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Connecticut

Left in the Cold — Utility Shut-Offs and State Responses

Working families struggling to make utility payments are feeling the chill as companies shut off their gas and electricity. Shut-offs are up across dozens of states, particularly Michigan where unemployment is high, with a 22 percent increase in the number of families left without heat or electricity. The state's Heating and Warmth Fund, which helps those in need pay delinquent heating bills, has seen a record 42 percent increase in people applying for heating payment assistance.

Left in the Cold — Utility Shut-Offs and State Responses

Working families struggling to make utility payments are feeling the chill as companies shut off their gas and electricity. Shut-offs are up across dozens of states, particularly Michigan where unemployment is high, with a 22 percent increase in the number of families left without heat or electricity. The state's Heating and Warmth Fund, which helps those in need pay delinquent heating bills, has seen a record 42 percent increase in people applying for heating payment assistance.

Ballot Initiatives 2008

This Dispatch is a roundup of what ballot initiatives will appear on state ballots across the country this November.  Whether it's workers rights, energy policy, education, transit, abortion or health care, ballot initiates give voters a chance to directly vote on an issue.

Paid Sick Days on Ballot in Milwaukee

Milwaukee has a paid sick leave referendum on the ballot for November that would allow employees to take leave for medical treatment, preventive care, or diagnosis for themselves, as well as to care for a close family member who is sick or who needs diagnosis or preventive care. Additionally, employees would be allowed to use the time to deal with domestic violence or sexual assault (for example, using accrued time to flee to safety.)  Employees at firms with 10 workers or less could accumulate up to 40 hours, whereas larger companies would have to provide up to 72 hours of paid sick leave.

Making College Affordable for All

The benefits of a post-secondary degree are plentiful.  For example, an employee with a four year college degree earns 60 percent more than a worker with only a high school diploma. Paying for college, however, has become a daunting task and strain for many American students and families.  The cost of higher education across the country is rapidly increasing, at almost double the rate of inflation, outpacing increases in financial aid and many families ability to pay.  The combination of these factors result in too many students being unable to earn or complete their degrees due to financial constraints.

States Apply Pressure to Allow Voter Registration Drives in Veterans' Facilities

The federal Department of Veterans Affairs for months has been embroiled in a controversy over its prohibition on voter registration drives in veterans' facilities.  Now 10 Secretaries of State and the Attorney General of Connecticut have stepped into the maelstrom, demanding that the VA reverse its policy.  Late last month, Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal attempted to register voters at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in West Haven.  They were prevented by staff from registering voters inside the facility, but they were able to register a dozen veterans as they were leaving.  One newly registered voter is 92-year-old WWII veteran Martin Onieal.

Bills that Made a Difference in 2008

Even with many states having short sessions, the 2008 state legislative sessions have already had some impressive milestone victories for families and communities across the country.  This Dispatch covers a few of the key issue victories this year -- and points out that states are still taking the lead on issue after issue.  Most of the bills highlighted became law, while a few, falling short of final passage, were innovative enough and showed enough movement to promise greater things for 2009.

States Still Leading Feds on Minimum Wage

With food and gas prices rising rapidly, low-wage workers can at least welcome an increase in the federal minium wage to $6.55 per hour scheduled to go into effect on July 24th.  Even better, a number of states will also be increasing their minimum wage rates even higher than the federal rate:

Two States With Tarnished Images Make Strong Gains on Ethics in 2008

Many states have suffered from public officials being involved in ethics scandals.  While sometimes there is talk of reform and other overtures, comprehensive reform is most often elusive.  However, some states have managed, either in response to one particularly egregious event or a history of problems being overturned in a wave of dissatisfaction, to truly make a fundamental change.  This year Connecticut once again moved forward with a multi-year ethics reform initiative, and Louisiana enacted one of the most far-reaching ethics overhauls any state has in generations.