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Senate Vote to be First Round in Drive to Defund Planned Parenthood


WASHINGTON – Connecticut’s Democratic senators may help fend off an attempt in the Senate to defund Planned Parenthood on Monday, but that’s not the end of a GOP campaign that could include the threat of a government shutdown.

Senate Republicans are rallying around an attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, which they say receives more than $500 million in federal funds each year.

“It could invite a fight, but I think most Americans do not believe that their tax dollars should be used to fund the kind of grotesque procedures we’ve seen authenticated,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz..

McCain was referring to videos series of videos recorded secretly and released by a group called the Center for Medical Progress.

The videos show Planned Parenthood officials discussing their collection of fetal tissues for private laboratories and the prices they charge for the service.

To Murphy, the campaign against Planned Parenthood is an early volley in the GOP presidential race.

“…the Republican presidential primary campaign is playing out right now on the floor of the United States Senate, I think to the detriment of the institution,” Murphy said on the Senate floor last week.

The Center for Medical Progress says Planned Parenthood is making a lot of money selling fetal tissue obtained through abortions, which is illegal under federal law. Other anti-abortion groups have joined the attack on Planned Parenthood, a longtime foe.

The Family Institute of Connecticut says the videos show “how they allegedly use the illegal and gruesome partial-birth abortion procedure to harvest and sell body parts of aborted children.”

Planned Parenthood says donation of fetal tissue to research centers is a standard medical practice and they have not benefitted financially from the practice. If a woman gives her permission, federal law allows for the collection of fetal material. Charging fees to offset “reasonable expenses” is also allowed.

New Haven-based Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, which overseas clinics in Connecticut and Rhode Island, says it does not collect fetal tissues.

‘’It’s just something we are not choosing to do at this time,” said Judy Tabor, president of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England.

Nonetheless clinics in Connecticut and Rhode Island would be impacted by defunding, losing about $2 million a year in federal grants and much more money in Medicaid payments for treating their poorest patients.

Tabor said the campaign to defund Planned Parenthood is “the latest political attack on women’s health.” She also said a loss of federal funding would hurt her organization’s ability to charge lower fees for many of the nearly 70,000 women it treats each year.

“Many of our patients come to us on a sliding fee scale and this would make it impossible to keep that scale,” Tabor said.

The Senate vote on defunding legislation Monday is not expected to garner the 60 votes needed to advance. Nearly all Senate Democrats – and perhaps a few Republicans – are expected to vote against it.

But no one expects that to be the end of the story.

When Congress returns from its August break, Republicans are expected to attach a Planned Parenthood defunding measure to a massive budget bill that must be approved by Sept. 30 to avoid a government shutdown.

Murphy said there is already a ban on using federal dollars for abortion, so the money Planned Parenthood receives is used for family planning and medical treatments like breast exams and PAP smears.

“And so we’re going to shut down the government in order to take health care away from 64,000 women in Connecticut,” Murphy said. “All in order for a handful of people to make an ideological point that may get them some additional votes within a Republican presidential primary.”

CT funds bioresearch

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy also denounced plans to defund Planned Parenthood.

“The people in the Congress of the United States who are moving to defund this organization should be ashamed of themselves,” Malloy said Friday. “What they would do is deny women and poor people the ability to get the same treatments that they would want their daughters or mothers or wives to get.”

Supporters of fetal tissue research say it’s valuable for a range of medical advances. And it’s not a new scientific technique. The 1954 Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded for work with fetal tissue that led to developing a vaccine against polio.

But even supporters of Planned Parenthood, including Hillary Clinton, have said the attitude of some organization officials captured on video is jarring. They discuss fees for body parts between sips of wine or joke about purchasing Lamborghinis with the money.

In one video released late week, Sarinta Ginte, a Planned Parenthood official from Denver, said in some instances “graspers” were strategically placed during an abortion to protect against harming fetal hearts, livers and lungs.

Federal law requires doctors to perform abortions with only the health of the women in mind.

The fight over fetal tissue research mirrors a similar fight by anti-abortion conservatives over stem cell research.

