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New laws tackle underlying injustices

People in Connecticut are unaccustomed to thinking of our state as backward in almost any significant category they could name. Correctly, they see the Land of Steady Habits as a leading state for personal income, standard of living, quality of health care, excellence in higher education, leadership in environmental policy. And yet, another part of the collective brain is conscious of ingrained problems that steadily resist solution: the K-12 achievement gap, the urban poverty traps, the unofficial lid on affordable housing.

It may be necessary to dig deeper — not into the pockets this time but down to the foundation of the assumptions of public policy, as contrasted with what people know from their own lived experience.

In that vein, The Day welcomes an impressive social and human rights agenda in the General Assembly this session. The result is three key pieces of legislation that recognize contemporary injustices needing to be addressed.

The first is a lengthy new law that replaces Connecticut's old-fashioned — and in some aspects, now unconstitutional — statutes on parentage.

The act signed June 1 by Gov. Ned Lamont catches up statutorily with the fact that biological parenting is now medically possible and widely accepted for people who would not have had the option before. Most critically, it ensures equal treatment under the law to children of all "persons," including same-sex couples and others who become parents through surrogacy or a range of medical interventions. From having one of the country's most outdated parentage laws, Connecticut now has one that is hailed as comprehensive and child-centered.

All legislators but one House member voted for the bill, suggesting that lawmakers of both parties recognize the justice of equal status under the law for children and parents.

Defining racism as a public health crisis is the purpose of a bill that received final passage last week after months of advocacy and the stark evidence of the Covid pandemic's effects on minorities.

This topic stirs sincere but underinformed protest among whites who have not knowingly demeaned anyone because of race and don't wish to be painted as part of the problem. Racism is in one sense a matter of attitude, and for that reason the new law includes awareness training for certain healthcare givers. Its focus, however, is on data — the meat and potatoes of public health administration. If there is any question that non-whites suffer more and worse health problems than whites, the numbers will answer it.

A primary mandate of the law is to tabulate the health effects of being a non-white health care consumer, even in this state of better-than-average access to affordable insurance and health care systems. It creates a commission on racial equity whose reach includes a provision, contested by some Republicans, assessing the impact of zoning restrictions on housing disparities and ultimately on public health.

That doesn't seem far-fetched in New London, where the health and safety of the tenants of the former high-rise Thames River apartments were so deeply affected that a class-action lawsuit ultimately resulted in closing down the buildings.

The session's third step forward in reconciling public policy with the public's experience of social justice is a strengthening of the hate crime laws, beginning with creation of a Hate Crimes Advisory Council that has more power than previous measures. On Tuesday, the governor appointed members to the new body, which will address the deliberate and sometimes deadly forms of targeting others because of racial, ethnic, gender or religious prejudice.

Connecticut has always tended to congratulate itself as the Land of Steady Habits. Steady is fine; stalled or stagnant is not. Old-fashioned is good for oatmeal, but not for laws. These new statutes may need work, but underlying them is policymakers' vital recognition that without these changes, all the surface work on housing, education, racism and prejudice won't go deep enough to fix the problems that continue to resist solution.

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 Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser 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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