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With A Divided Legislature, New Lawmakers May Wield Influence In General Assembly

With A Divided Legislature, New Lawmakers May Wield Influence In General Assembly

The more than 30 new lawmakers sworn in at the Capitol on Wednesday may be the General Assembly's most powerful freshman class in decades, joining the legislature during one of the closest partisan divides in recent memory.

With a tied Senate and a Democratic margin of about a half dozen seats in the House, individual legislators' votes will be needed more than ever by each caucus, potentially giving them leverage to air their own proposals. Gone are the days when freshmen should be seen and not heard, said Rep. Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, who was elected House Speaker.

"We need each and every one of you to participate in the recovery of Connecticut," Aresimowicz said. He noted that the roughly 30 new members in the House represented about a 20 percent turnover. "It's a great time for an infusion of new ideas."

Rep. William Petit Jr., R-Plainville, was the first in the House to introduce a bill. H.B. 5001 would exclude overtime from state employee pension calculations. His father, William Petit Sr., ran for the state Senate decades ago but lost. But the younger Petit prevailed in his first run for public office, defeating Rep. Betty Boukus, D-Plainville, in the 22nd House District.

But Wednesday is also a busy and chaotic day, where in some cases new legislators from opposite sides of the aisle meet for the first time. There's also the crowd of lobbyists waiting to make an introduction. And lawmakers need to get everything from committee assignments to legislative license plates.

Rep. Tom Delnicki, R-South Windsor, said he's sought advice from Bill Aman, a Republican who held the seat Delnicki won for the last dozen years before retiring. Delnicki is a former town councilor and mayor.

"I've found it always pays to ask questions. … I'll try not to make any freshman mistakes," he said. "I'm truly looking forward to the challenge we have to face."

state legislators and council members back to top

Carol Hall and Greg Stokes, the two new Republican state representatives from Enfield, ran while serving as members of the town council there. Hall said she's "excited to get working" even though it'll be a "tough year" with some "heavy lifting." Stokes wants legislators to vote on state employee union contracts, a "first step to control spending," and would like to introduce a bill to change how schools pay for special education services.

Two Democratic freshmen, Reps. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, and Josh Elliott, D-Hamden, were among those gathered outside the House chamber Monday morning before their 10 a.m. session.

"It's difficult to get used to the pomp and circumstance," Linehan said. "I'm anxious to get to work." But she also acknowledged just trying to enjoy the day, where many legislators brought their family members into the House chamber to watch them get sworn in. Wednesday, Linehan said, was a time to "stop and smell the roses."

Rep. Derek Slap, D-West Hartford, already knew how to navigate the Capitol before stepping foot into the building Wednesday. He worked for the Senate Democrats for eight years — four as communications director and four as chief of staff, before departing to a job with the UConn Foundation.

"I'm seeing a lot of old friends," Slap said. "I always felt blessed to work in this building, but today it's with distinction from constituents."

One issue Slap hopes to look into is accountability and transparency at the Metropolitan District, the quasi-public agency that provides water to the Capitol Region. Activists in West Hartford and other communities were critical of a discount deal the MDC had planned to offer a bottled water facility. The deal was ultimately rescinded.

Rep. Nicole Klarides-Ditria, R-Seymour, is new to the role of state representative but not new to the Hall of the House. Her sister, Themis Klarides, a Republican from Derby, has been a state representative for 18 years, including the last two as House Republican Leader. Both sisters said legislative observers shouldn't expect them to agree on everything.

"We both have our opinions," said Klarides-Ditria. In a speech on the floor of the House, Klarides acknowledged her sister, before remarking, "if anybody ever has a thought that she will do whatever I do because I'm her sister, remember this, the easiest way to get Nicole Klarides-Ditria to do anything is for me to tell her not to do it."