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Norwalk Dem statehouse crew fields questions ahead of legislative session

From left, State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) and State Reps. Chris Perone (D-137), Travis Simms (D-140) and Lucy Dathan (D-142) address the public Monday at Norwalk Community College.

NORWALK, Conn. — There was a hot topic at Monday’s Democratic legislative town hall forum – school vaccinations.

State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) and State Reps. Lucy Dathan (D-142), Chris Perone (D-137) and Travis Simms (D-140) also touched on the bottle bill, cannabis and tolls.  Duff also briefly addressed questions about building a new Norwalk High School.

Video by Harold Cobin at end of story

Duff cautioned at the outset that the legislative session beginning Feb. 4 is only 13 weeks long. He predicted a special session on transportation before the regular session begins.

While Duff indicated staunch support of vaccinations and for removing the religious exemptions that allow parents to refuse them for their children, Simms said he’s strongly against that idea and Dathan and Simms spoke of nuances.

Opponents who had come to query the legislators on the developing bill proposal were equipped with research, some of it dated. One woman spoke of a 2003 article, touting Connecticut’s immunization rate as best in the nation.

“Since then we’ve had a lot of data,” Duff replied. “…What we’re seeing is lots of lots of places where the numbers are actually coming down, the vaccination rates.”

An October press release from the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) states “that there are now 134 Connecticut schools where the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination rate for kindergarten students falls below the federally recommended guideline of 95%.”

They represented a 31.1 percent increase in Connecticut schools below the federal guideline, and 41 schools with rates below 90 percent, according to DPH.

“{T}he overall statewide number of religious exemptions to vaccination increased by 25% between the two school years (from 2.0% to 2.5%),” DPH reported. “This represents the largest single year increase in religious exemptions for vaccination since the DPH started tracking the statewide data a decade ago.”

DPH said the overall state rate for kindergartners was 96.1 percent, and the woman challenging Duff charged that the statistics were being manipulated.  The statewide vaccination rate was at 91 percent in 2003 and, “It stands to reason that if we’re up as a state overall, then those pockets (of lower vaccination rates) are also up,” she asserted.

Duff said he didn’t have those numbers off the top of his head.

“I’m begging you, please,” she said, after talking of children being expelled because their parents refused vaccinations. “…There are people who cannot afford to give up their jobs and have to make this decision.”

Franchesca Falciano queries Norwalk’s Democratic legislative contingent, Monday in Norwalk Community College.

Another member of the public, Franchesca Falciano, asked how removing a “fundamental civil right” would protect children from deadly diseases.

“We’re allowed to parent as we see fit. There are a lot of vaccinations that use people’s cells,  DNA from aborted babies, and my religious belief is to not abort. So for me, I have a an ethical dilemma with the reason for vaccination along with a couple of other reasons,” the Cranbury resident said.

Perone said he’s struggled with the issue, the need to balance public health with people’s right to their religious faith.

She pushed him for a yes or a no.

“I don’t even know what the bill says,” Perone replied. “… We’re going to be talking about this thing… This is clearly a work in progress.”

State Rep. Travis Simms (D-140), left, speaks his mind, Monday in Norwalk Community College. At right is State Rep. Lucy Dathan (D-142).

Simms volunteered that he’s “staunchly opposed to the religious exemption bill,” and, “I think that … we should allow the religious folks and individuals, the parents, to speak … on behalf of their own children and own beliefs. I certainly don’t want to put myself in … as God and … vote for bill that will take that exemption away…. this is very treacherous water here.”

Dathan said Perone had a point: “We haven’t seen the bill.”

She couldn’t support it last year because she didn’t like the process, she said. But she’s the parent of three children and, “I have a friend who’s blind because her parents decided not to vaccinate her… that really sticks with me as an individual to see somebody that is scarred as a result of not getting what the medical community deems safe things for us to do.”

She also has a friend “whose daughter had cancer and leukemia, and she was immunocompromised … during the course of her getting her vaccines,” she said. The child’s preschool classmates were all vaccinated and that was the only reason she could attend school for a bit of normality while going through hospitalizations, according to Dathan.

Dathan said she was raised Catholic and the Catholic Church supports vaccinations.

