HARTFORD, CT — Despite the skepticism from some of its members the Public Health Committee voted Friday to raise two controversial issues: aid-in-dying and pregnancy center advertising.
The committee voted 12-9 to draft aid-in-dying legislation and 14-7 to draft the pregnancy center bill. Four members were absent.
Several members of the committee said they’ve already agreed to tackle some big issues like removing the religious exemptions for childhood vaccinations so maybe that should be enough for a three month session.
Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said the short-session is supposed to be focused on budget adjustments. He said he doesn’t normally vote against raising bills for public hearings but “when we raise too many bills we don’t do things well.”
“I don’t know where the committee is going at this point,” Candelora said.
Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, implored the committee to raise the aid-in-dying bill for debate. The bill will allow doctors to prescribe medication a terminally ill patient could use to end their life.
A similar bill failed to get enough support to make it through the committee last year.
Religious groups, including the Catholic Church, and people with disabilities opposed the measure.
The public hearings on both aid-in-dying and the pregnancy center bill lasted several hours. The pregnancy center bill passed the committee last year and got a vote in the House, but was never called in the Senate.
“There’s no way around people having the opportunity to testify on things that matter to them,” Steinberg said. “And I don’t see that as a partisan issue.”
He said he thinks it’s the committee’s responsibility to take on “controversial bills and work super hard in a short session. We owe this to the people of Connecticut not to shy away from controversy.”
But some on the committee wondered why they would raise a bill they didn’t pass last year.
The members of the committee are the same one who last year declined to send a similar bill to the House for a vote.
Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington, said the “outcomes don’t change.”
She said she would vote to raise the bills for a public hearing, but she’s opposed to both of them.
Rep. Dorinda Borer, D-West Haven, voted against raising the aid-in-dying bill for a public hearing.
She said the committee just raised a bill to address the suicide rate in Connecticut and the aid-in-dying bill would send a “mixed message.”
“I don’t think this is a good time for this bill. We listened to it last year,” Borer said.
When it comes to aid-in-dying, a lot has changed over the past year, according to Steinberg.
Eight states and Washington D.C. now have aid-in-dying laws.
Rep. Jack Hennessy, D-Bridgeport, said there are people leaving Connecticut over this issue and going to states that do allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to a terminally ill patient.
As far as raising too many controversial bills that will likely produce long public hearings, Steinberg said it’s a “slippery slope to us not doing our jobs.”
Sen. Mary Abrams, D-Meriden, said constituents have asked them to reconsider the aid-in-dying bill this year.
Tim Appleton, campaign manager for Compassion & Choices, said they are grateful to the committee for raising it.
“We look forward to the public hearing and a vote on this compassionate bill because terminally ill Connecticut residents desperately need this option now to obtain medication to peacefully end their suffering,” Appleton said.