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Region could lead the way to improve lawmaking

Southeastern Connecticut is fortunate to be represented in the state legislature by a politically diverse set of lawmakers, almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. They have shown the ability to work together on issues in which the general benefit clearly rises above the typical partisan divide.

That is why it would be great to see the local delegation pull together to champion ways to make the General Assembly work better for the benefit of the state’s citizens.

In that regard, the Yankee Institute for Public Policy recently released a policy paper, “Ideas to make the Connecticut legislative process more open and transparent,” that contains some common-sense ideas to improve how laws are made.

Yankee Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3), promotes a conservative agenda for the state, but this policy paper has proposals that can serve the interests of the public regardless of whether those interests are conservative, liberal or somewhere in between.

The editorial board agrees with several of these concepts.

End the abuse of emergency certifications. There may be cases where legislation must be rushed due to an emergency situation, such as a natural disaster or medical crisis, but the provision has been abused to rush bills to passage at the last minute without public input. We agree with the proposal to require a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to pass legislation as an emergency.

The policy paper calls for a ban on overnight, marathon sessions, in which important legislation gets passed at 3 a.m. while the state sleeps. It calls for a midnight adjournment at the latest, reconvening no earlier than 9 a.m. An outright ban may not be practical, but as with the emergency designation, require a two-thirds vote to push past midnight, assuring — for the most part — the minority party agrees on the need.

Discouraging these overnight sessions could encourage the legislature to get more business done earlier in the process and not jam business into the last couple of days of the session.

Combine the committee that spends the money, Appropriations, with the committee that must come up with the revenues to pay for it, Finance. We have backed this idea before, calling for a single Ways and Means Committee.

Stop the “rats.” These are special favors, local pork barrel projects and other awards and sweeteners used to get votes. They are jammed into the voluminous “budget implementer” approved toward the end of the session. Legislators usually don’t even know they are voting for this stuff.

Improve the public hearing process. Yankee Institute suggests separate public hearings, one for the experts and politicians, a second for the general public. This may not be practical for all legislation, but certainly is needed for major bills, perhaps triggered by a one-third vote of a committee’s members. And make better use of our digital age, with online sign-ups for hearings and more opportunities to submit comments in digital form.

Make sure the Connecticut Network — CT-N — is adequately funded and remains independent. CT-N provides a valuable service by allowing the public to witness hearings and other proceedings without having to travel to Hartford.

Certainly there are other ideas that can make the legislative process better. As suggested by the policy paper, the logical place to start would be the formation of a nonpartisan commission, to include members of the public and open-government advocacy groups as well as legislators, to come up with a set of proposals to alter the rules and the laws that govern the General Assembly.

And, as noted at the start of this editorial, a push from our local senators and House members on both sides of the aisle could get things started.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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