MERIDEN — Members of the city’s state legislative delegation took their oaths of office this week.
They included two freshmen legislators in state Sen. Jan Hochadel, a Democrat representing Meriden, Cheshire, Middletown and Middlefield in the 13th Senate District, and Jonathan “Jack” Fazzino, the Berlin Democrat now representing the 83rd House District, which includes parts of Meriden, Berlin and Cheshire.
Other members of Meriden’s state delegation, House Democrats Hilda Santiago, 84th District, and Michael Quinn, 82nd District, both had run unopposed in their bids for reelection last November.
Legislative committee assignments and leadership roles for all four lawmakers also were recently announced.
For example, Fazzino was appointed as an Assistant Majority Leader. He also was named vice chair of the legislature’s Commerce Committee as well as a member of its General Law and Public Safety and Security committees.
Meanwhile, House colleague Santiago will retain her role as Assistant Deputy Speaker Pro-Tempore. Santiago was also named as a member of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee; the Government Administration and Elections Committee; Human Services Committee; and the Joint Committee on Legislative Management.
Those committee assignments are unchanged from Santiago’s prior legislative roles.
Santiago said her priorities for this session include ensuring that the state funding Meriden receives through state programs like the Education Cost Sharing Grant is not reduced during budget talks.
“That’s when sometimes deals are made, there are cuts — it becomes, let’s give less to the mid-sized cities, like Meriden…. give them less funding through ECS,” Santiago said, explaining she would seek to prevent such cuts from occurring. Santiago described one of her tasks will be continuing to monitor where those funds are going — to ensure the city receives its full share of promised state aid.
Meanwhile, in Santiago’s role on the Human Services Committee, which oversees all matters related to the state Department of Social Services and the Department of Aging and Disability Services, she will monitor staffing shortages statewide and locally that are implementing agencies that work with those populations. One such organization that Santiago said she had just met with is the Arc of Meriden-Wallingford.
“So I’ll be working within the state to figure out how we can increase staffing,” Santiago said.
Fazzino, who is employed as an attorney and also serves on the Berlin Town Council, prevailed last November over Meriden Republican Lou Arata in a close contest for the 83rd District seat.
Fazzino said a message he heard during the swearing in ceremony that was communicated by House majority and minority party leaders was to respect the legislative process and to strive to reach bipartisan consensus.
Fazzino said small businesses were an important focus of his campaign, as such he “definitely wanted to do” what he could to be named to the Commerce Committee, which he noted has a reputation for being bipartisan. As the committee’s vice chairman, Fazzino said he’s already begun discussions with its House chairman around long-term planning for the state.
“We both agree there’s more we can do to expand opportunities,” Fazzino, noting all three communities that make up the 83rd district are looking to bolster economic development.
Public safety is another “essential issue” for those communities, Fazzino said.
“We want safe streets and safe neighborhoods. We have to make sure we’re supporting our law enforcement, our first responders, to make sure they have tools at their disposal,” Fazzino said, describing the issue of providing police support and protection from harm as things he hopes to address.
Retention of police officers is a legislative topic that Fazzino said he’s already had some discussions around.
“That’s something I really want to focus on,” Fazzino said, noting he brings the local Berlin perspective and is beginning to develop a relationship with Meriden police officials.
“We definitely need a lot of support on that front. We want to cut down on turnover,” Fazzino said.
Fazzino said coming from a background in local government he knows “how important it is to develop relationships with your advocates at the state and federal levels.”
“I’ve made it a priority to develop a good working relationship with local officials in Meriden, Berlin and Cheshire,” Fazzino said, adding his goal is to “keep the lines of communication going.”
He encouraged constituents and local leaders to reach out with their items of concern by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Quinn, like Fazzino, was named a House Assistant Majority Leader. Quinn also was named as Vice Chair of the Judiciary Committee and a member of the Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee and will continue to serve as a member of the Public Safety and Security Committee.
Quinn told the Record-Journal that vice chairing the Judiciary Committee “will definitely be a greater responsibility for me.” The role will include chairing public hearings during certain periods as well as chairing committee meetings when the chair is not available.
“I am honored to have been asked to be vice chair of the judiciary committee. I think it would be a good experience,” Quinn said, noting he brings 24 years of law practice experience to that role.
When asked about the legislature’s priorities, Quinn said the session is still in its infancy from the standpoints of both the judiciary and public safety committees.
“We’re expecting a package of gun legislation to come from the governor’s office that we’re hearing is going to be comprehensive. I’m not sure what changes are being proposed,” Quinn said.
Quinn said he has not submitted any proposed legislation as of yet. Two years earlier, he did submit a bill that would expand workers’ compensation benefits, that would allow injured workers to collect additional benefits for a certain period of time, even if their injuries have not rendered them totally unable to work. That previous bill was adopted by the Labor Committee, but was not acted on by House lawmakers. Quinn indicated he might renew his pursuit of that bill.
On the Senate side, Hochadel, meanwhile, won election to the 13th District seat in a contest against Meriden Republican Joseph Vollano.
It is Hochadel’s first term in public office.
Hochadel was named as Senate Chair of the Aging Committee, and Senate Vice Chair of the Environment Committee.
Hochadel has worked as an educator in the state’s technical high school system, as well as an engineer for companies including Omega Engineering in Stamford and Pfizer in Wallingford and New York, according to a news release issued by her office this week.
While in office, Hochadel, a Meriden resident, will continue to serve out at least her current term as president of the American Federation of Teachers CT — the state’s second largest teachers’ union.
Hochadel, in an emailed statement to the Record-Journal, stated that prior to her bid for the 13th District seat, she had engaged fellow union leaders about how that position would impact her role as AFT Connecticut president.
“They were familiar conversations — for years, members of affiliated local unions have been stepping up to run for elected office at all levels of government,” Hochadel stated. “We have supported them as part of our grassroots ‘labor is your neighbor’ political program.
“We also discussed the importance of avoiding any potential conflict of interest with my duties and responsibilities. This was a shared priority among members of AFT Connecticut’s executive committee and they put their faith in me by endorsing my candidacy.
“I also had similar conversations with State Senate leadership and they agreed it was a priority. That’s why the committees I've since been assigned to don’t have any direct correlation to the policy concerns of our union members,” Hochadel stated.
Hochadel was not named as a member of either of the legislature’s Education or Labor and Public Employees committees, both of which would have correlated to her current union work. Her committee memberships are the Housing, Banking, Commerce and Planning & Development.
“Having served as state federation president for seven years — and previously for six leading a local union — I understand the importance of maintaining the trust of those I represent. That applies equally to my role in the labor movement as well as in the General Assembly,” Hochadel stated.