“Again, I really want to see the process and I want to see the bill,” Dathan concluded. “I want to see the language because I think that in order for me to legislate properly… I need to really understand what the language is. So I can’t make a decision. But I’m just giving you a little bit of background where I stand.”

A teenager spoke next, opining, “As a high school senior, I’m so glad that you support vaccinations. I’m scared of going to school with children who don’t have vaccinations.”

 

Marijuana

Another citizen brought up cannabis, suggesting that legalizing marijuana would generate revenue for a state struggling with deficits.

Perone said there are highs and lows in the revenue provided by cannabis, because it depends on the product mix.

Actually, Dathan said “highs and lows.” Perone said he had been heading for a pun but Dathan beat him.

The conservative estimates on revenue are $41 million a year but, “We just don’t know,” Perone said.
Dathan suggested that the “several years of data” from other states shows “these states making as much as they thought they would.”

“My concern is, do the social costs outweigh that? So I am studying this issue very closely, because I do have a lot of concerns,” Dathan said. “I also feel that if you legalize it, you normalize it.”

“I’ve never advocated for legalizing for a revenue standpoint, because I don’t think that’s a good policy to do that,” Duff said. “However, we need to create our own destiny here.”

Residents can easily drive to other states and get marijuana, he said. If there were an up or down vote, it would easily pass but, “when you get down to the writing a policy on legalization of something that has not been legalized for decades, then it becomes much more complicated because there’s a number of other factors that are that come into play.”

Questions about climate change led to discussion about a proposed bottle bill.

Simms explained that the deposit on bottles would go up to “25 cents or something of that nature.”

“I think that that will that will be something that would allow us to folks to really clean up the areas and clean up this towns and cities and highways,” he said.

Dathan said she’d really like to see that passed. She’d also like to eliminate PFAs – perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl, toxic chemicals known to create health problems – from the water supplies and also pesticide toxins.

The biggest issue with climate change is the energy people use, especially in transportation, Duff observed, going on to tick off Connecticut’s progress, such as doing “the largest procurement of wind energy ever” last year and ensuring that people can use electric cars without fear of running empty.

 

Other topics

State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25), left, answers questions from the public Monday as State Rep. Chris Perone (D-137) listens.

Simms volunteered that he’s opposed tolls since the topic first came up, because it would be a disservice to his constituents.

Duff and other City leaders recently announced that they expect the state to pay 80 percent of the construction costs for a new Norwalk High School, provided that it be a pilot program attracting 100 out-of-town students. Donna Smirniotopoulos tried to pin Duff down on that funding, but her argumentative approach prompted him to cut short his response to her question.

Duff said people all over Norwalk, even on the Brien McMahon High School side of town, are excited about a new high school. Mayor Harry Rilling and Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski were involved in developing the idea.

Norwalk Community College and the P-Tech Advisory Council (for the Norwalk Early College Academy, or NECA) made it clear that Bridgeport and Stamford students should have preference to enter the programs, he said.

Afterwards, Duff told NancyOnNorwalk that he’s confident the state will make the unusually high contribution to building the school because Konstantinos (Kosta) Diamantis, Director of the Connecticut Office of School Construction Grants & Review, and Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney (D-11) support it, along with the Norwalk Board of Education, City leaders and the Democratic legislative delegation.

20 comments

Norwalk native January 28, 2020 at 9:01 am

What an embarassment. If aliens were watching, they would not believe that this lot could be elected by anyone.

Mike Mushak January 28, 2020 at 9:32 am

I don’t recall hearing our State Rep. Travis Simms ask anyone in our community, at any of the many public meetings we attend which is most of them, what it is WE want when it comes to tolls and mandatory vaccinations.

The word “Representative” means exactly that. Who exactly is Rep. Simms representing then?

I wonder how many of Rep. Simms’ constituents, roughly 40,000 or so, actually know they have an anti-vaxxer and anti-tolls politician representing them. I’d be real curious what they think about that.

Rep. Simms is against tolls which means CT residents (instead of out-of-state drivers and trucks) will foot the entire bill to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, unlike every other state in the union.

Why should CT residents pay for all the damage and congestion caused by millions of out-of-state drivers? It makes no sense, is unfair, and makes us look stupid to be honest.

