It’s hard to write a column about Connecticut’s legislative session as if nothing is happening. In a lot of ways, though, the legislators themselves are pretending President Trump isn’t there. But how can the government of a small state cope with the radical change coming out of the nation’s capital?
We can do quite a lot. It’s discouraging that our lawmakers have yet to do so, but I hope in time, as the magnitude of our unfolding national disaster becomes clear and the need for action becomes more pressing, that they will.
Let’s take just the things that have happened this week.
First, the Affordable Care Act is a dead law walking. Republicans in Congress are ready and willing to gut it, clean it, and fry it up on the grill. I wrote about this before, but it bears repeating: Connecticut can and should be ready for there to be no real replacement for Obamacare. When the law is struck down, people are going to be hurting. Something needs to be in place to help them. I suggested a plan similar to MassHealth, or the intriguing SustiNet, which was supposed to pool all the state employees into a public health insurance option, but I’d love to hear other ideas. If the federal government is going to abdicate its responsibility like this, then the states must pick it up.
The president has been busy signing executive orders on many different subjects, many of which have received little coverage in the chaos of this first week.
For example, Trump’s administration has been cracking down on agencies like the EPA, leading to fears that climate data will be lost should it be scrubbed from the website. An easy thing our government could do here in Connecticut would be to host whatever data we can here, and invite those climate scientists who are fearing for their jobs to come here, and work for us.
Trump himself has also been making a lot of noise about “investigating” his bogus claims of massive voter fraud. This is probably going to end up with plenty of new voting restrictions. Connecticut already has very open voting laws, but we can underscore that point by changing our constitution to allow for early voting, voting by mail, and other voter-friendly reforms.
Connecticut can also act to make sure that some of the necessary economic, environmental, and safety regulations that will be scrapped in the coming months and years are still in force here. Legislators need to start studying which regulations the Trump administration is planning to remove, and act to pass the ones that really matter into Connecticut law.
Lastly, we need to do what we can to ensure our state is open and welcoming for refugees and immigrants. There is very little we can do to accept new refugees and immigrants from the Muslim countries on Trump’s ridiculous “banned” list, but we can make life better for those who are already here.
The legislature can easily strengthen hate crime legislation. The legislature and governor can make high-profile displays of support for Muslim and immigrant communities in our state. We can all make it clear to the rest of the nation and to the world that the hatred and fear coming out of Washington does not define us.
We can also become the country’s first sanctuary state. I strongly believe that we should, and we must. Trump wants to cut off funding for sanctuary cities — let’s see if he dares do that for an entire state. Better, if other states will stand with us, let’s see if he’ll do it for a whole region.
New England’s people and governments need to start asserting the foundational tenets of our society which so many of our people believe in and love. We want to live in a society that is outward-looking, diverse, caring, and cosmopolitan. We strongly believe in equality for everyone regardless of race, sexuality, gender, gender identity, nationality, religion, and more. Our people deserve a government that protects the most vulnerable, no matter the cost.
That is who we are.
And now we must face the fact that this world view costs money. If we want to provide health care, protect residents who are undocumented immigrants, fight climate change, and enforce necessary regulations, we need to pay for it. How do we do that when the budget is so tight?
We can choose to pay the cost for the society we want. Raise the taxes. Put up the tolls. Let the cities and towns charge local hotel and sales taxes.
And when this nightmare ends, as someday it must, we will still be here, ready to lead everyone back out into the dawn.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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