No more last-minute leg­isla­tive se­crets

The News-Times - - OPINION -

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.

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