No more last-minute legislative secrets
Every session, with depressing predictability, the Connecticut state Legislature offers object lessons in how not to run a government. Whether it’s the last-minute rush to complete a budget or time-wasting effort on bills that have no chance of passing, too many lawmakers seem to lose all sense of time management and transparency once they get to Hartford.
Among the worst offenses are what are known as rats — anonymous measures inserted into large, complex bills like the budget that receive no debate yet stand to make major changes to important industries, as well as people’s lives.
A current example is found in the two-year budget recently approved by both the state House and Senate and now awaiting Gov. Ned Lamont’s signature. Included deep within the bill’s hundreds of pages is a measure that would make it illegal for home-care agencies in Connecticut to use noncompete clauses when hiring.
These types of clauses, which prevent people from taking jobs with competing companies for a specified period, have come under fire in many industries for taking power away from workers and leaving them
more at the mercy of their employers, often in lowwage industries. It is right to debate the merits of such clauses, as the Legislature did this past session without reaching the point of enacting a restriction on them.
The clause aimed at homecare agencies, though, appears to be altogether different, and something that could upend a system that provides care for thousands of people. It has led the industry to seek a rare lineitem veto from Lamont, but whether that’s even possible in this case is uncertain because there’s no monetary allocation at play.
The merits of the specific clause, though, are secondary. It’s far too common to see this kind of language inserted into larger bills that has not been debated, not been vetted and yet has the potential to make dramatic changes.
On a similar note, language in the budget was recently publicized that would benefit exactly one company and be worth potentially millions of dollars. The provision extends a deadline to claim tax credits promised under the Malloy administration using language that would apply only to insurance giant Cigna. If benefits are going to be extended to any company, they must be subject to debate like any bill would be.
It is far too common to see this technique in use. Special sessions, in particular, are sometimes veritable dumping grounds for legislation that didn’t pass or maybe was never even discussed in the regular term but somehow finds its way inserted into mustpass bills.
It has to stop. Anonymity cannot be allowed — every insertion or deletion should come with a legislator’s name attached. And every bill, every clause, that has the potential to make major changes must be given adequate time for debate.
If it’s not possible in the time left in the session, it waits until the next year. And in the meantime, everyone can get to work on those time-management skills.
Special sessions are sometimes veritable dumping grounds for legislation that didn’t pass or maybe was never even discussed in the regular term but somehow finds its way inserted into must-pass bills.