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State Senator And State Representative Deliver 2024 Legislative Session Update To Newtown Community



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State Senator Tony Hwang and State Representative Mitch Bolinsky hosted a Legislative Community Update on Saturday, June 15, at Newtown Senior Center. The event served as an opportunity for residents to ask questions about the state legislature’s past session and discuss legislative priorities, achievements, and new laws with their elected representatives.

Hwang noted that one of their biggest accomplishments was “putting their money where their mouth is related to seniors” and that they “did an incredible, comprehensive bill that was a compilation of over ten years of projects, analysis, and proposals.”

Bolinsky continued from there, saying Governor Ned Lamont dedicated House Bill 5046 to putting in significant quality of life reforms to nursing care, nursing homes, and rehabilitation facilities. He added that Speaker of the House Matt Ritter saw what they were doing with aging in place, and worked with them to create House Bill 5001.

House Bill 5001, now Public Act 24-39 (An Act Supporting Connecticut Seniors And The Improvement Of Nursing And Home-Based Care), expedites Medicaid coverage for home-based care to let seniors age in place. It improves standards regarding home community, home-based care, and also to empower the ombudsman role.

It also allows home and family caregivers to get additional training and be reimbursed for their time and services. Hwang and Bolinsky both said this part of the bill was “very controversial,” Bolinsky noting it was removed from the bill on four different occasions and was repeatedly fought for every time.

PA 24-39 is in the process of rolling out beginning July 1, Bolinsky saying that this and House Bill 5046 were “his lifetime’s work.”

“The only way that I can describe this to you is to say that it’s transformational legislation,” Bolinsky continued. “We have transformed life and aging for the 26% of Newtown residents over the age of 60. AARP has already acknowledged to us that what was once the 40th best state in the country for retirees from a quality of life perspective will jump to number three in 2025 with the advent of this change and in the delivery of care and development of workforce.”

They also discussed the legislature that created a property tax exemption for veterans who have a permanent and total disability rating from the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Beginning with the 2024 assessment year and first applicable to tax bills due July 1, 2025, the law requires municipalities to fully exempt a primary residence or motor vehicle for each of these veterans. To qualify, veterans have to file for the exemption with their town assessor.

Hwang also outlined their commitment made to Connecticut taxpayers to “live within our fiscal guardrails,” which Hwang said is in regards to bonding as well as appropriation spending.

Hwang said there was a controversy on the budget correction this budget session using federal COVID ARPA money to supplement some of those costs in three particular areas: one to support nonprofits, another in the area of education and higher education, and the third to shore up various programs that came through appropriations.

Hwang gave measures, stressing that these were broad numbers, that they had about $350-400 million of ARPA funds to distribute. With a nearly over $1.5 billion “really critical ask” for nonprofits and agencies that needed critical services, the state senator said they had to do some diligent prioritizing and defining how they spend money living within means.

As the ranking leader on the Transportation Committee, Hwang said he also looked to improve transportation infrastructure and pushed for transparency from the Department of Transportation. One bill Hwang said he had strong input on was to require the DOT to “publicly prioritize and notice the projects of allocations and priorities.” He said this would prod the DOT to place their priority projects and show what projects are at the forefront of priorities on money allocation.

Another aspect of transportation Hwang focused on was traffic safety. One factor is impairment, specifically drunk driving as well as driving under the influence of marijuana and other substances, as Hwang noted driving fatalities have increased over 500% in the last three years, with 98% of those fatalities the result of impaired drivers.

He also focused on roadway safety measures. To that end, they enforced wrong-way driving safety by ensuring the introduction of new technology and protocols such as an electronic sensor system to alert drivers if they enter the wrong way on the highway. The last factor Hwang said they focused on was better roadway design, before finishing his segment by saying that he strives to keep the community informed.

“Make no mistake, we’re not gonna be able to do everything that makes everyone happy. That’s part of the challenge of lawmaking,” Hwang said. “But I think for both Mitch and myself, the experience we had and the relationships we’ve been able to build matters. It matters in our ability to represent our community.”

Hwang then gave the floor over to Bolinsky, who said he was comparatively “a little less enamored with what we accomplished at this particular session” and that they did a lot of good things, but there were a lot of missed opportunities.

He went on to talk about how the state for the fifth straight year ended in the black, expressing concern from a budgetary standpoint that there was no budget adjustment done formally. Instead, Bolinsky said that it was moved off the balance sheet. Down the road, he says that the unintended consequence of working off a balance sheet with money partially from ARPA funds is that that money was put into permanent spending, but will not reoccur as revenue next year.

His concern is that while the state had a balanced budget for 2024 and will end the year on a balanced budget, the state’s output revenues are down “just a little bit” and is projected to be in the red come early August. While Bolinsky said this usually is not a problem since revenues fluctuate, when they go to session in 2025 and work on a new two-year budget, it is estimated that they could be $800 million to $1 billion in deficit, “which is going to create some really serious challenges as far as what we pay for and the hard choices we have to make.”

“[Budgeting] is a matter of promise to what’s important to us as citizens,” Bolinsky continued. “Keeping it in the black and keeping the fiscal health of Connecticut in the positive, where we can invest in our people, in our workforce, in programs to stimulate solutions to a housing crisis or a workforce shortage; all of that stuff lives and dies with the ability of us to maintain a surplus in our budget.”

Bolinsky said Newtown had a good year, and that they brought in an extra $3.5 million for indoor air quality and HVAC work at the schools. There will also be an official announcement in the coming weeks for a $100,000 grant to go to senior transportation, which is being worked on by Social Services and Friends of Newtown Seniors.

Bolinsky did, however, express disappointment that he could not fulfill one of his goals of achieving full funding on special education cost-sharing, adding that he will “continue to fight the special education fight.”

The event was then opened up for public participation. Attendees asked about the 100% property tax exemption for fully disabled veterans, and development discussions for 6 Commerce Road and Rochambeau Trail, among other local topics.


Reporter Jenna Visca can be reached at jenna@thebee.com.

State Senator Tony Hwang (left) and State Representative Mitch Bolinsky were at Newtown Senior Center on June 15, when they hosted their 2024 Legislative Session update for the Newtown community. —Bee Photo, Visca
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