Latino members of the General Assembly praised the accomplishments of this year’s session and reflected on the work that still needs to be done.
The session saw bills passed that addressed issues in education, labor law, the family court system, and several others. While Latino legislators represent a diverse group of individuals in varying communities, there was an overall consensus that improvements were made for their Latino and general constituency.
“As chair of the Legislature’s Black and Latino Caucus, I am fortunate to have a strong group of lawmakers who work together to support each other and move our agenda forward,” said Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven. “In the spirit of our heritage and by virtue of our cultural similarities, we share a genuine concern for the improvement and well-being of our community and we can come together to support causes that affect our constituents with respect, commitment and an open mind.”
Among the key bills Latino legislators worked on and passed, is Senate Bill 494, which makes changes to Connecticut’s family court system in regards to guardians ad litem [GALs] who are appointed by courts for minor children. The bill allows more input for parents or guardians to choose guardians ad litem only after determining that parties cannot come to an agreement. It also orders a detailed scope of work to be performed and sets deadlines under which GALs must report to the court.
Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, D-Hartford, who worked on the bill with Rep. Edwin Vargas, D-Hartford said this year’s legislation is a good start, but more must be done. “Although this bill does not implement all of the changes we would have liked, it is a start and a step in the right direction,” said Gonzalez. Adding that, “We definitely must revisit this issue in future sessions to continue to make important changes in the family court system. We were, at least, able to give parents more input into how the divorce process unfolds for them and allow the removal of a GALs,” she said.
Another bill seen as a gain for many Latinos, is House Bill 5527, which amends Connecticut labor law by requiring domestic workers and their employer to fill out a written agreement that covers pay, sick time, job expectations, and other provisions.
“Domestic workers provide indispensable services in the community and it is time we step in and make sure they are treated with the same fairness and respect as others,” said Rep. Ezequiel Santiago, D-Bridgeport, who is vice chair of the Labor and Public Employees Committee.
On the education front, the redesign of the current English language learner educator loan reimbursement program to allow for grants and loan reimbursement for a larger pool of eligible students was addressed in Senate Bill 18 ,which also passed.
The goal being that additional language support for English language learners will result in a positive effect on the attainment of these students as they shift into post-secondary education. In turn, increasing the likelihood students attend a post-secondary school and reducing the placement of these students into developmental education programming.
There were also some defeats on some key bills that that many viewed as critical for the state’s growing Latino population. A major bill that died was House Bill 5385. The bill required hospitals to provide language interpreter services for non-English speaking patients.
“I was able to get my hospital interpreter’s bill off the ground and the House voted on it…but did not make out of the Senate,” said Rep. Bobby Sanchez, D-New Britain. The bill died in the Senate because of inaction, meaning members did not have the chance to vote on it.
While Sanchez was disappointed about HB 5385’s fate, he said he was “ecstatic” about his promotion to vice chair of the Education Committee. “I now have a stronger role to advance the state’s educational needs,” he said.
Looking ahead, now that the legislature is out of session and legislators are heading into campaign season for the November election, Candelaria he said is hoping that the Latino presence will be even stronger when the chambers begin their next session in January, 2015.
“We have more work to do, but we are making significant progress and I am hopeful that our numbers will increase in the state legislature and that our committed and informed Latino citizens will continue to get involved in this process for a better Connecticut,” he said.
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