The legislative session is off and running at last, and members are rushing to propose new laws. Thus far, the focus has been squarely on gun control and school safety in the wake of Newtown, but there’s plenty more going on beneath the surface. Sadly, some of the many, many bills being raised should stay out of sight.
For example, there are several bills out there being proposed by Republicans that would make it harder for the legislature to pass a budget. HR 5256, raised by Rep. Laura Hoydick, R-Stratford, is one of these, and it would mandate a two-thirds majority in order for the budget to pass. In theory this sounds nice, since it would be great if budgets were actual consensus documents that involved at least a little input from the minority, but in practice this bill is a recipe for gridlock. There also are a bunch of GOP proposals to bring the very thing that ruined California for a generation, initiative and referendum, to Connecticut. This is the dream of the powerless minority, to take legislation directly to the people, but the consequences would be an utter disaster. Fortunately for us there’s no way it’ll happen, not any time soon.
Then there are the attempts to turn the clock back and overturn bills passed in the past few years. Sen. Art Linares, R-Westbrook, wants to get rid of paid sick days legislation that was enacted during the productive, contentious 2011 session. Several bills would trim down or rid the state altogether of the public campaign financing system. Rep. John Piscipo, R-Thomaston, wants to see the state ditch California emissions standards. Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, would like to see the death penalty return. None of these things will be happening any time soon.
There’s also the usual tilting at windmills. Rep. Jack Hennessey, D-Bridgeport, wants the legislature to pester Congress about a constitutional amendment to overturn the “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision. Sen. Ed Meyer, D-Guilford, wants to scrap the idea of an upper and lower chamber and create a unicameral legislature like Nebraska’s. Rep. Sampson wants to make Connecticut a Right to Work state — next to impossible in Connecticut’s relatively labor-friendly climate. Then there’s Sen. Joseph Crisco, D-Woodbridge, who is proposing “An Act Concerning a Single-Payer Health Care System.” I wish, Senator; but it’ll never happen.
There are bills that seem petty, like one that would establish “Beautiful Connecticut Waltz” as the “second state song,” whatever that means. There’s also a bill to establish an official state polka, but fortunately this seems to be a different category so they won’t conflict. There also are bills that seem a little off-the-wall, like a proposal by Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, to do away with mandatory fluoride in the water supply. What does he have against teeth?
Then there are bills that just seem mean, like one proposed by Rep. Cecilia Buck-Taylor, R-New Milford, requiring anyone on cash assistance to submit to drug tests. The very premise reeks of suspicion and stereotyping, as does Sen. Markley’s bill aimed at preventing cash assistance from being spent on “adult entertainment” or booze. If some state legislators still stubbornly believe that people taking cash assistance from the government all run out to get high when their checks come and then spend it all on strippers and cheap beer, then it’s no wonder poverty is so rampant in this state.
Hidden in all of this noise are bills that won’t get much press, but are smart ideas that are at least worth considering. For instance, Sen. Markley raised a bill that would allow consumers to cash a check at a bank without a fee, and an ambitious bill to try and reform the state’s generous but crushingly expensive retirement benefits plan for state employees. His idea would have new employees enroll in a defined benefit contribution plan instead of the current system, which is a fancy way of saying that employees would have more choice over their retirement options, rather like what happens in most of the private sector. It may be a good idea, as some economists suggest, or it may not be. But it deserves at least some consideration.
The members of the legislature produce so many bills that it can be very hard to keep track of them. It’s worth the time of every voter to go to the General Assembly’s website, hover over “House” or “Senate,” and click “members” to look up their legislator. Click on his or her list of bills, and find out what your voices in Hartford are saying.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.