Senator Witkos Hosts Town Hall in Granby [The Granbys Patch]

May 18, 2012
Senator Kevin Witkos speaks with constituents at a town hall meeting in Granby on Thursday, May 17th (Credit Ted Glanzer)

Senator Kevin Witkos speaks with constituents at a town hall meeting in Granby on Thursday, May 17th (Credit Ted Glanzer)

Article as it appeared in the Granby Patch on May 18, 2012

State Lawmakers Explain New Laws, Votes

State Sens. Kevin Witkos and John Kissel join state Rep. Bill Simanski in detailing what took place at the most recent legislative session at the state capitol.

By Ted Glanzer

The three state legislators who represent Granby in the Connecticut General Assembly held a Town Meeting Thursday to go over some of the major pieces of legislation passed in the session that just finished up in Hartford.

State Sens. John Kissel (R-7th District) and Kevin Witkos (R-8th District) joined state Rep. Bill Simanski (R-62nd District) at the Granby Town Hall in discussing new laws on education, Sunday alcohol sales, storm response, the death penalty, red light cameras, medical marijuana and racial profiling.

Here is a summary of each law, how each legislator voted and a brief quote from one or more of them:

Education Bill

  • Creates 1,000 new seats in preschool programs designated for “high need, low performing communities”
  • Provides support and interventions for 25 designated low-performing schools throughout the state;
  • Expands funding and access to charter schools in the lowest performing districts, and additional funding to magnet schools, technical high schools and agricultural science schools
  • Implements changes to teacher tenure and evaluation programs.
  • Increases ECS funding

How they voted: Simanski (Y), Kissel (Y), Witkos (N)

Notes and quotes: Witkos said that he voted against the measure because he did not have enough time to read the massive bill, which was introduced late and voted on quickly. Kissel and Simanski were among a group of lawmakers who met with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who said that the state’s achievement gap is the worst in the nation. Kissel said that “nothing bad” was going to happen to the Granby school system as a result of the new law, as none of the 25 lower-performing schools are located within the town.

“Granby is blessed with a wonderful school system,” Kissel said. Simanski said that he supported the measure, as it is “a good first step.”

“There are a lot of good things in there,” he said.

Sunday Alcohol Sales

  • Allows for the sale of alcohol on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Permits package stores to offer fruit, cheese, crackers and olives
  • Enables beer manufacturers to open a pub or restaurant on-site
  • Enables package stores to sell one item per month at a 10 percent discount

How they voted: Kissel (Y), Witkos (Y), Simanski (Y)

Notes and quotes: Witkos, who serves as the ranking senator of the general law committee, said that he had never seen so many people commenting on a single piece of legislation as this one. The bill should not harm “mom and pop” stores, according to Witkos, because it’s permissive. “They don’t have to be open if they don’t want to,” Witkos said.

As legislators who serve border towns, all three supported the measure as a way to make Connecticut businesses more competitive with Massachusetts and New York.

Storm Response

  • Increases cooperation and training between municipalities and utilities
  • Increase tree trimming program
  • Study possibility of burying power lines during road renovations
  • Enact performance standards in the event of outages: utilities face penalties if 10 percent of customers are without power for 48 hours or more.

How they voted: Simanski (Y), Witkos (Y), Witkos (Y)

Notes and quotes: This law was enacted in light of the late-October snowstorm that left many CL&P customers Granby and East Granby in the dark for over a week.

Death Penalty Repeal

  • Connecticut becomes the 17th state to abandon capital punishment and the fifth in five years to repeal it
  • It’s effective immediately and is prospective, meaning that it does not apply to those already sentenced to death.

How they voted: Witkos (N), Kissel (N), Simanski (N)

Notes and quotes: Kissel, a former special public defender, said that he opposed the repeal of the death penalty for a number of reasons, not least of which was it removed a valuable chip in plea negotiations. Kissel noted the mastermind behind a triple homicide in Windsor Locks years ago was brought to justice because the hitman whom the mastermind hired was threatened with the death penalty.

Furthermore, Kissel called the prospective nature of the law “disingenuous,” because the 11 prisoners on death row will challenge their punishment under the Constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

Simanski noted that 70 percent of the residents in the state opposed the repeal of the law, but noted that with a Democratic governor and state legislature, “they can do whatever they want.”

“That’s not listening to the will of the people,” Simanski said. “That’s how the state of Connecticut is.”

Red Light Cameras

  • Law would have allowed cities of 40,000 residents or more to install cameras at intersections to catch moving violations

How they voted: the bill did not reach a vote

Notes and quotes: Among the criticisms of the bill was that it was nothing more than an effort to generate revenue through the issuing of more tickets.

Medical Marijauna

  • Allows for the certification of marijuana by doctors to patients with severe medical conditions such as AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis or epilepsy
  • Medical marijuana dispensed only by pharmacists with a special license

How they voted: Kissel (Y), Simanski (N), Witkos (Y)

Notes and quotes: Simanski said that he voted against the measure because it did not comport with federal law. “I can’t abide by that,” Simanski said. Still, he said that it was “a good bill,” crediting Kissel for many of the tight restrictions that separates Connecticut’s law from other states.

Witkos said that he supported the “narrowly tailored” measure and that legalizing marijuana for medical purposes is the direction things are going.

Furthermore, Kissel said that if there were problems with the way things were being handled, the legislature would step in and revisit the law.

Racial Profiling

  • Mandates that local and state law enforcement agencies adopt their own “written policy that prohibits the stopping, detention, or search of any person when such action is solely motivated by considerations of race, color, ethnicity, age or gender” and would constitute a violation of civil rights of the person.
  • Sets up reporting requirements for police whenever they conduct a traffic stop and creates a system for citizen complaints

How they voted: Simanski (Y), Kissel (Y), Witkos (N)

Notes and quotes: By voting no, Witkos said that he was not advocating racial profiling. Instead, as a recently retired police officer, he believes that there are several unintended consequences to the measure and could create a chilling effect on police officers pulling people over for legitimate purposes.

Questions from the Audience

Those in attendance had several questions, including the status of the busway project that is to be constructed from New Britain to Hartford. All three legislators expressed their disapproval of the project, with Kissel calling it a “boondoggle.”

“There’s no way to stop it,” Kissel said. “I hated it before and now that I know more about it, I hate it even more now.”

All three also said they voted against same-day voter registration.

“I was very frustrated that day,” Witkos said.

Kissel said that the measure could create an administrative nightmare for registrars of voters in small towns with limited resources.
“As a practical matter, it’s cumbersome,” he said.

In addition, Kissel said that it appeared to be a partisan measure, as people who register late tend to be Democrats.

He said a measure to allow people in the armed forces to vote electronically if they gave up their right to privacy was rejected. Kissel noted that people in the armed forces tend to support Republicans.

At the end of the meeting, they received an ovation from the crowd.

“I’m appreciative that you had this meeting,” West Granby resident Al Wilke said.