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Tough Session So Far...

The 2016 legislative session began in January and ends on May 4th, 2016. It has been a session that has largely been overshadowed by a significant multi-year budget deficit and legislators that are also focused on their upcoming November elections. This, however, has not prevented the American Heart Association from continuing to advocate on behalf of our issues.

Bills were introduced that, if passed, would have prohibited unhealthy marketing in public schools, offered healthier vending options on state property, increased the smoking age to 21, and instituted a one cent per once tax on sugar-added beverages. Unfortunately, none of these bills made it out of their committees.

Although it has been a tough session thus far, there has been a big win in the Education committee, which decided not to vote on a bill that would have, in part, taken CPR training out of the public school curriculum. There is also a bill currently on the floor of the house which begins to address childhood obesity, but if passed will require additional work next session. Once session ends please look for the comprehensive session wrap-up!

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Representative Prasad Srinivasan, Connecticut

Dr. Prasad Srinivasan, an allergist, is a long time resident of the town of Glastonbury, and is currently serving his third term as the town’s state representative. He is a member of the General Assembly’s Public Health; Finance Revenue & Bonding; and Planning & Development committees.

As the only physician in the state legislature, Representative Srinivasan partnered with the American Heart Association (AHA) to lead the charge in order to raise the state’s tobacco purchase age to 21. Knowing that 56,000 Connecticut kids now under the age of 18 will eventually die prematurely from their own tobacco use, he introduced legislation this session (https://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/cgabillstatus/cgabillstatus.asp?selBillType=Bill&which_year=2016&bill_num=290that if passed would have accomplished raising the purchase age and thus made it more difficult for minors to get tobacco products on their own.

In order to better educate the media and other legislators about raising the tobacco purchase age, Representative Srinivasan also organized a press conference at the Capitol in March (https://cthousegop.com/2016/03/76293/). The press conference was well attended by media and brought together legislators from both sides of the aisle, as well as a coalition of advocates in support. Unfortunately the legislation did not pass this year, but he will again lead the charge in January at the start of the 2017 legislative session.

In addition to being a physician and a legislator, Representative Srinivasan is at heart a family man. He has been married to his wife for 33 years, Mrs. Kala Prasad, who is a professional musician. He also has two children. His son Dr. Sashank Prasad, is on Faculty at Harvard Medical School. His daughter, Ms. Anusha Prasad Rodriguez, is a graduate of MIT and Wharton, and currently works for Citibank in NY.

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They Want to Hear From You!

Even though Connecticut is indeed a small state, it still consists of no fewer than 169 towns and cities. Within those towns and cities are 151 state representatives and 36 state senators, all of whom are re-elected every two years. You are a constituent to one particular state representative and state senator, and their job is to represent you in Hartford. As an advocate of the American Heart Association, it is important that you know who your own legislators are, and just as important that they know who you are. 

To create this relationship requires little of your time and could start as easily as you sending them a short email introducing yourself as a constituent and letting them know about an issue that you are passionate about, such as heart disease, childhood obesity, unhealthy school marketing or tobacco use.  Once you have exchanged an email or two with your legislators, follow it up periodically with a short note, such as wishing them a fun and relaxing summer, luck in their upcoming elections in November, and a happy holidays. This way they will remember your name and when you need a word with them, their door will be open. Remember, they represent you and really do want to hear from their constituents!

To find your legislator go to https://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/CGAFindLeg.asp. You will be asked to pick your town and to enter your street address and will then be provided with a link to their bio’s containing contact information. You can also email me at james.williams@heart.org, and I am happy to help set up and facilitate meetings.

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Leigh Pechillo, Connecticut

Leigh Pechillo brings an extraordinary level of commitment and passion to her work as a volunteer for the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Leigh suffered a massive heart attack on Mother’s Day in 2014 and was saved by her husband, Tom, who performed necessary lifesaving CPR on her until emergency services were able to take over. But her experience is not the only way heart disease struck Leigh’s family…her father passed away from congestive heart failure after years of heart related issues, her son Robby was born with two congenital heart defects, and Tom is also a heart defect survivor.

Leigh now spends much of her time raising money and awareness for congenital heart defects and heart disease. She is a frequent blogger for the Huffington Post, often speaking not only about her own experience as a survivor, but also of the importance of being CPR certified and of maintaining a healthy heart. She is happy to share her experiences so that hopefully others will be able to live a heart-healthy life.

As an American Heart Association/American Stroke Association volunteer, Leigh has also been extremely helpful as a legislative advocate in CT, often contacting her legislators and testifying on bills of importance at the Capitol. She submitted written testimony to the Public Health committee in 2015 to make CPR training part of the public school curriculum so that others “may one day save the life of someone they love.” CPR in Schools training is now part of the school curriculum because of volunteer efforts like Leigh’s.

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Dedicated Advocates Save CPR Training!

