Back to the Future: Permanent Commission on Status of Women Resurrected as Nonprofit

When the state legislature surprisingly eliminated the landmark Connecticut Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) on the heels of one of the agency’s most successful advocacy efforts on an array of pivotal issues, the dismay from an array of organizations across the state was strident and unified, but ultimately unsuccessful. The 2016 Legislative Session, which ended in June, had seen four of the largest gains for women’s rights. Bills to protect women from human trafficking, intimate partner homicide, campus sexual assault, and being forced to parent with a rapist all passed with bi-partisan support, with PCSW among the organizations leading the fight.

The agency, active and effective for 43 years, was no longer “permanent.”  It was history.  Unfazed, the legislature, pressed to find budgetary savings, merged it into a new structure, combined with former commissions on children and the elderly. For those involved with, and committed to, the work of the former PCSW, the legislature's approach fell short.  So they took matters into their own hands.  pcsw

The tone was considerably more upbeat this week as it was announced that PCSW was back in business, new and improved, with an educational nonprofit and a companion advocacy organization formed to continue the work on issues that remain on the front burner – or ought to.

A group of former State Commissioners and former key employees of the previous PCSW, dismantled at the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, announced the formation of a new non-profit initiative to advance the work of the former state agency, which was among the oldest and largest women’s commissions left in the United States.

The Commission’s legacy of developing landmark legislation and research in the areas of sexual harassment, domestic violence, family medical leave protections, pay equity, and human trafficking will continue, advocates stressed, only now emanating from outside of state government.

“We will partner with leaders in Hartford, CWCS, and organizations around the state to ensure that the public policy agenda for women and girls addressed by the former PCSW continues to move forward. We will provide expertise, research, resources, and advocacy to improve the lives of women and girls in this state,” said Mary Lee Kiernan, former Chair of the PCSW and President of the newly formed Permanent Commission on the Status of Women in Connecticut Education Fund, Inc. (PCSW Education Fund, Inc.). PCSW Education Fund, Inc. is applying for 501(c)(3) tax status with the IRS.

A new website,, was launched along with the new organizations.  The new initiatives were announced at a State Capitol news conference, alongside the statue of Prudence Crandall, Connecticut’s state heroine. news-conf

“Our new initiative will advocate in the same key policy areas addressed by the former PCSW, including economic security; health and safety for women of all ages; discrimination in all forms; education; and women’s leadership,” explained Carolyn Treiss, Executive Director of the former PCSW and President of the newly formed Permanent Commission on the Status of Women in Connecticut, Inc. (PCSW, Inc.). PCSW, Inc. is applying for 501(c)(4) tax status with the IRS and intends to advocate for an annual legislative agenda in these key policy areas. 501(c)(4) tax status allows for unlimited advocacy on legislation.

The board members of these two entities currently consist of eleven of the sixteen former PCSW commissioners, the former PCSW Executive Director and the former PCSW Policy Director. These individuals provide expertise on a wide variety of issues affecting women and girls, and they represent all regions of the state.

“I am impressed with the expertise that our board members bring, particularly around the intersection of gender with issues of race, ethnicity, age, religion, and socio-economic status,” explained Catherine Ernsky, President of the Ernsky Group and Vice President of the PCSW Education Fund, Inc. Board members also bring experience in the areas of law, finance, medicine, insurance, communications, philanthropy, health equity, criminal justice, state and local government, legislation, education, environmental justice, organized labor, and non-profit leadership.

An advisory board to the PCSW Education Fund, Inc. has been established that includes Senator Richard Blumenthal; Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro; former PCSW Executive Director and current President of the Ms. Foundation, Teresa Younger; former PCSW Honorary Commissioner and Executive Director of the Women’s Campaign School at Yale, Patricia Russo; former PCSW Honorary Commissioner Patricia Hendel; and former PCSW Honorary Commissioner Barbara DeBaptiste.  Pro-Bono legal services are being provided by Wiggin & Dana, LLP. PFK O’Conner Davies, LLP will serve as auditors.

PCSW Education Fund, Inc. and PCSW Inc. intend to collaborate with non-profit partners from around the state, the new CWCS, and state leaders to “continue the long legacy of progress for women and girls” that characterized the former state agency.

“Collaboration in this space is key,” explained Fran Pastore, President of the Women’s Business Development Council, a frequent collaborator with the former PCSW. “The board members of these entities are well-known for building effective coalitions. I hope to work with them to improve financing for women-owned businesses and workplace practices impacting women. Ultimately, these issues spur economic growth and improve the lives of everyone in the state.”

