Lawmakers on the Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee highlighted former Sen. Edith Prague’s reputation as an advocate for Connecticut’s seniors during her Tuesday confirmation hearing.
Prague, an 87-year-old Democrat from Columbia, was Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s pick to head the state Aging Department. She served in the position almost 20 years ago under former Gov. Lowell Weicker before he disbanded the department. She also was elected to several terms in both the state House and Senate.
Over her career, Prague has gained the reputation for being a staunch advocate of the state’s seniors, so much so that many lawmakers on the committee said she was often the first call for seniors regardless of their district of residence.
Rep. Claire Janowski, D-Vernon, recalled an instance where Prague came to her district to meet with seniors on an assisted living housing pilot program.
“Actually they called you before they called me. I don’t know if that’s good. It happens all the time with Edith,” she said.
Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney said that as a senator, Prague was happy to answer calls from seniors all over Connecticut, in addition to her constituents in her district.
“You were seen as in effect the senator for all the elderly people in the state regardless of where they lived,” he said.
Several times during her hearing, Prague mentioned her desire to see changes to the eligibility requirements of the Money Follows the Person program, which aims to provide seniors with home care rather than placing them in nursing homes. She said it was “ridiculous” that seniors are currently required to be in a nursing home for three months before they are eligible.
“People thrive when they’re at home. They actually can get better faster if they’re kept at home in their community, with their friends,” she said.
In her prepared remarks, Prague sought to dispel questions regarding her health and age. She chose not to seek re-election last year on the advice of her doctor after she suffered a mild stroke. She said she is now feeling healthy and sees her age as a resource as she advocates for the state’s elderly population.
“Sometimes it takes a senior to know what other seniors need,” she said.
After the hearing, Prague said she would have been before the committee months sooner, if not for an incident in January when she was knocked over by a dog on her daily walk. She fractured her pelvis and injured her legs during the fall.
In March, Prague filed a lawsuit in Rockville Superior Court against Robert and Sheryl Kelly, the dog’s owners, seeking compensatory and punitive damages for alleged recklessness on their part for not restraining the animal.
On Tuesday, Prague said little about the pending legal action, but expressed no love for the dog, which she said has attacked other people in the past.
“It knocked me right off my feet. I lost three months of my life because of that dog,” she said.
Last month when Malloy announced Prague’s nomination, he joked about her reputation for being outspoken. During the press conference, she informed reporters that she had contacted the governor to express her interest in the post of aging commissioner. Malloy, who was standing behind her, mocked a salute.
Malloy joked that he was “quite certain she will tell me what to do.”
And during Tuesday’s hearing, Prague stopped just short of criticizing Malloy for vetoing legislation she supported two years ago. The bill would have required that insurance companies hold a public hearing any time they seek a rate hike of more than 10 percent.
“The bill died. No, the bill didn’t die. It was vetoed — but, you know, long-term care insurance policies are very expensive anyways,” she said.
After the hearing, Prague said she had been disappointed by Malloy’s veto, but hadn’t spoken with him about it since he appointed her. She said she has talked with Sen. Joe Crisco, co-chairman of the Insurance Committee, about the possibility of passing the bill again.
If she’s confirmed by the Senate, it likely won’t be the last time the governor and his aging commissioner disagree.
Toward the end of the confirmation hearing, Sen. Tony Guglielmo remarked that he and Prague had always maintained a respectful relationship, despite not always seeing eye-to-eye on labor issues. Prague thanked him for his comments.
“You know, you said that we didn’t always agree. My husband used to have a saying: ‘If two people always agree, one isn’t needed,’” she said.