As the Connecticut General Assembly considers the fate bills in the middle of its legislative session, the Yale College Democrats hosted a panel of legislators from across the state.
State Rep. Matthew Lesser, a Democrat from Middletown, joined State Senators Martin Looney and Gary Winfield, both of whom represent New Haven, in the Branford College Common Room last night to discuss the progress of the legislative session, which runs from Jan. 7 to June 3. All three legislators have proposed and pushed for bills in the General Assembly during the session — some of which included testimonies from members of the Dems who traveled to Hartford to testify in favor before the Assembly.
One such bill was Senate Bill 636, proposed by state Sen. Mae Flexer, a Democrat from Killingly, which would require that universities in the state institute affirmative consent policies in relation to sexual assault. The Dems testified in favor of the bill before a legislative committee in February, according to Tyler Blackmon ’16, the president of the Dems and a columnist for the News.
Lesser, whose constituency includes his alma mater Wesleyan University, said he has heard praise for the bill from students.
“People who oppose it don’t know what it does,” Lesser said.
Winfield said young people have largely expressed their support for the bill. He expects that the bill will not face substantial opposition, and that it will be able to defeat that opposition.
The three legislators also discussed the role of advocacy in the political process, both in campaigning for office and in promoting certain issues and bills. Winfield said he began his political career as an activist, and was initially opposed to the idea of running for elected office. But he decided to run for state representative in 2008, and in a special election last year won the state Senate seat that Mayor Toni Harp vacated.
Winfield said he has never left behind his role as an advocate, and in Hartford he has proposed far-reaching and controversial measures, including the abolition of the death penalty.
One of the bills Winfield is supporting during this session relates directly to advocacy — the bill would codify the rules surrounding the video recording of police officers, an issue that has attracted national attention in the wake of high-profile deaths at the hands of policemen in Ferguson and Staten Island, among other places. Currently, laws regarding the recording of police officers are vague, Winfield said, adding that while video recording should be legal, there should be clearly defined rules about the practice.
The legislators mostly discussed individual bills at the event, but the importance of the state budget was also emphasized. The budget is the biggest issue in the state, Looney said, but it is more than simply a financial apparatus — he described it as a piece of policy, which should reflect “the value of the state of Connecticut.”
Looney said the state needs to balance its budget, without compromising programs that serve low-income residents.
Lesser, who began his political career by becoming the president of the Connecticut College Democrats while a Wesleyan student, said Connecticut politicians have a unique stature and ability to effect progressive change.
“We can try, we can experiment, we can do things that the rest of the country only dreams about,” he said. Later in the discussion, he added that “in Connecticut, you can really make a lasting difference in peoples lives in an astonishingly short amount of time — there are people you see in the supermarket who have had their lives changed because of something you’ve done.”