Looking out for SE Connecticut in Hartford
Here's something to do tomorrow, when the nation and the state are honoring the public service of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and it's frigid outside and there is no school and, for many, no work: Log on to the website of the Connecticut General Assembly, which won't be in live session because of the holiday, and explore.
Connecticut citizens voted in record numbers in November. Step II of that exercise in civic responsibility is paying attention to what the people you voted for — or unsuccessfully voted against — are doing with the power they won. They only earned two years to make it count.
Dr. King, who worked passionately for all people's right to vote and thus determine the future of their nation and state, would approve.
The 33 state senators (there are three vacant seats) and 149 representatives (two vacancies) convened just over a week ago. They have five months to deal with financial projections that don't work under the existing formulas. The results will affect every soul in this state. They may debate online sports betting and the future of a third casino, which matters greatly to the prosperity of the state's only two casinos and their employees, right here in southeastern Connecticut. In the middle of an opioid epidemic but surrounded by states that are legalizing recreational use of marijuana, lawmakers may decide to jump in. Highway tolls are on the table, as are the minimum wage and family leave.
Fifteen minutes on the CGA website is illuminating, no matter what link you click. But this early in the session when bills are still being filed and committees have just started to meet, citizens in southeastern Connecticut should take note of which senators and representatives ended up with positions of influence. Like it or not, that is still how they bring home the bacon.
Historically, less bacon has come to this region than others, in part because this section is sprinkled with small towns that may share a senator with eight other towns, or a representative with two others. Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven send multiple legislators apiece to Hartford. They have the same constituent interests at heart, and they don't need to form alliances; they come with them.
Whatever the reasoning of Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney of New Haven and Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz of Berlin, this session's list of the legislative leaders and committee chairs they chose is mighty thin on lawmakers from the region. Sen. Cathy Osten, the Sprague Democrat representing the 19th District, and Sen. Norm Needleman of Essex, freshman Democrat from the 33rd District, are the exceptions. Osten will again co-chair the powerful Appropriations Committee. Needleman got a rare freshman first-term appointment to chair a committtee, Energy and Technology, that will deal with significant issues involving the state's energy policy.
Legislative committees originate, modify or can kill important bills. Each has a Senate chair and a House chair; as the majority party, the Democrats got to name them. Despite the seniority of some Democrats in the local delegation, there are no other co-chairs from around here, meaning the seven Republicans and six Democrats elected from this region must find ways not to let the interests of voters here be overrun. Every legislator has committee assignments, and a click on the General Assembly daily bulletin will show who also has deputy status in the leadership structure of either chamber.
Southeastern Connecticut will send one more legislator to Hartford after the Feb. 26 special election to replace former New London Rep. Chris Soto. He resigned to serve in the executive branch as Gov. Ned Lamont's legislative affairs director.
In his new role, Soto will be at the table as committees discuss major bills, and he is certainly versed in the interests of the city and the region. The governor himself is interested in southeastern Connecticut as a place for growth. Their attention is vital. So is yours. Look up your legislator as the session proceeds, and be ready to take Step III: Let him or her know how you think it's going. It's your money, your state, and your future.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.
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