Wednesday, December 19, 2012

God Bless You, Caroline Phoebe Previdi

I just left the Funeral Mass for Caroline Phoebe Previdi, age 6. Caroline was a first grader at Sandy Hook Elementary School and died tragically with twenty-six other victims at the hands of a madman. Last Friday was a day that broke our hearts in America.

I never met Caroline but her great-grandparents, Eugene and Phoebe Previdi, were special people in my life. Papa Gene was my first boss at age fourteen when he handed me a broom and told me to sweep a huge parking lot on a very hot summer day. I’ll never forget those blisters. I didn’t know then how Papa Gene’s lessons would impact my work ethic for many years to come. Aunt Phoebe was a gentle saint who always told me Papa Gene didn’t really mean the harsh things he said to get me to focus on my job.

Caroline Phoebe Previdi, her family, classmates and the Newtown community paid a huge price for a madman’s terror. I hope and pray this heavy price produces changes in America.

We must begin the debate – a civil discourse – about violence in America. Why do we accept violence in our culture with pre-teens becoming proficient in extremely violent video games and Hollywood releasing movies of carnage on Christmas Day. Why is New Haven considered the fourth most dangerous city in America?

I am a firm defender of the Second Amendment and believe many of the comments in the past several days about changing gun laws have been inaccurate and sometimes misleading. Yes, I agree we should look carefully at our laws – both state and federal – in the upcoming legislative sessions in Hartford and Washington. A civil discourse will be far more productive in finding solutions.

Earlier this year I began studying Connecticut’s assault weapons ban to better understand how our state has some of the strongest gun control regulations in the country.  The state legislature enacted the ban in 1993. Congress passed a 10-year federal ban in 1994. Efforts to renew the federal ban have been proposed a number of times unsuccessfully.

I discovered a loophole in Connecticut’s assault weapons ban during my research and plan to submit a bill that seeks to correct the deficiency. Weapons manufactured prior to the ban may be dismantled to recycle the part containing the gun’s serial number and rebuilt with modern parts that would otherwise fall under the existing assault weapons ban.

Let me be perfectly clear about the assault weapons ban – it will not stop the classroom carnage visited upon Sandy Hook. The madman’s weapon is not classified as an assault weapon. Should we study that classification during our upcoming civil discourse? Yes. Should we review the size of ammo magazines and consider the former federal limitations be enacted in Connecticut? Yes. Should we honor the Second Amendment during our deliberations? Absolutely!

The serious problem with the gun control debate in light of the Sandy Hook tragedy is the absence of debating mental health in America. We must not seriously consider gun control without acknowledging the inadequacies of mental health policy in our country.

We have witnessed an alarming pattern with shooting rampages of overwhelming evidence of insufficient or un-prioritized mental health treatment for deeply troubled young men turned murderers. How can our country keep turning a blind eye to this healthcare tragedy? A civil discourse on this topic will tell us how to fix the challenges of access to mental health services and begin to address the stigma within our society that forces patients and their families to hide their affliction.

A third area for debate is school security. Surely much has improved in this area as evidenced by lockdown procedures that clearly saved lives in Sandy Hook. Can we improve? Yes and we may be able to make substantial improvements without breaking the bank. Once again a civil discourse will be far more productive in finding solutions.

In honor of Caroline Phoebe Previdi I am stepping out in search for workable changes to keep our schools safe. Papa Gene and Aunt Phoebe produced a very special family and I’m sure Caroline Phoebe Previdi’s parents and grandparents will be holding us all accountable in the legislature to make a difference with a bi-partisan approach to help stop a repeat of this terrible tragedy.

God Bless you, Caroline Phoebe Previdi.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Broken Hearts in America

Our hearts are broken in Connecticut and across America. No words can explain the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Now is the time for prayer – prayers for the victims and their families and prayers for the Newtown community that they may begin the steps of healing.
Many people have asked me, “What can I do to help?” My first first answer is prayer. Those who wish to directly support the families may contribute here:
Sandy Hook School Support Fund
c/o Newtown Savings Bank
39 Main Street, Newtown, CT 06470

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Stop the Release of Violent Felons From CT Prisons

Should a repeat violent felon be eligible for early prison release credits?

