2019 in ReviewJanuary 9, 2020
It is an honor and a privilege to serve the 65th Assembly District.
I was appointed as a Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives for the 2018 to 2020 term, and serve on the Education, Human Services, Public Health Committees, and the Joint Committee on Legislative Management.
Thank you to all the service members and men and women in blue who keep us safe. Thank you to the small business owners, organizations, and residents that make our community vibrant and our culture unique. And thank you for entrusting me to fight on your behalf to make our district, city and state better places to work and live.
This last year was filled with many triumphs, challenges, and opportunities. I heard from many residents in our district about the issues they were facing, like employer benefits and unemployment, keeping utilities on, health care issues, and so much more. When I could, my office and I worked to find solutions. If we couldn't, we found the organizations that could. Sometimes, it can feel like contacting your State Representative is a bit out-of-reach, but it's not. I am always here to help, and I hope that if you do need help solving a challenge you will reach out to me. Please call my office at 860-240-8585 or email me at Michelle.Cook@cga.ct.gov. And if you have any ideas for potential legislation, I would love to sit down and talk about it together.
Workers’ Compensation Benefits for First Responders
In July, Governor Lamont signed into law a bill that provides workers’ compensation benefits to police officers, parole officers, and firefighters who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after events witnessed in the line of duty. I truly hope we all try to understand that the brain, like every other part of the body, can be injured. We must work together to provide these necessary resources for our service members who have sacrificed to protect our communities. Although this is a great bill, there are still some improvements that must be made. I look forward to the 2020 session when the General Assembly can go back to this bill and include several groups that were left out.
Research shows that if you haven’t started smoking by 21, you likely never will. We have made the sale and use of cigarettes, e-cigarettes and vape products illegal for those under 21. Nicotine creates addiction in teens, and 95 percent of adults who smoke started young. This law will protect a generation from becoming addicted to nicotine and keep it out of the hands of minors. Nationwide, e-cigarette use, also known as “vaping,” is on the rise among middle and high school students, so the bill also requires e-cigarette sellers to obtain the signature of a person 21 years of age or older at the shipping address prior to delivery and requires the signer to show proof of age. Read the full law here.
Funding Care4Kids and Advocating for Early Childhood Educators
We increased the family income ceiling for the Care4Kids program so more families can participate in this program that serves over 18,000 Connecticut children. This bill also allows the Office of Early Childhood (OEC) to suspend a provider’s license if there is a public health, safety or welfare situation that requires emergency action and further allows OEC to fine a child care center for failure of giving 30 days written notice before a closure. Read about it here.
The General Assembly also passed legislation that will help retain early childhood educators through financial incentives such as bonuses for degree or course completion. The law requires OEC to develop a proposed early childhood educator compensation schedule based on education, experience, training in early childhood education or child development, and Connecticut's cost of living. Click here to read the full law.
We also passed a law to give state-funded early childhood education programs more time to comply with new staff qualification requirements. The law extends the deadline for each implementation phase of the new training requirements and adds a new phase. Studies have demonstrated that higher staff qualifications and education yield higher quality programs, which will help provide our students with more opportunity in their futures. The law can be found here.
Meeting Connecticut's Future Workforce Needs
We’ve established a Workforce Training Authority to partner with the business community to make sure Connecticut has the best trained workers that can better meet the specific hiring needs of employers. This employment pipeline will target industries in need of skilled workers such as construction, health care, early childhood education, insurance, financial services, bioscience, advanced manufacturing, digital media, green technology and tourism. For more details, click here.
We also expanded the Advanced Manufacturing Certificate Program to include additional public high schools and allows private institutions of higher education to participate, in addition to public institutions of higher education. Read Public Act 19-103 here.
Improving the Quality of Long-Term Care
During the 2019 session, I co-sponsored legislation that requires nursing homes to calculate and post information regarding staffing levels of advanced practical registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and nurse's aides each shift. I was honored receive the Carol Rosenwald Award during the 23rd Annual VOICES United Forum in October. This award recognizes individuals and organizations that have worked to improve Connecticut's long-term care facilities. Every resident in our state deserves high quality health care and we must make it a priority.
