After a lengthy hearing referred to by one lawmaker as a “love-fest,” the Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee voted Tuesday to approve Bryan Cafferelli’s nomination to serve as Connecticut’s next consumer protection commissioner.
Throughout the midday hearing, the committee questioned and praised Cafferelli, who was nominated by Gov. Ned Lamont last month to replace outgoing DCP Commissioner Michelle Seagull. His nomination will now move to the state Senate for final approval.
Cafferelli is a Republican attorney with a long career working in and around state government including two years within the DCP’s Drug Control Division, a term as executive director of the Republican State Central Committee, and experience working as former Republican Lt. Governor Michael Fedele’s chief of staff and legal counsel.
Until his appointment last month by Lamont, Cafferelli served as legal counsel to the Senate Republican caucus. Most of the legislature’s nominations committee had worked alongside Cafferelli.
“You’re very likable,” Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly said during the hearing. “But the real, I think, hallmark of what you do is your fairness. Your fairness, you’re detail-oriented, your skills, your aptitude and being able to deal with complex issues.”
The praise came from both sides of the aisle. Senate President Martin Looney said he had great confidence in Cafferelli’s ability to lead the agency based on his interactions with the chamber’s Democrats.
“You were always fair-minded, always straightforward and always somebody who operated in the spirit of good faith and good will and I think that’s exactly what we need in department heads and officials, especially in a constituent-sensitive department like the Department of Consumer Protection,” Looney said.
Half an hour into the hearing, Rep. David Rutigliano, R-Trumbull, joked about the tone of the proceedings.
“I had several hundred questions I was going to ask today but then this love-fest started so I figured, I gotta find something really terrible and I’m having a hard time,” Rutigliano said.
The confirmation hearing extended to matters beyond praising the nominee, however. Cafferelli looks to take over the DCP at a time when the agency is attempting to regulate two new Connecticut markets: online gambling and commercial cannabis, both legalized during Lamont’s first term. He told the committee that he intended to provide stability throughout his transition both to the agency and the industries it regulates.
During the hearing, Rep. Mike D’Agostino, a Hamden Democrat who co-chairs a legislative committee that oversees the DCP, encouraged Cafferelli to “aggressively” lobby his panel for funding to expand the agency’s staffing levels, if necessary.
D’Agostino also invited the nominee to share his philosophy on enforcement as he prepares to lead an agency charged with regulating the cannabis industry. Cafferelli, a former prosecutor and drug enforcement lawyer, said he sought to prioritize positive outcomes over the rigid application of fines or punitive measures.
“We wanted to make sure that we were focusing on cases that had potentially the most impact to consumer health and safety,” Cafferelli said. “Try and triage those and maybe find ways to educate licensees who were committing technical violations rather than giving them punitive fines.”
The tenor of the hearing changed somewhat when members of the public were invited to speak. Several witnesses expressed concerns about whether Cafferelli was equipped to address inequities within the state’s rollout of its commercial cannabis market.
“You know, he’s a nice guy that you can probably have a beer with but does that really qualify someone to be the DCP nominee where they’re going to be supervising their old bosses?” Christina Capitan of the CT CannaWarriors said.
Joseph Accettullo, another CT CannaWarriors advocate, suggested Cafferelli had a conflict of interest through Michael Fedele, Cafferelli’s previous boss who formerly served as an investor and board member to CTPharma, a medical marijuana cultivator. Fedele was no longer on the cultivator’s board, according to Linda Kowalski of the Connecticut Medical Cannabis Council.
“With Bryan Cafferelli’s new job to oversee these companies operating in the Connecticut cannabis space, he could potentially show favoritism to his former client, Michael Fedele,” Accettullo said. “The nomination is clearly wrought with nepotism and we need a DCP commissioner that is impartial.”
Rep. Anne Hughes, D-Easton, made a similar argument during a press conference with cannabis advocates earlier this month when she argued that Connecticut needed to “reckon with” the state’s longtime prohibition of cannabis that resulted in the incarceration of mostly Black and brown residents.
“We need to reckon with all of it and that means maybe opposing the nomination of DCP commissioner who is in bed with the four medical marijuana [cultivators],” Hughes claimed.
Other lawmakers went out of their way to help Cafferelli’s nomination along. Sen. John Kissel, an Enfield Republican who is not on the nominations committee, offered testimony in support.
“I really think this is a grand slam selection and it’s not because he’s a Republican — that has nothing to do with this,” Kissel said. “It’s just because he’s a really versatile, intelligent, well-suited candidate for this position.”