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Connecticut Black and Puerto Rican Caucus outline its priorities for the 2022 session

The Black and Puerto Rican Caucus announced its legislative priorities Wednesday. Legislators want to address disparities in housing, voting rights, health care, and education in the 2022 session.

They plan to continue focusing on pandemic recovery, including ensuring federal funds are being distributed equitably. Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, said, “My constituents want to know where the money is, because we haven’t seen the effects of the money and those funds coming to the communities that they say it was expressly allocated for.”

Housing is central to the caucus’s platform this session. Caucus Chair, Rep. Geraldo Reyes of Waterbury said another top priority will be ensuring that people remain in their homes, even as pandemic rental assistance wanes. “We are starting to see people’s furniture on the curbside, that’s the indicator right there,” he said. Reyes called for a minimum of $250 million in additional funding for Unite CT, the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance.

Voting rights will be another key concern for the caucus this session. Connecticut currently doesn’t allow for early voting. This November, voters have the opportunity to change that by voting to amend the state constitution to allow early in-person voting.

Democratic Representative and Assistant Deputy Speaker Pro-Tempore Hilda Santiago of Meriden said she wanted to start getting the word out about the November 8th vote. “We have to change the state constitution in order to provide early voting to our communities and to the state,” she said. Santiago will also be on the ballot this fall: she’s running for Secretary of the State. If elected, she would be the first Hispanic person to win statewide office in Connecticut.

Deputy Majority Leader Rep. Tammy Exum, D-West Hartford, addressed children’s mental health, which she said impacts Black and brown children disparately. The caucus supports H.B. 5001, a major focus for Democrats this session. The bill would set limits for what insurance can charge for mental health care, provide equivalent licensing for out-of-state mental health providers, and would temporarily waive the examination requirement for social workers still learning English.

“This is not a political issue...it’s not a partisan issue, it doesn’t matter how much money you make, it does not matter where you live,” Exum said, “mental health issues have impacted so many of us.” She added there was strong support for this bill at a 15 plus hour public hearing held by the Public Health and Children’s committees last week.

The caucus celebrated that Black and Latino History will be offered in every school district by the fall. That bill represented a big win for the caucus in 2019. Currently, it’s offered as an elective in high school and as part of American history in elementary and middle school curriculums.

Ali Oshinskie is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. She loves hearing what you thought of her stories or story ideas you have so please email her at aoshinskie@ctpublic.org.

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