NEW BRITAIN - Moderator Ann Speyer had a request to make of the state legislators present at the League of Women Voters’ annual brunch Saturday morning at the New Britain Public Library.
She asked them to talk about whatever issues were on their minds for the upconing legislative session, but not to let the state’s budget difficulties dominate the discussion.
State Sen. Terry Gerratana, D-6th District, responded that she expects a challenging year in Hartford due those budget problems, “but I’m the one with the rose-colored glasses, I always look for opportunities.”
Going into her fourth term representing New Britain, Berlin, and a portion of Farmington, Gerratana said she will again co-chair the Public Health Committee, as public health is a key issue for her.
She will also serve on the Judiciary Committee and Appropriations Committee, and chair the Appropriations’ subcommittee on health.
Gerratana said education funding inequity is very important to her, especially in light of the decision last September by Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher, who found the way the state fund schools to be unconstitutional and ordered state officials to overhaul it.
“I feel we cannot disregard the court decision, even though it’s on appeal, so I have put in many bills to address it,” she said.
She also expressed support for the state’s vocational-technical schools, paid family sick days, and higher minimum wage, as well as concern for how the federal government’s actions on the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid will affect Connecticut.
State Rep. Rick Lopes, D-24th District, represents the southern third of New Britain and part of Newington. He said this year he will be on the Education Committee, as well as maintaining his seats on the Transportation and Finance committees.
Lopes said he is preparing legislation to address water issues affecting New Britain, including the city’s controversial plans to lease watershed property in Plainville to Tilcon and sell the Patton Brook Well.
“We would have to sell the well for a fair market value,” he said. “I think it’s absolutely abhorrent that we are selling a well for $1 million, a well that at its peak is able to produce $1.5 million worth of water a year. Just on the face of it, it doesn’t make any sense, and in addition we’re selling a well while we’re in a drought, and we’re buying water from the MDC (Metropolitan District Commission) now.”
State Rep. William Petit Jr., R-22nd District, was elected in November to represent Plainville and the west end of New Britain. He joked that he doesn’t yet have an office in Hartford, “so if you come to visit me, you have to meet me in the cafeteria at the moment.”
Petit will serve on the Appropriations Committee.
He will also serve on the Public Health Committee with her, as well as on the Commerce Committee.
“I think all of us hope to bring the budget into balance and continue to maintain as many crucial services as possible, and maintain quality of life, as we try to make careful decisions,” he said.
Petit said he is also concerned about Medicaid providing health care for those who can least afford it, as there is “a lot of confusion up in the air right now, I think a little bit on the state level and a lot on the federal level,” he said.
He said he is also interested in looking into how tobacco settlement fund money is being used, 19 years after the fund was created by the tobacco companies for the purpose of helping people quit smoking and funding lung cancer programs.
In the Commerce Committee, Petit said, he plans to help work on legislation for a moratorium on some fees for small businesses for a couple of years to see it helps stimulate expansion and hiring.
State Rep. Robert Sanchez, D-25th District, whose district is entirely in New Britain, is again vice chairman of the Education Committee, and also will serve on the Higher Education, Labor, and Finance committees.
He said he is also concerned about the sale of watershed land. However, his main focus is on improving wages for preschool teachers. Preschool education is an issue Sanchez, a former preschool teacher, called “near and dear to my heart.”
About four years ago, the state required that preschool teachers have an associate or bachelor’s degree, he said. “Many of these teachers now, when they do get their bachelor’s degrees, they decide to get certified and move on to the public school system, where they can make a lot more money.”
“About 95 percent are female, and many of them happen to be single mothers, and they are more than willing to go back to school but many of them have approached me and said we cannot afford to stay in the preschool field, Sanchez said.
State Rep. Catherine Abercrombie, D-83rd District, represents parts of Berlin and Meriden. She chairs the Human Service Committee and its appropriations subcommittee and will serve on the Energy and Technology Committee.
Her biggest concern is the fate of Medicaid, she said. “We have no idea what’s going to come down from the feds.”
Nutmeg TV will broadcast the forum later this month.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.