Department’s mandated report on school safety and bullying?

It is one of the most important reports that the State Department of Education produces.

It was supposed to include recommendations for how to create safer school environments.

It WAS DUE February 1, 2012…almost fifteen months ago!

Where is it?

Although Connecticut is learning the hard way that lawyers, with no classroom or education background, don’t make the best education leaders, it’s impossible to believe that Governor Malloy’s Education Commissioner, Stefan Pryor, and his senior leadership team fail to understand that creating a safe school environment is one of the most important educational issues of our time.

At the very least, we would expect that as lawyers, these “education leaders” would appreciate the need to follow the law.  But these days, even that appears to be a reach.

The fact is that parents expect and demand that our state, the Department of Education and our schools are doing everything possible to keep our children safe.  It is especially understood that a safe and healthy school environment is the single most important element in creating successful learning environments.

It is also the law in the State of Connecticut.

Although some elected officials can’t seem to get enough of the limelight on school safety issues since the nightmare of Newtown, some of our most dedicated elected officials have made creating a safer school environment a top priority for years.

Connecticut’s initial school bullying law dates back to 2002.  It was passed following the tragic suicide of a Meriden student who killed himself after being bullied.  The law was significantly expanded in 2007 and included additional responsibilities for the State Department of Education including a requirement that the Commissioner of Education submit a Bullying Policies in Connecticut Schools report on February 1, 2010.  (See http://www.cga.ct.gov/coc/PDFs/bullying/SDE_bullying_report_02-01-10.pdf)

Reading news headlines over the past few weeks, one might think today’s leaders are coming to the school safety issue for the first time.  However, in July 2011, Governor Malloy signed Public Act 11-232, An Act Concerning the Strengthening of School Bullying laws.

This comprehensive new law was called one of the most important school safety initiatives in the nation.

The legislation required schools and districts to develop “safe school climate plans,”  it established deadlines for reporting, investigating, and notifying parents about bullying incidents, it prohibited retaliation against those who report bullying (i.e. the Torrington situation) and required school officials to notify police when they believe bullying conduct constitutes a crime.

The law further required that no later than February 1, 2012, the Connecticut State Department of Education submit a report on “the number of verified acts of bullying in the state, an analysis of the responsive action taken by school districts and any recommendations it may have regarding additional activities or funding to prevent bullying in schools and improve school climate.”

For reasons beyond comprehension, it appears that Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, never released the report.

At a legislative public hearing on this major safe schools legislation, those who spoke or wrote in support of the legislation included Attorney General George Jepsen, Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, State Representatives Mary Mushinsky and Catherine Abercrombie, State Senator Edith Prague, the Executive Director for the CT Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, the Executive Director of the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, the Legislative Analyst of the African-American Affairs Commission (AAAC), the state’s Victim Advocate, the Connecticut Education Association,  CT Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL),  CT Association of School Psychologists (CASP),  National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI-CT) , Governor’s Partnership to Protect CT’s Workforce , Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network,  Family Equity Council , Planned Parenthood of Southern New England,  CT Psychological Association  and dozens of students, parents and school administrators who recounted their own experiences with bulling and the effects of bullying.

The legislation passed multiple committees, the Connecticut State Senate and the Connecticut House of Representatives

As the Vice President of the United States, Joe Bidden, would say…it was a “Big F***ing Deal.”

But the vital report required by Public Act 11-232 was never forthcoming.

Yet the law required the report be given to the Legislature.

And the report would certainly have contained vitally important information.

But the report is nowhere to be found!

Making the whole situation even more disturbing is the fact that just last week, with extraordinary bipartisan fanfare, Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly passed and signed into law Connecticut’s response to the Newtown tragedy.

In addition to what is being described as the nation’s toughest gun control law, the measure included a series of provisions designed to create safer school environments.

Leading the way is Section 89 of the new gun control and school safety bill.  It seeks to strengthen Connecticut’s anti-bullying and school climate laws by requiring the State Department of Education to do more to determine what schools are doing, identify best practices, to provide training to  school districts and generally ensure that schools are doing everything they can to create safer learning environments for their students.

And the cornerstone of that new effort is?

(You can guess what’s coming)

The report that the State Department of Education was supposed to produce on a biennial basis must now be produced on an annual basis.

The VERY REPORT that the Governor and General Assembly are expecting to use on an annual basis to track the school safety elements of this new legislation is the VERY REPORT that Commissioner Pryor failed to produce despite the law requiring him to do so.

All the speeches, all the reporters, all the cameras, all the publicity and neither the Governor nor his Commissioner of Education bothered to admit or explain how it is possible that Commissioner Pryor and the Malloy Administration failed to fulfill the existing law on creating a safer school climate.

The President of the United States is coming to Connecticut to get in on the act.  He will undoubtedly use Connecticut’s new law as a clarion call for action in Washington.

Let’s just hope that no one tells him that inside this new law are elements of the very problem that people find so frustrating.  As we have all come to recognize, it doesn’t do any good to have strong laws, if you have leaders who are unable or unwilling to enforce those laws.

So I ask again…Commissioner Pryor, where is the State Department of Education’s mandated report on school safety and bullying and why wasn’t it released, as legally required, no later than February 1, 2012?