Candelora Focuses on Juvenile Justice Reform, Education and Crime Ahead of Legislative Session

State House Minority Leader Vince Candelora, R-North Branford (CT Examiner).


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As he gears up for next year’s legislative session, State House Minority Leader Vince Candelora, R-North Branford, said there’s much to be proud of, notably the biennial budget with a state income tax cut, which he said Republicans fought hard for. But he also said more must be done on crime, education and juvenile justice reform.

Candelora, 53, who is entering his ninth two-year term in the House, told CT Examiner on Friday that the GOP “led the fight to reduce the income tax” in the $51.1 billion state budget, approved in a bipartisan fashion and touted by Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont as “historic.”

The budget plan lowers the 5 percent tax rate to 4.5 percent and the 3 percent rate to 2 percent for 2024. About 1 million tax filers will benefit from the rate cuts, officials said. The benefits will be capped at $150,000 for single filers and $300,000 for joint filers. Middle- and working-class Connecticut residents should see savings between $300 and $500 in 2024, according to state officials.

The highest marginal tax rate remains at 6.99 percent.

Candelora said House and Senate Republicans will be watching to ensure that the fiscal guardrails set are kept in place. 

“I think [there needs to be] a continuation of balancing the budget and making sure that we are abiding by the fiscal guardrails that we’ve put in place,” Candelora said. “I think the constraints now, as we are seeing spending increases, makes for a temptation to sort of try and plow through some of those guardrails. I think we need to continue to create a budget that we live within our means to try to keep Connecticut more affordable.”

Candelora said another top priority for the short legislative session, which begins Feb. 7, was juvenile justice reform, noting that the pandemic had a negative impact on youth.

“There is the impact that COVID still has on our youth. We are seeing disengaged youth, chronic absenteeism and criminal activity,” he said. “I think our children have really been done a disservice by the state of Connecticut, and I would like to see us put some reforms in place that can bring them back and help support them as they continue to try to navigate the transition out of COVID.”

Specifically, Candelora said, there needs to be more support systems in place for youths.

“I think we’ve got to look at more programs of reengaging our youth by putting in more support services for children that need higher levels of care,” he said. “I think there are private providers out there that can help support them in the school system to make sure they succeed.”

He also said the state needs to look at mental health treatment and reforms to the Department of Children and Families. In addition to providing essential services — whether they be mental health treatment or proper clinical help — Candelora said police officers must be free to perform their duties.

“I think we’ve got to return consent searches to police officers and allow them to pursue vehicles,” he said. “Right now, they can’t as they are statutorily restricted. I think we need to let police officers sort of develop what best practices are, rather than trying to micromanage them, which is what the Democrats in the Legislature continue to do.”

He cited the recently enacted Police Accountability Act as part of the problem. The act — strongly supported by Lamont, most Democrats and numerous community groups — in some cases ties the hands of officers, Candelora said.

“I think 90 percent of it was OK, but there was 10 percent that wasn’t,” he said. “It has had a dramatic [negative] impact on our law enforcement and they will tell you that. It’s an issue that keeps getting pushed to the surface, no matter how hard the governor and the Democrats want to ignore it. They need to recognize that they don’t get things right all the time. I think that [act] was something that they got wrong.”

Candelora mentioned the recent phenomenon of so-called “street takeovers” by young people in vehicles, noting a recent incident in North Haven.

“They are making people afraid to go out of their homes. They are trapping people in their cars by blocking the streets,” he said. “Potentially, you could have huge ramifications if someone needs medical care. Their [officers] hands are tied. It puts them in a bad situation. And if we don’t get these things under control, the next step ends up being a military state. Do you want to start calling in the National Guard to have them come in and break up these takeovers?”

Candelora said being a small business owner and a part-time legislator, as opposed to some states where legislators work year-round, makes him more relatable to the public.

In addition to Taconic Wire, a manufacturing company, the Candelora family also owns Connecticut Sportsplex in the same building.

“I think having my businesses helps make me a better legislator and to stay connected to this community. It’s a nice balance,” he said. “I don’t operate in a vacuum like some people do. It brings a more practical side to politics.”

Other legislation

On the topic of education, Candelora strongly supports charter schools, tuition-free schools that are publicly funded but independently run.

In Connecticut, the state Department of Education approves charter schools but requires the assent of the state Legislature. Candelora pointed to Danbury, as an example — the department has approved a charter school for that city but the Legislature has yet to sign off on it. No charter school has opened in the state since 2015.

“I think we should have charter schools,” he said. “We are one of the few states in the country that have such a restrictive educational system where we don’t give people a choice. I think it really impacts the inner city kids. One size doesn’t fit all.”

On other issues, Candelora expressed dismay on several pieces of legislation — the Paid and Family Medical Leave program and the so-called One Fair Wage bill.

Candelora said the Paid and Family Medical Leave initiative, which the Legislature approved in 2019, is an example of the government unnecessarily taking money from working people.

“It’s taking a half of a percent out of everybody’s paycheck and, right now, is running a surplus of more than $600 million,” he said. “… In Connecticut, right now, we have another bureaucracy that is running a surplus and, in the end, we will have billions of dollars just sitting in a bank account. That’s your money, and if we don’t need it, we should be returning it.”

Candelora said the family leave program is here to stay but that he would have liked it run from a “private sector perspective.” 

Candelora also said he’d vote against a proposed wage bill that would mandate tipped workers receive the full state minimum wage. 

“I don’t have any waitstaff in my district coming up to me and saying, ‘Please take away my tips.’’’ Candelora said. “This is really being driven by outside forces from places like California [where the founder of the policy group One Fair Wage is from].”

Candelora said he’s had a cordial, and often productive, relationship with both Democratic House Speaker Matt Ritter and Lamont.

“There is a mutual respect for each other’s caucuses,” he said of Ritter. “There are times when we could work together on issues and support them, and there are times when we need to pull away from each other and we respect those differences.”

The governor, Candelora said, is someone that “answers his phone. And I appreciate that dialogue. I think in order for the two-party system to work, there needs to be recognition of the other party and to take their thoughts into consideration because we all represent the same people in Connecticut.”

Asked if he’d ever consider a run for governor, Candelora said, “I would keep all options on the table but, right now, I really enjoy the legislative work that I do.”

Candelora also discussed his political mentors and weighed in on the possible race for the White House between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

Candelora said his political mentor in Connecticut was the late Robert Ward, who he succeeded in the state House and who was also minority leader for many years.

“He was somebody that, as a kid, I remember him coming into my seventh-grade classroom and just talking about public service. It was something that piqued my interest. He was a great man, a statesman.”

Later, he said, Ward was one of the main reasons he got into politics. 

“I stayed in touch with him,” Candelora said. “I served on the [North Branford] council while he was our state representative and we worked on some projects for the council together.”

Candelora called Trump a “narcissist” and “unprincipled” and said a decision in 2024 between Biden and Trump would be a difficult one.

“I would have to see how it plays out,” Candelora said. “My hope is that neither one would be [a candidate]. Biden and Trump have so much baggage.”

Robert Storace

Robert Storace is a veteran reporter with stints at New Britain Herald, the New Haven Register, the Connecticut Post, Hartford Business Journal and the Connecticut Law Tribune. Storace covers the State Capitol for CT Examiner. T: 203 437 5950