Mix and match can't work in legislature

All-terrain vehicles are noisy, destructive and dangerous, which is why this newspaper ordinarily would be pleased by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's veto of a bill last week that could have expanded their use in state parks and other public lands.

If only it were that simple.

The bill passed last month by the General Assembly and forwarded to the governor did not deal exclusively with ATVs; it also sought to open up competition between in-state and out-of-state moving companies.

The Day supports this aspect of the legislation because it would change a law that unfairly favors private interests over the public good.

The issue came to light last year when The Day reported that the state effectively barred a Rhode Island firm, Coutu Bros. Movers, from establishing an office in North Stonington because Connecticut law required any such expansion cannot adversely impact established moving companies.

Atherton & Sons Moving & Storage in Pawcatuck and Barnes Moving & Storage in Mystic had objected to Coutu Movers' plans, citing a dramatic dip in their businesses due to a decline in the real estate market. Eventually, Coutu Movers opted to expand into Massachusetts instead.

We object not just to the original moving company law, but that the bill to repeal it had been paired with completely unrelated legislation, leaving members of the General Assembly little or no chance to split their votes on separate issues. In the end, An Act Concerning All-Terrain Vehicles and the Certification of Household Goods Carriers passed overwhelmingly in both the state Senate and House of Representatives.

Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, co-chairman of the General Assembly's Transportation Committee, said he agreed to offer the revised bill as a courtesy to his colleagues, adding that he was surprised it later passed.

While combining legislation sometimes makes sense and helps expedite voting, often these maneuvers are carried out at the last minute, giving neither lawmakers nor the public opportunity to weigh merits and detriments.

Such juggling typically takes place at the end of the session, after exhausted legislators have worked around the clock on the state budget and other critical issues.

"It's a war of attrition," state Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, said Friday. "We're all so sleep deprived."

She cited a situation similar to the ATV-moving legislation, in which lawmakers had to vote on a bill that allowed Keno gambling in Connecticut, which she opposes, but also spending for school-based health centers, one of her pet projects.

Rep. Urban reluctantly voted in favor of the measure, "but got a lot of heat from constituents" because of the Keno provision, she said.

Part of the problem is that lawmakers often behave like high school students who have all semester to write a term paper but then pull an all-nighter just before the due date.

Rep. Urban called on for a more orderly process of introducing and considering legislation, and we agree.

As for the ATV-moving company law, we urge lawmakers to separate the measures at the next legislative session.

Unfairly stifling competition hurts consumers, and that provision must be repealed.

Regarding ATVs, simply put they do not belong in parks.

Such organizations as the Connecticut Forest and Park Association and the Connecticut Audubon Society have opposed a law that would require the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to carry out an ATV policy for state lands the agency adopted in 2002 but never implemented.

"The policy has become obsolete and could easily lead to habitat damage on important conservation lands," the Connecticut Audubon Society warned.

Without such a policy, it is illegal to operate an ATV on state land. Whatever new law is passed governing ATVs, that restriction must stay in place.

There's enough noise and speeding on city streets and highways; keep parks silent and serene.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.


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