And when the trains break down and bridges and highways continue to crumble creating massive transportation gridlock, which keeps Rep. Simms’ constituents (many of them low-income and struggling to get ahead who can’t afford to be late or miss work) from getting to work and school, how exactly is that helping them? It’s not, of course. Yet Rep. Simms has joined Republicans in their myopic quest to oppose tolls that every other state around us has.

Now we find out Simms is against mandatory vaccinations, despite a century of success in saving millions of lives and the consensus of the scientific community that vaccinations save lives and protect our children.

Why? Because he says religion should give you an excuse to not vaccinate your kids, endangering the health of our entire community and ALL of our children and friends and family, including elderly.

Is Travis Simms aware that measles can cripple and blind and even kill people including children, and that each year over 140,000 children under the age of 5 die from measles?

And is Rep. Simms aware of all the pain and suffering and death caused by other potentially deadly diseases that vaccinations prevent, like mumps, rubella, diphtheria, polio, hepatitis, even cancer?

If Jesus were alive today, do you really think he would be against measures to protect millions of lives and so much pain and suffering? Of course not.

Rep, Travis Simms would be wise to start listening to all of his constituents before deciding to take extremist positions that in opinion of many, endanger all of our futures including our fiscal outlook, our health, and even our lives, for us and for our children.

A Concerned Citizen January 28, 2020 at 12:00 pm

Three lines of thoughts on this piece:

1) How can any well-educated person be against vaccines? The fact that one of the individuals quoted on the ingredient list of vaccines is so far off-base and factually incorrect is frightening. These are the self-serving, self-indulgent internet educated experts who live in the dangerous anti-vax community. It would have been great for the reporter to add an asterisk that links to the CDC website on what is actually in vaccines in the interest of getting facts out to the public to combat the anti-science rhetoric of the anti-vax community. This is actually one area where I agree with MM for a change.

2) On the “New Norwalk High School”, what a ridiculous fiasco this is turning into. First off, there is no pending legislation, no state budget funding, and no clear policy document from the CT Department of Education supporting this project. This is all work to be done. The fact that our esteemed Senator felt the need to get up in front of the press and present this as a done deal is as moronic as the bad orange man saying Mexico will pay for the wall. The Senator doesn’t tolerate dissent or being called out so no wonder he moved to shut down an opposing view in the discussion. An appropriate time for a press conference would have been for when the ink was dry on the legislation authorizing the expenditure from the state budget. That is if they can get this ridiculous proposal through the legislature. In the meantime, Norwalk’s school needs have fallen off of the state priority list and our student population, will suffer while the “adults” try and figure this out. It would be great if NON could actually dig into this issue which has come to light due to the efforts of a private citizen with a FOIA inquiry. That would be some good investigative reporting to read.

3) On tolls and the fact that a city employee is using work time to write comments to the editor when his idols are in a bit of hot water is a concern, unless he has the day off from work. Shouldn’t they be doing their job, which my taxes fund? The last polling data at the state level shows 60% of the population are opposed to tolls when it was conducted by SHU. Recent online polls by the CT Post show that 90% of those responding are opposed to tolls. Maybe it’s the single-party autocrats that need to listen to the people when we say “enough” on the taxes. Senator Duff and his associates have voted for every tax increase that has been put in front of them: new dry cleaning tax, new parking tax (and we all love the parking fees anyway, let’s have the state add insult to injury), new safety clothing tax, new grocery tax, new payroll taxes, previous income tax increases. All of these taxes negatively impact the workers of CT and especially those of us who continue to struggle to get by in a state that has been passed by in terms of the economic recovery that the rest of the country has benefitted from.

John ONeill January 28, 2020 at 12:18 pm

Nothing about state support for our schools which are in crisis mode? Disgrace..
@Mike — If our infrastructure is in poor condition, WHY have funds been diverted away from that purpose? Travis Simms is right on tolls. He understands that current funds going to STF will be used for non-transportation spending. Lamont is looking at truck toll passage as a “beach-head” to eventually pass on to cars. Our legislators have proven over and over again their promises on lockbox are worthless.
While I have you — Would you agree Norwalk’s lack of transparency on ELL crisis is a disgrace? If not, please substitute teach at one of our schools, they’re having trouble filling those spots. In fact, you may want to submit a resume for full time, as teachers seem to be quitting.