Connecticut Department of Health spokesman William Gerrish said Connecticut is one of a handful of states that funds both embryonic and adult stem cell research through its Regenerative Medicine Research Fund.

Connecticut Innovations — a quasi-public agency — now administers the fund, formerly called the Stem Cell Research Fund. Connecticut’s legislature has appropriated about $10 milllion a year since 2005 for this fund.

Connecticut Innovations could not be immediately reached for more information abot the grants.

Yale is the recipient of many of the state grants. Yale spokesman William Hathaway said Friday he is  researching whether the university is involved in fetal tissue research.

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Endorsed Democratic Candidate Luke Bronin Talks Education, Crime with Residents


By Ann-Marie Mesquita, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Two days after the  Hartford Democratic Town Committee endorsed Luke Bronin for mayor, he made a stop at his Albany Avenue campaign office to discuss crime, education and jobs with city residents.

“Hartford wants a Mayor who’s working every single day to make our neighborhoods stronger and safer, who’s fighting for jobs and for economic opportunity for Hartford residents, and who gets back to the basics of delivering city services on every street,” Bronin said in a release to the press. “We need a mayor who’s hands-on and who does the hard things, so that Hartford can become the great city we all know it can be.”

Bronin received 49 votes from the committee after incumbent Pedro Segarra walked out of the nominating convention before the vote Monday night, saying he “will not lend himself to a process” that selected him when he ran for mayor in 2012.

“There comes a moment in one’s life when you must stand up for what is right and walk away from what is wrong. Tonight was one of those moments,” Segarra said in a statement to the press. “I chose not to accept the nomination of the Democratic Town Committee because I am in this race for the people of Hartford and not the politics.”

Bronin and Segarra faced off at Bulkeley High School auditorium but left before the vote. And his supporters abstained from voting–shouting “four more years” for the incumbent mayor.

Segarra said he has been a resident of Hartford for 41 years.  He replaced former Mayor Eddie Perez in 2010 and was elected to a full term in 2012. Segarra said he will gather petition signatures to qualify for the Sept. 16 primary.

Bronin is a Yale Law School graduate and former legal adviser to Gov. Dannel Malloy.

A relatively new comer to the city, Bronin said he was honored to receive the nomination.

Photo courtesy of www. inagist.com.

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What Does the Anthem-Cigna Deal Mean for Consumers?


The announcement Friday that Anthem Inc. plans to buy Bloomfield-based Cigna Corp. comes amid a period of rapid consolidation in the health care industry that some observers have likened to an arms race.

Hospitals – seeking, among other things, greater leverage in negotiating with insurers – have increasingly been joining larger systems, while the insurance industry – already concentrated in many states – is poised to undergo even more consolidation.

Where does that leave consumers?

“That’s the million dollar question right now,” said Jim Wadleigh, chief executive of Connecticut’s health insurance exchange, Access Health CT.

Experts say potential benefits of consolidation include economies of scale that can lead to reduced costs, while potential drawbacks include reduced competition that could have the opposite effect on prices.

“The [question] that everyone is worried about is, are these hospital systems just going to make money, or are the carriers just going to make more money and leave the consumer behind and ultimately not reaping the reward?” Wadleigh said.

The Anthem-Cigna deal follows the announcement earlier this month that Hartford-based Aetna had reached an agreement to buy Humana. Both deals must be reviewed by federal and state regulators in what could be lengthy processes. Anthem and Cigna said Friday they expect the acquisition to close in the second half of 2016.

“It in some sense makes sense to have companies come together, but obviously we need to make sure there’s enough competition in the marketplace and that people have choices,” Connecticut Insurance Commissioner Katharine L. Wade said in an interview earlier this week. “As things present, we’ll all be looking very closely at this.”

Anthem, Cigna and the Connecticut market

In announcing the agreement Friday, Anthem and Cigna executives emphasized the potential for the combined company to drive changes in health care delivery, manage the cost of care and offer affordable insurance. The companies said they anticipated $2 billion in “synergies” – savings – within two years of closing the deal.

Nationally, Anthem has 38.5 million members, while Cigna has 14.5 million.

