Senate kicks off with hopes of bipartisanship, paid family leave

Hartford — Kicking off the 2019 legislative session Wednesday morning, state Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney proffered a long list of goals: passing a paid family leave act, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expanding job training programs, continuing second-chance re-entry initiatives, creating more affordable housing and regionalizing services.

“If we look past the arbitrary walls that separate our communities, we can make our state more efficient and more creative,” Looney said. He added, “We have succeeded before with the streamlining of our probate court system, and I believe we can muster the will to create more regional school districts.”

Looney called for bipartisanship, quoting English writer Joseph Addison: “A man must be both stupid and uncharitable who believes there is no virtue or truth but on his own side.”

He voiced his respect for Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, noting that some of the pieces of health insurance legislation they’ve worked on together in recent years are now considered national models.

Fasano had earlier seconded Majority Leader Bob Duff’s nomination of Looney to continue as Senate president. Fasano later echoed Looney’s call for working together, citing accomplishments from the past two years: the “historic” passage of bipartisan budgets two years in a row, reducing pensions on the elderly, and codifying the Affordable Care Act into state law.

Both the Senate and the House convened shortly after 10 a.m. on Wednesday. Eleven new senators were sworn in, and three more are expected to be sworn in by the end of February, to replace Beth Bye, Tim Larson and Terry Gerratana, who have vacated their seats to join the administration of Gov. Ned Lamont.

All 11 new senators, along with some returning ones, stood up to speak toward the end of the two-hour session.

“We all need to understand the greatness in this state, and we all need to understand the problems that we face,” said Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex.

The freshman senator, who counts Lyme among the 12 towns in his district, has been appointed chair of the Energy & Technology Committee, and vice-chair of the Banking Committee. Multiple new legislators have been assigned positions as chairs or vice-chairs.

Local legislators sign on

Paid family leave was a hot topic on the Senate floor Wednesday. Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz referenced it after her swearing-in; Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, was wearing a button advocating for paid family leave; and Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson, asserted, “We’re going to make sure that paid family leave happens this year.”

An act creating a paid family and medical leave program was the first proposed Senate bill of the 2019 session, according to a listing of bills posted on the Connecticut General Assembly website.

Needleman, Flexer and Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, are among the 18 senators to sign on to the bill. It has 47 co-sponsors in the House; locally, that includes Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton; Rep. Joe de la Cruz, D-Groton; Rep. Emmett Riley, D-Norwich; and Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville.

These four have also signed on to pieces of legislation to increase the minimum wage, develop a Green New Deal and “ensure that students in this state receive high-quality skills training in order to achieve well-paying careers in this state.”

There are several proposed bills that have received bipartisan support from legislators in southeastern Connecticut, including ones to legalize the production of industrial hemp, establish a day to honor women who served in the Cadet Nurse Corps during World War II, and eliminate the requirement that the federal government approve the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes’ proposed East Windsor casino project.

Each of these bills has been sponsored by Osten; Ryan; Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard; and Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford.

Speaking to The Day after the House session, McCarty expressed her excitement at being appointed a ranking member of the Education Committee — both because of her passion for education, and “because the issues won’t be as contentious.”

She would like to continue looking at school security and safety, find ways to close the achievement gap and possibly look at the Education Cost Sharing formula for smaller districts.

Listening to the address of Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, she was excited to hear him talk about the importance of job training for Connecticut to have the workforce employers need.

Osten said her priorities this session are to address transportation issues facing Eastern Connecticut, increase parity for veterans and “get a balanced budget out as quickly as possible.” She sits on six committees, including on one as chair and two as vice-chair.

Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, already has introduced several bills, including ones to establish a drug docket pilot program in New London County, increase transparency in the efforts of lobbyists to influence legislators, and remove mileage reimbursement from legislator pension calculations.

e.moser@theday.com

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