In 1973, the CT General Assembly passed, and Governor Thomas Meskill signed into law, Public Act 73-559, establishing the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women. The PCSW was charged with providing research and analysis on issues related to gender discrimination, women’s health and safety, and economic security. “In its 43 year history, the PCSW has informed many important public policies that make Connecticut a desirable place for women to live and work today,” the Commission explained in its final legislative report, issued in June.  The list of highlight legislative victories runs six pages, single spaced, in small type.

Back in February, Kiernan testified at the legislature, explaining that "The empirical evidence on gender in Connecticut is very clear. Women still face widespread discrimination in the workplace and beyond. Women continue to face far greater barriers to educational success than men. Women face wage inequality, occupational segregation and barriers to credit in the business sector. Women still struggle for basic economic self-sufficiency and fail to build the assets needed for retirement at greater rates than their male counterparts. And women and girls face increasingly complex threats to their health and safety. All of these issues are compounded and complicated by race and ethnicity."

Now, a new chapter begins, with experienced hands at the helm.


CT Ranks #7 in USA in Women in State Legislature; Number Unchanged in State, Drops Nationally

Election results indicate that there will be fewer women serving in state legislatures around the country  in 2015 than this year.  In Connecticut, the number remains unchanged from this year, slightly below the recent peak in 2009. Approximately 1,750 women legislators will be in office in 2015, compared to approximately 1,784.this year. The national percentage of female to male legislators will be approximately 23.7 percent, a slight decrease from the 2014 figure of 24.2 percent.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), Connecticut will have 8 women in the State Senate and 45 women in the House of Representatives when the 2015 session opens. That is a total of 53 women holding 28.3 percent of the 187 seats, ranking the state tied at #7 in the number of women serving in the state legislature and at#14 in the percentage of women in the legislature.  Although a number of office-holders changed, the numbers remained constant from 2014 to 2015 in Connecticut.

The national percentage of female state legislatures reached 20 percent in the 1992 election, but has not grown more than 4.5 percentage points since then.  Colorado is expected to have the highest percentage, 43 percent, of women serving, and Oklahoma the lowest at 12.1 percent.  South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming will each have only one woman serving in their senates.

CT Senate

While the number of women in Connecticut's 36-seat Senate has remained relatively static for the past six years at 8 or 9, the representation of women among House members has dropped from 51 in 2009 to 45 in the upcoming 2015 session.  In 2013, there were 46 women in the House and 9 women in the Senate – 29.4 percent of legislators.  In 2009, the breakdown was 51 and 8, for a total of 59 – 31.6 percent of the legislature.

There will be one woman among legislative leaders.  State Rep. Themis Klarides of Derby was chosen by her House Republican colleagues as their caucus leader, the first woman to be selected to lead the KlaridesRepublicans.  The House Speaker, House Majority Leader, Senate President Pro Tempore Senate Majority Leader, and Senate Republican Leader for the 2015 session are men, as was true in the previous legislative session.  Connecticut has seen a woman Speaker of tCT Househe House, but there has not been a woman selected to serve as Senate President Pro Tempore or Majority Leader.

In other elected offices in Connecticut, three of the state’s six statewide Constitutional offices are held by women – Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and State Treasurer Denise Nappier.  All three were re-elected this year.  Of the state’s seven members of Congress, both U.S. Senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy are men (and former state legislators) and two of five U.S. House members are women, Elizabeth Esty (a former state legislator) and Rosa DeLauro.  Both House members were re-elected this year, as were Congressmen Joe Courtney, Jim Himes and John Larson.

NCSL points out that conventional wisdom has held that one reason women are less likely to run for office is because of greater family caregiving responsibilities. A recent study, however, found that family situation had no effect on a potential candidate’s ambition to run for office—and this held true for both women and men. Other factors that may be at play include women’s perceptions of their qualifications (women tend to think they are less qualified than men), and political party systems of candidate recruitment.

Looking ahead to the 2015 legislative sessions, the highest percentage of women in legislative bodies are in Colorado (42%), Vermont (41%), Minnesota (33%), Washington (33%), Nevada (32%), Arizona (31%), Illinois (31%), Oregon (31%), Alaska (30%), Maryland (30%), New Jersey (29%), Maine (29%), Hawaii (29%) and Connecticut (28%).

Based on returns from the 2014 election earlier this month, when state legislatures convene early next year, New Hampshire will have 112 women, Vermont will have 74, Minnesota will have 67, Maryland 56,  Illinois 55, Maine 54, and Connecticut and Georgia, 53 each.

