'Improving' life in Connecticut in 327 new ways

During the 2013 legislative session the General Assembly sent 335 bills to the governor, who signed 327 of them and vetoed eight. That's a lot of new laws, new regulations, mandates and studies. But it has seemingly always been such. With the exception of the occasional libertarian (and how many of those are ever elected?), most politicians don't want to run for re-election on a track record of accomplishing nothing, so they push through something.

The major pieces of legislation are relatively few and well publicized. This session, along with the budget, they included major changes in firearms regulations in the wake of the Newtown school massacre; a $1.6 billion program to improve the science and technology curriculum at the University of Connecticut; the GMO labeling requirement; and continuing education reform.

So what else did lawmakers do? They formed plenty of tasks forces and launched a variety of studies.

The state shall have task forces "to consider impediments to fair housing" and to "study family medical leave insurance" and "concerning the sale of cats and dogs at pet shops" and the "availability of electronic books (to library users.)"

Local leaders worried about new mandates that may not come with any new money, might want to keep an eye on the "statewide task force to address blight and concerning notice of fines, penalties, costs or fees for citations issued under municipal ordinances."

Perhaps no new group faces a greater challenge than the "Commission on Connecticut's Future."

The commission is supposed to come up with a plan to restore and grow manufacturing in Connecticut. They have to figure out how to better coordinate "economic development policy with capital investment in both public and private sectors." (I'm not sure exactly what that means.)

Anyway, the commission on the future also has to help make sure the state's education institutions align curriculum with future manufacturing needs.

Talk about pressure.

Though not mandated by the legislation, the crystal ball commission could certainly benefit from one of those time-travel wormholes that are a frequent dramatic tool for Star Trek writers.

Hopefully the commission comes up with a great future plan, but I suspect many business owners would get more excited about old-fashioned lower taxes and less regulation.

The 2013 session saw the passage of a "Homeless Person's Bill of Rights." This continues a trend of such "bill of rights" legislation for various groups - elderly, youth, victims, small fury animals (OK, not the last one - yet).

The fact of the matter is that all citizens are covered by the actual Bill of Rights, found in the U.S. Constitution.

Among the "rights" for the homeless:

• The right to "move freely in public spaces without harassment or intimidation from law enforcement."

• "(To) have equal opportunities for employment."

• "Receive equal treatment by state and municipal agencies."

According to the law, every town should post the "Homeless Person's Bill of Rights" alongside municipal notices. (There is no suggestion to post the actual Bill of Rights.)

File this under feel-good legislation, the appearance of doing something without achieving much of anything. Adequate mental health services, programs providing support to help individuals to deal with the root causes of their homelessness, and an improved economy are things that can really help the homeless.

And how pratical is that "equal opportunities for employment" right? In assessing the background qualifications of a job candidate, an employer cannot consider the fact the applicant has no home? Will this mean the elimination of the address section on job applications?

As the sweltering summer continues, I leave you with "An Act Prohibiting Tampering with Hydrants." It states, "no person shall open, operate, take water from or tamper with any hydrant ... without the legal authority to take such action."

Now that makes sense, and they didn't even need a task force.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.


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