MERIDEN — Members of the business and non-profit communities had a unique opportunity Friday to pitch funding ideas and discuss with local lawmakers their views on issues including utility rates and legalizing marijuana.
Cheshire Town Councilor Peter Talbot discussed a recent child suicide in his town with state Rep. Lezlye Zupkus, R-Prospect.
”We’re talking about some of the issues involved like bullying, social media and vaping,” Talbot said. “We’re trying to get an educational piece to parents on some of the issues coming to the schools.”
Zupkus shared many of Talbot’s concerns but had some reservations about changing the age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.
”My concerns are with the people in the military,” Zupkus said. “People in the military are old enough to serve their country and may begin smoking or vaping overseas. But when they come back home “we say ‘no’ because you are 19?.”
The Midstate Chamber of Commerce invited 12 local lawmakers and members of the Wallingford and Cheshire chambers to participate in the forum at Il Monticello. About 75 people attended.
Many attendees wanted assurances from the lawmakers they would not increase taxes, a difficult promise given the legislative session just started and Gov. Ned Lamont hasn’t released his budget proposal yet.
“It’s pretty bad when you tax health care,” state Rep. Emil “Buddy” Altobello, D-Meriden, told one accountant.
Ana Gopian, founder and executive director of TriCircle Inc. in Wallingford, talked to Sen. Mary Dougherty Abrams, D-Meriden, about potential funding streams for her addiction services program.
TriCircle Inc. hosts support groups and offers resources for individuals and families. Groups are held in Wallingford, Middlefield, East Haddam, Southington and Old Saybrook. Gopian hopes to start a group in Meriden.
“We have licensed professionals and paraprofessionals,” Gopian said. “It’s no cost for the attendees. We pay the professionals.”
School Superintendent Mark Benigni and two behavior analysts lobbied Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden, about creating a behavioral analyst certification ceritification. The certification would allow the analyst to attend education team meetings instead of requiring a vice principal, Benigni said.
Abercrombie, who chairs the General Assembly’s Human Services subcommittee and sits on the Appropriations Committee, agreed with the district’s need for the designation.
Benigni meets often with lawmakers on programs for students and partnerships, such as the Middlesex Community College classes at Platt High School and dual credit programs.
“Many of our students and families benefit,” Benigni said. “But it becomes a resource issue.”
State Rep. Craig Fishbein R-Wallingford, discussed the state income tax and electricity rates with Anthony Cuccinelli of Cuccinelli & Associates in Cheshire. Fishbein explained the General Assembly doesn’t control electric rates but people are welcome to speak out at Public Utility Regulatory Authority hearings.
“What’s the sense of objecting?” Cuccinelli said. “Nothing happens. You’re never going to get rid of the income tax.”
The Wallingford lawmaker also fielded concerns from a local parent of teenagers over proposed legislation to legalize marijuana. The constituent, who asked not to be identified, said he felt the legislation was being rushed through on the potential revenue.
Fishbein has two concerns with the proposal. The first is federal law prohibiting marijuana sales, and thehe second is enforcment of laws on driving under the influence of controlled substances because there isn’t a reliable test.
“It’s subjective,” Fishbein said. “Those are two significant hurdles.”