How did your state legislators vote on major issues this session?

This last legislative session, Gov. Ned Lamont signed bills increasing the minimum wage, easing regulations for breweries and distilleries and addressing safe gun storage. The House and Senate have passed bills creating a paid family and medical leave program and raising the age to purchase cigarettes, along with a resolution on early voting.

The Day reached out to legislators in southeastern Connecticut to ask why they voted the way they did on these issues and more.

That includes Democratic legislators Christine Conley, Joe de la Cruz, Anthony Nolan, Emmett Riley, Kate Rotella, Kevin Ryan, Norm Needleman and Cathy Osten, and Republicans Devin Carney, Holly Cheeseman, Doug Dubitsky, Mike France, Kathleen McCarty, Paul Formica and Heather Somers.

Legislators vote party-line on minimum wage, family leave, ICE enforcement

The minimum wage will rise from $10.10 to $11 an hour on Oct. 1 and then rise $1 each year thereafter, until reaching $15 an hour on June 1, 2023. After that, it will be tied to the employment cost index, calculated by the U.S. Department of Labor. H.B. 5004 allows a lower training wage for those under 18, and it sets a lower "employer's share" for bartenders and others who receive tips.

All the aforementioned Democrats voted in favor of the increase, while Republicans voted against. Voting in favor, Needleman said he did whatever he could to push the implementation timeline out as long as possible, to minimize the impact on businesses, and Osten feels the rollout over five years gives businesses time to adapt.

Formica opposed the measure on the belief that the minimum wage should be market-driven, while Carney called both this and the paid leave bill "too much too soon."

Commenting that "Woodstock is not Wilton" and we're not talking only about "Aetna or Anthem or even Walmart" but also about small businesses, Cheeseman said she could've supported an increase with levels based on business location or number of employees. She and Somers both noted the bill that passed will be difficult on the nonprofit sector, with Somers also pointing to nursing homes, camps and municipalities.

For some, the paid family and medical leave bill (S.B. 1) — which is funded through a 0.5 percent payroll tax and generally allows for 95 percent wage replacement — is a deeply personal issue.

"I lost my son to gun violence, and because my wife had huge amounts of sick time built up and was in a union, she was able to stay out of work for nearly three months and still be paid, and we saw the value of that," de la Cruz said.

Rotella said when her late husband had cancer three years ago, she had to use all her vacation and sick time, plus take unpaid time off, to care for him. She believes the program will be self-sustaining with the payroll tax.

One of many concerns Somers expressed in an email, and one shared by other Republicans, is that it "relies on the notion that not everyone will take this benefit in order for it to be solvent." Her preferred alternative was to allow Connecticut residents to choose to purchase coverage through a pool with New York and New Jersey, states that added a paid family and medical leave rider to their existing disability plans.

Both Needleman and Osten said young people expect such a program, and they feel it will help with attraction and retention of millennials in Connecticut.

Kathleen McCarty said she voted against the family medical leave and minimum wage bills because she "would have liked to see more negotiations and it didn't seem like there was an appetite from Democrats to sit down at the table and negotiate." 

The GOP, she said, put forth versions of both bills that were "better and more sustainable for small businesses."

Another bill, S.B. 992, that passed on party lines — except for two Quiet Corner Democrats who voted against — was one revising the Trust Act of 2013, which restricts how law enforcement officers in the state can cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcements.

The law removes most exceptions to a provision that law enforcement can only arrest someone pursuant to a civil immigration detainer if the detainer is accompanied by a judicial order, and it restricts the disclosure of confidential information to a federal immigration authority.

Lamont has not yet signed this or the paid leave plan.

Gun regulation, early voting, manufacturing bills draw bipartisan support

Every present member of the House and Senate voted in favor of S.B. 893, authorizing a pilot program for hemp production. A bill Somers spearheaded (S.B. 1100) that expands the statute on voyeurism to include "upskirting," meaning the photographing or filming under a person's clothing without the person's knowledge or consent, also passed unanimously in both chambers.

Both chambers unanimously passed a bill providing worker's compensation benefits to first responders with post-traumatic stress disorder (S.B. 164), and a bill requiring inmates with opioid use disorder to be provided treatment information before release (H.B. 7217).

Other unanimous votes were on bills that would establish a pilot program expanding advanced manufacturing certificate programs from technical colleges to high schools (H.B. 4833), and require the Department of Education to factor manufacturing employment into its performance scores for districts (S.B. 854).

In the House, all Democrats voted in favor of a resolution (H.J. 161) enabling a referendum on early voting, while Republicans were split: 35 voted in favor and 24 against. The only one of the 14 Republicans in the Senate to vote for the early voting resolution was Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield.

Among local Republicans, Carney, Cheeseman, France and McCarty voted in favor while Somers, Formica and Dubitsky voted against.

"Opposing this incomplete resolution is not about voter suppression," Somers said. Rather, she said her opposition came from lack of information on where polling locations would be, how early citizens could vote, and impact on municipalities, concerns Formica shared. 