Should an individual who has been convicted not once, not twice, but three or more times of violent crimes be able to see his sentence reduced by weeks, months and years simply by obeying prison rules?

Many of you will be shocked and angered to know that the answer to those questions is “yes”, and it’s because of a new Connecticut law.

I was a staunch opponent of the bill when it was rushed through the state senate chamber last year. Anyone who read the bill could see that this legislation enabled the worst of the worst criminals – rapists, arsonists, child molesters, and animal abusers – to get substantial time taken off their prison sentences. Violent offenders would soon hit the streets and re-enter our communities, we warned. Public safety would be jeopardized.

Republicans were outvoted, and the bill became law. Hundreds of Connecticut prisoners were released every month, beginning last September. In June, a Meriden convenience store owner – an immigrant from Jordan named Ibrahim Ghazal – was shot and killed. The accused murderer had received nearly six months’ worth of early release time.

What happened in Meriden was a tragedy. The program which enabled Mr. Ghazal’s alleged assailant to get out of jail early needs to be fixed so that we can prevent future tragedies. As a member of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, I participated in a Sept. 18 informational hearing to look for answers to some serious questions.

The state’s independent, non-partisan victim advocate provided those answers. She provided legislators with example after example of violent criminals who have been released early over the past year. More than 33 % of these criminals have been re-arrested or re-incarcerated in the past 10 months. That recidivism rate, Ms. Cruz warned, will only grow higher and higher as time goes by and hundreds of inmates are let out early each month..

Public safety should be a non-partisan issue. We all want our communities to be as safe as they can be. But as I continue to work to get this misguided law suspended for violent offenders, it has occurred to me just how far apart Republicans and Democrats are on this issue. Consider the example above of the three-time violent offender. In recent years, Republicans and I have called for a “Three Strikes” law in Connecticut which would bring a lifetime prison sentence for those who receive their third conviction for a violent offense like a home invasion. Current law in Connecticut would allow that same three strikes felon – someone who has compiled a scary history of violent crimes - to be considered for early prison release. The difference between Republicans and Democrats on the issue of violent crime is both dramatic and stark.

I want the public to know that I will continue to put the victims and their families above the violent criminals. What is taking place in Connecticut right now is a smack in the face to victims. I will not stop fighting for them, and I will not relent in my efforts to get the governor and the legislature to rethink this dangerous new state law and to suspend it immediately. If you agree with me, you can help me by signing my online petition at .

Friday, August 31, 2012

Common Sense is Missing from Connecticut State Government

If you are in search of common sense decision-making these days, you may want to steer clear of the State Capitol in Hartford. Here are a few examples of why I feel Connecticut state government is on the wrong track.

Exhibit A is the new Connecticut law which allows violent felons to get weeks, months, and even years taken off their prison sentences. The measure became law even though Republicans warned it would enable rapists, arsonists, child molesters and animal abusers to become eligible for early prison release under the new Risk Reduction Earned Credits program. Now, we are seeing this law's impact. On June 27, a Meriden small business owner was killed at his convenience store. The man arrested for that murder was able to earn 199 days of risk reduction credits while serving time for a robbery conviction. Then, on August 25, an East Hartford convenience store employee was killed while working at the store. The man arrested for that murder was able to earn risk reduction credits while in prison earlier this year.

In an attempt to fix this policy, I have called for an immediate suspension of the program in order to review its treatment of violent felons. (My online petition to generate support for this initiative can be signed at .) The architects of the flawed law, unfortunately, continue to defend it. They blame the police, prosecutors and judges for enabling the bad guys to slip through the cracks. The “system” is to blame, they say, even though they were the ones who have just made the system less safe. The policy will not be reviewed or changed. Instead, the governor will stick with it, hoping and praying – along with the rest of us – that the next murder or rape is not the result of an early release. We can all expect the finger-pointing to continue with each new violent crime.

