The past two years have flown by for state Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, who remained busy in her first term as a state legislator. Bartolomeo, a Democrat, chaired the Children’s Committee and Housing Committee. She was also a member of the Education Committee and Internship Committee.
The diversity of the 13th Senate District — consisting of Meriden, Middlefield and parts of Cheshire and Middletown — has presented challenges, Bartolomeo told the Record-Journal editorial board earlier this week.
Despite the fact that the district offers a variety of issues, Bartolomeo said, she has answered the call of her constituents. Bartolomeo points to a bill she supported earlier this year that increased penalties for oil companies that don’t fulfill their obligations for prepaid contracts. The bill was raised after Meriden-based Ace Oil went bankrupt last year.
Bartolomeo is also working with State Rep. Mary Fritz, D-Wallingford, to restore funding for Cheshire’s correctional facility. The state and the town are in a dispute over how much the state owes the town. Bartolomeo said officials with the state Office of Policy and Management are willing to sit down and resolve the issue.
“It’s something I hope we can work out,” she said.
Republican Len Suzio, who is seeking to regain the seat he lost to Bartolomeo in 2012, said his opponent doesn’t understand finances, and thus believes that “there’s a budget surplus when there’s not a surplus.”
“It’s no surprise I disagree with him,” Bartolomeo said.
Despite paying $1.26 billion to fund pensions this past year, the state had a $120 million surplus, she said.
The surplus is a product of deception, Suzio said.
Money should also be set aside for the rainy day fund each year.
“That’s being extremely responsible,” Bartolomeo said. “It needs to be paid every single year or we are never getting out of this hole.”
Since her time in office, the unemployment rate has dropped from 8 percent to 6.6 percent, she said. The private sector has gained 13,000 jobs in the past year. The state must continue to support small businesses and manufacturing.
“I feel like we have absolutely turned a corner,” Bartolomeo said.
Bartolomeo said she would not support a tax increase. In the near future, the state should be able to reduce taxes, she said.
Programs funded in her term have planted the seeds that will create jobs now and into the future through training and equipment investments.
The state increased municipal funding last year and held funding even the year prior, she said. Locally, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration has been very supportive financially.
Bartolomeo cited the $7 million in funding provided recently to solve the Meriden downtown flooding problem.
Common Core and other education standards were put into place too quickly, she said.
It makes sense to have national and state curriculum aligned, but she would like to see more standards around “social and emotional growth.”
Teacher evaluations shouldn’t be based solely on how students test.
“Teachers need to be evaluated on longitudinal testing over time” using a variety of testing methods, she said. “To do one test per year and base teacher performance on that is not responsible.”
Asked if she would support repealing Common Core and other education standards, Bartolomeo said, “I think at this point we’ve gone too far.”
Speaking to teachers and school leaders in the district, “many want to make it work,” she said. “They have already invested the time and training.”
Suzio said he would support repealing Common Core. It was too important an issue to be adopted in a regular session of the legislature. He feels similarly about gun control laws recently enacted, and said a special session should be held to take in public input.
Bartolomeo said she would not propose any changes regarding gun control.
Both candidates are in favor of amending the risk reduction earned credit program so that violent felons are not eligible for early release.
Bartolomeo proposed a bill in 2013, but nothing became of it because it was proposed at the same time as a larger piece of legislation to address gun control, mental health and school safety, she said.
A change was imposed that requires criminals to serve 85 percent of their sentence before being released, regardless of credits earned.
During the shortened legislative session this year, Bartolomeo said, she wasn’t allowed to raise a bill to change the program.
She will attempt to amend the program again next year if re-elected.
Earlier this month, Suzio questioned Bartolomeo’s commitment to children by bringing up her vote in 2013 to approve a bill shrinking drug free zones around schools.
The bill passed through the Education Committee but eventually failed. There are stricter penalties for drug offenders in drug free zones. Some claim that this is discriminatory against urban communities where schools are more numerous and closer together.
Bartolomeo said she saw promise in the bill, and voted to approve it thinking it would be further improved at the next level.
When the same bill was before her committee in 2014, she was not in attendance to vote, but notified the committee clerk that she would have voted against it because the bill had not been altered from the previous year.
Regarding her vote, Suzio said, “At the very best, I would criticize it as a complete lack of judgment.”
Suzio is “desperately searching for something negative to say about me and he doesn’t have it,” Bartolomeo said.
email@example.com (203) 317-2224 Twitter: @Andyragz