Deer, children and a bizarre lawmaking process

One of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's top priorities in the recently completed legislative session was creation of an Office of Early Childhood Education. This did not seem too heavy of a political lift. Malloy's Democratic Party has strong majorities in both the House and Senate. Even the Republicans were largely on board.

The concept makes sense. There are many agencies focused on, and a lot of money spent, trying to improve the developmental years - birth to age five - of at-risk children. Research suggests that it can be money well invested, improving the educational achievements of these children in later years, reducing the chances of them getting involved in the criminal system or becoming dependent on welfare.

But these efforts suffer from a lack of coordination. There are many childcare programs, many addiction, mental health and social service interventions into troubled households, an expanding number of pre-school education initiatives, but their efforts suffer from a lack of communication and synchronization.

To improve coordination of these services, Gov. Malloy proposed moving about 70 state employees in various state agencies responsible for such programs into the new Office of Early Childhood Education. The recently approved state budget shifts $127 million in funding to this new office next fiscal year.

There is only one problem - there is no new office (at least as of Friday there was not) because the General Assembly never got around to statutorily creating it. So early childhood programs dependent on that state aid are wondering what happens July 1, the start of the fiscal year, if the agency assigned to distribute the money still does not exist.

How did this happen? The reason appears to be that bow hunting of deer on private lands remains illegal on Sundays. OK, that was not the entire reason, but the fact it is a reason at all suggests how the state legislature operates - not well.

Republicans say as the clock was winding down on the session things turned ugly when they found a "rat" in a massive implementer bill, the legislation that activates many of the laws and policies passed during the session. A GOP lawyer found buried in such a bill a changed date for moving forward with the new law that will allow undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses. The original legislation set the date as Jan. 1, 2015, but the implementer listed it as this July 1st. Democrats called it a mistake, Republicans an outrage. In any event, things bogged down as Republicans searched for more tricks (or mistakes) and threatened to filibuster.

Amidst all the drama, Republican House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr. questioned what became of the legislation, approved by the House, which would legalize bow hunting on Sunday. As was the case with the prohibition on the retail sale of alcohol on Sundays, lifted just a couple of years ago, you apparently can't shoot a deer with an arrow on Sunday. Who knew?

The bill to end the ban passed the House 107-19, with 24 absent for the momentous vote that took place around 2:30 a.m. But why, Cafero wanted to know, was the Senate holding things up? If it wasn't acted on, he warned, things the Democrats wanted could be held up too, things like the Office of Early Childhood Education.

And that is what happened.

This raises a few questions. Why can't you shoot a deer with an arrow on Sunday? Is it going to upset church goers? Does it violate the lost 11th Commandment? Is the deer lobby too strong?

If this Office of Early Childhood Education is so important, why was the Democratic leadership waiting until the sleep-deprived days of the end of the session to pass it? Couldn't they have it wrapped up sooner? The closing hours of the session is the only time the Republican minority has any real power to tie things up, so it is not a good idea to let vital legislation wait until then.

The governor's office is considering its options. An executive order starting up the office would be legally dicey. Calling a special session always invites mischief. But Malloy wants the office and, I suspect, he will get it.

I'm not so sure about the Sunday bow hunting law.

Paul Choiniere is editorial page editor.


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