The partisan composition of women the nation’s 50 state legislatures is 683 Republicans and 1,058 Democrats.  (As well as 4 Third Party office-holders and 10 non-partisan in Nebraska.)

Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, comments by women legislators



women in legislature 2014


Wide-Ranging Actions Needed to Respond to Growing Alzheimer’s, Dementia Population in CT, Task Force Reports

In a 50-page report to the Connecticut legislature, the Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Task Force has outlined a series of 14 wide-ranging recommendations aimed at responding to the needs of a growing number of individuals and families facing the challenges of Alzheimer’s and dementia in Connecticut.

The recommendations include promoting public awareness and best practices including development of an education program for bank personnel, stepped-up dementia-specific training of health care professionals , court personnel and first responders, and improved support of informal caregivers.

The Task Force is urging “mandatory dementia-specific training for hospital emergency room staff, including nurses, physicians and medical technicians,” which may require legislation in the upcoming General Assembly session.  In addition, the Task Force – in another initiative likely to be the subject of legislation- calls for basic level of dementia training for public safety responders, long-term carcovere ombudsmen, protective service employees probate judges and court personnel.

Recognizing that “there are few Alzheimer’s and dementia training requirements for health care professionals and facilities,” the Task Force outlines a series of “detailed recommendations for dementia-specific training requirements across the continuum of care,” including home and community based services such as home health aides, homemakers and companions and personal care assistants.

The report also called for an analysis of the financial impact of developing a Dementia Centers for Excellence (COE) or geriatric assessment units at Connecticut hospitals.

The 25-member task force was formed by the legislature last year, and was administered by Connecticut’s Legislative Commission on Aging.  It was co-chaired by State Rep. Joseph Serra and Department on Aging Commissioner Edith Prague.  The Alzheimer’s Association of Connecticut worked with policymakers on introducing legislation that created the Task Force.  The Task Force met six times over four months, breaking into three subcommittees, which each met 4-6 times, to develop the final recommendations.  The committees focused on 1) Early Detection, Intervention and Planning, 2) Quality Care, Service Delivery and Care Management, and 3) Workforce Training and Development.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are an estimated 70,000 individuals with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.  An estimated 60 to 70 percent of older adults with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias live in the community, compared with 98 percent of older adults without Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.  Of those, 75 percent live with someone and 25 percent live alone.  The recommendations also call for:

  • Creation of a public/community awareness campaign through partnerships with agencies and organizations including the Alzheimer’s Association, AARP and Area Agencies for Aging, as well as faith-based and immigrant communities, business/corporate associations, the medical community and resources such as 211.
  • Dissemination of informational packets to be distributed at doctor’s offices, pharmacies, senior centers and other locationsaging
  • Promotion of Medicare Annual Wellness visits which include a cognitive impairment assessment
  • Development of a “bank reporting project” which will train bank employees about “potential red flags” that indicate suspicious activity.  The reported noted that “cognitive impairment poses the most significant risk for exploitation, and bank personnel may be in a unique position to detect financial exploitation of older adult and individuals with dementia.”

To provide greater support for informal caregivers of individuals with dementia, the Task Force is urging development alzof a “train the trainer” dementia course based on the existing Alzheimer’s Association leaders’ training, and drawing on the model of the American Red Cross’ CPR training program to offer “accessible and affordable dementia education to caregivers.”

The Task Force is urging an increase in state funding to expand the Connecticut Statewide Respite Care Program, and to expand and set aside slots for individuals with younger onset Alzheimer’s disease in the Connecticut Home Care Program for the Disabled.

The report also would have the Department of Motor Vehicles “explore policies and regulations related to revoking drivers licenses” and calls on the agency to “take a proactive approach in educating physicians about reporting unsafe drivers to the DMV.” The Task Force also calls for establishment of a care manager registry at the Department of Consumer Protection, a new licensure model at the Department of Public numbersHealth for homemaker and companion agencies and collaborative initiatives with the Department of Social Services.

Julia Evans Starr, Executive Director of Connecticut’s Legislative Commission on Aging, said “It is well-documented that Alzheimer’s and related dementias exact a devastating toll not only on sufferers of the disease, but on the emotional and physical health of their caregivers. Sound public policies that help alleviate emotional and physical stress on affected individuals and their families are imperative, as well as giving these folks choices on receiving care in their communities rather than institutions.”

Dementia is an umbrella term describing a variety of diseases and conditions that develop when nerve cells in the brain die or no longer function normally.  Different types of dementia area associated with distinct symptom patters and brain abnormalities.  Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, which causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.  Over 5 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s, including one in nine people age 65 and older (11 percent).  That number is expected to increase as the elderly population increases in the coming years.

