NEW BRTIAIN – The Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association hosted a legislative preview of the upcoming session of the Connecticut General Assembly Wednesday.
Representative Catherine Abercrombie, Senator Rick Lopes, Representative William Petit, Jr. and Representative Emmanuel Sanchez started the session by detailing their priorities this year. Wyatt Bosworth and Stevie Ann Lys from the Connecticut Business and Industry Association then asked Abercrombie, Lopes, Petit, Jr. and Sanchez a series of questions that are important to group.
“I wanted to start this discussion hyper focused on the dire circumstances that the residents and small business owners in Connecticut are facing due to the pandemic,” said Bosworth, assistant counsel for CBIA.
The first question focused on the governor’s emergency powers, which will likely be extended in the coming months, and how the legislators would react to ensure the Connecticut business community receives the aid this moment warrants.
“A lot of you guys know I’m a small business owner,” Lopes said. “I interact with a lot of small business owners everyday and there are people who are not affected by this pandemic, myself and my company being one of them, and there were people who were doing better during this pandemic, but there were an awful lot of others who did worse and took it on the chin and are struggling, if not going out of business. So for me it can’t be a blanket approach to relief, it has to be targeted to the people who obviously need it. I want to make sure the people affected the worst get the most relief so that they can get back on their feet.”
The legislators were next asked about fixing the broken transportation fund. Bosworth shared the three main ways are to bond for it, enhance revenue, find new revenue or transfer money from the general fund.
“I think people have to be honest with the fact that there isn’t any easy solution to the transportation issue,” Abercrombie said. I think all of the initiatives that have been put forward, including tolls, have been shut down. I think we’re going to have to be creative. I think the one thing I’m not in favor of and will fight for is you can’t keep taking from the general fund for transportation because human services becomes the easy target and you can’t rob Peter to pay Paul. We have to be honest as we go forward as to where we can get some revenue. We need to have a targeted area of where the revenue comes in. Do I have the answer? Absolutely not, but I think people need to be honest and I’ll tell you I’m not in favor of bonding every bank that’s not good for our credit rating either.”
The third topic focused on making it affordable for small businesses to provide health insurance for their employees.
“This is something that I think we can all agree is a top three issue in this session,” Bosworth said. “There are so many ideas floating around and I think the small business community is really having a hard time keeping up with their premium and deductible costs and providing good coverage to their employees.”
Sanchez said he is encouraging more conversation with his colleagues.
“I know a public option is something I most certainly am interested and invested in looking into further,” he said. “That’s where I stand at this point. But I’m open to conversation with my colleagues beyond that.”
Abercrombie said the expansion of Medicaid has to be an option that’s on the table for discussion.
“In human services we looked at this about six years ago. Even during the pandemic it’s proven to be the lifeline for so many individuals,” she said. “Health insurance is so important for many people but the reality is we pay one way or another. We either give people insurance so that they can stay healthy or we pay for it as uncompensated care, so why not do the right thing and make sure everyone has the insurance that they need? We have the affordable care act – is it perfect, no, but it’s a base that we should just be expanding on and making changes to.”
For Petit, he said his focus is on nursing facilities and assisted living and the pandemic.
“One priority is to make the nursing facilities and assisted living places safer for our loved ones,” Petit said. “Secondly probably issues again related to the pandemic small things we’ve been trying to push through medical assistance help with vaccines there are a lot of things with pharmacy techs whatever we can do to push our vaccination rate over the next five to six months.”
The session wrapped up with members of the chamber asking their own questions to the representatives.