Exhibit B is the $567 million, $1,000-an-inch taxpayer-funded New Britain to Hartford Busway. We are all aware of multiple state roads which need improvements. For many greater Danbury and Waterbury area residents, the jammed up stretches on Interstates 84 and 95 rank high among priority areas in need of attention. Yet to build the busway, the state is diverting money from road and bridge repair projects around the state. Wouldn't a better solution be to spend the busway funds on these pressing projects instead? I have not met a single person in western Connecticut who supports the busway project. That's why I backed a common sense motion to stop funding the busway and to redistribute that money for other transportation needs. That bid failed in the State Senate, so the busway continues to run full steam ahead.

Exhibit C is overall state spending. As any family knows, you can’t spend more than you take in. This spring, I backed a plan which took aim and waste and fraud in government and cut spending by hundreds of millions of dollars. For example, isn't it time the state put an end to longevity bonuses for state employees? Many taxpayers may be shocked to learn that their state government issues these bonuses twice a year to thousands of employees - the next round of checks will be sent out in October - yet the bonuses have nothing to do with job performance. While focusing on eliminating wasteful spending like these non-merit-based bonuses, Republicans and I also pushed to increase the state’s property tax credit and to exempt clothing and prescription drugs below $50 from the state sales tax.

Our proposal was rejected. Instead, our state government is spending your money faster than it collects. Spending was actually raised by $1 billion in the most recent budget. That spending has resulted in a budget deficit even though your taxes were just raised by record amounts last year. Connecticut now has the third highest state and local tax burden in the country and all that spending has put us in deep debt. How deep? $5,569 for every man, woman and child in Connecticut. Our credit card is maxed out, yet the borrowing continues in earnest. Last month, the state essentially wrote a $115 million check and handed it over to the largest hedge fund in the world so that it would stay in Connecticut. The hedge fund’s owner earned a $3.9 billion salary last year. That's "billion" with a "b." Wall Street wins, while Main Street loses.

The priorities in Hartford are misguided. The policies being passed at the State Capitol are hurting working families and endangering public safety throughout Connecticut. I will not stop fighting against measures which fly in the face of common sense, and I will continue to reach across the political aisle to try to arrive at common ground with fellow legislators. Maybe my persistence will pay off and some of my colleagues' positions on these crucial issues will start to evolve. But maybe not.

For those who share my frustrations about Exhibits A, B and C, consider this: Sometimes, when you can't change the minds of the folks who are in charge, you just have to replace them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Democrats’ Candy Store at the State Capitol

A special session of the Connecticut General Assembly convened today just a month after we adjourned the regular session. Sounds mundane to most people outside the Capitol until they hear what’s really happening here.

The legislature is normally scheduled to meet February 8th to May 9th this year. Nearly 4,000 bills were submitted at the beginning of the regular session but less than 400 of these bills were approved by both houses of the legislature by the deadline on May 9th.

Bills that failed to make it across the finish line are often introduced again in future years – sometimes taking several attempts to make it across the finish line. This is a good process because the vetting process identifies weaknesses in legislative ideas and improves them before final approval. Bad ideas are hopefully weeded out by this process.

Today we have a “special session within a special session.” Archaic legislative rules allow the majority Democratic Party legislative leaders to sidestep the regular legislative process by taking a ride to the “candy store” today. We have before us 658 pages of legislation to vote on with only a few hours to research. Nearly one-hundred bills that didn’t make it across the finish line are back on the table. In addition, many initiatives before us now never saw the light of day before today.

Why would Democratic Party legislators claim transparency in everything they do at the Capitol but be so sneaky with a “special session within a special session?” The candy store is the reason. Load up everything you couldn’t get across the finish line in the bright light of a regular legislative session with public hearings and committee meetings and jam it into a special session within a special session.

