Latest Legislative Session Leaves Rep Bolinsky With Some Wins, Some Losses
Looking back on the 2018 legislative session, Newtown's 106th District State Representative Mitch Bolinsky had mixed emotions.
While he was pleased about a relative windfall he helped deliver to the town's school district in the form of increased grants along with some unique constituent-driven accomplishments, the three-term incumbent Republican also saw some initiatives he was extremely passionate about either blocked by select general assembly leadership or die on the vine as time ran out, effectively nullifying any bills that were still active at midnight on May 9.
Sitting down recently withÃÂ The Newtown Bee, Rep Bolinsky figuratively reviewed the balance sheet that proved he was able to close out the latest session keeping Newtown in the black as far as state revenue is concerned.
"In the budget process, we found ourselves up $114,000 as a town," he said. "But I think the most important thing for the voters to consider is, our ECS [Educational Cost Sharing] went up $325,000. We're just up $114,000 net because we took about a $137,000 hit in the state economic development grants."
Another action he took to try and ensure that Newtown's ECS dollars are as protected as they could be was that he, along with a majority of his general assembly and state senate colleagues, moved new legislation that would protect ECS grants allocated to municipalities like Newtown from being cut by the executive branch.
The House Bill, An Act Prohibiting the Executive Branch from Making Rescissions or other Reductions to the Education Cost Sharing Grant During the Fiscal Year, was approved in the House by a final vote of 117-32.
Rep Bolinsky said just last year, the governor threw Newtown's elected local leaders and those from numerous other municipalities into a frenzy after stripping more than $7 million from the expected allocation before it was eventually restored.
The new legislation, which passed by a wide margin in the state senate, prohibits the governor from making any arbitrary cuts to ECS funds after towns and cities lock in their local budgets.
Additionally, it specifically exempts ECS aid grants from executive branch reductions to achieve General Fund budget savings, specifically for Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019.
Rep Bolinsky said he was very moved during testimony for a proposed bill that would add Holocaust and genocide education and awareness to the required courses of study for public schools in Connecticut. While the State Department of Education has made an optional course on these topics available to districts for years, not all schools have chosen to use it.
"We have a sacred obligation to the children in our state to educate them on the dangers of stereotyping people based on human constructs like race or religion," he said. "We must stand for the weak, teach our children to see the signs of persecution, and prepare them with the courage to act. This bill is a small step to ensure that we will never forget."
That bill was signed into law shortly after it received unanimous bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.
Good News, Bad News
Rep Bolinsky said he was thrilled to squeak in under the closing bell and get a constituent-driven change to a state provision accomplished.
The local lawmaker was inspired to seek a modification that would permit 16-year-olds to donate blood, provided they received parental permission, after being contacted by then Newtown High
School Senior Harry Eppers. In support of his ailing mother who was battling blood cancer, Harry organized a blood drive, only to learn that a number of 16-year-old friends and fellow students were prevented by law from donating blood. So he asked the local lawmaker to shepherd through a modification.
The effort did not progress without some drama, however.
"I couldn't get it called because of a union issue involving Red Cross nurses," he said. "So I approached the speaker of the house and asked for a favor on behalf of a kid in Newtown whose mom has cancer. And he not only called the bill, but he permitted me, as the only Republican this year, to bring the bill out. So I got to bring a bill out for the first time, and it passed 144 to 6."
Unfortunately, the effort subsequently stalled because it failed to make a senate deadline before adjournment. So Rep Bolinsky is already planning to bring that one back again in 2019.
Another bill Rep Bolinsky has felt very strongly about for the past three sessions - requiring rear seat passengers in all vehicles in the state to wear seat belts - was also apparently blocked from being called to a full vote by two legislative leaders who he said felt "you can't be telling people what to do in their cars."
"Mostly everybody thought it would be a great idea to save somewhere between three and five lives each year in Connecticut and join 30 other states that already require back seat passengers to buckle up, but it was killed each prior year by the chairs of the Transportation Committee," he recounted. "So this year, I took it through the Public Health Committee, and it sailed through."
After receiving a unanimous public health endorsement and a similar unanimous yes vote this session from the Transportation Committee, Rep Bolinsky felt it was a done deal. But when the bill was set to come up for a full vote, he said the Democratic "Transportation Co-Chair Tony Guerrera wouldn't let it get called."
"So here's a man who voted for it in committee, and then held up the bill," Rep Bolinsky lamented. "This was a decent and clean piece of legislation. So come heck or high water, it's going next year."
Rep Bolinsky said because of his "intimate involvement" with the process of a half dozen bills this session and getting them called, he "learned an awful lot about the politics of that place that I previously did not know."
He said in several cases, it was the power of lobbyists that prevented his bills from getting called for votes.
"The influence of those lobbyists is far worse than anybody thinks it is - it's frightening," the lawmaker said. "This is not why we elect people, to be influenced by lobbyists. There's a lot of stuff going on that is just not in the public's best interests."
On the bright side, Rep Bolinsky said he was able to sign onto a "little bill" on behalf of the Newtown-based Protect Our Pollinators group that will prohibit the residential applications of a specific type of mosquito treatment that he said, "is killing a lot more bees and butterflies than mosquitoes."
"I cosponsored that, and it passed the house and senate, so now we're just waiting for the governor's signature," he said.
Rep Bolinsky said he was happy to be able to "look every senior in the eye and tell them we were able to completely restore the Medicare savings program." He also helped pass some legislation on behalf of local teachers.
In one case, he supported successful legislation that maintained a 33 percent level of state funding for the teachers health care system, and another that rolled back a mandated increase in state teacher pension contributions that went into effect last session.
The local lawmaker said he was very disappointed to see a GOP proposal to use a one-time tax revenue infusion this year to pay down state debt fall by the wayside, but he was able to support the restoration of $10 million to a statewide energy fund that helps underwrite things like home energy audits and solar installations.
Rep Bolinsky said he worked hard learning about and supporting a number of bills related to addressing sexual harassment, and eliminating the statute of limitations for reporting incidents of it. He also pushed for legislation that would set mandatory deadlines for state officials to provide DNA analysis of criminal rape kits used to gather evidence following reported sexual assaults.
"I also promoted a sex predator registry and an animal abuse registry this year," Rep Bolinsky said. The sexual predator list, in a watered down form, eventually passed within a committee bill, and the animal abuse registry passed on its own merits.
From a higher level, Rep Bolinsky said he is happy to see the public is getting the message that Connecticut needs to make some structural changes in order for the state to stay sustainable.
"People are seeing that we have to reinvent the way the state does business," he said. "If we don't, there is no future. We can't continue to be the state with the 49th strongest economy, with negative population growth."
A list of all the 2018 legislation Rep Bolinsky supported can be reviewedÃÂ by clicking here.
Change Text Size: