Last year, at the start of the pandemic, when most of us were dutifully isolating in our homes, the passage of 100 days felt incredibly slow. Now, following thousands of proposals, meetings, hearings and discussions held online and in-person from a socially-safe distance, the legislature is starting to hum again.
As an elected state official in another two-year term with a legislature that is finally back to work, I can assure you that 100 days can zip by very quickly. But, I am glad that we are (mostly) back.
As I write, the committee process is nearly done, with most having already finished their work and sent their proposals to be placed on the House and Senate calendars. Some of the bills that made it through committee will be considered by the full General Assembly and will modify existing laws or become new laws for our state.
Despite many aspects of our state’s economy having been decimated by government-mandated business closures, and a general reduction in local retail spending as people stayed home and opted to shop online, our state budget has actually improved somewhat, although deficits remain.
Thanks to smart fiscal procedures put in place with the Republican-led 2017 bipartisan budget, the state’s Rainy Day Fund is at record levels, and a robust stock market has led to the state’s investments doing well. The Governor hopes to use federal American Rescue Plan money to help balance the deficit, but there’s no guarantee those funds will fully materialize. Another problem with that plan is that the money is one-time only, and does nothing to ameliorate the underlying tax-and-spend policies that create the perpetual deficits that plague our state. Of course, deficits today, or even projected into the future, are not going to stop the Democrats at the Capitol from finding new ways to get your hard-earned money; there are many proposals to increase, as well as to add even more new taxes and fees!
For instance, the Environment Committee recently voted to move the Governor's controversial Transportation & Climate Initiative Proposal - viewed by many as a new gas tax - forward. That same committee also advanced a bill that would increase deposits on cans and bottles to 10 cents. Once again, there is a proposal to add tolls to state highways and many other examples exist.
It’s always interesting to me when proposals conflict legally or, on some occasions, hypocritically. The Judiciary Committee, on which I serve in its leadership as Ranking Member, recently voted to send Governor Lamont’s proposal to legalize cannabis to the full legislature. This vote moves Connecticut one step closer to openly violating federal law and is literally a vote in contravention to the very U.S. Constitution that we swear to uphold as elected officials. I voted no, in respect for that oath. Coincidentally, the Public Health Committee moved forward a measure to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products statewide, with committee members citing health concerns related to smoking or inhaling vapor products and worry about increased use by teens and young adults. The irony of the legislative process and the mixed messages it can send sometimes makes me wonder.
Another major issue to keep an eye on this session, and one I have personally introduced legislation to combat, is the dangerous and seemingly growing trend of motor vehicle theft committed by juveniles. Unfortunately, Cheshire and Wallingford are not the only towns affected by this crime epidemic as thefts are occurring statewide. The police are doing their best but we need to make sure our laws are set up to effectively deal with this problem and return safety to our streets. I proposed legislation to transfer juvenile cases to the adult court sooner, and there are several similar measures on the issue that I co-sponsored. I’m hopeful the legislature will strengthen laws around motor vehicle theft, and help the police and judicial system put an end to these dangerous practices. Amazingly, a mother recently came before our committee in opposition to the increased penalties, claiming that juvenile stealing of cars is [an accepted] “rite of passage” for today’s youth – a position I find hard to accept.
There are many other pieces of legislation I will continue to keep an eye on, including a controversial proposal that would erode the local control of land use decisions and essentially implement a one-size-fits-all mandate direct from Hartford to each individual municipality.
I will continue to stand up for your rights and against legislation that increases your taxes, threatens your personal freedoms or goes against the Constitutions of our great state and nation.
State Representative Craig C. Fishbein