Health Risks of Flame-Retardant Chemicals Require Policy Changes in CT, Nation, Report Says

The 2014 session of the Connecticut General Assembly is expected to include consideration of legislation designed to protect the public from potential health risks of flame retardant chemicals that are present in many consumer products.  Such a proposal, currently being developed, comes following a report from North Haven-based Environment and Human Health Inc. (EHHI), an organization of physicians and public health professionals, that calls on state and federal governments to institute new policies to protect the public from flame-retardant exposures that the researchers say “pose health risks to fetuses, infants, children and the human population as a whole.”

The comprehensive 107-page report, “Flame Retardants: The Case for Policy Change,” closely examines the health risks that flame-retardants pose to the general population and recommends sweeping policy changes to protect the public.

"It has become clear that flame-retardants are proving to be a health risk to both the human population and the environment,” said Nancy Aldermaflame reportn, president of Environment and Human health, Inc. “It is time for flame-retardants to be removed from all low fire-risk situations and products. As well, a certification program should be established where manufacturers certify the absence of flame-retardants, just as organic food programs certify the absence of pesticides.”

The report examines the history of flame-retardants and demonstrates the enormous scope of the problem, noting that flame-retardants “are now ubiquitous in our environment.”  The history of flame-retardant use in the United States is a story of substituting one dangerous flame-retardant for another, the report outlines. The country lived through decades when asbestos was used as a fire-retardant. Then when asbestos was proven too dangerous to be used, the country moved over to PCBs, and five decades later, when PCBs were deemed too dangerous for use, the country moved on to chlorinated and brominated flame-retardants.

The report points out that “the labeling of flame-retardant chemicals in consumer products is NOT required by Congress, EPA, FDA or the Consumer Product Safety Commission.  It is therefore impossible for consumers to avoid flame-retardants in their purchases.”  Sources of exposure cited in the report include carpets, mattresses, children’s and baby products, furniture, and electronics.  falame retardant

In the 1970s, a flame-retardant called "Tris" was added to children's sleepwear. Tris was later found not only to be carcinogenic but also capable of being absorbed through the skin. Tris was finally banned in children's sleepwear in 1977, according to the report.  Tris is still used in many other infant products, such as crib mattresses, changing tables, nap mats, and infant car seats, the report indicated.

"Tris was, and remains, carcinogenic," said Dr. D. Barry Boyd, oncologist at Greenwich Hospital and Affiliate Member of the Yale Cancer Center.  There is ample evidence concerning the health risks from Tris to conclude that it should be removed from all infant products."

John Wargo, Ph.D., first author of the report and the Tweedy-Ordway Professor of Environmental Health and Political Science at Yale University, said, "Flame-retardants are not required to undergo health and environmental testing, and they are not required to be labeled on the products that contain them. Because exposures to flame-retardants carry health risks, they should only be used when the risk of fire outweighs the risk from flame-retardant exposures. When risk from fire is high, such as in airplanes, then the use of flame-retardants is warranted; when the risk from fire is low, flame-retardants should not be used."

Recent toxicological studies demonstrate that flame-retardants pose the greatest risk to the normal growth and development of fetuses, infants and children. "Manufacturers should start labeling their products so that consumers can understand when flame-retardants have been added," said Dr. Andrea Asnes, associate professor of pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine.

Environment and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI) is a non-profit organization composed of physicians, public health professionals and policy experts, dedicated to protectinEHHIg human health from environmental harms. EHHI does not receive any funds from businesses or corporations.   The organization’s mission is “to conduct research to identify environmental harms affecting human populations, promote public education concerning the relationships between the environment and human health, and promote policies in all sectors that ensure the protection of human and environmental health with fairness and timeliness.

By promoting effective communication of environmental health risks to those exposed and to responsible public and private officials, EHHI hopes to empower individuals and groups to take control over the quality of their environment and be more protective of themselves and their families.  The report was issued in November 2013.  Among the recommendations :

