A handful of state Democrats sat down in the Branford Common Room Monday evening to map out this year’s legislative landscape, mere days before the 2016 legislative session is slated to start.
In a panel hosted by the Yale Democrats and moderated by Yale Dems President Maxwell Ulin ’17, upcoming bills for the year and worries for the state budget were discussed by Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, Sens. Mae Flexer and Gary Winfield and Reps. Roland Lemar and Matt Lesser. The legislators stressed the limitations of their peers during the current election year, and shared advocacy strategies with the students who filled the room.
“The overriding concern is going to be the budget deficit,” Looney said.
Like Looney, Flexer also voiced concerns about the state budget in light of the severe budget cuts Gov. Dannel Malloy is set to present to the General Assembly at the start of the legislative session Wednesday.
The legislators expressed optimism about a mandatory paid family leave bill — a topic currently of national interest — that would “make a real difference for working families,” Lesser said. Lemar concurred, adding that state Democrats could be expected to garner widespread support for the bill.
“Paid family leave is the most important thing we can do this year,” Lemar said.
Lemar also referred to pieces of legislation specifically affecting college students and undocumented students that arose during last year’s legislative session — including one that lowered the number of years a student had to spend in high school in Connecticut to qualify for in-state tuition.
Looney addressed concerns of state residents on the other end of the age spectrum, noting a disturbing trend of people retiring both in Connecticut and nationwide with no income other than Social Security. He said he, along with the House majority and State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, were working on a state-sponsored plan that will rely on a payroll-deduction option for retirement savings, as opposed to an additional cost to employers.
Other possible bills mentioned by the legislators included criminal justice bills in line with the governor’s Second Chance Initiative, which aims to reduce crime and reintegrate nonviolent offenders. A bill regarding affirmative consent on college campuses, spearheaded by Flexer, which passed the Senate last year but failed to pass the House was also discussed at the meeting.
“I have to thank all of you for your tremendous advocacy last year,” Flexer said of the bill. “Hopefully this year we can get it all the way through.”
As the legislators segued into a conversation about tactics students could use to persuade other lawmakers to side with them on issues like affirmative consent, criminal justice reform and judicial reforms on rape and sexual assault — several issues the Yale Dems will focus on this year — the legislators highlighted their colleagues’ hesitation to support bills that might alienate their constituents, particularly among those who are up for re-election this fall.
Winfield discussed his previous background as an activist, citing the need to connect with people on a personal, emotional level. Lemar added that he and Winfield had both participated in training sessions where they role-played this type of persuasive conversation.
“The most important thing is to remember that you’re talking to a human being,” Lesser said.
At the panel, the Yale Dems announced that members can attend meetings or complete other tasks to receive tickets for a new raffle. Prizes include a signed copy of Hillary Clinton’s LAW ’73 book “Hard Choices.”