Good afternoon David. Congratulations on finishing your first term as state Representative from the 59th District in Enfield. I guess we might say that you are no longer a freshman legislator and that you have "earned your wings" over these last two years. How do you feel about this last session of the General Assembly?
DK: Well, I have had almost a week to unwind from a rigorous session. I believe that the legislature had many historic accomplishments during the 2012 session.
While tackling a number of significant issues in a shortened time frame, the legislature also passed a budget-adjustment measure that reduces expenses, avoids raising taxes and provides more education funding for Enfield – an increase of $430,348.
Education reform, storm response by utilities, domestic violence, sexual violence on campuses, repealing the death penalty – all of these policy initiatives were indeed historic and were passed by the General Assembly.
Q: Can you tell Patch what you believe to be some of the Legislature's major accomplishments?
DK: Absolutely. Balancing the state budget is always a lot of work. A year ago, the legislature dealt with a shortfall in excess of $3.5 billion – 15 percent of the total budget. This year, the House passed a $20.5 billion fiscal year 2013 budget adjustment bill. The budget keeps appropriations under the state’s constitutionally-mandated spending cap and continues our investments in education and job growth. Despite cuts in many areas, funding for cities and towns as well as for vital services has been saved. And education funding for towns has been increased.
Q: And this was done without a tax increase this year?
DK: Yes. We had some other major accomplishments as well.
School Reform: The final version of legislation brought together the efforts of many different stakeholders, bringing about meaningful reform while respecting the rights of our teachers. It looked at many different aspects of our schools and how we could improve the quality of the classroom experience, by having both better prepared students and instructors. A hallmark of the legislature’s commitment to education is more funding for school-based health centers and family resource centers. Acknowledging the critical importance of early childhood education, 1,000 school readiness slots for preschoolers and funding several initiatives to improve early reading success were underwritten. The historic reform package also establishes the Commissioner’s Network, which provides the intensive supports and interventions needed to turn around twenty-five of the most chronically low-performing schools in Connecticut.
Storm Standards: In August and October of 2011, Connecticut experienced two devastating storms that left the majority of the state without power for an extended period of time. This bill is extensive in that it addresses concerns of public health and safety, security, and basic service responsibilities of utility, gas and telecommunications companies.
Another bill that passed that I am pleased about is the abolition of the death penalty: This bill will replace Connecticut’s death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. An amendment, added by the Senate, provided that future felons convicted of life sentences without parole, would be subject to the same harsh conditions as those inmates currently on Death Row.
Repealing the death penalty is "prospective," meaning that it will only apply to future sentences. The eleven men currently on Connecticut's Death Row would still face execution.
The death penalty is very expensive. Capital punishment cases cost our Division of Public Defender Services $3 million last year. That is 7.2% of the public defenders’ budget on what amounts to 0.06% of their caseload.
Since 1977, 88% of those put to death were convicted in cases involving white victims. Murder victims as a whole mirror the nation demographically. One hundred and thirty individuals on Death Row in this country have been exonerated and released in the US since the 1970s due to DNA testing and the Innocence Project.
Connecticut's death penalty has only been used once in the last 40 years, at the request of the condemned Michael Ross. Actual executions in Connecticut are rare, and only occur after expensive and extensive appeals. In effect, Connecticut really has no death penalty.
Medical marijuana is another bill that I supported. This proposal will allow an eligible patient to use medical marijuana to alleviate symptoms of a debilitating medical condition. As written, this legislation requires the Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) to establish strict regulations for licensing pharmacists, and specific circumstances and regulation of the use, acquirement, possession, cultivation and distribution of marijuana.
In addition, doctors must certify that patients have a medical need for such treatment — for instance, debilitating diseases like cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis or epilepsy. Both patients and caregivers will need to register with the Department of Consumer Protection in order to possess medical marijuana.
Domestic Violence is a major problem, both in this state and nationwide. The legislation that we passed this year is based on the recommendations of a task force that I sit on; the Speaker’s Task Force on Domestic Violence and builds on a multi-year bipartisan effort to improve the state’s response to domestic violence. Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior between partners where one person uses physical, sexual, psychological, financial or verbal abuse to try to make the other feel powerless, intimidated and dependent on the abuser, making it hard to leave the relationship. When a victim has worked up the courage to call police, to request a restraining order or to leave her home, we want to make sure that services are in place to support a victim’s efforts to protect herself. That’s why this bill includes a number of measures to support victims, police officers, advocates and other front-line service providers.
Q: I know that there were other pieces of legislation that were important but failed to win passage. Perhaps we can talk about those bills in another interview. I would like to ask you one more question. How did Enfield make out this year?
DK: Some of the legislation that impacted our town were: the budget, Sunday liquor sales, a ten acre land conveyance to the Shaker Pines Fire Department, and an act that will assist our constables. Let me summarize each.
Budget: While many states have cut aide to municipalities and passed the burden on to the property tax payer, Connecticut has lived up to their word and passed a budget that kept town aide whole. Enfield will be receiving more than $32,000,000, which is over $400,000 more than last year’s budget.
Sunday Sales: The sale of alcohol in the state is uniquely regulated to provide a transparent and accountable system that allows small business package store owners to compete for sales with larger box stores. In order to become more consumer friendly, surrounding states have modified their laws, which have resulted in Connecticut residents crossing the border to make their purchases. To allow Connecticut businesses to compete, increase competition to lower prices, and recapture lost tax revenue to surrounding states the General Assembly passed legislation that makes various changes to the liquor control act.
The major components of the bill are:
1. Allows package stores and grocery stores to sell alcohol on: Sundays from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. Also Mondays following any Independence Day, Christmas, or New Year's Day that fall on a Sunday.
2. Allows package stores and grocery stores to sell one beer or liquor item below cost each month (but not less than 90% of the cost.)
3. Establishes the 15-member Competitive Alcoholic Liquor Pricing task force to study Connecticut's laws concerning liquor taxes, quantity and volume discounts, minimum pricing, price postings and permit restrictions and compare them with surrounding states.
4. Allows package stores to sell additional “complementary goods” which includes: fresh fruits used in the preparation of mixed alcoholic beverages, cheese, crackers, and olives.
Land Conveyance: The Shaker Pines Fire Department will be receiving ten acres of land from the Department of Corrections. This land will be used for fire fighting educational and training purposes. Each fire district in town will utilize the new facility/land.
Enfield Fish and Game: The Enfield Fish and Game Constables who have been defunct for over a year due to an Attorney General Opinion of a state statute will now be able to return their job. The Constables will have to successfully complete a basic training course that is tailored to the duties to be performed. The course will be taught by a police officer who is certified by the states police academy.
Editor's Note: The author is the father of State Rep. David Kiner.