By Wayne Jebian
For those who of you represented by Connecticut’s Latino legislators, if you are wondering how they are faring in this year’s legislative session, a review of their work. As of the end of March, of the small number of bills that passed through the Connecticut General Assembly and the three signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, all bore the fingerprints of Latino legislators.
CTLatinonews.com reviewed statistics within the Latino caucus and they reveal two notable distinctions: The legislator with the highest number of bills introduced, Rep. Juan Candelaria (D-New Haven), at 38, and the legislator with the greatest number of co-sponsored bills, Rep. Victor Cuevas (D-Waterbury), at 62.
Candelaria has also played a high-profile role in providing documentation for immigrants through drivers’ licenses and other means, which has become a national issue. In spite of a public forum in New Haven attracting 2,000 attendees at the beginning of March, Candelaria said however that getting his drivers’ license bill to a vote might take all of the maneuvering he can muster.
First elected to the House in 2002, Candelaria is the second-longest serving Latino legislator besides Rep. Minnie Gonzalez (D-Hartford), who was elected in 1996.
Out of 36 Senators and 151 Representatives in the General Assembly, State Senator Andres Ayala (D- Bridgeport) stands in second place for legislation passed, behind only state Rep. Catherine Abercrombie (D-Berlin/Meriden), whose name was on all three bills.
New legistislators meanwhile are just beginning to develop their role at the state capitol. First-term Rep. Edwin Vargas says, “In many ways, it’s a strange, confusing place, first things seem to move very slowly, then they move very rapidly, and you have to play catch up. Unless you are part of the leadership, it’s hard to know when things are going to come up for a vote, and then things tend to move fast.”
Based on the legislative record of Latinos at the Capitol, many priorities of individual districts also appear to be shared throughout the state. Specifically, in response to concerns about fair voting practices in her district, state Rep. Minnie Gonzalez (D-Hartford) has been pushing a cluster of election-related bills through the legislature. In response to New Britain residents playing loud music in their cars carrying children, state Rep. Robert Sanchez has sponsored bills to ensure that children and teens are screened for hearing loss. State Rep. Jason Rojas (D-East Hartford) has taken the lead in pre-K education, while Vargas has introduced legislation on veterans’ issues and Sen. Art Linares has been active with bills to help small businesses.
Several bills have been of particular interest to the Latino Caucus as a whole. The 11 core Latino Democrats have all co-introduced a piece of legislation to address alternative schools.
Meanwhile, as for the women of the caucus, Ayala, Gonzalez and Santiago, joined with every woman legislator to sponsor a bill to crack down on human trafficking, including sex trafficking.
Additonally, five Latino legislators have signed on to state Rep. Angel Arce’s measure calling for a bond sale of up to $2 million to upgrade the headquarters of the Institute for the Hispanic Family.
While the fates of those bills have yet to be decided, there are some measures that are now expired for the remainder of the spring 2013 session, including a bill allowing for the installation of traffic signal enforcement cameras and another banning smoking in vehicles carrying children. “All we can do is try again,” Arce said of the failed bills, looking ahead to the 2014 session.
Looking ahead, education is the most important area of concern to the Latino caucus for the remainder of the 2013 session, it is at the top of everyone’s list. State representative Robert Sanchez (D-New Britain) says, “One of the biggest priorities has been education funding to support the city of New Britain, because I know they’ve been flat-funded for so many years, but of course, what has stolen the show is gun control.”
Werner Oyanadel, acting director of the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, is optimistic on at least one measure. “[Senate President Pro Tem] Don Williams is working on legislation for a community school project, which means that they will provide a full service wraparound for children. If that legislation passes, it will have a significant impact in the Latino population. ”