Connecticut legislators address top issues facing kids at Children’s Coalition panel [Middletown Press]

January 15, 2016

Article as it appeared in the Middletown Press

MIDDLETOWN >> A day after General Electric announced it was leaving the state, Middlesex County legislators offered insights into priorities and challenges expected in the coming legislative session to begin Feb. 3.

Panelists at the Thursday meeting of the Middlesex Coalition for Children included Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano; state Rep. Noreen Kokoruda, a member of the Children’s, Education and Appropriations Committees; and state Rep. Matt Lesser, also a member of the Appropriations Committee.

Themes included ongoing funding challenges at the state and local level, changing juvenile and criminal justice policies and ways to better maintain family stability in face of serious life challenges like arrests, foreclosure or unemployment.
“It’s going to be interesting year,” Kokoruda said to the group of 50 gathered at the deKoven House.

“In my mind, we will press bipartisan ways to resolve the 2017 deficit now, so it doesn’t become a burden later,” said Fasano. “The budget is a big issue.”

Statewide advocacy partners of the coalition also offered comments during the event, including the ACLU of Connecticut, End Hunger CT!, CT Early Childhood Alliance and CT Voices for Children.

The ACLU encourages all to attend Lobby Day at the state Capitol on March 23 from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. This is a day that groups, organizations and citizens can voice their opinions on issues, policies and programs they want to see continue.

“It’s helpful to know the impact of things on my constituents,” said Kokoruda. “When I press that button, I want to know everything that I can.”

Fasano believes that to strengthen the state, Connecticut needs strong cities.

“New Haven does OK, with lots of Yale money dumped in,” said Fasano. “When [the state] dumps money into the cities, the money is put into town hall. I bet 10 percent never makes it out for a variety of reasons.”

The state has “dumped half-a-billion into Hartford,” a city known informally as the “murder capital of New England” for its number of homicides every year.

The last figures available, for the week ending Dec. 12, indicate there were 31 murders during the year, a 106.7 percent increase over 2014, according to the city’s website.

“It’s egregious,” said Fasano, who suggested money would be better spent using “community budgeting,” a system also called participatory budgeting.

PB is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making and a type of participatory democracy that allows ordinary citizens to best allocate part of a municipal or public budget.

Kokoruda agreed with the proposed closing of Middletown’s detention unit, the Connecticut Juvenile Training School for delinquent boys, and a sister facility, Pueblo Unit, that houses girls. Both are run by the state Department of Children and Families.

“It’s right they are closing,” said Kokoruda, who met with the state’s child advocate and visited the Middletown training facility and Pueblo Unit. “It’s a dog-and-pony show.”

Connecticut needs to up its game to compete with neighboring states for business, according to Lesser.
“Losing General Electric is bad news for the state,” he said.

Other items on Lesser’s radar include policies to protect the homes of people in foreclosure, to protect rental units of tenants whose landlord is in foreclosure and to extend work on higher education, beyond the recently enacted Student’s Bill of Rights.

“No one should start life with a six-figure debt,” Lesser said.

The state ACLU it focusing efforts to strengthen families with two bills, one for bail reform and the other to “ban the box,” making it easier for convicts to get a job once they re-enter society.

“There are thousands of people in jail for no good reason,” said David McGuire, legislative and policy director for ACLU CT. “They just don’t have money for bail.”

“It’s important for everyone to make all the same noise as last year,” regarding programs and funds, advised Izzy Greenberg, executive director of the Middlesex Coalition for Children.

“The budget is frustrating every year,” said Lesser. “It’s a tough budget environment every year. There are trade-offs and tough decisions to make.”

The people have the power “to tell stories” of how they are affected by certain line items, he added.

“Often we ask, ‘Why was it cut?’ It’s because no one came out and fought for it.