During the 2015 legislative session, AHA advocates worked hard to pass legislation making CT the 24th state to require CPR training in the public school curriculum.  At the same time, a High School Graduation Task Force was formed to review recent changes to the state’s high school graduation requirements.

Upon completion of its study, the Task Force submitted numerous recommendations to the legislature’s Education committee. One of their recommendations was to remove the CPR training requirement from the curriculum! Their main issue was that they thought it would be difficult to fund and to find available instructors. We informed them that the per-student cost would be approximately $1.00, and that many schools have been able to provide training at no cost using community volunteer instructors or video-based programs, donated equipment, and drawing support from businesses, foundations, civic organizations and public agencies.

The AHA advocacy team lobbied hard against this proposal and testified on the bill at its public hearing. When the bill was finally discussed numerous legislators expressed support for maintaining CPR training in the curriculum and seemed surprised that the Task Force proposed taking it out. What made the real difference, however, was that AHA volunteers, board members and employees sent emails and made numerous phone calls to targeted members on the Education committee. Largely because of these activities, the committee ultimately did not advance the bill and CPR training remains in the curriculum.

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CT Considers Increasing Tobacco Purchase Age

An issue that has begun to pick up traction nationally is increasing the tobacco purchase age to 21. Currently only Hawaii has passed such a law, but numerous states, including CT, have considered it during their current legislative sessions.

The American Heart Association, along with other groups, testified in favor of the bill before the Public Health committee. There was also a press conference in support of the bill, which was attended by both Democrat and Republican lawmakers as well as two American Heart Association representatives: advocate and CT/Western Mass. Board President Dr. Seth Lapuk, and CT Government Relations Director, Mr. Jim Williams.

Opposition to the bill was mainly done behind the scenes by the tobacco industry, who suggested that if the bill passed the state would lose significant tax revenue. In a year when the state is facing a massive budget deficit, this opposition proved enough to kill the bill. Legislators and advocates will be back next legislative session to continue work on this important effort in our fight against tobacco.

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Healthy Vending and Marketing Bill in CT

The American Heart Association was successful in having a bill raised in the Public Health committee that seeks to require a study of food dispensed in vending machines maintained on state property, with the goal of ensuring that the machines eventually offer plenty of healthy choices to the consumer. Senate Bill 296 also looks to prohibit public schools from marketing foods or beverages that do not meet nutrition standards schools are required to meet under the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program. While we are indeed happy that these issues are being addressed, the marketing language narrowly defines advertising as “signs or posters,” when advertisers use various other mediums like fundraisers, incentive coupons and branded educational materials. Senate Bill 296 is a good first step and we look forward to strengthening the language to ultimately make it a better bill.

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CT Considers Raising the Minimum Age to Purchase Tobacco Products

On Wednesday, March 2nd, the Public Health committee held a public hearing on a number of bills, one of which was a proposal to raise the minimum purchase age to 21 for tobacco products, electronic cigarettes and vapor products. The American Heart Association and other health advocacy groups testified in favor of Senate Bill 290, which will ultimately help to build healthier lives for CT children. There are some staggering statistics about this issue that you may not know: 

•Approximately 13 percent of CT High School students smoke.

•56,000 CT kids who are now under the age of 18 will ultimately die prematurely from smoking.

•$2.3B in annual health care costs in CT are directly caused by smoking, $520M of which is covered by the Medicaid program.

•The federal and state tax burden for CT residents from smoking-caused government expenditures is $916 per household.

These statistics are especially important because most teens who smoke and use tobacco report getting cigarettes and other products from their friends, and 90% of those who provide cigarettes to younger teens are under the age of 21. Many other states are working on this issue as well. We look to join Hawaii, which became to first state to pass such legislation in June 2015.

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Take the You're the Cure Advocate Survey

2015 was a great year for You're the Cure advocates and the many policy efforts that you work on. We have big plans for 2016, and we want to hear from you and what you want to see in the future for You're the Cure.

So take the survey now and let your voice be heard.

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Meet Our New Team Member

My name is Jim Williams, and I am your new CT Director of Government Relations. I’m very excited to hit the ground running during the legislative session, which began Wednesday. For the past 10 years I worked as the Government Relations Director for the CT State Dental Association. I have also worked for a Hartford lobbying firm and spent 8 years in the Marine Corps.

The 2016 legislative session is called a “short” session and ends on May 4th, which means things will happen very quickly. As you may have heard, we have three main legislative priorities this year.

·         Proposing a tax on sugary soft drinks

·         Expanding healthy food choices on state property

·         Reducing unhealthy food and beverage marketing in schools

As we progress through the session, I will keep you informed every step of the way. The biggest asset we have is you, our advocate. Your state representative and state senator sincerely like to hear from their constituents on issues that are important to them.

I look forward to working with you and want you to know that I am always available should you have any questions. Thank you in advance for your efforts on behalf of the American Heart Association and helping to advance our legislative priorities.





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