James Kirkikis via shutterstock
The Israel Putnam statue in Bushnell Park near the state Capitol in Hartford (James Kirkikis via shutterstock)

HARTFORD, CT — Legislative leaders decided without a public hearing to end the longstanding practice of having all its public hearings transcribed.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said Thursday that it was a budgetary decision.

“Virtually all areas of state government are dealing with budget challenges and having to make tough decisions on how to allocate reduced resources, with the legislature being no exception,” Aresimowicz said. “Much of the testimony presented at public hearings are already being submitted in written form and posted online, thus the need for paying for a full transcribing is somewhat redundant and not cost efficient. All hearings will continue to be taped, and will also be transcribed upon a committee’s request.”

The move will save $100,000 a year, which is a small part of the $3.7 million cut in funding the legislature made to its own budget.

Jim Tracy, executive director of the Office of Legislative Management, said the change doesn’t require the contract for the transcription services to be modified. He said they will still provide transcripts of the House and the Senate floor debates and committee transcripts will need to be requested by committees.

There are 26 legislative committees.

Zachary Janowski, president of the Connecticut Council on the Freedom of Information, said those answers are not good enough.

“Legislative openness invites public participation,” Janowski said Wednesday. “But in reducing the public’s access to the public hearing process, the General Assembly is making itself less citizen friendly.”

He added that “it’s not surprising that this move was decided and implemented in secret without the public’s knowledge.”

He suggested that legislative leaders restore easy public access to its public hearings.

This is not the first decision made in the dark by legislative management.

The Joint Committee on Legislative Management, where decisions are made on how to manage the building and its staff, met briefly in January 2017 and January 2015.

In 2015, state Sen. Joan Hartley inquired about the new security system and was promised it would be discussed at a future date. The meeting lasted five minutes and no meeting was ever scheduled to discuss security.

In fact, the metal detectors and new security screening measures were adopted by legislative leaders in 2014 without any public input or meeting.

In April 2013, the committee debated legislation on electronic signatures for seven minutes, but never forwarded the bill to the Senate for consideration. In 2011, the committee forwarded a Senate bill that requires an honor guard be provided at the funerals of state lawmakers only if the funeral and burial take place in state. The bill died on the Senate calendar.