My bosses – the voters of the 24th Senate District expect me to seek input on legislation before voting. When the Democrats “turn the lights off” at the State Capitol for their “special session within a special session” to ramrod legislation in the dark they are ignoring our constituents.

My vote today is a firm NO.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Enough to Give You an Upset Stomach

The “shenanigans” with state bonds are “enough to make you vomit.”

So says a now-retired State of Connecticut employee who oversaw bond-funded grants from the Department of Social Services for 19 years.

That statement should give us all pause.

State bonds are the state’s credit card. Just about every month, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy leads a meeting of the State Bond Commission to discuss which projects to put on that credit card. Most of these are low profile capital projects like school construction and road and bridge repair. Others are more high profile projects that raise taxpayers’ eyebrows, such as the $600 million New Britain to Hartford Busway.

Still others are what are called “pork” projects. One of those pork projects recently made many, including that retired state employee, feel sick to their stomachs.

What was it?

  • $300,000 for the New Haven People’s Center, an organization run by officials in the Connecticut chapter of the Communist Party USA.
The fact that your tax dollars are slated to help fix the roof at the Connecticut chapter of the Communist Party USA is odd enough, but even more peculiar is that state agencies do not have any documentation about the organization or the request for the $300,000.

So what’s going on?

Taxpayers, what we have here is an iconic example of an earmark. It reveals how your state government allocates money in a frivolous way.

  • This money for the Connecticut chapter of the Communist Party was not run through the normal process of vetting.
  • The People’s Center’s finances were not reviewed.
  • The project was never weighed against other projects.
  • It is not clear who exactly will have oversight of the state funds if they are approved.  
The good news – if there is any in this tale - is that this money hasn’t been approved yet. The good news is that this information is now out in the open before it can be quietly approved.

The next bond commission meeting is June 4.

Between now and then, I will continue to ask the following questions:

  • Why is this group getting our taxpayer money?
  • Doesn’t the state have thousands of better ways to spend this money?
  • Why doesn’t this group provide their own money for the repairs, via traditional fundraisers?
  • Why should your tax dollars be used to fund the roof repair of any political party? No party should get state funding.  
Shenanigans indeed. I hope this story did not create too much nausea out there, but I feel it is an instructive one. We need to send people to Hartford who value the taxpayers. In the meantime, I promise you that I will continue to fight for better accountability with your money.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Nightmare at the State Capitol

Maturity is absent at the State Capitol two days before the 2012 legislative session crashes to an end. Governor Malloy and Democratic majority leaders released their education reform "compromise" at a 10pm press conference. No Republicans present.

The 185-page education reform bill was released to the minority Republican legislators at Midnight. Ninety minutes later debate began.

The Democratic majority leadership and Governor Malloy should be ashamed of themselves. Claiming victory by crafting such important legislation in a back-room vacuum is disgraceful!

I will listen intently to the debate and study the bill. Unfortunately, I can't get feedback from my constituents at 2am. The only opinions I can enlist at this time are the lobbyists and special interest advocates. Though I value their opinion and information on legislation I always rely on feedback from residents in my district - my bosses - before voting on such important legislation.

My bosses are sleeping right now. This feels like a nightmare at the State Capitol.

Without reasonable input from the people most impacted by this proposal the Democrats are asking legislators to "fly blind" on a vote. I don't fly blind.

When will this irresponsible, one-sided legislative process end? When will the voters hold the Connecticut General Assembly accountable for acting without listening to our constituents?

Education reform is not the real story for the 2012 legislative session. The real story is an abhorrent legislative process driven by the majority Democratic leaders. Politics at its worst.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Connecticut Highest in Taxes AGAIN!

How ironic that May 5th is Tax Freedom Day® in Connecticut. Tax Freedom Day measures how long Americans work to earn enough money to pay this year's tax obligations at the federal, state and local levels. Connecticut is the last state to reach Tax Freedom Day this year!

