Blind concession operators at Connecticut's state parks have told state lawmakers that a budget provision seeking more revenue could cost them their jobs.
The Hartford Courant (http://cour.at/1L0Z7kB ) reports that a proposal would allow business representatives to offer to operate state concessions that now are run by blind workers who have the right of first refusal. It's part of a law dating back 65 years intended to give job opportunities to the blind.
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Mark Dombkowski said his operations at Hammonasset State Park, which draws more than 2 million visitors a year, bring in $300,000 to $400,000 a year. He acknowledged that he doesn't have to pay the state any fees or revenue from his park sales. Dombkowski said he employs about 25 people during the summer season. Eric Hammerling, executive director of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association, says it makes no sense that state parks get no income from concession sales.
Amy Porter, state commissioner of rehabilitation services, says the funding proposal would put three blind employees out of work.
Advocates say the proposal threatens the work of nearly three dozen blind operators at other state facilities.
Keith Haley, who is legally blind and operates a café in a state building in Hartford, said federal and state laws offering blind people the right to operate concessions in parks have been on the books since the 1930s. The parks revenue bill "takes that right away. It puts blind people out of work," he said.
The legislation seeks to raise new types of revenue for state parks, which are facing a proposed $2 million cut in state funding this year. The bill includes a voluntary $5 surcharge to be added to state motor vehicle registration fees, with all the money raised going to state parks.
Information from: Hartford Courant, http://www.courant.com