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A look back at the legislative session

Shortly after the end of the 2012 legislative session, I held a series of informal meetings throughout our district to share an update with you and hear your thoughts and concerns personally. It is always a pleasure to speak with constituents about important issues and discuss how we can improve the policies that affect our families and our community. In case you could not attend one of these meetings, I would like to share some of the major pieces of legislation considered this year, including the state budget, jobs and the economy, seniors, education, the environment, veterans and more.

Despite the largest tax increase in Connecticut history, the state budget ended the fiscal year in deficit. It has since been erased after the Governor transferred more than $200 million that would have been used to pay down debt early. When it was first proposed last year, I voted against the Governor’s budget because I believe that state government is spending too much and that to raise taxes on hard-working families is the wrong policy. Instead, I voted in favor of an alternative budget that would not have increased taxes or spending.

In my opinion, putting Connecticut back to work and creating jobs are the most important issue before the General Assembly. We also know that small business creates the most new jobs. As a result, the General Assembly focused on passing legislation that will help improve business growth and create new jobs. The new law expands the existing Small Business Express Program, increasing the eligibility to 3,600 new businesses. It also encourages the hiring of unemployed veterans through the Subsidized Training and Employment Program and establishes the “Connecticut Made” and “Connecticut Treasures” marketing programs for state products and attractions. The focus of these efforts will help put Connecticut families back to work.

As ranking senator of the Aging Committee, I introduced several initiatives that aim to improve the quality of life for seniors throughout our state. One of these established a task force to study how the state can encourage “aging in place.” Specifically, it will focus on infrastructure and transportation improvements, zoning changes to encourage home care, improving nutrition programs and delivery options, strengthening fraud and abuse protections, expanding opportunities for home medical care, and tax incentives and other incentives for private insurance. Another proposal that was adopted into the budget was increasing the eligibility for the Alzheimer’s Respite Care Program.

Initially, the Governor named this session the “education session” because it would focus on school reform. When a first draft was released, teachers were concerned over how the reforms would affect their livelihood and learning. After much compromise, reforms were scaled back and our district will now see an increase of more than $930,000 in Education Cost Sharing funding that will help offset the cost of hiring teachers and maintaining school programs for our children.

Working with other legislators, we were successful in passing legislation that will help improve our environment. After years of inaction, the state will now be required to identify sources of revenue that can be used to clean up Raymark industrial waste. I am proud to have been able to support legislation that will begin to solve this long standing problem for property owners in the Town of Stratford.

After several incidents in the Naugatuck Valley, I was proud to support legislation that will deter those who vandalize or steal veterans’ memorials. The new law makes the crime a felony for intentionally defacing, mutilating, destroying or removing any part of a memorial or monument or for possessing or trying to sell it. The penalty has been increased to up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both.

In the aftermath of last year’s two destructive storms, the legislature also reformed how the state and the utility companies will respond to future storm events. Among its many provisions, the law increases cooperation and training between utilities and municipalities, establishes a microgrid grant and loan pilot program, studies the possibility of burying power lines during road renovations and allows regulators to create performance standards that utilities must meet, including tree trimming.

These are just some of the many issues we discussed and voted on during this year’s legislative session. I am hopeful that you will find this week’s column both interesting and informative. To learn more about the major acts that passed this year, please visit the Office of Legislative Research website at www.cga.ct.gov/OLR. You can be sure that I will continue to advocate for smart policies that aim to improve the quality of life for families in our state. As always, I encourage you to share your thoughts and concerns with my office by calling 1-800-842-1421 or emailing Kevin.Kelly@cga.ct.gov.

Sen. Kevin Kelly represents the 21st District, which includes all of Shelton, most of Stratford, and parts of Monroe and Seymour.

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