CT Progressive Democrat

News and Views from CT State Representative David McCluskey / Democrat - West Hartford

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hartford Courant Editorial on Full-Time Lawmaking is Sophomoric

I know you are not supposed to attack those who buy paper and ink in bulk, but today's Hartford Courant Editorial on Full-Time Lawmaking is amateurish and not worthy of our state's "Paper of Record" [N.B. I don't know if Zell sold this title off when he pink-slipped a large number of the Courant's writers].

The Editorial admonishes the General Assembly to do the Public's work on time. OK. Fine. Now just what is the General Assembly suppose to do in three and five month sessions? 1) Adopt state budgets - our primary responsibility. 2) Enact new laws, modify/repeal old laws. 3) Conduct oversight/review of the Executive/Judiciary Branches. We are obliged to do these things with public imput and imput from the Governor and her state agencies. This takes a significant amount of time within our regular sessions.

The principal criticism seems to be that special sessions run up the cost of government. So what percentage is the General Assembly's TOTAL budget in comparison to the overall state budget? - less than 2%. So an argument about the cost of special sessions is ludicrous. Executive branch agencies like DSS & DCF waste the cost of a special session on a good day/week. One court case/consent decree can pay the cost of having a year-long special session. I could argue that if the General Assembly, or a portion of it, met year-round scandals in the Executive/Judicial Branches MIGHT be reduced and the delivery of state services MIGHT improve. No guarantees, but I believe the biggest failure of the General Assembly is oversight. I think recent state government history well-documents this belief. Oversight takes time/resources/staff.

Within a three/five month session, much time is given over to the public hearing/deliberation process. All bills must have a public hearing; they must be deliberated in committee and then other committees may review them before the full House & Senate take action on them. Democracy does not equal efficiency. The House also has a tradition of unlimited debate - the Question is never called and a Representative may speak on a bill on three seperate occasions without the permission of the Assembly. My experience with this tradition has been mostly positive. We have killed bad bills this way and made good bills better - often because the Minority Party has found flaws in the legislation. In addition, under our state constitution, bills not enacted in the first year of our two year term die on the House or Senate Calendar and have to go through the entire public hearing/legislative process in the second year. This is inefficient, but it does have the effect of reducing somewhat the volume of bills we deliberate.

Have I reached the conclusion that CT needs a full-time General Assembly? NO. I think there are a lot of negative consequences of having a legislature in session full-time. However, telling the General Assembly to be more efficient without any serious reflection on the constraints of the current legislative process and without any substantive recommendations is sophomoric and unhelpful.