My busy, first legislative session
In response to the Newtown school shooting, we established a school safety infrastructure council that will determine statewide safety standards and administer a $15-million grant program to help districts conduct security assessments and implement capital improvements.
We also focused our effort on establishing a comprehensive mental, emotional and behavioral health plan for children that also ensures families access to that care. This bill appropriately speaks to the concerns brought to our attention by Newtown and does a lot towards beginning to address our concerns for the safety of our children.
We were able to pass a bill strengthening penalties against driving while distracted. The new law increases fines for distracted driving and creates a point system for offenses that has the potential to affect the violator’s car insurance premium.
In an attempt to expand the highly successful Small Business Express program that was instituted in 2011, we passed additional pro-jobs legislation that increases the existing program to include companies with up to 100 employees, and provides additional funding to meet the demand from small businesses. Another measure passed this session phases in a requirement to offer property tax exemptions for businesses that use renewable energy sources to provide power for their business, which will keep the cost of doing business in Connecticut a little lower for some companies.
A major energy reform package passed that will help the state continue to meet its world-leading renewable energy goals while also taking innovative steps to reduce the cost of electricity across the board for resident electric ratepayers, especially those on fixed incomes. A companion energy bill that passed will help jumpstart our renewable energy programs in Connecticut and provide cleaner, cheaper energy.
Furthermore, we passed some very supportive and substantial laws for veterans this session.
One bill allows a local or regional board of education to award a diploma to a Vietnam-era veteran who left high school early to serve in the Vietnam War. Another proposal guarantees that all 169 town halls in Connecticut designate at least one employee to serve as a contact person for veterans and to answer their questions regarding veterans’ benefits and programs. And a third bill helps veterans transition into the workforce and educational institutions by establishing a task force to study the use of military occupational specialty training experience to satisfy training requirements for state licensing purposes and to examine military occupational specialty training and determine if any such training is equivalent to that required for state licensing purposes.
A bill to create a task force and bring people in different areas of expertise together to address issues and concerns of people with Alzheimer’s disease was passed this session. The task force would assist developing a comprehensive and strategic plan to address the Alzheimer’s epidemic.
I also helped block a very bad piece of legislation that would have decreased the drug-free zones around schools and daycare centers from 1,500 feet to 300 feet, which would have allowed drug dealers to sell drugs much closer to children without having the enhanced drug-free zone penalty applied.
Some of the bad pieces of legislation that passed were:
A state budget passed by the General Assembly that continues Connecticut down a very dangerous fiscal path, which includes requiring the state to borrow $750 million in order to pay day-to-day expenses. Over 15 years, this will cost taxpayers $186 million in interest charges alone.
A new law which I found offensive to all law-abiding citizens in New Canaan and Wilton requires the state Department of Motor Vehicles to issue valid Connecticut driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants who reside in the state for only 90 days or more, even if they are convicted felons outside of Connecticut.
Another proposal I opposed that will become law increases the opportunity for negative campaigning in Connecticut while also permitting more special interest money into state elections. This proposal is going in the wrong direction as I had sought to have the public funding of campaigns eliminated, saving the state over $40 million, but now your hard-earned tax dollars may be used to fund negative ads.
Please don’t hesitate to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you have about state government, including visiting the state Capitol, or to request an official citation to commemorate a significant achievement or life event. As always, you may reach me at 800-842-1423 or by email at Tom.ODea@housegop.ct.gov.