Opinion: 2021 was a year of challenges — but also compassion, advancement and progress in CT

This past year was undoubtedly full of challenges, both here in Connecticut and across the country. But 2021 was also notable for moments of community compassion, economic advancement and scientific progress.

Neighbors helped neighbors through moments of isolation, and health care workers worked long hours to ensure that Connecticut became the most vaccinated state in the country. Businesses that had shuttered their doors were eventually flooded with local customers, and our state added 53,4000 jobs to date. I’ve learned a ton this year — about my district and about our state. Through every twist and turn, I was grateful for the seat that my constituents gave to me in the state Senate.

I want you to know that we didn’t allow the pandemic to slow our work at the state capitol. In fact, many of us felt an urgency to work even harder on behalf of the communities we represented. I want to highlight a few areas of progress, and renew my commitment to keep working for you when we return to the Capitol in February.

COVID-19 prompted a crisis of physical and mental health, and we stepped up on both fronts this year. New tax credits ensured that small businesses could afford personal protective equipment, and stronger laws will ensure that public school students are vaccinated. Meanwhile, Senate Bill 2 provided resources to help young people who are struggling with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Now, students can access confidential care and utilize mental health wellness days. Importantly, teachers will receive enhanced suicide prevention training.

As the youngest member of the legislature, I know how hard it is for young people to afford dental and vision insurance, so I’m pleased to report that we expanded dental and vision insurance to folks through the age of 26. As telehealth became a valued tool for patients and providers alike, we passed legislation to ensure that insurance companies continue covering telehealth services until at least June 2023.

In the wake of the most successful election in American history (not because of which candidates won, but because more Americans voted than ever before), my colleagues and I took a hard look at voting rights in Connecticut. We passed automatic registration and ensured that voting drop boxes will remain in place in the years to come. We guaranteed time off for employees looking to vote, and excitingly, made progress toward bringing early voting to Connecticut. If you agree that Connecticut should join 40 other states in providing a few days of early voting, you can vote to make it happen during the 2022 election. A referendum will allow the public to decide whether or not we want elections that are accessible and convenient for all.

As important as it is to recap where we’ve been, I’m also eager to look toward the future. This session, we kept Connecticut’s future taxpayers in mind by passing a budget that boosts funding for education, cuts $40 million in taxes for 195,000 households and provides $110 million to nonprofits helping families. We filled our rainy day fund with over $3 billion, and used another billion to pay down pension obligations.

We made investments in the future without raising taxes, often working in a bipartisan manner. I’m proud that we built stronger workforce pipelines to ensure that Connecticut businesses have access to a highly skilled workforce. Our new auto-admission policy for high-achieving high schoolers will allow them to easily matriculate into our exceptional state universities.

COVID-19 may still be with us, but I see a light at the end of the tunnel. As we head into a new year, I’m hopeful that we can soon forget the meaning of social distancing and monoclonal antibodies. But in the meantime, I’m proud to live in this state and I think you should be, too. Thank you for the opportunity to serve, and have a wonderful holiday season.

State Sen. Will Haskell is a Democrat who represents District 26, which includes parts of Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport and Wilton. Due to redistricting, part of Darien will fall within District 26 in 2022.