On Tuesday afternoon, to celebrate the holiday of the independence of the United States of America, state and local officials gathered in Norwalk to thank the men and women who keep fighting for that freedom and independence.
"We thought today would make a good day to discuss all the legislation we've passed in Connecticut over the last couple of years," Sen. Bob Duff said. "As we reflect on Independence Day and July 4th, we think about the folks that sacrificed, some that have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms."
Those pieces of legislation and programs include:
- The STEP-UP for Veterans program specifically aimed at assisting Post-9/11 veterans who suffer from unemployment rates as high as 30 percent. This program subsidizes the business-side of costs associated with hiring and training new employees who happen to be veterans.
- Connecticut veterans will now be able to get "Veteran Status" printed on their state-issued license to make identifying themselves as a veteran post-service easier.
- Fairer Taxes for Afghanistan Veterans was a law passed to waive property tax interest rates for soldiers serving in Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East.
- High school diplomas were issued to veterans who did not receive them because they left high school to serve in the Korean War. Typically, soldiers who left high school for other wars were awarded a high school diploma upon return, but veterans of the Korean War have been long overdue this honor.
- Veterans facing certain non-violent offenses in court will be offered the option to participate in a pretrial diversionary program twice, as opposed to a single time.
- 1. Interference with a war or veterans' memorial or monument, defined as intentionally defacing, mutilating, destroying or removing a memorial and - 2. Unlawfully possessing, purchasing or selling a war or memorial while knowing it has been unlawfully removed from its official location - are now both class-D felonies punishable by a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison.
- Free, lifetime passes to state parks, forests and recreational facilities for any disabled veteran.
"This is not a Democrat or Republican issue," Duff said. "It's an issue for all of Connecticut's residents that we feel is so important as we continue to do all that we can for veterans in the state of Connecticut."
Leone, a veteran himself, said taking care of those with whom he can identify so intimately in both plight and adjustment to returning home is his highest priority.
"We can never do enough for veterans," Leone said. "There's always going to be a great need. They;ve already done so much through their service to our country, it's only right when they come home that we do the same for them and provide the services they so desperately need."
Leone, a Democrat, introduced House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, a Republican and thanked all parties involved for recognizing that, when it comes to veterans, everyone is on the same page. Cafero backed that message up.
"There's one thing certainly, in Hartford, that brings us all together," Cafero said. "We don't care about parties, we don't care about what chamber you're from and we don't care about what branch of government you're from. When it comes to issues with regards to veterans we all come together.
"There's a lot of reasons to be disillusioned with what goes on in government, but when it comes to veterans, I think it's something we can all stand and be proud of because we are all on your side."
Mayor Richard Moccia, also a veteran, said there wasn't much additional he could add and, in fact, just wanted to thank the state officials for their participation and constant work to pass legislation that continues to assist the veterans of Connecticut.
"I stand here just to thank the delegation for doing this," the mayor said. "I just extend my thanks to our non-partisan delegation. I can tell you that these efforts on a state level put Connecticut at the forefront of assisting veterans."
The American Legion Post Commander Buddy Scudder also took the opportunity to thank the officials doing everything they can for the veterans of Connecticut.
"As a veteran, I am privileged to live in a state and a town that understands the value of supporting our troops, and honoring our veterans,” said Scudder.