Gov. Ned Lamont delivered his second State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly in the hall of the House of Representatives last week.
The governor seemed upbeat and relaxed, ad-libbing departures from his prepared text in pretty much every paragraph and dropping yet more references to Hamilton (I counted two mentions of “the room where it happens”). And why not? 2020 is looking to be a much calmer year for him than 2019, and the governor is set to push a much milder progressive agenda forward.
In a lot of ways this was more a valedictory speech that touted the achievements of his administration than a policy rollout. It was a defense of an administration and a governor that the people of the state have, to put it very mildly, not taken much of a shine to. But the governor could correctly point to an economy that is starting to get a little more traction, a credit agency outlook bump, green energy progress, better wait times at the DMV, and more. See? It wasn’t all bad!
The part of the speech that got the most applause and generated the most headlines was where Lamont implored everyone in the room to stop “badmouthing” Connecticut, and to try to be more optimistic. I couldn’t agree more. But what’s it going to take to get our famously grouchy people to stop complaining about everything?
A legal bong hit might be a start, if the governor has his way.
Yes, there were policy proposals in the governor’s speech, and they’re worth examining. Some are a lot more likely than others. Some may come in the next few weeks, while others might have to wait until nearer the end of the short session.
Let’s take these from most to least likely.
The biggest item on the governor’s agenda is transportation, and how to pay for it. There was an awkward, almost Malloy-esque moment in his speech where Lamont looked sternly at both sides of the room, saying there were two plans to fund transportation and would the two sides just hurry up and agree on something already. That was awkward, but that’s how the whole process has gone.
Tolls on trucks seems to be the most likely way forward, and it should hopefully come up for a vote before the end of the month. Then again, getting to this point on tolls and transportation has been so agonizing, with so many stops and starts, that it feels like a light breeze could bring the whole thing down.
The governor also noted that legal weed is available a short drive away in Massachusetts, with New York potentially following soon. “Coordinated regional regulation,” said the governor, “is our best chance to protect public health by displacing illicit sellers with trusted providers.” That is the primary argument, here, and it’s not a bad one. The other states are doing it, so to protect public health and bring the region’s laws into alignment, we need to legalize it.
I’m not sure the votes are there for this one. They weren’t there last session, and I don’t think that much has changed. Yes, it’s something the public is in favor of, and when and if New York legalizes marijuana the pressure to follow suit will increase. I just don’t know if it’ll be enough for this year.
The other major thing we’ll be fighting over this year is the religious exemption for vaccinating children heading to school. This is such a sensitive issue that the governor didn’t really elaborate on it in his speech. He merely said, “With infectious viruses threatening our nation and state from overseas, now more than ever, a thoughtful vaccination program is vital to keep our families safe.” And that’s it.
The actual bill would eliminate the religious exemption for the school year starting in 2021.
Vaccinating children is such an important public health concern that this would seem like a no-brainer. It is more complicated than that, however, because committed anti-vaccination parents will likely just withdraw their kids from school altogether and homeschool them. That might be the sticking point, not the religious liberty argument – which never held water for me. I don’t expect to see this pass.
The governor’s agenda, therefore, doesn’t have a lot in it that is radical or novel. The major issues are all old business from the last session, which makes sense. Lamont is looking for a quieter year with a few high-profile wins. Let’s see if he actually gets it.
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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