More Meals for Seniors
The state budget includes a funding increase for elderly nutrition programs, including Meals on Wheels, which I championed for during the 2019 session. The increase will help address food insecurity among the senior population and expand access to nutrient-rich foods. Malnutrition among older adults is a serious health crisis and increases the risk of health complications like depression, weakened immune system, poor wound healing, decreased bone density and cardiovascular disease.
Promoting Long-Term Dental Health
Did you know that when a dependent turns 19 years of age, they lose dental insurance if they are on a parent's health insurance plan, but retain medical insurance until they are 26 years of age? During the 2019 legislative session, and many before that, I introduced legislation that would extend the period a child, step-child or other dependent child may retain dental insurance coverage until they are 26. The bill, which was taken up by the Insurance and Real Estate Committee, stalled after it was reported out of the Legislative Commissioner's Office (LCO). LCO reviews bills to ensure they do not violate the Constitution or other laws. To promote the long-term dental health of young residents, I plan to re-introduce this bill during the 2020 legislative session.
Protecting Young Motorcyclists
From January 1, 2018 to December 2, 2019, there have been 81 fatal crashes involving motorcycles, making up approximately 17 percent of total fatal crashes in Connecticut, according to the Connecticut Crash Data Repository. In fall of 2018, Taylor Wheeler, a student at the University of Connecticut and a Torrington resident, reached out to me about this issue, after she had lost friends in motorcycle accidents. I was proud to work with her and introduce legislation requiring motorcyclists under 21 years of age to wear helmets. Oftentimes, young motorcyclists do not have the experience to navigate sandy or rocky road conditions, distracted drivers, or other obstacles. A helmet can be the difference between life and a life-threatening injury, brain damage, or death. The bill was taken up by the Transportation Committee and passed in the House, however, the Senate did not take it up for a vote. In the 2020 short session, I plan to re-introduce this bill to protect our state's young motorcyclists.
Keeping Patients on Their Prescription Treatment
I introduced legislation to limit changes to prescription drug formularies and lists of covered medications during a policy term, also known in the field as non-medical switching. Through this practice, policy holders are taken off their medication treatment midyear, without any notice and despite the initially agreed upon coverage for the treatment. This can lead to adverse patient outcomes like a decline in adherence, increased hospital visits, outpatient visits, and higher medical and pharmacy costs. This practice is not allowed in any other industry, so why is it accepted for insurers? We must protect our patients and increase transparency of the health insurance industry. Already health insurers can control drug prices under their contracts, and oftentimes negotiate contracts with suppliers to restrict price increases. Insurers also know what a medication will cost for the plan year, and in some cases, a few years to come. We cannot allow health insurers to continue non-medical switching. While this bill passed in the House, the Senate never took it up for a vote. This bill is too important for our state's residents, so I plan on re-introducing it in the 2020 session.
Securing Funding for the Warner Theatre
The Warner Theatre is one of Torrington's most important historical landmarks, providing Northwestern Connecticut residents with access to high quality performance arts education and entertainment. This theatre is essential to Torrington's culture and community, but it needs funding to thrive. In 2019, I partnered with Lynn Gelormino, the Warner's Executive Director, and Brian Mattiello, Chairman of the Board of Directors, to secure $87,134 in funding through the state Department of Economic and Community Development for the 2020 fiscal year. The theatre also received a $1 million grant for capital improvements in 2018.
Litchfield County Regional Fire School Receives Funding
During a June meeting of the State Bond Commission, the Litchfield County Regional Fire School received $410,000 in state funding for soil remediation! I'm proud to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to fight on behalf of firefighters who risk and sacrifice so much to protect our safety.
I am so proud of the work the General Assembly accomplished in 2019, and I am honored to continue serving our district. However, there is one highlight that has meant the most to me - our daughter's wedding!