Fresh­men law­mak­ers make big leg­isla­tive splash

The News-Times - - NEWS - By Emily DiSalvo

HART­FORD — The na­tional po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sion has been re­cently dom­i­nated by fresh­men mem­bers of Congress like Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez and Il­han Omar, but Connecticu­t’s fresh­man rep­re­sen­ta­tives also made a re­spectable splash in their first leg­isla­tive session.

While Sen. Will Haskell, D-West­port, lacks the Twit­ter fol­low­ing of Oca­sio-Cortez, he was spot­ted film­ing a live video of him­self to share with his con­stituents on so­cial me­dia in the fi­nal week of the leg­isla­tive session. The 23-year-old said his first session was a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and hopes to make the pub­lic more aware of what it is like to work in the Capi­tol.

“The leg­isla­tive process — I think a lot more peo­ple need to un­der­stand how it works,” Haskell said. “I have been try­ing to ed­u­cate some of my vot­ers by doing videos and so­cial me­dia and In­sta­gram sto­ries be­cause I’ve cer­tainly learned a lot this session.”

Haskell said there are some things about being a state se­na­tor that sur­prised his con­stituents.

“Peo­ple couldn’t be­lieve it when I told them I had two weeks to pro­pose bills,” Haskell said. “They reg­u­larly can’t be­lieve that we work in this build­ing past mid­night, up un­til 1 a.m. I’m vot­ing at 3 a.m.”

For Fresh­man Rep. Leslee Hill, R-Can­ton, the sched­ule was less sur­pris­ing. She said she had talked to her pre­de­ces­sor about what to expect, but ad­mit­ted there was still a learn­ing curve when it came to the leg­isla­tive process.

Hill said that while the session was re­ward­ing, she’s look­ing for­ward to spend­ing more time with her fam­ily. Like Haskell, she ac­knowl­edged the fre­quency of late night ses­sions.

“There was the one big 26-hour overnight, which was rough,” Hill said. “Lots of late nights af­ter that as well.”

Leg­is­la­tors just fin­ished their last long night. The reg­u­lar session ended Wednesday at mid­night, cul­mi­nat­ing five months of hard work and late nights. Fresh­man Rep. Jill Barry, D-Glas­ton­bury, while not seen livestream­ing to In­sta­gram like Haskell, also feels that serv­ing in state gov­ern­ment has brought her closer to her con­stituents.

“I loved doing it,” Barry said. “I feel like I re­ceived a lot of in­put from my con­stituents and it was great to be able to work for them.”

Haskell, Barry, and Hill have all played a role in the passage of leg­is­la­tion they are proud of this session.

Haskell in­tro­duced a Se­nate bill to elim­i­nate waste­ful spend­ing within state gov­ern­ment, SB 682.

“It ba­si­cally says if you are a state em­ployee and you find waste­ful spend­ing, ex­cess of $10,000, you re­port it and a state au­di­tor can con­firm that it did re­sult in sav­ings the next year, you get a 10% cut of what­ever that re­duced state ex­pen­di­ture was,” Haskell said.

The bill will make state em­ploy­ees part­ners in re­duc­ing in­ef­fi­cien­cies and tax­payer dol­lars, since state em­ploy­ees are ex­perts on state agen­cies, ac­cord­ing to Haskell.

“I think it will break through that bar­rier of us ver­sus them rhetoric when it comes to state em­ploy­ees,” Haskell said. “State em­ploy­ees know bet­ter than any­one else be­cause they work in­side the sys­tem ev­ery day.”

The bill passed both cham­bers and now awaits Gov. Ned La­mont’s sig­na­ture.

“That was re­ally ex­hil­a­rat­ing,” Haskell said.

For Barry, this leg­isla­tive session meant getting to see projects that she has ad­vo­cated for as a pri­vate cit­i­zen come to fruition in the form of leg­is­la­tion.

“I’m re­ally proud that To­bacco 21 passed,” Barry said. “I’ve worked on that for a cou­ple years on the ad­vo­cacy side, so that was a big ac­com­plish­ment.”

Hill said she also sup­ported To­bacco 21, but said the ini­tia­tives she is most proud of are those that blocked bills that would be harm­ful to tax­pay­ers and small busi­nesses. Al­though she was un­suc­cess­ful at block­ing the paid fam­ily med­i­cal leave bill, she had op­posed it af­ter talk­ing to her con­stituents.

“I am very con­cerned about the FMLA,” Hill said. “The con­cept itself of paid fam­ily med­i­cal leave, I ab­so­lutely sup­port and I sup­ported the Repub­li­can pro­posal for it, but I heard from a lot of con­stituents who, once they un­der­stood that this was going to a manda­tory pay­roll tax com­ing out of their wages, peo­ple were re­ally con­cerned about that.”

Hill also op­posed the Demo­cratic bud­get be­cause of the ex­pan­sion of the sales tax. She said she was im­pressed by La­mont’s charisma and will­ing­ness to talk with Repub­li­cans, but said she dis­agrees with some of his strate­gies. She said La­mont’s ten­dency to float ideas and then re­verse them has hurt his cred­i­bil­ity.

“He was float­ing these trial bal­loons of pol­icy concepts that re­ally were not well founded and then when he heard push-back on them, he would backpedal,” Hill said. “For ex­am­ple, a lot of the sales tax in­creases, the gro­cery tax.”

Hill said that as a fresh­man it’s im­por­tant to look ahead and un­der­stand what the leg­is­la­ture hopes to ac­com­plish in the com­ing session.

“I’m going to spend a lot of time out in my dis­trict talk­ing to peo­ple and find­ing out what are their pri­or­i­ties,” Hill said. “How are some of these pro­pos­als hit­ting them once we’re ac­tu­ally liv­ing with this bud­get?” She said she will be lis­ten­ing to them and seeing what’s needed to move for­ward.

Barry said that over­all it was a good first session and she feels that while she learned a lot, she knows she will con­tinue learn­ing next session. In the mean­time, she hopes to catch up on sleep.

“I am ex­cited for some down time, to kind of re-pri­or­i­tize and see what’s next,” Barry said.

Bryan Ha­ef­fele / Hearst Connecticu­t Me­dia

State Sen. Will Haskell, D-West­port

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