The real irony is that Governor Malloy and the Democrats' largest tax increase in the history of the State of Connecticut has still generated a deficit of $280 million! Tax Freedom Day for Connecticut residents next year will come even later in the calendar after this massive tax increase is considered.

Governor Malloy and the Democratic majority leadership in the Connecticut General Assembly are completely disconnected from the reality of our struggling residents and businesses. Everyone outside of government cut spending in their budgets to match their decreased earnings. Connecticut Democrats refuse to make the difficult decisions to reform our state government and cut spending.

Who would’ve guessed Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey would ever be more competitive than Connecticut? I hope Nutmeggers will wake up and demand change!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Lifesaving Initiative for Infants

The Connecticut State Senate approved Senate Bill 56 tonight - An Act Concerning Pulse Oximetry Screening for Newborn Infants. This is a priority of my constituent, Marie Hatcher, the proud mother of Mathew.

Marie Hatcher is a special lady with amazing persistence. Marie discovered that congenital heart defects are sometimes undiagnosed in newborn babies. Thankfully, that was not the case with her son Matthew but discovered during pregnancy. Matthew has experienced a lifetime of doctors and hospitals in his short life and thankfully he is getting the very best medical care for his heart defect.

Unfortunately, many cases of congenital heart defects in babies are not recognized until after an emergency health event or even death. Pulse oximetry screening is the current technology to identify defects at birth and the cost is only ten dollars ($10) per newborn. Marie thought this was a travesty and should be corrected so she contacted me to ask for my support of legislation mandating the screening.

Fast-forward to tonight and another positive step in the legislative process. The unanimous vote in the Senate moves the bill to the House for approval and hopefully on to the Governor for his signature.

Matthew's Hearts of Hope is the non-profit organization organized by Marie Hatcher to advance the cause of heart defect screening. Please consider supporting this worthwhile effort and say a prayer for Matthew.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Democrats' Constitutional Loopholes?

A year ago I supported a bill which sought to fully implement Connecticut's Constitutional Expenditure Cap of 1991 by enacting definitions. Unfortunately, the bill last year died in committee, as similar efforts of mine met a similar fate in two prior years.

Connecticut’s spending cap is guided by the State Constitution as well as General Statutes. The statute was a part of the income tax compromise of 1991, which looked to generate about $1 billion in new taxes for the state. To assure that the state would not engage in runaway spending, the General Assembly passed, and then the electorate ratified, the Constitutional Expenditure Cap.

The cap limits the allowable growth in appropriations by the state to no more than the greater of either the five year average growth in personal income, or the most recent calendar year’s increase in inflation.

Since the inception of the Expenditure Cap, personal income growth has served as the cap’s allowable growth. However, now the state has seen two years of negative personal income growth which will take a toll on upcoming Expenditure Cap growth rates. For the next few years we will see the lowest allowable growth, so low that the secondary growth rate of inflation is expected to be the limiting factor in Fiscal Year 2014.

It is time that we enact fully the intentions of both the General Assembly and the voters of 1991.

We have been fortunate not to have seen a financial climate where personal income tax levels are so low. However, now that we are realizing this climate, and we need to best prepare for the consequences of such. It is time that we fully implement the Constitutional Expenditure Cap by enacting the appropriate definitions. We owe the citizens of Connecticut a government that is reasonably and responsibly spending its funds. The Expenditure Cap was enacted to create a system that would promote such responsibility; we need to now adhere to that.

The legislature is considering a new bill this year at the request of Governor Malloy that will result in setting a certain class of appropriations being exempt from the spending cap. These payments include those above the actuarial required contribution for the State Employee Retirement System and Teachers Retirement System, payments above the annual cost of retiree health benefits to reduce Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) and payments for the annual deferred charge required for implementation of state finances to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) accounting.