In Connecticut, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield had nearly 1.16 million customers in 2013, while Cigna covered 483,363 people in the state, according to the most recent figures available from the Connecticut Insurance Department. Anthem had nearly 49 percent of the private insurance market, while Cigna covered 20 percent of customers.

But the two companies overlap only in certain parts of the market. Cigna has minimal presence in the state’s individual market – it currently has 317 policies in effect – and does not sell plans through the state’s small-group market, while Anthem is a leading carrier in both markets.

Will it affect prices?

This is a picture of Connecticut Insurance Commissioner Katharine L. Wade.

While the companies emphasized affordability, some critics raised concerns that growing market power could lead to increased prices for consumers.

“The combined effect of these mergers will reduce the number of large, national health insurance providers from five to three – limiting access to affordable health care and raising premiums,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a statement. “These mergers must be seriously scrutinized to ensure that consumers and health care providers are protected from mega-insurer market power abuse.”

Some research indicates that premiums have gone up after past insurance company consolidation. But it’s not clear how applicable that research is to current conditions because of the significant changes created by the federal health law, said Sabrina Corlette, senior research fellow and project director at the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute.

“I think there’s really no good current research out there that helps us say definitively what might happen,” she said.

Corlette said the impact could vary by market. Because Humana has a large presence in Medicare plans, for example, she said that market could be particularly affected by Aetna’s acquisition of the company, while the product of an Anthem-Cigna transaction could be particularly strong in the employer market.

Consolidation can give insurers more leverage in negotiating what they will pay health care providers for care, which is a major factor in the cost of insurance.

In some areas, dominant hospital systems can now drive price negotiations, since insurers can’t afford to not have those hospitals in their networks, experts said.

In theory, consolidation among insurers could counter the bargaining power that dominant hospital systems have, said John Aloysius Cogan Jr., a professor at the UConn School of Law and a former Rhode Island insurance regulator. But, he added, that’s not a foregone conclusion, and hasn’t been the case in some markets with one dominant insurer.

Cogan noted that hospital-insurer negotiations are among the few areas of health care that are not regulated.

“I’m not so sure that this is going to make things better,” Cogan said of insurance company consolidation. “I don’t know that it’s going to make things worse. There’s already a pretty unhealthy dynamic in the mechanisms in the market that establish prices.”

While the number of major national insurers could drop if the Aetna and Anthem purchases go through, Wadleigh said Connecticut’s insurance industry is “pretty diverse.” Massachusetts-based Harvard Pilgrim Health Care recently entered the market, while HealthyCT began operating in 2014. Farmington-based ConnectiCare now has the most customers in the state’s individual market.

But Wadleigh said he’s been hearing that across the country, regional insurers are getting nervous about their ability to remain competitive. “Those are some of the things that I will always be on the lookout for to make sure that all of our carriers have some sort of even playing field so they can represent all of our customers equally,” he said.

Connecticut’s insurance department will review the proposed transaction and evaluate, among other things, whether it would substantially reduce competition in any line of business. The deal is also subject to approval by the U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission.

Wade, Connecticut’s commissioner, worked for Cigna for 21 years and her husband is an attorney at the company. Asked earlier this week if she would participate in any regulatory action related to the company, Wade said she would determine that “when the facts of the situation present itself.”

Cigna’s presence in Connecticut

Catherine Smith, commissioner of community and economic development.

For Connecticut, there’s another consideration: Cigna employs thousands of people in the state. The company made Bloomfield its corporate home in 2011 as part of a deal with the state worth between $47 million and $71 million. In exchange for tax credits, a loan and job training grants, Cigna promised to create at least 200 jobs within two years, maintain its 3,883 Connecticut jobs and make at least $100 million in technology and real-estate investments.

Among other things, the agreement requires Cigna to maintain its Bloomfield and Windsor operations for at least 10 years. If the company were to relocate those operations outside the state during that period, it would have to repay all tax credits and funding provided by the state.

Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith said Friday that her agency would be in a “wait and see mode” while the two companies determine how to integrate, but hopes to talk to them when they’re ready about the “benefits of being in the state.” Smith said the state has the advantage of having a “deep pool of talent” in the industry as well as legal, accounting and actuarial firms with expertise in insurance. And she noted that Anthem and Cigna don’t serve overlapping customers.

