'Latino Policy Day' At Capitol Building On Past Success


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Bill Sarno
Having successfully rallied to ward off several attempts to diminish state financial support for the nonprofit agencies that serve many in their growing population,  Latino community leaders say they are embarking on a new mission, preparing more Latinos to have a more effective voice in shaping government policies during a day long ‘Latino Policy Day’ at the capitol.
The session to be held on February 4, is sponsored by the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission (LPRAC) and the Hispanic Federation and will offer six hour-long forums designed to provide information about issues that are relevant to the Latino community. The major topics will include political gerrymandering, the “second-chance program” for  non-violent offenders, education and housing reforms and healthy lifestyles.
The  event was initially known as  Latino Advocacy Day and was the brainchild of  then Rep. Andres Ayala,  a freshman legislator at the time.  Governor Rell had just proposed a 25 percent cut to social service programs as part of a budget deficit reduction effort which could have resulted in the closure of many Latino agencies.  The future state senator and state motor vehicles commissioner, a post he recently resigned, helped create a coalition of Latino organizations to let their concerns be known at the capitol.   With  LPRAC and a statewide group known as CAUSA at the time  taking the lead, they worked together to  create a statewide coalition of  different interest Latino  community groups, such as, Junta for Progressive Action in New Haven, Hispanic Health council and the business focused, SAMA (Spanish American Merchants Association) to turn out in force for the first Latino Advocacy in March 2009. 
This year the format and name have changed, and among those who view the policy-oriented approach as a positive development is state Rep. Jason Rojas, who was a freshman legislator when the first Latino Advocacy Day was held.  He plans to participate in a forum entitled Connecticut’s Changing Face: A Catalyst for Fair School Funding.
“The change in the format is a reflection of LPRAC really improving how they operate. … they are doing more research and providing more information,” said Rojas, a Democrat who represents East Hartford and part of Manchester.
A second Latino Advocacy Day was held in March 2011. This event brought 400 people and representatives of 23 agencies to the Legislative Office Building to highlight the importance of the Latino agencies.
Eventually, CAUSA merged its efforts and member agencies with the Hispanic Federation, a national network of Latino nonprofit organizations. “We saw this organization as the best fit,” said Carmen Sierra, who had been CAUSA’s executive director and is now assistant treasurer for the City of Hartford. Among the attractions was the New York-based agency’s greater resource and corporate support.
In 2014, the Hispanic Federation sponsored a Latino Advocacy Day.  Sierra said she keeps in contact with Ingrid Alvarez-DiMarzo, who is the Hispanic Federation’s Connecticut director, and that the Federation is doing a good job of educating legislators about Latino concerns and in training directors of the nonprofit organization how to be effective advocates.
The new focus on policy has not diminished the Latino community commitment to effectively advocate for adequate funding for its nonprofit agencies during state budget deliberations.  “We understand that every time” the budget comes up, the community leaders will have to address possible cuts in social service funding, Sierra said.  Sierra said she espouses result-based accountability, which involves showing how this money was used, the outcomes and what it did for individuals.
In July 2015, LPRAC Chairman Richard Cruz, during an outreach meeting in Meriden, was asked what had happened to the commission-sponsored Advocacy Day. Cruz replied, “The person who ran it (Ayala) was no longer in the legislature. Cruz added, “We should bring it back.”
The creation of the new ‘Latino Policy Day’ ultimately was the result of conversations between Alvarez and Orlando Rodriguez, LPRAC’s association commission analyst, who were looking at the best way to be informative about comprehensive public policies.
The content is based on the top priorities identified by LPRAC, said Werner Oyanadel, the legislative advisory commission’s executive director. 
In addition, the forum is utilizing various experts to explain subjects that the community may not fully understand. For example, Oyanadel cited the first hour-session, 5 Years to Eliminate Political Gerrymandering in Connecticut, where the presenters will be Gloria Bent, president of the League of Women Voters of Connecticut, and Wendy Underhill, program director for elections and redistricting of the National Conference of State Legislators.
 “At the end of the day, we hope people will say it was informative and covered issues they may not have been aware of,” Oyanadel said.
The room for the forum seats approximately 100 people, Oyanadel noted, and by the second day of registration 60 individuals per session had signed up. “We have been receiving calls from all around the state,” Oyanadel said. He added some college professors who teach political science courses focusing on Latino affairs want to bring their classes.
In addition, Rodriguez and Alvarez have been reaching out the state legislators, who return to session Feb. 3, and state officials, such as the commissioner of education, to attend the event. Among the Hispanic legislators who said they plan to attend some of the sessions are state Rep. Robert Sanchez of New Britain, state Rep. Christopher Rosario of Bridgeport and state Sen. Art Linares of Clinton.
Oyanadel said he is expecting the governor’s office will send representation.  In 2011, Gov. Dannel Malloy spoke at the Latino Advocacy Day and  recently proclaimed Feb. 4 as Latino Policy Day. He said the www.cga.ct.gov  offers legislators and constituents alike the chance to participate in the creation of an educational dialogue, thus shaping the future of effective policy in Connecticut.”
For information about Latino Policy Day, contact Orlando Rodriguez of LPRAC at Orlando.Rodriguez@cga.ct.gov or (860) 240-0050.