The election is over, and the work is about to begin. Gov. Ned Lamont will be inaugurated for his second term on Wednesday, and the 2023 session of the new General Assembly will begin. Democrats hold large majorities in both chambers once again, so the question is: what are they going to do with them?
Coming up with a wish list for the legislature often feels about as useful as chucking pennies into a fountain, but I’m nothing if not a glutton for punishment. So let’s go!
Here’s what I’d like to see the legislature do this session:
Both the governor and legislative leaders are making health care a priority for this session, and with good reason. The health care system has taken a beating from three years of COVID, leaving the health care workers who have been on the front lines of the pandemic burnt out, exhausted, and undersupported. Nearly 1 in 5 health care workers quit their jobs during the pandemic, a survey from Morning Consult says, and of those who have stayed in their jobs, 31% have considered leaving.
It’s not hard to see why. A vast number of health care jobs require grueling hours for low pay and meager benefits, and the nationwide shortage is stretching that already-beleaguered workforce to the breaking point. Legislators are considering, among other things, ways to lure more people into health care fields and to keep the workers who are already there from leaving.
They need to start with better pay and benefits. Take a look at the unending struggle of nursing home workers to get their skinflint corporate rulers to treat them like human beings, or the struggles of home care workers to get access to basic health insurance, if you want to understand why this needs to happen. The fact that these compassionate, hardworking people providing skilled care to the neediest among us barely make over minimum wage, and often can’t afford health insurance, is a travesty.
On the consumer side, the cost of health insurance continues to rise. Connecticut is among the most expensive states in the nation when it comes to the cost of health care. The Insurance Department approved another double-digit rate increase last year, which led to an outcry but little real action.
The legislature needs to ask insurers: if the constantly increasing amount of money we all pay for health insurance isn’t going to workers, which it clearly is not, then where is it going?
Health insurance isn’t the only drain on our pocketbooks this year; electric utilities Eversource and United Illuminating both jacked up rates by an average of $80/month. The reasons, they tell us, are complicated: energy prices are high because of global events we can’t control.
Yeah? Then why are profits at Eversource and United Illuminating sky high? Somebody’s rolling in the dough, and it isn’t us. And why is it that the municipally-owned power utilities in towns like Norwich and Wallingford aren’t constantly hiking rates like this? Legislators should demand answers.
Right now all buses in Connecticut are free, but after March they won’t be. The only way to keep this program going is for the legislature to act, allocating permanent monies to transit agencies to offset the cost of fares. This is one of the easiest, most obvious things we can do to make life better for low-income residents, and also to make a dent in the number of people getting around in cars.
I wrote about this a few weeks ago, and my arguments still stand. Public transit is a public good, and it should be free at the point of service.
Climate change and the environment
Lastly, Connecticut needs to keep pushing forward in our efforts to deal with the overarching crisis of the 21st century: climate change. We’re not doing too badly when it comes to reducing emissions and investing in green energy, but according to a new report we could be doing an awful lot more. We’re falling behind in meeting our emission reduction targets, and climate resilience action has been hampered by the usual Connecticut problem of 169 separate towns with 169 different plans.
The report says that “state leadership in Connecticut lacks a long-term vision and accountability measures in their planning for both mitigation and adaptation efforts,” which means that while we have a lot of good tools and plenty of different efforts, we need a firm, unified plan of action that includes real accountability.
There’s obviously a lot more that the legislature needs to work on, from pedestrian and traffic safety to economic development to letting their own employees unionize, but this is a good starting place.
What’s on your wish list for the legislature this year?