“We’re optimistic they need a lot of those employees, that they will end up retaining a large footprint here,” she said.

The announcement Friday that Anthem Inc. plans to buy Bloomfield-based Cigna Corp. comes amid a period of rapid consolidation in the health care industry that some observers have likened to an arms race.

Hospitals – seeking, among other things, greater leverage in negotiating with insurers – have increasingly been joining larger systems, while the insurance industry – already concentrated in many states – is poised to undergo even more consolidation.

Where does that leave consumers?

“That’s the million dollar question right now,” said Jim Wadleigh, chief executive of Connecticut’s health insurance exchange, Access Health CT.

Experts say potential benefits of consolidation include economies of scale that can lead to reduced costs, while potential drawbacks include reduced competition that could have the opposite effect on prices.

“The [question] that everyone is worried about is, are these hospital systems just going to make money, or are the carriers just going to make more money and leave the consumer behind and ultimately not reaping the reward?” Wadleigh said.

The Anthem-Cigna deal follows the announcement earlier this month that Hartford-based Aetna had reached an agreement to buy Humana. Both deals must be reviewed by federal and state regulators in what could be lengthy processes. Anthem and Cigna said Friday they expect the acquisition to close in the second half of 2016.

“It in some sense makes sense to have companies come together, but obviously we need to make sure there’s enough competition in the marketplace and that people have choices,” Connecticut Insurance Commissioner Katharine L. Wade said in an interview earlier this week. “As things present, we’ll all be looking very closely at this.”

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President Obama Visits Kenya, Says Africa is On the Move


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

President Barack Obama on Friday made his first official trip to his father’s homeland: Kenya.

Despite a security breach and other concerns, Obama reunited with his 96-year-old grandmother Sarah Obama and his sister Auma Obama in Nairobi. This is the first public–and long sought after–visit with his African relatives since his ascendancy to the White House.

“It was a wonderful time,” Obama said  after spending time with his relatives this weekend. He said he will have “more freedom to reconnect” when he’s no longer president.

 

His homecoming in Nairobi, Kenya also included the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi. His three-day visit to Kenya will address business and investment and the region’s security threats.

At the summit, he urged equal rights for gays and lesbians in Africa and more opportunities for women and girls.

“When a government gets in the habit of treating people differently, those habits can spread,” Obama said during a joint news conference Saturday with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

However, his host Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta disagreed and said gay rights was a “non-issue.”

Gay rights are “not really an issue on the foremost mind of Kenyans. And that is a fact,” he said.

To aid Kenya’s economic trajectory, Obama announced more than $1 billion new commitments from the U.S. government, as well as American banks, foundations and philanthropists. Half of the money, White House officials said, will go to support women and young people, who Obama says face bigger obstacles when trying to start businesses in a growing economy. Africa, Obama said, is one of the fastest growing regions in the world.

He also visited Memorial Park Saturday for a wreath laying ceremony in honor of the victims of the deadly 1998 bombing at the U.S. Embassy.

While in Kenya, Obama is also scheduled to meet civil society groups to discuss human rights and civil liberties.

Obama first visited Kenya three decades ago and then in 2006 as a senator in Chicago.

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Attorney General Loretta Lynch Visits Connecticut, Calls for ‘Respectful Policing”


loretta lynch--visits-connecticutEAST HAVEN —  As part of a national community policing tour. U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch visits East Haven. She was joined by Police Chief Brent Larrabee and Connecticut U.S. Attorney Deirdre M. Daly during a forum inside East Haven High School.

The participants discussed how police can improve relationships with the communities they serve.

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Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari Meets With President Obama


Updated Friday, July 31, 2015 at 6:28 p.m.

By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — In an effort to shore up U.S. relations with Nigeria and to help fight Islamic extremists, President Barack Obama met with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday at the White House.

