In a week marked by an historic bipartisan vote on sweeping gun-control legislation, the Public Health Committee crawled through its deadline to act on bills Friday with hours of partisan back and forth.
Unlike typical meetings, when committees can take as long as necessary to discuss and debate legislation, a committee must finish its work on the day of its deadline by 5 p.m. As a result, protracted debate immediately before a group’s deadline can prevent bills from moving forward in the legislative process.
On Friday afternoon, with 10 items on its agenda, the Public Health Committee was moving nowhere fast.
Apparently surprised by some of the bills the Democrats placed on the agenda for action during Friday’s meeting, Republicans on the committee filibustered the first few pieces of legislation for hours.
When the committee’s deadline passed,a controversial bill that would have allowed terminally ill patients to end their lives with the help of a doctor was left on the cutting room floor.
Supporters of the bill signaled early in the day that they were happy the concept had made it as far is had in the legislative process. But they expected the committee’s chairs to hold the legislation in an effort to avoid a lengthy debate.
The bill was never called. But lengthy debate on bills like “An Act Concerning Licensing of Tattoo Artists” and ” An Act Requiring The Euthanization Of Any Cat Or Dog To Be Performed By A Licensed Veterinarian” ensued.
“The agenda was changed without communication between the two parties on how it was going to look and I think some people take issue with that,” Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, said. “We’re supposed to be upfront. We’re supposed to be bipartisan. We’re supposed to be working together, and we didn’t feel that was taking place.”
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, was in and out of the hearing room, speaking privately with some of the committee’s Republican members as their colleagues asked extensive questions and offered amendments to uncontroversial bills.
“It’s about respect,” he said, when asked what prompted the early filibuster.
Cafero said the committee had held a bipartisan screening session and agreed upon which bills would be acted upon. He said the agenda did not reflect what was discussed in the screening.
“That’s not fair. That’s not respectful,” he said.
But following the meeting, Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, characterized the deadline filibuster as one of the rare opportunities the minority party has to ensure some of its priorities are acted upon. Klarides spent much of the meeting negotiating with Democratic committee chairs Sen. Terry Gerratana and Rep. Susan Johnson.
“Because there’s a definitive deadline, the minority has the clear advantage. And that’s what we did. I negotiated with them,” she said.
Because of those negotiations, Klarides said the committee alternated between Democratic and Republican bills.
One of the pieces of legislation that did pass the committee, Klarides said, was important to the lawmakers who represent Newtown. The bill would limit public access to some of the information included in a death certificate. The bill would make information like the birthdate of the person who died and the specifics of their death unavailable to most people.
Rep. DebraLee Hovey, R-Monroe, who also represents Newtown, said she had questions about the ethical behavior of some of the people who requested access to public death certificates following the Newtown massacre in December when a gunman murdered 20 children and six educators at an elementary school.
Hovey said town clerks have requested some limitations on the information that they are required to release because they were “badgered” after the shooting.
“When people are just trying to get their arms around what has actually occurred, there are those who would just like to exploit the sensitivities of a community,” she said. “I would suggest that we need to protect that community a little bit.”
Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, opposed the bill, pointing to a news story which highlighted abuse and deaths of developmentally disabled people in the state’s care. He said those types of investigations might not be possible if the state limits access to public information.
Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, R-Glastonbury, said there are proper authorities to investigate such incidents. He said the information should not be available to “anybody and everybody.”
Tercyak called the bill “dangerous stuff,” saying sometimes the “proper authorities” don’t release the information that they should.
“The press? Those stinkers, those invasive bastards? That’s for us. That’s not for their curiosity. That’s about our ability to know. That’s about so the whole state of Connecticut doesn’t have to go marching down and asking for the records,” Tercyak said.
The committee approved the bill with strong support on a 21-7 vote.