My opposition to Senate Bill 21 does not mean I am against making additional payments to State Employee or Teacher Retirements Systems or I do not believe our state finances should be in accordance with GAAP accounting, these are very important to our state budget. However, I do not believe we should be exempting only certain expenditures from our spending cap and any additional appropriations for retirement or payments for GAAP conversion should be made within available appropriations inside our state constitutionally mandated cap. Governors and legislatures should be encouraged to move our finances towards GAAP and to reduce the unfunded ratio we currently have in our retirement systems, but in achieving these goals they should be done while living within the cap.

My primary concern for this proposal is if we start to select certain appropriations to be exempted from the spending cap we set the precedent to possibly allow further exemptions in the future. What are the next exemptions deemed important enough to circumvent the cap?

We should be working to strengthen the cap as one of our budget controls, not adding exemptions.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Obama Ignoring Religious Liberty

The following Op-Ed was published in The News-Times on Sunday, February 25, 2012:

The recent furor over the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services new regulations for ObamaCare demonstrates the clear violations of religious liberty proposed by President Obama.

Many argue the issue is all about healthcare choice but somehow have misunderstood that the objections are rooted in defense of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The issue is the survival of constitutionally protected freedom that ensures respect for conscience and religious liberty.

Cardinal Dolan of New York stated, “Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience. This shouldn't happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights."

Cardinal Dolan said in a Wall Street Journal opinion, “This latest erosion of our first freedom should make all Americans pause. When the government tampers with a freedom so fundamental to the life of our nation, one shudders to think what lies ahead.”

Catholic and other religious institutions will soon be legally required to provide services which violate a fundamental principle of their religious beliefs.

This should be a battle cry for all faith institutions – the First Amendment of the United States Constitution is under attack.

The mandate infringes on the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion and also violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Our government should be protecting freedom not violating it and American citizens owe it to their country to strongly object to this violation of the United States Constitution.

“This ruling is a violation of religious liberty, an infringement on the conscience rights of individuals and institutions that contribute immensely to the common good,” said Bishop William E. Lori of the Diocese of Bridgeport.

One of the most troubling facts about ObamaCare is that nearly 2,000 exemptions have been granted to unions and corporations like McDonalds.

Why are religious institutions not granted similar exemptions?

Many lawsuits have been filed by Catholic schools, healthcare organizations and the Eternal World Television Network (EWTN) seeking to strike down the mandate. The Beckett Fund is assisting with the lawsuits and has developed compelling arguments challenging the constitutionality of the Obama Administration’s actions.

Religious freedom prevailed in a unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of the United States last month. The case determined the government may not tell churches (in this case a Lutheran school) whom to hire or fire as ministers.

This week the United States Senate is expected to vote on the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (S.1467). The proposal will ensure that Americans “retain the right to provide, purchase, or enroll in health coverage that is consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions.”

Please call Senators Lieberman and Blumenthal at the U.S. Capitol (202) 224-3121 and urge them to support this measure.

This “one-two punch” of major news brought me back to 2009, when I stood with thousands of members of the faith community on the steps of the State Capitol in Hartford.

We stood together in strong opposition to Senate Bill 1098. That bill was a flagrant and unjustified attack on the Church’s constitutionally protected autonomy.

The bill would have removed all financial control from clergy of the Catholic Church and installed it in a board of directors comprised of lay members elected from within the parish. The bill would have also expanded the state’s authority to investigate Church finances.

We fought and we won. After tremendous opposition, the legislature tabled the bill.

More than two years later, I remain encouraged that so many Catholics, and many people of other religions, made the trip to Hartford to speak their minds on that controversial bill.

I also remain hopeful that people of all faiths will stand up now to oppose President Obama’s national attack on religious freedom.

The recent Supreme Court decision was another victory for religious liberty. The ObamaCare health mandate was a defeat, but we pray it will be just a temporary one.

I urge you to contact me at or call (860) 240-0068 with your thoughts, ideas and comments on how I can help you at the State Capitol.