 
Buhari’s visit to the U.S. comes within several weeks of taking office after the ouster of former Nigerian President Johnathan Goodluck. It was a contentious and historic election after he promised to to expel Boko Haram and root out endemic corruption in the Nigerian government. It was the first time a peaceful transfer of power occurred after the end of military rule in 1999.

 
Buhari’s visit on Monday is “a sign of the importance the U.S. places on relations with Nigeria,” White House officials said. Besides being a “Power Africa” focus country, Nigeria has a strong Nigeria diaspora community in the United States.

 

Many Nigerian-Americans were pleased with the White House’s invite to Buhari.

 

“President Obama made the right decision in inviting President Muhammadu Buhari to the White House,” said Sabella Abidde, a Political Science Professor at the University of Alabama. ” It gave both leaders the chance to get to know one another and, in the process, exhanged “wish list.” It was also an affirmation of Nigerian’s nascent democracy.”

 

Others agreed, expressing hope for less corruption in Nigeria.
“President Buhari ushers in hope for Nigerians worldwide. We are tired of years of corruption and inept leadership. Nigeria needs a no-nonsense honest leader. We hope Pres. Buhari can start us on that path,” said Johnathan Adewumi, a Brooklyn, NY businessman.
Obama invited Buhari immediately after the 72-year-old former dictator was declared the winner of the March election. Buhari praised Obama for demanding that the Nigerian election be transparent and fair.

“Nigeria is obviously one of the most important countries in the world and one of the most important countries in the African continent. Recently we saw an election in which a peaceful transition to a new government took place and it was an affirmation of Nigeria’s commitment to democracy, a recognition that although Nigeria is a big country and a diverse country with many different parts the people of Nigeria understand that only through a peaceful political process can change take place,” said President Obama who was flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, National security advisor Susan Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry and other White House officials.

 
U.S. relations with Nigeria soured because of government corruption and the human trafficking of more than 200 schoolgirls, who were kidnapped by “an increasingly lethal” Boko Haram in April 2014. The abduction of these girls, most of whom were Christian and from the town of Chibok, led to international condemnation and a campaign to “Bring Back Our Girls.”

 
Boko Haram’s human trafficking and deadly rampages have killed thousands in Nigeria since its formation in 2009. Last Friday, at least 15 people were killed in suicide bombings at open air praying grounds on one of Muslims calendar.

 
Last week, Buhari fired the entire top echelon of the military, which he has accused of corruption that prevents what once was Africa’s mightiest armed force from curbing the Islamist insurgency based in Nigeria’s northeast. The insurgency has killed more than 13,000 people and driven another 1.5 million from their homes, according to reports.

 

 

Dressed in a traditional West African-style caftan of a black long gown and a matching pants and prayer hat, Buhari reaffirmed his allegiance to democracy and promised to address U.S. concerns.

 
Buhari noted the “positive trends” of elections in Nigeria and credited the “pressure from the United States and Europe to make sure elections were free and credible led us to where we are now.”

 
He said he was “extremely happy” about the progress and “very grateful” for the invitation from Obama to the White House.

 
Nigeria boasts Africa’s largest economy and hosts the fourth largest oil reserves. However, Nigeria’s economy has suffered under the decline of oil prices, government corruption and security issues.

 
Additionally, Nigeria plays a critical role in the region in terms of being an economic power, but also a historical contributor to peacekeeping and playing a very important role globally,” said Grant Harris, the senior director for African affairs at the National Security Council.

 
“This feels to us like Nigeria is at an important moment in which there can be real reforms across the board,” said Harris, in a conference call to reporters last week. “We’re looking forward to what we can do with a president who has staked out an agenda that we think is the right agenda at the right time.”

 
Grant said that the U.S. has been providing important security assistance to help professionalize the Nigerian military and to help their approach to Boko Haram.

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Obama Designates State Funding


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

HARTFORD  — President Barack Obama’s administration has given the green light for several states to access $1 billion in federal funding for economic development and to boost manufacturing.

This is one of several key pillars of the President’s strategy to “accelerate progress in U.S. manufacturing and improve the competitiveness” on the global marketing.

