OP-ED | Session 2017 Produces Few Winners, Many Losers
It was not an inspiring finish. The 2017 session of the General Assembly wheezed to a close Wednesday night, leaving the state budget and many other major pieces of legislation undone. It was another disappointing session in a decade that’s seen little else.
So who did well and who lost out during this year’s session? Let’s start with the winners.
First, the state’s two federally recognized Native American tribes, the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans, won approval of a measure that would allow them to build a casino on the spot of a vacant Showcase Cinemas in East Windsor, just a few miles down the road from a much larger casino and resort complex opening in Massachusetts in 2018. MGM, the owners of the Springfield casino, lobbied heavily against the bill and vowed legal action. The entire purpose of this ridiculous scheme was to grow jobs in Connecticut — I’m sure it’ll keep lots of lawyers employed for a good long time.
The LGBT community scored a win when a bill banning conversion therapy was passed and signed by the governor. It’s a sign of how far we’ve come that there were very, very few “no” votes. This practice was already dying out, and I’m glad Connecticut will put another nail in its coffin.
Transportation funding was another winner as the legislature passed a potential constitutional amendment establishing a constitutional “lockbox” protecting those funds from encroachment. The amendment goes before the voters in 2018. I urge us to pass it.
Lastly, mortuary students got a break when a bill passed that would give student embalmers “…an additional year within which to embalm fifty human bodies.” Whew!
Sadly, there were plenty of bills that either never made it to a vote, or were debated and then tabled before a vote could be called.
Tesla lost out again when the legislature once again failed to approve legislation that would let the electric car company sell its cars directly to consumers. Car dealers have lobbied heavily against the bill, and despite their arguments making little sense it seems they’ve managed to sway enough legislators to keep Tesla out.
Police reform advocates, led by the Black and Puerto Rican caucus, got to debate a bill that would have strengthened accountability for police officers after incidents of excessive or deadly force. But then it was tabled before a vote could be held. Even after the bill had been watered down, Democrats couldn’t find the votes to pass it. I hope this bill returns. Bad cops need to be held accountable so that good ones can do their jobs, and so that public trust in police can be restored.
Dreamers, or undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, were hoping for a bill that would have let them attend state universities at in-state prices and give them access to financial aid. Unfortunately, despite their tireless advocacy, there wasn’t enough support and the measure wasn’t brought to a vote.
And, of course, the state budget wasn’t done on time, so once again we’re headed to a special session. In the meantime, agencies, advocacy groups, and municipalities have no clear idea about what their budgets will be like, or how much the state will cut.
This was not a session where the leadership and the Democratic Party in general covered themselves in glory. Democrats in the House, where they hold a slim majority, couldn’t find votes for many of the issues their leadership had championed. House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz had the curious habit of calling legislation he knew didn’t have the votes to pass for debate, and then tabling it without a vote. I’m not sure what the point of that was.
And then, during the last night of the session, Rep. Jeff Berger, D-Waterbury, was caught by CTNewsJunkie’s Christine Stuart watching the TV show “VEEP” on his laptop during a debate on solar facilities on farmland.
Rep. Berger watching VEEP during debate on bill that would prohibit the installation of certain solar facilities on prime farmland pic.twitter.com/VxxEwtWaNc— ctnewsjunkie (@ctnewsjunkie) June 8, 2017
Go ahead and make up your own jokes on that one, I’m done. See you all at the special session!
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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