OP-ED | In 2015, Bad Ideas Are A Bipartisan Affair
The Connecticut General Assembly is currently in a long session, which means legislators have the freedom to personally introduce bills about any subject they choose.
When it comes to bill proposals, Connecticut is unique because legislators are only required to include a statement summarizing the intent of the bill, rather than full statutory language. Bills are only drafted in full statutory form once they reach a certain point in the committee process. For these reasons, in odd-numbered years we will often see a collection of bills ranging from ridiculous to bizarre that just do not seem to make much sense.
Individual legislators often introduce bills to help promote an agenda, respond to the concerns of individual constituents, or to show that they are doing something to address a particular issue. When legislators introduce these bills, they know most of them are not likely to become law. Knowing this reality, many legislators are happy to at least get a public hearing for their bills.
When it comes to representation, there seem to be two prevailing models for serving constituents: the trustee model and the delegate model. Legislators who follow the trustee model rely upon their own judgment to do what they feel is best for their constituents as a whole. Legislators who follow the delegate model follow the expressed preferences of their constituents, regardless of their own personal beliefs. In practice, legislators do not follow one particular model 100% of the time, but most tend to lean toward one model more than the other when making decisions on behalf of their constituents.
I would be willing to bet that the more ridiculous bills introduced in odd-numbered years are introduced by legislators who tend to follow the delegate model of representation. No matter which model legislators decide to follow, as public officials of the state of Connecticut, they have a duty to weed out proposals that are not appropriate to be dealt with at the state level and proposals that are simply bad public policy.
Here is a list of the 10 most ridiculous bills of the 2015 legislative session in order from the least ridiculous to the most ridiculous:
This bill, introduced by Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, seeks to give municipalities the authority to prohibit the construction of spite fences that obstruct a neighbor’s water view. I never heard the term spite fence before writing this editorial and it turns out it is a real legal term. In fact, already Connecticuthas a law on the books prohibiting the malicious erection of a structure. This proposal seems better suited for a local ordinance than a state statute.
This bill, introduced by Sen. Art Linares, R-Westbrook, seeks to commission a study on the impact of heavy backpacks on children. I understand that heavy backpacks can potentially be a major health issue, but plenty of research has already been done on this subject. We don’t need a piece of legislation to tell us that carrying too much weight for extended periods of time can be harmful.
This bill, introduced by Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, seeks to save the state money by reducing energy costs associated with heating state buildings. It seems like this proposal would be better suited for an executive order by the governor, since most state buildings fall under the purview of the executive branch. While it seems like a worthy idea to save the state money by reducing energy costs, it sets a bad precedent to mandate the temperature of state buildings by statute.
This bill, introduced by Rep. Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown, seeks to promote full legal equality for Connecticut’s snapping turtles. It appears that the point of this bill is to amend the current fisheries and game statutes, which currently specifically exclude snapping turtles from regulation. Since the point of this legislation is to simply regulate the trade of snapping turtles, it seems odd to call for full legal equality for a particular animal.
This bill, introduced by Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, seeks to establish a “do not mail” registry for Connecticut residents to opt out of receiving junk mail. While this seems like a well-intentioned idea, it would be nearly impossible to establish an effective mechanism for this process at the state level. Even if the state found a way to enforce this type of process, junk mail businesses would simply move out of state and continue to mail to Connecticut residents. For this bill to worthwhile, it should include the option to opt out of receiving political mailers.
This bill, introduced by Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, seeks to allow the sale of coffee at high schools. I can see how this bill may be useful for students to keep up with all the exams they are now required to take. With the way young people tend to drink coffee, in this bill does become law, schools should make sure to charge for cream and sugar because they are likely to sell more of that than actual coffee.
This bill, introduced by Rep. Patricia Billie Miller, D-Stamford, is similar to a bill that passed the House last year, but failed to come up for a vote in the Senate. When you purchase gift cards, they specifically say that they cannot be redeemed for cash value. Unless the state has a large collection of partially used gift cards lying around to redeem to cover the budget deficit, this bill seems like a waste of time.
This bill, introduced by Rep. Sam Belsito, R-Tolland, would be a logistical nightmare for teachers to implement. If you look at the existing statute regarding this matter, it only mentions flexible parent-teacher conferences. It seems like there would be nothing stopping a local or regional board of education from instituting such a policy under existing state law. This bill is a waste of time and concerns an issue that should not be mandated state level.
This bill, introduced by Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Tolland, may be a well-intentioned attempt to save students money, but it is yet another example of micromanaging by the state legislature. This type of policy would be especially problematic for the sciences, where new discoveries are made every day. A scientific theory in this year’s edition of a science textbook could potentially be debunked in the next year’s edition. In this issue is a major problem for students, they should take it up with their college or university administration, not the state legislature. The state should not be in the business of deciding which books professors are allowed to assign.
This bill, introduced by Rep. Larry Butler, D-Waterbury, seeks to require all motorized wheelchairs that are used outdoors to be affixed with reflective stickers and a 6 foot high pennant flag to help drivers see them when they are crossing the street. As a wheelchair user, I find this bill to be offensive and discriminatory. People who use wheelchairs already have to endure people staring at them and a flag will just draw even more attention. In this bill is truly about safety, why not just require that all pedestrians wear a reflective vest and carry a flag, similar to the program Bridgeport has been testing. I find it interesting that one of the cosponsors of this bill is Rep. Brandon McGee, D-Hartford, who was caught illegally parked in a handicap parking spot at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Hartford last month.
These bills were all proposed by the very people we trust to make the laws for our state. One would hope that our legislators would put more thought into the implications of the potential laws they propose. Luckily none of these bad ideas have made it past the committee reference process to be granted public hearings. However, it is scary to think that some of these proposals are floating around and could possibly make their way into the implementer bill to be voted on during the frenzy at the end of the session.
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