At the start of his fourth term, state Rep. Tom O’Dea (R-125) has an ambitious goal. “I want to make Connecticut one of the best places to retire,” he said in an interview with The Bulletin.
But reaching that goal is going to require passing a number of legislative initiatives, and Republican O’Dea knows he will need help from Democrats to accomplish that.
O’Dea represents the 125th District, which covers parts of two towns — New Canaan, where he lives, and Wilton. As a House deputy leader, O’Dea is known as a bipartisan moderate. He said he has already reached out to Democrats, such as newly elected state Sen. Will Haskell (D-26), for support on his proposed bills.
One of those bills would completely eliminate the tax on Social Security. “I have support from other members of my district, Democrats and Republicans, who agree on this,” he said.
He said seniors in Connecticut making up to $40,000 a year currently do not have to pay taxes on Social Security. He wants to raise that income level so no one has to pay Social Security taxes.
But that tax cut would come at a cost. He estimates it would take about $40 million out of the state’s revenue coffers.
Another bill he supports is eliminating gift and estate taxes by 2022. “That would cut another $120-$140 million from the state,” he said.
He is also proposing eliminating the tax on pensions. “That is the biggest number, the state would lose $300 million in tax revenue,” he said.
Although those bills would mean roughly $450 million in revenue cuts in the short term, O’Dea said there would be huge benefits for the state in the long term.
He said Connecticut has been rated one of the worst states in the country for retirees, and his goal is to keep seniors in the state in order to stabilize the real estate market.
“That sounds like a lot of money, but it would make Connecticut one of the best places financially for people to retire. People will want to stay here, and it would be good for taxes and the real estate market,” he said.
To improve the state’s economy, O’Dea wants to address what he deems to be the “over-regulation of businesses.”
“We need to take an aggressive stance on regulations that affect small businesses. I would like an agency to review the regulations and eliminate the ones that are not beneficial, that do no public good,” he said.
O’Dea would also like to see a change in the state’s net energy metering (shared solar) program. Last May, a law was passed to roll back the program, and O’Dea would like to see it reinstated. The net metering program allows companies to build fields of solar panels and sell the energy directly to consumers. “This would bring jobs and revenue to the state and would be good for customers — a win-win for everybody,” he said.
O’Dea is opposed to recreational marijuana legalization. To that end, he has drafted a bill, to be introduced this session, that would add “medical marijuana” to the prescription drug monitoring program.
Under that program, Connecticut doctors and healthcare providers must report all transactions for controlled substances, such as opioids. O’Dea wants medical marijuana prescriptions to be reported as well.
“There is a medical monitoring program for opioids to prevent people from doctor shopping for them. So, I want medical marijuana to be treated the same way,” he said.
O’Dea would also like a law that would allow police officers to test for marijuana in motor vehicle stops like they currently do for alcohol.
Right now, he said, police can only test for alcohol use because there is no test for marijuana, except for a blood test.
A newly created marijuana breathalyzer is being test marketed in Boston and other regions, but hasn’t been officially approved for widespread use yet. If and when that breathalyzer is approved, O’Dea would like to see Connecticut develop regulations to allow police to use it.
Vaping and health issues
O’Dea has strong concerns about exposing children to vaping and e-cigarettes. He wants to increase registration fees for vendors who sell vaping devices, and double the fines for selling them to minors.
“I think vaping is the worst thing that has happened to our youth in a long time. Kids think vaping is better than smoking, but it isn’t. Vaping tastes like chocolate and coconut and other flavors, but people don’t know what is going in it. It’s outrageous that minors are getting access to this stuff,” he said.
O’Dea would like revenue raised from vaping fines and fees to go back to communities for the purchase of vaping detectors to be installed in public places like school bathrooms. “Kids are vaping in those bathrooms. Vaping detectors could be installed and would go off like smoke detectors,” he said.
Another health issue O’Dea supports is legislation to allow advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), which include nurse practitioners, to prescribe detox medications.
He said APRNs are not allowed to prescribe those drugs. But because there is a shortage of internists in the state, he said, he would like to allow APRNs to prescribe detox medications in addition to doctors and other health professionals.
O’Dea would also like a bill to allow Narcan to be placed in defibrillator cabinets in public places. Narcan is used to treat emergency opioid drug overdoses. “It would be a good spot for people to know where Narcan is if it is needed. We would extend the Good Samaritan law to make people who utilize the Narcan immune from liability,” he said.
In addition to his role as a House deputy leader, O’Dea has been assigned to the Transportation Committee, Judiciary Committee and Environment Committee. “I am proud, honored and humbled to be representing the 125th for a fourth term. I look forward to hearing from everybody,” he said.
O’Dea can be reached at his state office at 1-800-842-1423 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He is also on Facebook under State Rep. Thomas O’Dea.