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Inform the voters

Published September 17. 2013 4:00AM

This newspaper ordinarily opposes government restrictions on the flow of public information, but a new state law that in effect prohibits officials from using an automated community notification system to rally turnout for local school budget votes does at first appear to address a valid concern.

The law that took effect with little fanfare July 1 was passed because of complaints in Windsor and Bethel, and now is affecting Stonington, where there is a move afoot to repeal it.

"Eliminating this type of communication will hamper our ability to get the budget passed," Stonington Board of Education Chairwoman Gail MacDonald said Sunday.

For some taxpayers determined to control education expenses, that's precisely the point. There had been complaints in other towns that allowing school officials to use the system to alert parents about upcoming budget votes gave them an improper advantage over spending foes.

We think that is an over-reaction.

Public Act 13-247, which the legislature passed with no debate on the final day of the session as part of a 500-page budget package, allows only chief elected municipal officials to send messages via community notification systems. In Stonington's case, that would be the first selectman, not the schools superintendent or school board chairwoman.

For the past five years Stonington school officials have used the notification system to send emails and make phone calls to remind parents to vote in upcoming budget referendums. Officials took pains to avoid advocating either a "yes" or "no" vote but simply told parents about the date, time and location of the voting and provided a short summary.

We see nothing wrong with continuing this practice, as long as officials sending the meeting notices avoid advocacy.

We mostly object to the fact that like so much legislation the bill was quietly inserted into a massive legislative package so that few, if any, lawmakers had a chance to study it. That process of loading bills at the last minute must end.

As for Stonington's attempt to repeal the bill, we urge lawmakers to study the specific issue and its ramifications carefully rather than simply voting on a jumbled package before a midnight deadline.

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