SOUTHINGTON - Local Republican legislators held a town hall meeting Wednesday at the municipal center, discussing the recent session and hot-button issues.
Participating were state Sen. Rob Sampson, state Rep. John Fusco and state Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco. The meeting was attended by approximately two dozen residents.
The focus of the conversation was on paid family medical leave, illegal immigration and minimum wage.
The legislators criticized paid family medical leave as a program asking for abuse that will run out of money quickly.
“There is a great deal of disconnect between the intent of a policy and its actual effect,” said Sampson. “Imagine what will happen to small businesses when a key person takes leave for 12 weeks? They will have to hire someone else to cover for them and what happens when they come back? They then have to fire that person who can collect unemployment.”
Mastrofrancesco said that people can go on paid family medical leave even if someone who is “like a family member” is sick.
Fusco said that many young and elderly people will pay for the program without ever using it.
The legislators also criticized a bill passed this session that protected illegal aliens charged with Class A misdemeanors from being reported to immigration authorities by local law enforcement.
Resident Don Divirgilio said it is a “tremendous injustice” that the state is saying it is OK for illegal immigrants to come in and collect benefits that taxpayers have paid for.
Resident Warren Stevens agreed.
“All this free this and free that and all this coddling of illegals is to get Democrat votes,” he said. “Democrats don’t care about the people in this room, they care about power.”
Sampson said that, in 2013, exceptions were made to the Trust Act that would allow law enforcement to report illegal aliens to ICE if they were on the terrorist watch list or had committed a felony in another state or were known gang members. The bill removed those exemptions.
“Class A misdemeanors also include assault, harassment and stalking,” said Sampson. “This is the worst thing to happen in the state legislature this year.”
Sampson said state immigration law is in violation of federal law and the U.S. Constitution. He said the state has “no business” passing laws like this.
“If you are in favor of a bill like this, then you are in favor of the status quo,” he said. “You are in favor of people coming in as second-class citizens unable to work legally. This system is exploiting people. It’s a terrible twist of reality to say that anyone against illegal immigration is a racist bigot.”
Sampson referred to $15 minimum wage as “banning all jobs that pay less than $15 an hour.”
“The government does not have the power to force businesses into giving a raise,” he said. “No one is going to pay $15 for a job worth $11. This will hurt people who proponents claim they want to help.”
The Republican legislators stressed that they are trying to fight “bad legislation,” but that they are in the minority in the House of Representatives and State Senate.
They encouraged residents to get involved.
“When votes are cast the other side has more and this is the outcome,” said Fusco. “It’s a travesty. The single-party system means half of the population doesn’t have representation. We have a vote, but unfortunately it doesn’t have much power. We will keep fighting as best as we can.”
Sampson said that the three local legislators all opposed these three bills. He said they hold events like this to “educate people, arm them with information and encourage them to tell their friends and neighbors what is happening.”
“We’re losing the battle - we’re badly outnumbered - but so far we have still prevented some of the majority party’s goals,” he said. “We’re stopping bad policy like tolls, the public option and passing on teacher pensions to municipalities, but we want to stop more. If we put up a big enough fight we can stop them.”
Mastrofrancesco said the legislators present are “fighting every day” for residents. She encouraged residents to do the same.
“You have a lot of power in the voting booth and by calling your representatives in Hartford,” she said. “The more you do, the better we can stop them.”
Sampson said Hartford has become an “unprecedented” battle of ideologies. He accused Democrats of moving far to the left and “abandoning the core American principles of freedom and opportunity for more socialism.”
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.