The House stood at ease for more than an hour Friday while lawmakers disputed a “not in my backyard” issue involving the siting of nursing homes for sick and elderly prison inmates.
Beginning early in the session, Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, protested a plan for a private nursing home serving elderly and sick prison inmates in Rocky Hill. Residents of the town see the facility as a public safety threat.
Guerrera sought to pass legislation to prevent the state from placing an inmate in a private nursing home without the approval of the zoning board in the host town.
On Friday evening, with around five days left in the legislative session, Guerrera brought the concept before the floor of the House through an amendment. The legislation had dozens co-sponsors in the House and Senate. Lawmakers spoke in support of the amendment for several minutes and it was eventually adopted on a voice vote.
Rep. Frank Nicastro, D-Bristol, said he was opposed to housing “delinquents” in his home town.
“This has got to stop. This has been going on for years. It’s about time we put a halt to this,” he said, adding that municipal planning and zoning boards should have a say. “This is wrong just to dump somebody off in somebody’s city because you’re a state agency and think you can do it. We have the right to stop it.”
After the amendment was adopted, some lawmakers from urban communities said that there is a necessity for facilities to house terminally ill people coming out of prison. Rep. Bruce Morris, D-Norwalk, asked if Guerrera had suggestions as to where to put those people.
“We may not have sufficient places for all these people who have done their crime, done their time, and now are on release and they’re terminally ill. They’re not a danger to society. What alternative would we have as a state?” Morris asked.
Guerrera suggested placing them in a recently-closed, low-security prison in Mansfield.
“It may take some time, but I believe if we decided to do something like that than no community would have to go through this type of process,” he said.
Morris said the state had a responsibility to place very ill people coming out of prison and that responsibility should not be “solely the burden of urban communities.” He said municipal zoning boards have a tendency embrace “NIMBYism,” meaning “not in my backyard.”
Then Rep. Toni Walker, a Democrat from New Haven who chairs the Appropriations Committee, effectively stopped debate on the bill by motioning to have it considered by her committee. She said Guerrera’s amendment had not yet been analyzed for its fiscal impact.
“We are in such a fragile state of affairs right now with our budget,” she said.
But with so few days left in the legislative session, moving the bill to the Appropriations Committee would likely kill it. Especially considering Walker, who is co-chairwoman of that committee, said she saw the issue as a matter of fairness.
Following the request to move the bill, the House stood at ease for more than an hour as House Speaker Brendan Sharkey and other legislative leaders spoke with Guerrera. Walker spoke with other lawmakers from cities.
Walker said her city, New Haven, has halfway houses, sober houses, and homeless shelters. She said communities should share the responsibility of housing the state’s “frail population,” and also that not everyone who lives in the convalescent homes in New Haven are from that neighborhood.
“We’re caring for everybody in this state, we’ve got to make sure that it’s shared,” she said. “In this case these are quadriplegics. These are people who will probably never get out of a chair again in life, and yet, you’re going to try and make it isolated like that? I think it’s just not fair.”
This year’s budget already anticipates a $5 million savings generated by the population it is moving into nursing homes. Walker said Guerrera had knowledge of those savings when the budget was passed.
Guerrera said he was aware of the appropriation, but was unaware last year that it was going to be “used to house terminally-ill prisoners in a residential neighborhood.”
He said it’s “all about the process” and has nothing to do with a division in the Democratic Party between urban and suburban lawmakers.
Eventually, Walker withdrew her motion and the bill was tabled temporarily. She said it may be raised again in the remaining days of the session, and suggested it was possible to work out a compromise.
“I’ve got to go back to dealing with some other things. I’ve got a budget that’s got to be completed,” she said.
Sharkey told Guerrera that the amendment could get raised again on Saturday.