With next year’s legislative session set to begin in January, lawmakers are already researching topics for potential bills and some of the things they are looking into could prove controversial if they found their way into legislation.
Lawmakers often turn to the Office of Legislative Research to inform the bills they hope to pass during session. OLR’s staff of research analysts and lawyers turn around research reports in answer to questions from lawmakers.
Though the reports do not name the state representative or senator who asked the question, they do offer insight into what may be on the table during this year’s long session, when any lawmaker can propose a bill. Lawmakers passed a number of controversial bills during this year’s short session including the abolition of the death penalty and the legalization of medical marijuana leaving what would seem to be a void for the upcoming session.
Most of the recent OLR reports are fairly mundane. One summarizes Florida’s prepaid tuition policy, while another explains the standards states have set regarding the reflectivity of traffic signs.
Other topics are sure to be contentious, if they become legislation.
One lawmaker asked the office to summarize the assisted suicide policies of various states. Currently two states—Oregon and Washington—have assisted suicide laws on the books. Massachusetts voters considered and narrowly rejected a similar law this year.
It’s unclear at this point whether any lawmakers or lobbyists intend to push hard next year for legislation that would allow doctors to prescribe medication to end the life of a patient. But OLR explained Oregon’s law, which allows terminally ill patients to self-administer lethal doses of medication with a prescription from a doctor.
Lawmakers in Connecticut have tried unsuccessfully to enact similar policies in the past. In 2009, the Judiciary Committee raised an assisted suicide bill, only to box it rather than take on a controversial debate during a short session.
Advocates also attempted to address the state’s ban on assisted suicide through a lawsuit in 2009 brought by two doctors who wanted to clarify the statute. The doctors argued they should not be subject to manslaughter charges if they helped to ease the pain of their patients’ deaths by allowing them to end their lives with dignity. The lawsuit was dismissed by a Superior Court judge in 2010.
Since it’s illegal for doctors to assistant in a terminal patient’s suicide, when the state charges someone with suicide-related manslaughter it’s typically someone close to the person who died.
Lawmakers have also tried to ease the penalties for people facing manslaughter charges resulting from assisted suicides. In 2005, after one of his constituents was accused of manslaughter, Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, proposed a bill that would have allowed people accused of helping someone end their life eligible for accelerated rehabilitation. The bill ultimately died on the Senate calendar, but only after a judge set case law allowing by allowing the man to participate in the program, making legislation unnecessary.
Soda and candy tax
New taxes are always a tough sell, particularly for those in the Republican minority. But the lawmaker asking the Office of Legislative Research about states with increased taxes on candy and soda may face an additional hurdle if he or she proposes to do the same in Connecticut: Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
For weeks, Malloy has been saying he has “no intention of raising taxes,” even with a projected $2.13 billion budget deficit looming in the future. On Monday he said that would also apply to any efforts to place an excise tax or raise taxes on soft drinks and candies.
But according to OLR, other states have chosen to do so. Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia have placed an excise tax on soda. While most states exempt grocery foods from sales tax, many have not extended that exemption to candy and soda. Eighteen states tax candy and 23 tax soda at a higher rate than typical groceries.
Taxes are often used to discourage certain behaviors. People purchasing alcohol or cigarettes already face steep taxes in Connecticut. But Malloy said when it comes to sweets, there’s a better way to do it.
“If what we’re trying to get at is changing behaviors, I think there are other ways to change behaviors. For instance, calorie counts, better disclosure,” he said.
In response to the soda tax question the governor, at an unrelated press conference, went into a long-winded story that touched not only on the healthy snack choices of children at McDonald’s but his own preferences on the dollar menu.
Malloy must have caught a nonverbal cue from his senior communication adviser Roy Occhiogrosso, who was standing in the back of the room with his arms crossed. He interrupted his own story to give himself more time.
“So I wander about once a month into a McDonald’s—I’m telling a story, just relax—and I’m amazed now how many kids are asking for sliced apples in their little box,” he said.