  • States should pass laws that protect their citizens from flame-retardant exposures.  Industry will always work to pre-empt states’ legal authority to set safety standards that are more stringent than those adopted by the federal government. States should have the right to protect their citizens when the federal government fails to do so.
  • States should restrict flame-retardants in infant and toddler products.  Recent toxicological studies show that flame-retardants pose the greatest risk to the normal growth and development of fetuses, infants and children. Infants and small children’s body weight is so low that their exposures to flame retardants, in relation to their body weight, is simply too great. The health risks that all infants and children are experiencing, due to the federal law mandating that flame retardants be in many of their products, far outweigh the risk of fire.
  • States should require that products containing flame-retardants be labeled.  Any product containing a flame-retardant should be labeled as such. Labels should include which flame-retardant has been used.
  • States should promote fire-prevention programs.  States should invigorate their fire prevention programs. Promotion of fire prevention is the most effective, least expensive, least environmentally damaging priority our nation could pursue to reduce loss of health, life and property from fires. States should promote low-cost and highly effective early warning technologies. Smoke alarms save lives. They should be available to all, regardless of income status.
  • States should offer opportunities to recycle electronic products.  Foam that contains flame-retardants remains a problem for landfills. State and local governments have primary responsibility for managing the disposal of solid and hazardous wastes. Most solid wastes in Connecticut are disposed of via incineration, but some are still placed in landfills. The broad failure to effectively recycle electronics, building materials, auto plastics and foam means that most products containing flame-retardants are released to the environment at the end of their life-cycle.

State Mental Health Budgets, Cut During Recession, Increase After Newtown Tragedy, Report Finds

State mental health budgets were gutted during the recession, according to a report issued by the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), and are only now beginning to return to previous levels in most states, even as mental health needs are becoming better known and growing.

“With reductions totaling $4.35 billion from FY2009 to FY2012, public mental health systems struggled to meet rising demand with diminishing resourcesnami,” the report indicated. Then, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on December 14, 2012 provided “a major impetus for lawmakers to propose legislation which would impact children and adults living with mental illness,” the 63-page report indicated.

Nearly 60 million Americans experience a mental health condition every year, according to the organization. Regardless of race, age, religion or economic status, mental illness impacts the lives of at least one in four adults and one in 10 children across the United States.

NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization.  NAMI advocates for access to services, treatment, supports and research and is steadfast in its commitment to raise awareness and build a community for hope for all of those in need.

“Realizing the risks of failure to provide adequate public mental health services, governors and legislatures in many states began the process of restoring state mental health budgets,” according to the report, “Trends, Themes & Best Practices in State Mental Health Legislation.”

The report concludes that “Dramatic changes in American healthcare finance and delivery systems combine with an improving economy and a growing array of best practices to provide a window of opportunity in the next few years to transform the mental health system and integrate care across systems.”

In addition, NAMI recommends that “advocates and policy makers should continue the work of building the mental health system of the future, one in which mental illness is identified as it emerges and an array of proven, cost-effective services are available as needed to provide children, youth and adults with the mental health care they need to stabilize, recover and live healthy lives.”

Looking ahead to the 2014 state legislative sessions, NAMI issued a series of recommendations including: mental health budgets

  • Actively engage in outreach and enrollment
  • Increase integrated care
  • Increase the mental health workforce capacity
  • Identify mental illness and intervene early
  • Build the bridge from Medicaid to private health coverage
  • Increase access to supported employment services
  • Increase housing with supportive services
  • Increase justice system diversion strategies
  • Comply with mental health parity
  • Expand Medicaid

Most states either increased or maintained state mental health authority budgets at current levels during 2013 legislative sessions. Of special note, the report indicated, is Texas which allocated a $259 million increase over the previous biennial budget, the largest mental health budget improvement in the state’s history. South Carolina reversed previous cuts to its mental health budget while Illinois restored $32 million that had been cut in 2011 due to an administrative error. In California, an additional $143 million was allocated to create crisis and triage positions throughout the state.

The report stated that “A tipping point on the heels of several recent mass shootings, the Newtown tragedy shaped the debate about the lack of access to mental health services and the barriers that many families and individuals face in light of the nation’s fragmented and grossly inadequate mental health system.”

After the Newtown tragedy NAMI advocated for policies supporting early identification and intervention, training for school personnel, families and the public, mental health services in schools and increased access to care.

The report highlights actions by states in 2013 in areas including mental health system monitoring, early identification and mental health screening, services for transitional youth, school mental health training and services, mental health facilities and suicide prevention.  Also included are elements of state legislation in law enforcement areas such as juvenile justice, incarceration and the courts.  A final section looks at stigma reduction efforts in the states.

Mental illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person's thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.  Serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder.

Connecticut resident Marilyn Ricci, a past president of NAMI Connecticut, serves on the national NAMI Board of Directors, and is on the board of NAMI Farmington Valley in Connecticut, which she helped found in 2004.  Kevin Sullivan, a former Connecticut Lieutenant Governor currently serving as Commissioner of Revenue Services, is a past Board member of the organization. The state legislative report was issued on October 28, 2013.