OP-ED | Legislative Session 2018: Progressive Sunset
The 2018 legislative session wheezed over the finish line Wednesday night with a flurry of bills and, mercifully, a bipartisan budget agreement. Barring a special session, this is the last we’ll see of this crew before the election.
For most people in Connecticut, that’s a blessed relief.
There is one group who may wish they had this legislature back after the 2018 election, though, and that’s progressives. This may have been their last, best chance to enact pieces of their agenda for a long time. If only they’d done more with it.
Here’s a rundown of all the stuff that didn’t get done.
First and foremost, we’re still in the same fiscal nightmare we’ve been in since 2010. The bipartisan budget adjustment didn’t fix any of the real problems that remain, it only patched the hole with money from the temporary revenue windfall we saw in April. The next governor and legislature will have to contend with a $4 billion deficit, a shrinking economy, battered infrastructure, and an aging population.
Ignoring these facts is unspeakably reckless, but ignore them the legislature did. A controversial report by the Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth, which was set up to help get us out of this mess, was roundly ignored, and no other plans were forthcoming.
One of the few ways to actually raise revenue for the state, the implementation of tolls on our highways, was supposed to come up for a vote near the end of the session. House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz couldn’t muster up the votes, unfortunately, and so the plan was never called. Tolls are a grim necessity, and we’re going to have to put them up at some point, but it will take a better legislature than this to do it.
The other potential source of new revenue was through the legalization of marijuana — a longtime progressive goal. Despite the gloriously clever slogan of a pro-pot rally-goer, “Bowls not Tolls,” this didn’t happen either. Legalizing it and slapping a huge tax on the wacky weed would have brought in plenty of new revenue, but it wasn’t to be. We’ll just have to settle for the contact high from Massachusetts.
Another glaring failure of the legislature was the inability to pass a bill that would have erased the current five-year statute of limitations for sexual assault. The bill also would have mandated all businesses with 20 or more employees to offer anti-sexual harassment training. The bill was killed in part by objections from public defenders, who worried that eliminating the statute of limitations entirely would somehow cause injustice, though the victims of Bill Cosby and Larry Nassar might disagree.
Still, the bill could have been fixed — but it wasn’t. In the era of #MeToo, failing to pass this bill was a major moral lapse. Both the eye-rolling objections of the public defenders and the usual laziness of the House’s leadership are to blame.
They did manage a few wins on health care and gun control. A bill that banned “bump stocks,” which allow semi-automatic weapons to fire faster, passed and was signed by the governor. This was the only gun control win, however. On health care, a bill allowing uninsured pregnant women to purchase insurance and another bill that guarantees “10 essential health benefits” that would continue to be covered if Congress finally manages to repeal the ACA, were both passed.
Also, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, known as “Dreamers,” now may apply for financial aid at state colleges and universities — a fund to which they pay into through their tuition.
And that’s about it for progressive wins. Good job, guys. Don’t worry, you’ll have another shot at passing your agenda in, oh, about a decade.
Republicans will, barring some coattails from the midterm election, likely control at least one chamber of the legislature next year. They may even elect a governor. That’s good news for anyone who wants to see the back of the Democrats.
The bad news is that they have no idea how to fix the mess we’re in, either.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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