Bolinsky Reflects On 2021 Legislative Accomplishments
Beginning today, The Newtown Bee will begin a series of reports sharing Newtown Delegation Members' Perspectives On Their Statehouse Work This Session.
Sitting down to speak with The Newtown Bee recently, State Representative Mitch Bolinsky (R-106) said his best legislative accomplishments of 2021 included helping secure support for EverWonder Children’s Museum, partnering with Newtown delegation members to secure a state grant for the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial, and shepherding a law into the books requiring back seat passengers to wear seat belts.
Bolinsky cited his marketing background and a willingness to work across the aisle for many of his accomplishments. As a member of the minority party in Hartford, Bolinsky said it was a matter of both practicality and necessity to engage in such bipartisan collaboration.
“I get done what I can by whatever means necessary,” said Bolinsky. “I’m proud of what I do because I’m never looking to hurt anyone; I’m just looking to do good things for people.”
Here is a look at some of the local lawmaker’s top accomplishments from the 2021 statehouse session:
Funding to assist EverWonder and other children’s museums. According to Bolinsky, children’s museums across the state have been struggling during the pandemic, as they have been unable to gain income from admissions or from camps during the past year. EverWonder of Newtown had been producing science kits to engage with children, not just through Zoom discussions but with follow-the-leader science projects, and were doing it “at a low cost,” Bolinsky said.
However, he said, he knew EverWonder was struggling to pay bills such as utilities, and the situation as likely to worsen after Governor Ned Lamont announced a proposal to make all state museum admissions free for children this summer.
“They had no revenue and no memberships,” said Bolinsky. “They were in desperate straits.”
So Bolinsky approached them to learn what EverWonder would need.
It turned out he local museum, which Bolinsky stated was “humble” in their request, asked for just enough to cover their utility bills and get through the summer.
He pointed out that nine other children’s museums across the state also needed help, so the lawmaker sought to utilize unused CARES act funds to assist all the affected museums.
In short order, a bill for $2.5 million was drafted, with $180,000 earmarked for EverWonder. The money was taken from unused funding for art in parks, he explained. And since funding would be in the form of a two-year grant, the museums would collectively receive another $2.5 million next year.
Bolinsky stated that EverWonder plans to use its grant money this year on operations and put next year’s grant toward its capital plan.
Since EverWonder, a 501(c)3 organization, was founded in January 2011 by a group of mothers, it has served over 6,000 visitors.
In April of 2015, EverWonder Children’s Museum opened in its current, permanent location. This new larger space enables it to provide additional exhibits and activities as well as dedicated space for birthday parties and field trips.
Funding for Sandy Hook memorial. Bolinsky said he helped secure $2.6 million in funding for the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial to help offset anticipated bonding to complete the facility memorializing those lost on 12/14.
Crediting fellow delegation member and State Rep Raghib Allie-Brennan (D-2), Bolinsky said he learned about a proposed memorial grant following conversations between Gov Lamont and Newtown First Selectman Dan Rosenthal. Bolinsky said Allie-Brennan facilitated the legislation with the support of House Speaker Thomas Ritter, and that the Second District lawmaker handled most of the legwork.
He said that the State of Connecticut has “always been good” to the town of Newtown in the aftermath of 12/14. “[Former Governor Dan] Malloy swore the state would do everything it could to make Newtown whole again,” Bolinsky said.
Seat belts. Bolinsky hailed the passage of a “life-saving” bill requiring back seat passengers in all applicable motor vehicles to buckle up. The lawmaker had proposed similar legislation during several previous sessions, but the effort never came to fruition.
“When it comes to being unbuckled in rear seats, particularly in larger vehicles, fatality rates are considerably higher for everyone in the vehicle, even buckled front-seat occupants,” said Bolinsky. “When crashes occur, back seat passengers that are not restrained can become human missiles. Not only do they have a greater risk of being ejected, but they often are thrown into buckled front-seat passengers, causing serious and sometimes fatal injuries.”
According to data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA), unbelted rear seat passengers are three times more likely to die than those who are buckled at the time of a serious impact.
Although Bolinsky has proposed this piece of legislation for several years, he said he was unwilling to give up on this common-sense opportunity to save lives. Over the years, many experts have testified in support of this legislative initiative.
In 2017, Newtown’s Dr Neil Chaudhary, CEO and traffic safety scientist from the Preusser Group, was Bolinsky’s guest and expert witness, providing research data on the impact of passengers not wearing seat belts in the back seat of a motor vehicle.
According to Chaudhary’s testimony, if the law governing the requirement that front seat passengers wearing seat belts were to be extended to also cover back seat passengers and usage rates in the front and back seats conformed, Connecticut would experience a 25% decrease in traffic-related fatalities.
Bolinsky added that under the Connecticut graduated license laws, teen operators are required to have front and back seat passengers buckled. However, upon turning 18 years of age, rear seat compliance was no longer a legal requirement.
This measure is widely supported by the likes of the NHTSA, the American Automobile Association, and the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
He credits its passing to a collaboration with State DOT Commissioner Joseph J. Giulietti, who agreed with the concept and included the measure as part of the annual Department of Transportation’s omnibus bill.
That tactic permitted the proposal to bypass various political channels to be eventually approved, Bolinsky added.
Support for students with dyslexia. Bolinsky supported a proposal to implement the recommendations of the Task Force to Analyze the Implementation of Laws Governing Dyslexia Instruction and Training. The legislation, HB 6517, received unanimous support in the House of Representatives.
“I am so grateful for the work of this task force, born of legislation that I introduced and pushed along with the support of the legislature’s Education Committee in the 2019 session,” said Bolinsky, who is a longtime member of the Education Committee. “That proposal resulted in Special Act 19-8.”
Now, thanks to the work of the Higher Education Committee and concurrence of the House and Senate, Bolinsky said the measure will be implemented and strengthened by the establishment of a state Office of Dyslexia and Reading Disabilities to formalize, enable, and enforce a robust program of early detection and proven educational supports.
“For students with dyslexia, effective early detection can keep them from falling behind,” he said. “It’s incredibly important to recognize that students with common dyslexia simply ‘learn differently’ and, with early intervention, can flourish.”
Calling the legislation a “game changer,” Bolinsky noted that more than 2,000 Connecticut students were diagnosed with dyslexia during the 2018-19 school year, and 80% of students identified as having learning disabilities have dyslexia.
“Learning to read is fundamental to educational success and this will benefit so many with improved training for teachers and a more structured literacy course of study,” Bolinsky said.
According to the task force, whose members testified in favor of the legislation, 15% to 20% of students display symptoms of dyslexia, and their teachers have not had the appropriate training in structured literacy.
“These kids are just as or even more creative as other kids,” said Bolinsky. “They just read backward.”
The initial outcome will see officials begin verifying whether existing teacher preparation programs are compliant with existing laws for dyslexia detection.
The bill requires the state Department of Education, by January 1, 2023, to provide guidance to local and regional boards of education about administering the approved reading assessments and makes changes to the assessments’ methodology for identifying these students.
Next week, learn how freshman State Representative Tony Scot (R-112) fared in his first General Assembly session.
Reporter Jim Taylor can be reached at email@example.com.