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This is No Way to Run the Government (shared by John Miller)


This is No Way to Run the Government

By Meghan PortfolioJune 7 , 2024

Hartford Portfolio

With the prospect of the General Assembly convening for a special session this month (to amend a 2022 law that changes the assessment method for automobiles), environmentalists are seizing the opportunity to lobby for action on their climate change agenda.

Since the end of the 2024 session on May 8, the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters (CTLCV) has been clamoring for climate action, recently issuing a call-to-action campaign urging their supporters to contact Gov. Ned Lamont and press lawmakers to “address the climate crisis.”

CTLCV even provided a pre-written message with talking points, requiring only the sender’s name and address. However, the message does not specify any particular actions but calls for the passage of “meaningful climate legislation.”

However, according to a June 5 article by the CT Mirror, Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney (D-New Haven), stated he prefers to exclude climate issues from the brief special session but is open to addressing them in a lame-duck session after the fall election.

Despite this, environmental advocates appeared to misunderstand the situation and sent out a misleading email suggesting they had bypassed the Senate President’s authority. On June 6, the CT Roundtable on Climate and Jobs claimed in an email that “Governor Lamont has announced that climate will be included in the special session, thanks to the support of legislative leaders.”

However, on June 7, they issued an “urgent update” retracting their statement, clarifying that the Governor had not committed to this. They then urged their followers to keep pressuring Connecticut’s Democratic leadership for their desired special session.

Special sessions are typically called to address urgent or time-sensitive issues that cannot wait for the regular legislative session. This raises the question: why do environmentalists believe their issues warrant inclusion in the special session? Other significant bills, such as one offering scholarships to disadvantaged children for private school through tax credit donations, also failed to pass. Are children not important enough to merit a special session?

Hartford’s Lack of Legislative Transparency

Environmentalists may feel entitled due to the dysfunctional lawmaking culture in Hartford, which has become so commonplace that the public has passively accepted it as the norm.

There is precedence in the General Assembly of bypassing the traditional committee process: a bill is raised, there is a public hearing and then voted on for potential House and Senate debate. The most brazen disregard for the normal process occurred in the final days of the 2024 session when lawmakers executed a bait and switch with a bill that provides payments to workers choosing to go on strike. This deviation highlights concerns about the integrity and adherence to established legislative procedures.

The bill initially started as a concept bill — legislation with no specific content, serving as a placeholder for last-minute changes, often referred to as a dummy bill. Introduced by Sen. Looney, Sen. Julie Kushner (D-Danbury), Rep. Hubert Delany (D-Stamford), and Rep. Bobby Gibson (D-West Hartford) in the Appropriations Committee, it was meant to review government expenditures.

After a public hearing, the bill was unexpectedly changed to create a slush fund managed by the Office of the State Comptroller for low-income workers. It was later revealed that this fund would use tax dollars to pay those who walk off the job to strike, not just any low-income individuals. The bill passed, but Gov. Lamont is expected to veto it.

This session saw an alarming number of concept bills. At least 20 dummy bills were pushed through various committees. The Labor and Public Employees and Planning and Development Committees were particularly egregious, each passing three dummy bills — the most of any committees.

These bills had titles like “An Act Concerning Workers Rights” and “An Act Concerning Municipal Issues.”

This rampant use of placeholder legislation not only undermines transparency but also showcases the increasingly questionable tactics employed by the General Assembly.

Implementing a policy requiring full bill text at the time of introduction, along with a mandatory review and public comment period, would enhance transparency, accountability and public trust in the legislative process.

Dummy bills aren’t the only tactic lawmakers use to advance their agendas covertly. Another common method involves introducing a bill, voting it out of committee, and then proposing a “strike all” amendment on the Senate or House floor. This amendment removes the original bill’s language and replaces it with new content, as seen with the striking worker bill.

Of the 175 bills that passed both chambers, 69 — almost 40% — included strike all amendments.

When lawmakers make significant changes and alter the bill’s intent, they should be required to hold a new public hearing. This ensures that all new ideas are heard at the committee level, the public has a chance to speak on the issue and bills are properly vetted before being passed. Transparency is the key to stopping backdoor tactics that undermine the legislative process.

One of the most devious legislative practices is inserting policies into other bills, typically into the budget implementer. The implementer is a bill that amends statutes to enforce provisions of the adopted state budget. Released at session’s end, it bypasses the usual committee review and public hearing process.

While everything in the implementer is supposed to pertain to the budget, legislators often sneak in non-budget-related provisions, commonly known as “rats.” These “rats” are often narrowly tailored pieces of legislation designed for a specific constituency, usually introduced without public notice and unlikely to pass on their own.

In 2023, a “rat” was inserted into the budget that included a nice payoff to big labor. This provision requires grocery stores in food deserts to enter into labor peace agreements with unions to qualify for municipal tax abatements.

(Labor peace agreements are contracts made between an employer and a labor union where the employer agrees not to undermine the union’s ability to organize the workforce in exchange for the union not to strike, picket or disrupt the employer’s business.)

Lengthy budget bills serve as the perfect cover for “rats,” allowing them to be enacted with very little scrutiny or debate, further eroding public trust in the legislative process and the practice needs to stop.

While lawmakers frequently discuss voter disenfranchisement and implement measures like early voting and absentee ballot reform to make voting easier, it is ironic that these same lawmakers exploit loopholes to operate away from the public eye when it suits their legislative agenda.

This double standard not only highlights the hypocrisy within the legislative process but also deepens the public’s mistrust in their elected officials. True transparency and accountability are essential for restoring faith in government and ensuring that legislative actions reflect the will of the people rather than the interests of a select few operating behind closed doors.

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