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Lawmakers to revive aid in dying, crisis pregnancy centers legislation

Aid in dying and the regulation of faith-based pregnancy centers, two contentious issues that couldn't gather enough support to prevail last year, will return this legislative session. But even staunch backers of the hot-button proposals are skeptical they will succeed.

Both topics won enough votes from the Public Health Committee on Friday to spur new legislation.

Aid in dying, which did not make it out of committee last year, would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to terminally ill patients. In the most recent version of the bill, only patients who have six months or less to live may qualify. Those patients would be required to submit two written requests for the drug, and doctors must inform them of the risks and alternatives.

Religious groups and people with disabilities have denounced the measure, citing concerns about coercion and misdiagnoses. Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, a co-chair of the health committee, said "strongly held" religious beliefs among lawmakers contributed to the bill's demise last year.

While the issue has come up several times in Connecticut, it has never made it to the House or Senate floor. Nine states and the District of Columbia allow aid in dying, also known as death with dignity.

A proposal to ban deceptive practices at faith-based pregnancy centers managed to pass the health committee and the House last year, but was not called for a vote in the Senate.

The bill would have given the state Attorney General's office the power to seek a court order to stop deceptive practices at the facilities. Under the measure, the attorney general could have required the pregnancy centers to pay for and disseminate corrective advertising or to post a remedial notice that rectifies misleading advertisements.

Critics say staff at the facilities sometimes pose as medical professionals to lure women and hand out false information about abortions. The centers have also been accused of posting misleading information on billboards, buses, brochures and websites.

Republicans opposed the measure last year, saying it unfairly targeted faith-based institutions and gave unnecessary powers to the Attorney General's office.

On Friday, some members of the health committee questioned why the controversial issues were being resurrected in a short session. Lawmakers have only three months this year to move bills through the General Assembly.

"I wish the (committee) chairs would exercise a little bit more restraint in raising every single issue that legislators want because, when we raise too many bills, we don't do things well," said Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford. "There are a lot of demands – whether it be tolls, our transportation infrastructure – that are going to take up a lot of time in this building. And when we take up issues like these, it will swallow up a lot of that time."

Steinberg encouraged the committee to tackle difficult topics, saying it would set a "bad precedent" to shy away in a short session.

"That could be a slippery slope to us not doing our jobs," he said.

Others noted that the outcomes for both proposals would likely be unchanged from last year, since the same people are debating them. The session ends in May, and lawmakers won't face re-election until the fall.

Members suggested that the bills be tweaked so legislators aren't deadlocked over the same points.

Despite the lofty challenges, Rep. Jack Hennessy, D-Bridgeport, said it's important to address issues like aid in dying.

"There are people leaving the state over this," he said. "They're going to states that do have this. And (more) people will leave the state of Connecticut if we don't pass it."

Jenna Carlesso is a reporter for The Connecticut Mirror (www.ctmirror.org). Copyright 2019 © The Connecticut Mirror.

jcarlesso@ctmirror.org

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