Naugatuck lawyer Rosa Rebimbas was a member of a small local firm when the town’s state representative, Kevin DelGobbo, was appointed to the Department of Public Utility Control by then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell in early 2009.
Seizing the day, Rebimbas ran in the March special election and took over representation of the 70th District, which covers Naugatuck, in mid-term. She was a quick study, and despite being a rookie in the minority Republican party, Rebimbas successfully introduced a bill to reduce the criminal penalties for sexting, when it occurs between consenting minors. This gave prosecutors more discretion.
Now starting her fifth year in the General Assembly, Rebimbas has just been appointed the ranking House member of the legislative Judiciary Committee, replacing Rep. Arthur O’Neill of Southbury. The ranking members are the minority party counterpart to the House and Senate co-chairs of a legislative committee.
In 2002, Rebimbas earned her law degree at the University of Utah, where she helped organize and run the school’s Innocence Project. Returning to her native Naugatuck, she has served as president of the Waterbury Habitat For Humanity and is vice president of the Portugese Bar Association of Connecticut. Her three-lawyer Naugatuck firm, which serves clients in English, Portugese and Spanish, focuses on real estate and land use, family and divorce law, immigration, criminal litigation, and contract negotiation law.
On the opening day of the legislative session last week, Rebimbas spoke with Senior Writer Thomas B. Scheffey.
LAW TRIBUNE: I believe the measure you’ve been most famous for is your sexting bill, which led to national interviews on Fox News and CNN.
ROSA REBIMBAS: The sexting bill was one that did gain national recognition. It made the Connecticut laws catch up with modern times and technology. Previously, if a minor child, in poor judgment and not in their best interest, engaged in text messaging or sending inappropriate, lewd messages or photos to other minors or adults, they would be charged with a felony. They could be convicted of a felony based on a bad judgment call. It also applied to possession of such a message or photo. If someone was sending it to them, they could be facing a felony.
We saw [the law changing] in several other states. What we attempted to do was try to address the situation before it got worse, by modifying the statute and making it a lesser charge for those who did not have the intent [to commit a crime]. These were truly children acting without knowing the ramifications, and facing felony charges. Now we have a misdemeanor option, but we certainly still retain the criteria for the felonies on the books for those who intentionally are doing this with malice. It gives the prosecutor the opportunity to select a measured response.
LAW TRIBUNE: Is the statute in good shape now, or are there things you’d want to change in the upcoming session.
REBIMBAS: I have done educational forums throughout the state, and certainly within my own district, where we have had state prosecutors, law enforcement detectives, computer crimes unit officials participating, to educate parents and children about this, and I would certainly hope that if any amending is necessary, they would have reached out and made suggestions. Any good piece of legislation should always be looked at, and if there are ways of improving that, we certainly should look at that. But the statute appears to be in good shape.
LAW TRIBUNE: What are your priorities on the Judiciary Committee this year? There has, of course, been a lot of talk about gun- and ammunition-control measures in the wake of the Newtown school shooting.
REBIMBAS: At this time I have not filed any specific bills. That is not to say that I won’t. I have been and continue to speak to parents, law enforcement officals, and school administrators about their thoughts of the Sandy Hook tragedy. The law enforcement investigation is still ongoing and I believe that information will play an important role. The legislative solutions I would particularly favor are the responsible and relevant solutions that will attempt to address a variety of the issues raised as a result of the shooting in Newtown.
LAW TRIBUNE: How is your role going to be different on Judiciary Committee now that you’re the House ranking member.
REBIMBAS: I had the honor of serving as the ranking member of the General Law Committee, which is well known for working in a bipartisan manner, and that was certainly the way I also led that committee on my side, being bipartisan and working out good laws. To its credit, the Judiciary Committee also has a reputation for working in a bipartisan manner. I have spoken with the [committee leadership] and we are certainly intending on working in a bipartisan manner to shape the legislation being presented to the committee.
LAW TRIBUNE: What attracted you to the field of law?
REBIMBAS: From an early age, I had always been interested in helping people. My parents were my role models when it came to that. I grew up watching them take the time to help others in our church and our community. I quickly learned that helping others was not only appreciated by those who I helped, but it helped me develop a sense of purpose and fulfillment in my life as well. Being an attorney was just one of the many ways I could help people. I soon learned that I wanted to help by advocating on behalf of people, so becoming an attorney was a natural decision for me.
LAW TRIBUNE: And how did that lead you to the legislature?
REBIMBAS: I was approached with the idea of running for state representative by some very close friends and colleagues of mine. The decision to run was not a difficult one for me. The opportunity to represent the [town] you grew up in, live in, have a business in, have family and friends in, on a state level, was an opportunity I did not take lightly. I was very fortunate to have the residents of Naugatuck believe enough in me to support me in winning the special election in March 2009. Since then, I have had the honor of their trust and support. •