Much done, more to do; highlights from Hartford

Hartford2

Here’s my most recent “Hartford Current” piece in The Darien Times:

With the regular legislative session behind us, this a good time to provide a summary of some of the highlights (from Hartford). There was a good bit of legislation accomplished  that had strong bipartisan support that will benefit many in our state. In all, we passed 231 bills that were signed by the governor.

With heroin and prescription opioid overdoses at record levels in our state, we unanimously passed a bill,  An Act Concerning Opioids and Access to Overdose Reversal Drugs (PA 16-43), helps address this crisis. Last year, alone in Connecticut 725 people died from overdoses of opiates or heroin making this legislation one of our most important initiatives this session. This bill limits prescribers to a seven-day supply for first time use by a patient; allows any licensed healthcare provider to administer an opioid antagonist (i.e. Narcan) to block the effects of an overdose. In addition, municipalities will be required to ensure that first responders are equipped with opioid antagonists, and a working group will be established by the legislature to look at how opioids are prescribed by providers.

Another critically important bill, An Act Concerning Dyslexia (PA-92), will improve services for students with dyslexia in our public schools. Of all students in special education for learning disabilities, 75% of those students have dyslexia or a language related learning disability. Identifying and providing appropriate remediation and support for these students should be a priority for every school district in our state. This law establishes additional educational requirements for teachers seeking to teach students with dyslexia.

There are over 2,000 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are on waiting lists for services (what kind of services). For a state that takes great pride in providing and protecting the social services safety net, this is a deep concern. Act Concerning Services for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities (PA 16-60) will improve both the way the state manages the waiting lists for these individuals and the way it keeps the families who care for them properly and clearly informed. This is another bill that was widely supported by legislators recognizing we have a responsibility and desire to provide appropriate and timely services to these individuals and their families.

Because of the decline in the bee population and the resulting jeopardy to our food supply, An Act Concerning Pollinator Health (PA 16-17) was passed.

This legislation restricts the use of certain pesticides and it identifies ways to foster development that increases pollinator habitat.

An Act Concerning the Impact of Proposed Regulations on Small Businesses (PA 16-32) is a bill that looks at potential impacts of legislative mandates and regulations on small businesses. Entrepreneurs and small business owners make vital contributions to Connecticut’s economy and we need to do all we can to support their efforts. Another help for small businesses is The Entrepreneur Learner’s Permit Program (Special Act 16-1). This will encourage and assist entrepreneurs by reimbursing state fees for two years associated with forming a business.

Again this year, there were some unwelcome surprises tucked into the Budget Implementer. The budget is how much we will spend in a year and the implementer dictates how those funds will be spent. It has become practice — and not a good practice to my mind and many others — that initiatives get tucked into the Implementer by the Democratic leadership, with no public hearings or having followed the proper protocols for legislation.

One of these requires the Secretary of the  Office of Policy and Management to look at increasing representation on the Councils of Governments (COG) for municipalities with a population of at least 50,000. By law, each COG member municipality is entitled to one representative on the COG, this has the potential to change the balance of the COG’s as currently structured — one vote per town — to give more power to the urban areas.

Another surprise — and one that received a great deal of negative press coverage —  is one that restricts how the nonpartisan staff reports future budget trends. The Office of Fiscal Analysis will be prohibited from projecting all the spending the state has committed to and assessing whether Connecticut has the revenue to cover it.  This measure will make it harder for the general public to track deficit forecasts, reducing transparency. This information, however, will be available to legislators for the asking.

Other critical issues — our state finances continue to be a challenge. Simply, income tax revenues have not come in as projected — in fiscal year ‘16 falling short by $550 million so far and a projected $900 M for fiscal year ‘17.  Our state bond rating was downgraded by two of the rating agencies within two weeks of passing the budget.  While there were certainly good things in the budget, it did not put in place structural changes in place, that will change the trajectory of our state finances to put us back on a path of fiscal prosperity.  For these reasons and others, I voted against this budget.

Despite the difficult situation our state is currently experiencing. I do believe quite strongly, that we can turn this around — obstacles can become opportunities.

It would be beneficial for both parties to be at table negotiating the budget. Under the One Party Rule in our state–Democrats control both legislative chambers and the governor’s office — despite entreaties to work together, this rarely happens. The House and Senate Republican caucuses have put forward budgets with viable solutions that many editorial boards in our state vetted and praised, saying there were many workable ideas in the budgets and that Republicans deserved a seat at the table. I believe that both parties at the table with healthy compromise will benefit our state. Together, I believe we can get this done.

Please stay in touch with your thoughts and questions, I always enjoy hearing from constituents.

The original ran in The Darien Times here:

http://www.darientimes.com/70878/wood-hartford-current-much-done-more-to-do-highlights-from-hartford/

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