Nora King January 28, 2020 at 4:10 pm

Kids should be vaccinated if they are attending public schools. Period the end. If parents want to endanger their children then home school them. I don’t want my kids endangered. As for the Norwalk High School …. I am so confused. Is it funded? Is this now a regional High School? It has all been very confusing. I believe in updating and building new schools but if they are just being built so we can increase enrollment for other towns than I am totally confused. Will the city be paying for the school or the state? How does it impact our taxes? What about Columbus and Jefferson? We need clarity instead of all this rock throwing. I want to know all the answers so I can form an opinion.

Banks January 28, 2020 at 9:49 pm

Marijuana is already normalized in CT. It’s been prevalent in High Schools, colleges and adult life for decades. Does Rep. Dathan think the current system where thousands buy on the black market unaware of where marijuana is grown or what’s in teenagers pot is a better social cost than legalizing? Cocaine may be the elephant, but cartels get rich off marijuana too. Legalization is creating jobs and localizing a safe supply in neighboring states and countries now. $41 million is PROOF it’s normal. How long will CT keep this underground.

Babar Sheikh January 28, 2020 at 10:31 pm

Even the Midwest is legalizing marijuana now. CT should be embarrassed, as well as some other Northeast states. The fact that it helps some opioid addicts alone is reason enough to legalize it immediately.

Bryan Meek January 28, 2020 at 10:44 pm

Is there a vaccine for financial illiteracy? Duff, accountable or not, has been our Senator during a period of 50% reduction in state funding, 40% drop in median real estate values, but at least vaccines are only down 2% with no real remedy for religious accommodation. Standing up for us for sure. Maybe troupe 446 can teach reading classes at NPS when we run out of money.

Beth Grey January 28, 2020 at 11:20 pm

I was so happy to hear that Rep Simms is speaking on behalf of those who have voiced the need of having the right to keep the religious exemption. I was also happy to hear that the Dathan and Perrone are at least taking a level headed approach as to wanting to gather more information. Pro vaccine or not, it’s not the governments place to tell people what they should put into their bodies as well as dictating ones personal right to religious beliefs and expression.
Public school is for everyone it’s meant to be all inclusive. If people want to only be surrounded by 100% vaccinated individuals then maybe those that wish to do so should homeschool.

Patrick Cooper January 29, 2020 at 8:51 am

I am surprised to see not one female commenter take issue with the illustrative language used to describe the individual who had the temerity to ask Mr. Duff the type of questions usually reserved for journalists – or at least, those that dig for facts and truth. Women have fought for years to have their behavior illicit identical language used to describe the same in a man. One is “tough”, one is “dogged”, and then one is “argumentative”. Guess we have some more road to travel on that equality. I know the three questions she asked – perhaps if local journalists took her lead, she could be the endearing and affable taxpayer – muted – everyone dreams of.

I’m also surprised no one seems to see the purpose behind the attack on Representative Simms from the only genius in District B. Perhaps the wounds of being rejected by – gasp – fellow D-party loyalists – have yet to heal. Now I don’t set foot in that camp – but it sure appears from a distance that Dis-B Dem’s sent a message right past those that they denied, to the principle they wanted to put on notice. We shall see.

Lastly, I rarely find commentators who I can agree with even close to 100%. But I have to say – @A Concerned Citizen, your #2 & #3 points are pretty spot-on. As for point #1, there is the little “Hobby Lobby” issue that our country has yet to reconcile. Religious leaders would do their faithful well by addressing how to bring modern science into the fold of ancient precepts and doctrine. Even in this short comment section – you have both sides of that coin represented.

John ONeill January 29, 2020 at 9:49 am

@Bryan — IF the average Norwalk taxpayer knew half of how they’ve been getting screwed over the past 40 years there would be an uprising.
Beth Grey: It’s great to be a libertarian. JUST not at the expense of my children. I agree with Bobby Duff on almost nothing. But, like a broken clock he’s right twice a day. Vaccinations happen to be one of those times. Now that I think about it, I don’t know what that other time would be.