Somers said Connecticut's current system "makes voting highly accessible to all eligible voters," and pointed to increased turnout from same-day registration, while de la Cruz said there's "a lot of folks that work 12-hour shifts now that work out of town" and their window to vote is very small.

Cheeseman said she likes that the bill "left some discretion for the legislature to come back" and create absentee voting that doesn't require an excuse. Carney also said he supports no-excuse absentee ballot voting.

Since less than 75 percent of the Senate passed the resolution, the question will be on the ballot in 2022 rather than 2020, provided the legislature passes the resolution again in 2021. The question will read, "Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to permit the General Assembly to provide for early voting?"

Along with early voting, a package of three gun laws Lamont signed drew bipartisan support. Among local legislators, only Dubitsky and France voted against Ethan's Law (H.B. 7218), which expands regulations to keep firearms safely stored away from minors, and H.B. 7219, which addresses "ghost guns" that are manufactured at home and don't contain a serial number.

Conley said it's important that state laws keep up with technology, because 3D guns can be printed and "the technology is only going to get better with 3D printers." Dubitsky doesn't think ghost guns will ever be a problem, arguing the legislation makes for "a good newspaper headline and is not going to make anybody safer."

The third law (H.B. 7223), regulating the storage of a pistol or revolver in an unattended motor vehicle, drew an interesting split in the region: McCarty and Carney joined Democrats to vote in favor, while Osten, Needleman and Ryan joined Republicans in voting against.

Nolan, a New London police officer, said this "was a challenging one" but he had more people asking him to vote for the bill than not.

Formica didn't think it was "well-thought-out" legislation, Cheeseman feels it "targets a careless act as opposed to a deliberate criminal act," Needleman doesn't think it makes sense to put a lot of road blocks up for people who feel it's important to have a gun in their car, Ryan called it "a little onerous," and Osten said she voted against because it didn't address vehicles such as hatchbacks and small trucks without lockboxes.

Dubitsky, France in minority of Republicans on multiple bipartisan bills

On multiple bills that passed with bipartisan support, representatives Dubitsky and France — the only members of the General Assembly Conservative Caucus in southeastern Connecticut — were in the minority of Republicans voting no. One was the Time's Up Act (S.B. 3), which eliminates the statute of limitations for sexual assault against minors and requires workplace sexual harassment training.

Dubitsky said while he is in favor of strict prosecution of sexual assault cases — "hang them up by their heels," he said — the accused "absolutely have to get a fair trial, and eliminating the statute of limitations could make that virtually impossible, because after 30 or 40 years, all the evidence is gone."

Joining the 18 Republicans voting against the bill in the House were five Democrats, members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus who were concerned about the disproportionate impact on 

France was among the 24 House Republicans who voted against a bill mandating the inclusion of black and Latino studies in public school curriculum (H.B. 7082), while 32 House Republicans and all 14 Senate Republicans voted in favor.

In an email a few weeks ago, Nolan called this "historic legislation" that "will help some students identify with their cultural heritage and history while breaking down the barriers of prejudice that divide us."

The bill mandates a one-credit course. France feels that when paired with other curriculum mandates, "we are creating unworkable mandates on our education system," such that students either don't have enough credits or districts must remove their own mandates to fit state ones.

Dubitsky and France were among the minority of House Republicans voting against the offshore wind procurement bill (H.B. 7156) and against raising the cigarette and tobacco purchasing age to 21 (H.B. 7200).

France said that raising the smoking age doesn't address that most people who started smoking before 21 also started smoking before 18. He said his opposition to the offshore wind bill came from unresolved concerns about the impact on the fishing industry, though Formica said all procurements will include a mitigation plan to ensure commercial fisheries are protected to the extent possible.

Dubitsky and France were also among the minority of House Republicans voting against a bill prohibiting restaurants and catering businesses from distributing single-use Styrofoam containers (H.B. 5384), though this bill was never called for a vote in the Senate.

Conley said alternatives "hold up to good use, they're readily available, they're the same basic price range."

The Senate voted 29-5 — with support from all Democrats and eight of the 14 Republicans, including Formica and Somers — to end the use of Styrofoam trays in schools (S.B. 229), but this was never called for a vote in the House.

Out of the 187 members of the Connecticut General Assembly, France was one of only six — four Republicans and two Democrats — to vote against a bill streamlining the Liquor Control Act (S.B. 647). It allows breweries to sell more beer direct to consumers, reduces the number of permits, and enables a given business to sell more than one kind of alcohol.

France said his no vote was because it would negatively impact farm wineries, of which there are four in his district.

Day staff reporters Claire Bessette, Mary Biekert, Kimberly Drelich, Greg Smith, Benjamin Kail and Joe Wojtas contributed to this report.

e.moser@theday.com

Editor's Note: Editor's note: State Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-47th District, voted in favor of a bill mandating the inclusion of black and Latino studies in public school curriculum . This version corrects his vote on the measure.

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