HARTFORD, CT — The national political discussion has been recently dominated by freshmen members of Congress like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, but Connecticut’s freshman representatives also made a respectable splash in their first legislative session.
While Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, lacks the Twitter following of Ocasio-Cortez, he was spotted filming a live video of himself to share with his constituents on social media in the final week of the legislative session. The 23-year-old said his first session was a learning experience and hopes to make the public more aware of what it is like to work in the Capitol.
“The legislative process — I think a lot more people need to understand how it works,” Haskell said. “I have been trying to educate some of my voters by doing videos and social media and Instagram stories because I’ve certainly learned a lot this session.”
Haskell said there are some things about being a state senator that surprised his constituents.
“People couldn’t believe it when I told them I had two weeks to propose bills,” Haskell said. “They regularly can’t believe that we work in this building past midnight, up until 1 a.m. I’m voting at 3 a.m.”
For Freshman Rep. Leslee Hill, R-Canton, the schedule was less surprising. She said she had talked to her predecessor about what to expect, but admitted there was still a learning curve when it came to the legislative process.
Hill said that while the session was rewarding, she’s looking forward to spending more time with her family. Like Haskell, she acknowledged the frequency of late night sessions.
“There was the one big 26-hour overnight, which was rough,” Hill said. “Lots of late nights after that as well.”
Legislators just finished their last long night. The regular session ended Wednesday at midnight, culminating five months of hard work and late nights. Freshman Rep. Jill Barry, D-Glastonbury, while not seen live-streaming to Instagram like Haskell, also feels that serving in state government has brought her closer to her constituents.
“I loved doing it,” Barry said. “I feel like I received a lot of input from my constituents and it was great to be able to work for them.”
Haskell, Barry, and Hill have all played a role in the passage of legislation they are proud of this session.
Haskell introduced a Senate bill to eliminate wasteful spending within state government, SB 682.
“It basically says if you are a state employee and you find wasteful spending, excess of $10,000, you report it and a state auditor can confirm that it did result in savings the next year, you get a 10% cut of whatever that reduced state expenditure was,” Haskell said.
The bill will make state employees partners in reducing inefficiencies and taxpayer dollars, since state employees are experts on state agencies, according to Haskell.
“I think it will break through that barrier of us versus them rhetoric when it comes to state employees,” Haskell said. “State employees know better than anyone else because they work inside the system every day.”
The bill passed both chambers and now awaits Gov. Ned Lamont’s signature.
“That was really exhilarating,” Haskell said.
For Barry, this legislative session meant getting to see projects that she has advocated for as a private citizen come to fruition in the form of legislation.
“I’m really proud that Tobacco 21 passed,” Barry said. “I’ve worked on that for a couple years on the advocacy side, so that was a big accomplishment.”
Hill said she also supported Tobacco 21, but said the initiatives she is most proud of are those that blocked bills that would be harmful to taxpayers and small businesses. Although she was unsuccessful at blocking the paid family medical leave bill, she had opposed it after talking to her constituents.
“I am very concerned about the FMLA,” Hill said. “The concept itself of paid family medical leave, I absolutely support and I supported the Republican proposal for it, but I heard from a lot of constituents who, once they understood that this was going to a mandatory payroll tax coming out of their wages, people were really concerned about that.”
Hill also opposed the Democratic budget because of the expansion of the sales tax. She said she was impressed by Lamont’s charisma and willingness to talk with Republicans, but said she disagrees with some of his strategies. She said Lamont’s tendency to float ideas and then reverse them has hurt his credibility.
“He was floating these trial balloons of policy concepts that really were not well founded and then when he heard push-back on them, he would backpedal,” Hill said. “For example, a lot of the sales tax increases, the grocery tax.”
Hill said that as a freshman it’s important to look ahead and understand what the legislature hopes to accomplish in the coming session.
“I’m going to spend a lot of time out in my district talking to people and finding out what are their priorities,” Hill said. “How are some of these proposals hitting them once we’re actually living with this budget?” She said she will be listening to them and seeing what’s needed to move forward.
Barry said that overall it was a good first session and she feels that while she learned a lot, she knows she will continue learning next session. In the meantime, she hopes to catch up on sleep.
“I am excited for some down time, to kind of re-prioritize and see what’s next,” Barry said.