Connecticut is one of 12 applicants to receive this designation by Obama’s administration’s Investing in Manufacturing Committee Partnership Initiative.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the designation will ultimately help the state “accelerate and enhance our initiatives to boost innovation, worker skills, supply chain capabilities, infrastructure investment and job creation.”

Malloy said Connecticut was selected because the state hosts sizeable aerospace and defense shipbuilding industries.

For decades, manufacturing was a major economic driver in America. After the economic boom in the 1940s and 1950s, many manufacturing jobs declined, and companies moved out of rural and urban areas.

The Obama administration is aiming to improve the economy with this latest development.

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Connecticut Joins National Trend on Sentencing Reforms


Gov. Dannel P. Malloy joined some of the nation’s most conservative governors Thursday by signing legislation intended to lower incarceration rates for non-violent crime, a reversal of the get-tough-on-crime trend that produced an explosion in prison populations.

Malloy promised that his “Second Chance Society” bill, which eliminates prison as a punishment for many drug possession crimes, was a first step in addressing fiscal and social costs of incarceration, a mission supported by fiscal conservatives and social liberals.

“I’ll have a series of next steps for the next session — already working on it,” said Malloy, whose correction commissioner recently converted a prison into a pre-release center. “I’m working with academics, folks involved in the criminal justice system, folks involved in the corrections system.”

Malloy hinted that rehabilitation would become a stronger element of the prison mission in Connecticut, saying he was impressed to learn during a prison tour of a maximum-security prison in Germany that 25 percent of the staff was dedicated to preparing inmates for release.

Governors around the nation have concluded that tougher drug sentences and a prison building boom were overreactions that have been costly to states, while leaving young drug offenders with records that compromise their ability to get scholarships, housing and jobs.

“I’m pretty tough on crime,” said Malloy, a former prosecutor in New York City. “But what I’m saying to our society here in Connecticut, we’ve got to find the right balance, because permanently punishing people is like permanently punishing ourselves.”

The Democratic governor waited until the first year of his second term to make sentencing reform a legislative priority, trailing Republican governors in red states, where sentencing reform has proven to pose fewer political dangers.

“The list isn’t that long, but there are more red states. I think it is easier,” Malloy said. “If you look at some of the reticence initially in the legislature, it was that people were afraid they would be called weak on crime, when actually this is strong on crime and has proven itself to be strong on crime.”

The Second Chance bill was passed in special session with the support of the Republican minority leaders, Sen. Len Fasano of North Haven, and Rep. Themis Klarides of Derby, whose votes greatly lessen the value of the bill as a wedge issue in 2016 legislative races.

From “The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences,” The National Research Council, 2014.

“This is what happens when you have conversations and exchange ideas across party lines, when you bring to the table issues that everybody is facing and say, ‘How can we solve this to the betterment of the state of Connecticut?’ ” Fasano said during the ceremony. “We looked at it and said drug addiction is a health issue, not necessarily a criminal issue.”

The legislation signed Thursday in a ceremony in the ornate Old Judiciary Room of the State Capitol reclassifies most drug possession crimes as misdemeanors and repeals the two-year mandatory-minimum sentence for possession within 1,500 feet of a school or day care. For a second possession offense, the court could order drug treatment. Subsequent offenses could be charged as felonies.

The measure also streamlines the process for obtaining paroles and pardons.

Peter Gioia, an economist with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, was among those who crowded around Malloy during the bill ceremony. He said the interest of the state’s largest business lobbying group was threefold.

“First, it’s the right thing to do. Second, it’s something that’s important in terms of taking people and changing their lives. And third, it’s important because it’s a fiscal issue,” Gioia said. “It costs $51,000 a year to lock somebody up. It costs $15,000 a year to send them to UConn. We need to send more people to UConn and fewer people to be locked up.”

Connecticut previously decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Prison populations were relatively stable until the mid-1980s.

The U.S. now incarcerates more than 1.5 million people in state and federal prisons. The incarceration rate is the highest in the industrialized world, costing about $60 billion annually, up from $12 billion 20 years ago.

Researchers say prison populations ticked upwards in the 1960s and 1970s, then exploded after the crack epidemic of the 1980s.

