HARTFORD, CT – I don’t have to tell anyone at the state Capitol that the stakes are as high as they get. As of Friday, March 20, Connecticut had received over 75,000 unemployment filings over the previous eight days. (That figure had reportedly risen past 150,000 as of March 31). You should probably expect the pace of those filings to accelerate in the weeks ahead.
The economy is in free fall. We are looking at a full stop. People across the country are being forced to stop working, stop earning, stop growing. Most of us get it – we need to reduce in-person interactions because people are dying of a new disease from which no one has immunity. This sudden, drastic change is necessary to save lives and avoid overloading our hospitals. Got it.
But unfortunately, in the absence of any hint of what comes next, we need clear, direct, effective leadership to set an example for how we move forward.
We’re not getting that.
I am not here to second-guess the Lamont administration or the Department of Public Health with respect to which businesses are essential and which aren’t, particularly in the short term while COVID-19 is still being studied.
But one organization that can and should continue doing its job – because we, the people of the state of Connecticut, need it to continue doing its job – is the General Assembly.
Municipalities across Connecticut are already using video-conferencing software to conduct public meetings. If the town of Andover can figure out how to use Zoom to conduct a meeting, there is absolutely no reason that the legislature can’t do the same. Most of the commercially available software will record everything. A moderator can control who is speaking. You can track how people vote. You can broadcast the meetings directly to the web in a variety of ways. CT-N is more than capable of broadcasting a publicly available video feed from one web browser to another.
To the leaders of the four legislative caucuses: your next steps in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic are now your legacies.
The legislative branch is the only one of the three to have essentially shut down at this point. It is understandable that some authority had to be ceded to Gov. Ned Lamont, and these things are hard. But the people’s business is either important, or it isn’t.
What you do next is going to either pave the way forward or set the state back several years.
One of your many responsibilities in that building is the preservation of the public process. As such, you need to use all available means at your disposal to conduct the people’s business – including the legwork necessary to move your operations online.
There are crucial pieces of legislation that need action – funding to stabilize the hospitals, for instance, and making sure the state has the tools and resources it needs to win this fight against coronavirus.
You have all had enough time to process the initial shock of the COVID-19 pandemic. That time is over. The state’s small, medium and large businesses, nonprofits, service professionals and everyone else need to see you lead.
Entrepreneurs who want to survive are figuring this out here in Connecticut and across the country. We’re all communicating electronically at a frantic pace and we’re finding ways to help our clients survive by teaching them to use tools they need to keep their businesses running online.
We’re all creating workarounds and solving our own information technology problems, and we’re doing so while being limited to lousy internet connections that can only upload data at a fraction of the speed of downloads. (That problem may need to be moved higher up the list, by the way.)
The General Assembly can and should conduct the people’s business electronically. The rest of us figured out how to use Zoom. Or GoToMeeting. Or MS Teams. And if your preferred contractor can’t give you what you want, end the contract. Why not reach out to one of them and tell them you need a customized version of their software in a week to 10 days. I can almost guarantee you they’ll have it ready if there isn’t already a tailored solution available.
Will you need to deliver some hardware to some of your technology-averse members? Of course you will. And if they’re not willing to learn to use it, accept their resignations and find some people who can do the work. And let’s get serious about broadband internet access in rural parts of Connecticut while you’re at it.
By now, you have to be aware that we’re not really talking about the next four to six weeks. Vaccines are not manufactured, tested and mass-produced in 12 months. It takes years. Sometimes several years. You have to accept the reality that we may need to continue “physical distancing” for the foreseeable future, and that the Capitol building is going to be empty for quite a while.
Shutting down the General Assembly because you can’t function unless you’re all in the same room is medieval thinking. This is the 21st century.
Doug Hardy is Partner/Business Manager at CTNewsJunkie and is a former member of the LION Publishers board of directors.