HARTFORD – Connecticut’s highest-ranking Republican state representative says his party will use the upcoming legislative session to address what he calls widespread government failure on issues ranging from the economy to COVID-19 and the spike in crime being committed by youth.
House Leader Vincent Candelora lists a firmer response to a recent surge in juvenile crime as his top priority for the February-through-May session of the General Assembly, and has held public forums around the state to learn residents’ concerns.
“We’re hearing from a lot of people who are afraid,” said Candelora, who represents his hometown of North Branford, as well as Durham, Guilford, and Wallingford. “We have a criminal justice system that doesn’t provide any accountability for juveniles when they commit crimes and we’d like to restore some of that. If a child doesn’t have consequences for their actions they wind up in a bad place as an adult.”
Republicans, who hold minorities in both the House and Senate, have for months been pushing for stricter handling and punishment of young offenders in response to a series of crimes involving teenagers, including car thefts and robberies and threats against schools.
Candelora said he agrees with Democrats that more mental health intervention services are needed to help address the root of the problem, but said that doesn’t mean more shouldn’t be done on the criminal-justice end.
“I think the two issues are distinct,” he said, listing mandatory fingerprinting, overnight court arraignments and GPS monitoring as among the measures he would support, as well as creating a victim’s fund to help compensate those, for example, whose car or other property is stolen.
“The things that we don’t talk about are that these liberal policies are putting people in financial straits. If the Democrats want to continue to ignore crime on the front end they need to compensate victims on the back end.”
Candelora, elected to his eighth term in 2020, said he also would like to explore reopening the state Connecticut Juvenile Training School detention facility in Middletown that was closed in 2018.
“We need to have a conversation about that building,” he said of the facility designed to hold more than 200 detainees. “We’re still paying for it to be operated and it’s vacant.”
The jump in juvenile crime has been at least partly tied by many to the stresses of social isolation and other behavioral changes brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Candelora said one step toward addressing that would be to loosen masking and distancing requirements in schools, where he said students are routinely quarantined away from their classmates if they are identified through contact-tracing as possibly being exposed to an infected person.
“We are spiraling downward in our school districts because of all these onerous restrictions,” he said. “The quarantining needs to stop. I just don’t understand why we continue to shackle our children when the evidence shows that they are not very effective spreaders,” of the virus. “Society isn’t buying it, so government needs to give up the ghost on this.”
Another fallout of the quarantining policy, Candelora said, is the amount of time that teachers and school administrators have to spend documenting such cases.
“There is just a litany of paperwork,” he said. “If 60 kids are at a birthday party where they suspect someone was positive they have to contact all those 60 kids. “We know our schools are already short-staff and they’re being distracted by government bureaucracy and paperwork while other things are falling by the wayside.”
That misguided approach extends to the continued closure of most of the State Capitol complex to public access, he said, which has reduced scrutiny of business being done there.
“There is a level of inadvertent secrecy that is happening,” Candelora said. “People can go to restaurants and movies but they can’t come to the Capitol? We’re shut down as if it’s still March of 2020. It’s one building that needs to be transparent and it’s not following the science.”
Candelora said Republicans in the House also will be focused on ways to strengthen the state’s economy, whose weakness he says is being obscured by stock market gains that have produced huge tax revenues for the state.
“What’s happening on Wall Street is glossing over what we’re seeing on Main Street and it’s not helping the everyday residents of Connecticut,” he said. “Connecticut is still a very unaffordable state.”