This session, the legislature worked in direct response to the unprecedented events related to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Education Committee, of which I serve as Ranking Member, was especially concerned with understanding how the pandemic affected school-aged children both academically and emotionally across our state. A concerted effort was made to address the social emotional needs of our students.
The Aging and Human Services and Public Health Committees put forth legislation that will assist nursing home residents and their families to connect easier through in-person and virtual visits. The Public Health Committee took on opioid addiction and treatment and the Judiciary Committee tackled the incredibly important issues of domestic violence, coercive control, incarceration and criminal record erasure. Of course, there were also days spent in lengthy debate regarding the “casino bill” (HB 6451), the state budget (HB 6689) and recreational cannabis (SB 1201). As a member of the Appropriations Committee, and as a strong advocate for a no tax increase budget, I was able to vote in favor of the state budget.
The legislature passed several measures that deal with providing extra and targeted support for students, mental health resources, parental notification regarding child care center staffing, data collection to improve academic outcomes, and more. I am proud of the work that the Education Committee was able to accomplish in a bipartisan manner for the betterment of all of Connecticut’s students
.Some of the legislation that I supported that passed out of the House this session included House Bill 6509 which requires the state to develop a plan to promote access to mental health services for children in areas that do not have access to a school-based health center. House Bill 6558 enacts the recommendations from the Office of Early Childhood. It expands access to Care4Kids subsidies and allows the Commissioner to grant licenses to family child care home licenses. The proposal requires substitute teachers to have a background check, and also requires parents be notified if a substitute staff member will be working at a child care center. I also supported HB 6399 to allow national Youth Risk Behavior Survey data collected by the Centers for Disease Control to be used by the state to develop policies to keep our youth safe.
I introduced a bill to create a task force to review all special education services, identification and special education funding that was included in the Education Committee’s proposals in HB 6621. That bill also included more social emotional supports, professional development and training for teachers, and a requirement that School Resource Officers complete specific training on social emotional learning.
The bill also requests that the State Department of Education develop a plan for virtual planning. I heard loud and clear from teachers that the delivery of instruction simultaneously in remote and in-person by a single teacher is unacceptable. The State Department of Education bill – SB 945 – contained a measure that I proposed to protect special education students and their admission into technical and career schools; legislation that the Children’s Advocacy Center and the CT ARC worked with me collaboratively for several years to get passed.
I am pleased to note that Governor Lamont signed into law an extension to telehealth services that were originally enacted due to the pandemic. Providing these much-needed services is essential to getting Connecticut residents, especially our seniors, back to normal as quickly as possible. Not everyone has access to a computer, so one concept I introduced to allow for audio calls -traditional phone calls without video – to be used during telehealth visits was included in HB 6470.
The pandemic also shined a spotlight on an issue I have been personally involved with for many years and I am happy that we were finally able to pass legislation – HB 6552 – to allow nursing home residents and their families to be able to use video cameras or audio technology for safety and security and to communicate easier. Similarly, HB 6634 creates a state-wide visitation policy for residents of long-term care facilities that will allow a designated emotional support person access even when other stringent visitor restrictions apply. More work needs to be done going forward to create a true Essential Caregiver program in our state.
SB 975 establishes a Bill of Rights for long-term care residents. It was imperative to establish standards to ensure that our seniors and those in assisted living facilities are not isolated from loved ones even during times of confinement such as we experienced during the pandemic.
Another measure I worked diligently on with my colleagues in the Public Health Committee was the “opioid bill” – HB 5597 – taken from my proposal, which establishes a pilot program to expand the peer navigator program throughout the state. The state pilot plan will mirror the successful New London Cares project. It requires participating municipalities to send peer navigators out to address the health care and social needs of people with opioid use disorder. The peer navigators will also receive updated training on non-coercive and non-stigmatizing methods for engaging people with opioid use disorder. This important new program would not have been possible without the dedicated and considerable efforts of former State Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein and Kelly Thompson from the Alliance for Living.
One bill that I am extremely grateful to the Government Administration and Elections Committee for raising is HB 6652. I introduced a provision to recognize May 13th as Xeroderma Pigmentosum awareness day in honor of my constituent Fatima Perez who has been battling this rare genetic skin disorder all of her life.
Fatima, who is legally blind and who cannot be exposed to any ultra violet rays from the sun because of the disease, has created a non-profit organization Groupo Luz de Esperanza to build worldwide awareness of this devastating disease.
To say I am appreciative with what we were able to accomplish during this unprecedented session is an understatement. I am tremendously thankful to the people who braved the new online system and waited patiently to make their voices heard at virtual hearings, and to the advocates, caregivers, commissioners, committee chairs and other stakeholders who worked tirelessly to help the legislature craft good policy that will truly help the people of Connecticut.
In conclusion, there were a few very difficult votes for me. Recently, I was unable to support the Implementer bill as there were too many provisions that did not have a full vetting and that were detrimental to my district. I also voted no on the cannabis bill as I have concerns about the adverse impact of cannabis on the developing brains of our teenagers. Irrefragable research states that the brain is not fully developed until the age of 25. The cannabis legislation will not protect the mental and physical health of our youth. I will look forward to more work on improving this legislation in a future session.
State Rep. Kathleen McCarty
38th District, R-Waterford