HARTFORD, CT — Nearly 100 organizations have written a joint letter to legislative leadership asking for a change in the legislative process.
The groups are asking for virtual public hearings to allow people who might not have a car to get to Hartford or are unable to testify because they’re working—to have the opportunity to influence public policy. In addition, the change would make the legislative process more transparent.
“A lot of barriers existed before COVID-19,” Madeline Granato, policy director at the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF), said last week.
The letter addressed to the four legislative leaders, at least three of whom are not seeking reelection, says “Currently, processes like last-minute meeting agendas, opaque and inconsistent testimony signups, lack of remote participation options, and absence of a variety of hours, times, and places for participation act to ensure that only the most privileged voices will be heard by legislators.”
Everyone from the American Academy of Physicians to unions to the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ signed onto the letter.
Brittney Yancy, who represents the United State of Women and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., said the process was hard before COVID-19.
“Our process does not allow or consider working people,” Yancy said.
She said she knows of people who traveled to the state Capitol by bus to testify at a public hearing and waited six hours to be heard.
She said the virtual option for public hearings seems like a logical next step to help “break down these barriers.”
The letter asks that people wishing to testify at public hearings have the ability to testify via teleconference or videoconference and respond to questions in real time. They also want people to be afforded the opportunity to submit recorded video testimony for viewing during the public hearing. Individuals should still be allowed to submit written testimony, as they did prior to COVID-19.
And the groups advocated for transcripts of public legislative events, including committee meetings and public hearings, to be made available in a timely manner.
Several legislative committees have been holding informational hearings via videoconference, but those events have involved small numbers of invited speakers.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the legislature has every intention to hold virtual public hearings on the legislation for the special session in July, which includes police accountability in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
Looney said they plan to change the rules so that the public hearings on these emergency-certified bills can be held remotely. Currently the rules of the General Assembly do not allow for virtual public hearings.
Looney said the special session rules would have to be amended to allow for those types of hearings, but they have every intention of doing that.
He was less inclined to say the practice would continue when the General Assembly reconvenes in January. He said the new legislative leadership will need to make a decision then. Looney is the only legislative leader seeking re-election.
He said Connecticut has the most transparent and open public hearing process.
He said most other states are more restrictive and not every bill receives a public hearing like it mostly does in Connecticut.