Connecticut’s prison population on June 1 was 16,165, down from 18,364 on the same day in 2010. At the same time, reported crimes and arrests in the state have dropped. In the 1980s, the state’s prison population was about 6,000.

The state spends more than $700 million of its annual $20 billion budget on its prison system, which employs about 6,300.

The Second Chance initiative was one of two major criminal justice bills that stalled in the regular session, which ended June 3, only to be revived with bipartisan support in a one-day special session. The other was “An Act Concerning Excessive Use of Force.”

It encourages police departments to increase minority recruiting, provides funding for police body cameras and sets standards for the independent review of deaths resulting from use of force by police.

The Second Chance bill was supported by a conservative think tank in Connecticut, the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, and Grover Norquist, the godfather of the national tax cut movement, as well as the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus and the ACLU.

Governors and Sentencing Reforms
A sampling of the governors to recently embrace sentencing reforms
Deval Patrick Massachusetts Democrat 2010 Signed
John Kasich Ohio Republican 2011 Signed
Nathan Deal Georgia Republican 2011 Signed
Bobby Jindal Louisiana Republican 2012 Signed
Jack Markell Delaware Democrat 2014 Signed
Phil Bryant Mississippi Republican 2014 Signed
Mary Fallin Oklahoma Republican 2015 Signed
Kate Brown Oregon Democrat 2015 Signed
Rick Scott Florida Republican 2015 Signed
Rick Snyder Michigan Republican 2015 Proposed
Andrew Cuomo New York Democrat 2015 Proposed
Larry Hogan Maryland Republican 2015 Enacted without signature

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President Obama to Visit Federal Prison


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — As a part of his overall strategy to reform the “broken criminal justice system,” President Barack Obama is expected to visit a federal prison next week.

White House officials announced the visit on Friday, saying Obama will visit El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma this coming Thursday.

There, he is expected to meet with inmates and law enforcement officials, said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

At the prison, Obama will also conduct an interview with VICE that will be a part of a documentary airing this fall on HBO focusing on America’s “broken criminal justice system,”

 El Reno is a medium security federal correctional institution.

The visit to El Reno will be a part of a two-day trip to Oklahoma.

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SC Legislature Passes Bill to Remove Confederate Flag Off Statehouse


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — After days of legislative debate and passage of a bill signed into law by Republican Gov. Nikki Haley early Friday, a symbol of Southern pride to some and racism to others was removed from South Carolina’s State Capitol.

The flag flew for 54 years outside the State House. And on Friday in a 10-minute ceremony, South Carolina officials lowered the Confederate battle flag, closing a chapter of racial animus in the Deep South.

“It’s a great day as the Confederate flag comes down, said Haley on NBC’s Today Show.

Haley had pledged that the symbol that engenders much emotion among white Southerns and black people would be lowered “with dignity.”

The move to remove the flag comes 23 days after 21-year old Dylan Roof allegedly shot and killed nine black churchgoers at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church during Bible study.

S.C. State Rep. James Clyburn (D-South Carolina), who represents South Carolina’s 6th district, tweeted:

“It’s been a long time coming, but I always knew it would come.”

He later added: “I look forward to the citizens of South Carolina being one under one flag, the American Flag.”

 

The June 17 massacre was a reminder of virulent racism in America and it led to a nationwide debate about the Confederate flag, prompting many companies to stop manufacturing or selling products with the image.

That was also followed by an emotionally charged legislative debate and a vote early Thursday in S.C. House of Representatives. Legislators voted 90-20 to remove the flag

After the flag was removed, it was taken to a nearby Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.

Many South Carolinians were hesitant to remove the battle flag, which they say is a symbol of Southern pride.

Several South Carolina Republicans wanted to compromise, and sought dozens of amendments, ranging from replacing the battle flag with another Confederate flag to flying it only once a year on Confederate Memorial Day.

State Rep. Joseph Neal, a Democrat, said he remembered the battle in 2000 to have the flag removed from atop the Capitol dome.

“There were those of us who thought we’d never see this day come,” he told CNN’s “New Day.” “This day is testament to the power of love and unity and grace.”

 

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