photo: Wilton Library/Wilton League of Women Voters zoom forum

On Saturday, Feb. 26, the Wilton Library and the Wilton League of Women Voters presented a forum with Wilton’s state legislators, featuring Sen. Will Haskell (D-26) and Rep. Stephanie Thomas (D-143) speaking. Rep. Tom O’Dea (R-125) was also invited but was unable to attend due to a previous commitment. 

The legislators presented their priorities for the 2022 Connecticut Assembly session, and received and answered constituent feedback on a wide range of subjects.

Voting Access Measures

The session kicked off with a question prepared by the League of Women Voters on the topic of the early voting ballot referendum proposed on this year’s legislative agenda. Although the question was initially given to Haskell, he yielded the opportunity to answer to Thomas, who has been “working 24/7 on this issue,” according to Haskell. 

Thomas gave a brief rundown of what she was doing in regards to the ballot referendum, which she also shared in the context of her announced candidacy for Secretary of State

“I’ve been talking about it every single place that I go, trying to recruit people who represent diverse types of organizations, from community groups to nonpartisan groups like the League and trying to get them to all convene together,” Thomas said. 

She also clarified that the referendum was not a vote on what the voting process would look like; the referendum would simply “make a small edit to our constitution to allow the legislature to talk about it.” She noted that civic organizations could spread the news about the referendum by “doing actions and activities like planning events and holding informational forums.” 

Thomas also pointed out that among the people she talked to, very few people actually knew the referendum was going to happen. 

Haskell, who was quarantining after recently testing positive for COVID, also weighed in on voting access. He listed several statutory changes that he believes need to be made, including the creation of permanent absentee ballot drop boxes, online applications for absentee voting, and automatic voter registration. He added that those changes could be handled in the Connecticut state legislature independent of public support. 

However, he said that larger changes required heavy public support, like “adding Connecticut to the list of 40 states that permit early voting and allowing no-excuse absentee ballots to be used in Connecticut.” On the question of early voting, he said, “I’ll be working really hard to make sure that that referendum passes,” since the previous referendum on early voting failed due to “a lack of public education” on the subject. 

Redistricting Connecticut

One Zoom audience participant raised the question of when the new districts formed after the 2020 census go into effect, and specifically, whether or not that would affect the upcoming primaries. 

Haskell responded by listing some of the municipalities the new district lines would impact, including Wilton, Westport, Bethel, Stamford, and Weston. He added that the new lines would indeed affect the upcoming elections, including primaries. 

Thomas elaborated on the changes to the Wilton area. 

“The Wilton state representative district has changed a lot. So now it will be in the 42nd District, which comprises all of Wilton, a little bit of Ridgefield, and a little bit of New Canaan.” 

The Opioid Crisis

A comment was made by one constituent who was concerned about the efforts to stop the opioid crisis. 

Thomas pointed out that now is the first time in two years that “we’re getting back to some of the legislation that had been discussed prior to 2020,” adding that she expects to see some changes made on the issue this year. Thomas does not currently sit on the Health Committee. 

Haskell expressed support for further measures to prevent drugs from getting into the wrong hands, specifically expressing criticism for the continued use of amber vials (traditional pill bottles) in hospitals instead of blister packaging. He added that he and Rep. O’Dea have been working on a bill regarding the transition to blister packaging in hospitals. The rationale, he said, is that “blister packaging ensures that every pill can be scanned and associated with a barcode.” “And,” Haskell added, “it’s actually easier for folks to remember whether or not they’ve taken their medication.” 

Both Thomas and Haskell agreed that legislative action should be taken soon. 

Commuter Taxes

Haskell was ardently critical of the status quo system that has CT residents employed by New York state entities but who work from home in Connecticut paying income tax to New York. He called the decision to cede those revenues to New York “incredibly ill-advised and maybe even insane,” as well as “logic-defying”. 

Haskell said that if this was changed, Connecticut could recover more than $800 million in tax revenue, which he believes is especially important now that more people are working from home but still paying taxes mostly to the state of New York. 

Haskell has unsuccessfully attempted to push legislation to reallocate these taxes in the past.

Educating the Electorate

Thomas returned to the topic of an informed electorate when an attendee asked where she could find good sources of information about local politics. 

“In Wilton, I think the League of Women Voters does a great job of educating the community about voting-related issues,” she said, adding, “GOOD Morning Wilton definitely does a good job, but I very much feel that it is the role of the state to educate the electorate about things that touch them.”

Haskell noted that another way to become more informed is to visit the State Capitol, and added that one important ways for citizens to get more involved is by researching legislative committee agendas and submitting testimonies on topics of interest. 

Other topics discussed in the session included infrastructure, traffic congestion, emissions concerns, gun violence, the healthcare industry, and why there is only one legislative session per year.