Kate H. January 29, 2020 at 11:34 am

I was so happy to hear that Rep. Simms supports a parents right to choose medical products for their children. All children have a right to an education and the state should never have the power to coerce families into getting injected with pharma products against their will.

Kids currently get 72 doses of vaccines and many of those vaccines are for illnesses that aren’t even communicable in a school setting. There is no health emergency in CT to warrant removing constitutional rights. This issue is not about public health and more people are starting to see that.

Thank you Rep. Simms!

Adolph Neaderland January 29, 2020 at 12:17 pm

My take on the session:

Dialogue with constituents is an important but underused tool, if there is genuine interest in listening. Brings back democracy.

1: Topics should have been solicited well before the session, to better prepare the panel. Personally, I felt the panel were ill prepared for, as I perceived, a somewhat hostile audience.

2: 1 hour is certainty not enough time for a meaningful exchange on such hot topics as school funding, immunization or taxation. A minimum of 2 hours would have been better.

3: I also had a hard time hearing all the discussion. For some reason, the panel were not using microphones.

Jody January 29, 2020 at 1:06 pm

NON: You put the quotes around the wrong words that Franchesca Falciano spoke. She actual use air quotes around the phrase deadly disease. Watch the video – it happens at 40:44. I guess she thinks deadly diseases aren’t a real thing.

Amy January 29, 2020 at 1:50 pm

Thank you for supporting medical and religious freedom! Cohersion to vaccinate is just as bad as mandating them. Every child derserves an education regardless of their families religous background or beliefs.

Natalie Stanton January 29, 2020 at 1:55 pm

Wow. So impressed with representative Simms. Rejecting tolls AND standing strong for religious freedom. Anyone saying kids need their shots period – hasn’t looked into what vaccines are required these days. Anyone pro mandating shots and removing religious freedoms that have been in place for 60 years for no reason except to make Matthew Ritter and his dad’s pharma clients happy needs to understand the ingredients (including which vaccines use aborted fetal cells) in each of the 72 doses currently on the recommended schedule and the possible side effects. It also needs to be understood that many more vaccines are in the pipeline to be mandated after these go through including the HPV vaccine and yearly flu shots for children – regardless of whether the children are medically fragile and should not receive the shots. The CT government needs to be independently aUdited and put back the money for the car tax it took from the transportation fund instead of creating more taxes. The bill does not just say tolls for trucks only and don’t be fooled that the tolls will be only for trucks. Simms is clearly an honorable politician who is listening to his constituents and he is doing what’s in their best interest. Thank you Rep. Simms. Hope we can elect more like you in 2020.

Lisa January 30, 2020 at 8:29 am

Why is it that the minute someone says they support maintaining the religious exemption they are automatically named an “anti-vaxxer”?
Should those individuals who support a woman having the legal right to choose an abortion automatically be called baby killers? Or pro fetus death?
We should be able to have conversations about our concerns without attacking each other.
Also if the number of religious exemptions is going up lets try to understand the objections and concerns for those families.
What newly mandated vaccines have caused the greatest concern?
Is the flu vaccine mandated for students in Ct? Is it mandated in all States?
Does every adult take the flu vaccine?
If you dont take it do you consider yourself an anti-vaxxer?
If they come up with a vaccine for the common cold and they mandate that would you feel any differently?
There is so much more to this than we realize.

Norwalk Parent January 30, 2020 at 10:22 am

Thank you Rep Simms for defending our freedoms . All those supporting mandatory vaccines are statists . America is Great because of our rights

Banks January 31, 2020 at 7:44 am

Rep Dathan, here is some information for you to study “very closely”

“Mexico cultivates more than 20,000 acres of marijuana every year and produces an estimated 7400 tons of pot; easily making it one of the leading producers in the world. Most of this finds it’s way into the United States, and Mexican weed makes up an estimated 40 percent of what we consume here in America.”

Furthermore, “Mexico was plagued last year by the most murders the country had seen since records began. A staggering 35,588 murders were recorded by the National Public Safety Secretariat, due in part to a social crisis fueled by turf wars among drug cartels.”

As part of this equation, reluctance to legalize enriches the cartels. Again, consumption has been normalized in the US for decades, just look at the demand. Who bears burden in the current system:

https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/30/americas/children-self-defense-militias-in-mexico-intl/index.html

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