Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Maybe saving taxpayer money with open source software.

I thought I would post the testimony I submitted to the Government Administration and Election Committee on a bill that I introduced. It is not a hugely important piece of legislation, but it is designed to encourage state agencies to do something that could save taxpayers a lot of money.

Here is the testimony:
I am Rep. Tim O'Brien of the Twenty-Fourth District and I would like to testify in support of H.B. No. 5299 (COMM) AN ACT CONCERNING COMPUTER SOFTWARE PURCHASED BY STATE AGENCIES.

This legislation is intended to require state agencies to consider the use of open source software when they are considering the purchase of proprietary software. The purpose is for agencies to consider the costs and benefits of downloading free open source software instead of buying proprietary software. I think that this legislation could save the state a considerable about of money.

What “open source” means is computer software that is not owned by anyone. It has been placed by its creators into the public domain, where anyone can read, experiment with and change it. And, usually, it can be downloaded for free on the Internet. You can often donate to the organizations and individuals who create and maintain open source software, and I have, but it is not generally required.

Of course, open source is the opposite “proprietary” software, which is owned by a person or corporation under copyright. Most of the software you are probably familiar with is proprietary, and usually proprietary software must either be purchased from a vendor, at potentially great cost.

The first advantage of open source software is on the cost of acquiring it. It is certainly hard to beat a price of $0. But there are other advantages. Since open source software is not restricted by copyright, like proprietary software, if your business or, in our case, state agency, has information technology professionals on staff, they can customize the software to the needs of the agency without having to either create new software from scratch, at create cost, or accept the inflexibility of having to accept what “out of the box” proprietary software can or cannot do.

In the case of many open sourced software, there are businesses that offer customer support, for a fee, to people using open source software. But, to be sure, one of the advantages of proprietary software is that there is more likely to be customer support available from the owner of the software copyright. This means that open source will be best suited for state agencies with IT professionals on staff, who will be capable of locating, online, discussion of how the programs work and how to correct problems.

Another advantage of proprietary software is that, in terms of technical innovation, they are typically a step or two ahead of their open source alternatives. But this is not aways true. I believe that the Mozilla Firefox Internet browser is better in quality than the Microsoft Internet Explorer.

You might think that it is hard to find open source software, since it might seem counterintuitive that someone would go through the trouble of creating a software package and then give it away for free. But the number of open source applications available is staggering.

This website has links to many of the better programs available:

Most open source downloads that I have seen seem to go through the company that runs this website:

In fact, I wrote this testimony on an open source program called “”, which serves a similar function as the Microsoft Office suite.

It is important to note that this legislation would not require state agencies to use open source software. It only requires them make some modicum of cost and benefits comparison before spending taxpayer money, needlessly, when a free or low cost alternative can be simply downloaded from the Internet.

Thank-you for your consideration.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Legislation to keep Boys and Girls Club summer programs open.

Today the Public Health Committee held a hearing on a number of different topics. One of them was legislation to address a problem that the Boys and Girls Club of New Britain has been having with licensing at the state Department of Public Health.

The issue is that the Department, in 2003, told the Boys and Girls Club that their programs would be considered as a summer camp during the summer months. This was apparently a new interpretation of the law. The interpretation seems strange, given that the programs that Club makes available to kids during the summer are pretty much the same as what they offer the rest of the year. But they were told that they needed to meet extra requirements, only during the summer, as a "youth camp".

The result of this, unless changes are made, is that the Club would be able to offer its services to hundreds fewer kids during the summer because it would not be able to afford that extra cost of serving the same number of kids.

The legislation proposed by Sen. Donald DeFronzo, Senate Bill 80, would address this problem by allowing the Club to operate as a "drop in center" with regulations that are better suited to what the Club actually does.

Mayor Tim Stewart and Sen. DeFronzo testified together in support of this legislation. Rep. Peter Tercyak and I are both on the Public Health Committee, and the whole New Britain legislative delegation will be working to get this legislation approved.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The 20-Year Rule.

I hold no claim to being a wise philosopher, but I thought I would share something that I often mention to other legislators when we are discussing an especially important or controversial vote we are taking.

I call it the "20-Year Rule."

It is so easy to get caught up in the heat on the moment in politics or to view things through the short-term lens of the next election. And immediate considerations are important and cannot be ignored. But, in my experience, too many decisions in government are made based on things that seem so important today, but are so clearly irrelevant with the benefit of hindsight.

That is where the 20-year rule comes in.

I try to imagine myself twenty years from now (now, meaning when I am making the decision). Aside from imagining that my joints hurt more than they do now, I imagine myself looking back on what I am doing in the present, and think about how I would judge my own actions.

If vote for the legislation, would I, twenty years from now, be proud of what I did? Would I, instead, regret it? If I voted the other way, what would I think of myself twenty years from now? Is there something I should be doing better, like working harder for more compromise or not compromising principle as much, that would make me prouder, twenty years from now, with the decision that I make.

That is it. It is very simple, but I have found it helpful.

I think it helps me to see the best choices to make. It lets me apply the benefit of hindsight before I make a decision, instead of after, when it is too late.

Friday, February 23, 2007

New online resource - Judiciary Committee public hearing testimony.

You can often see the testimony of people before various legislative committees on the CTN cable TV network. But, for the first time, you can now read the written testimony submitted to one of the legislature's committees - the Judiciary Committee.

Click here to visit the website where you can access the written testimony. This is a new resource, and it seems that it is only available for Judiciary Committee testimony. Hopefully, all of the other committees will start doing it as well.

Public hearing testimony represents many different political perspectives, from interested residents of our state, lobbyists and interest groups and from public officials. This testimony is an important part of the legislative process in Connecticut, and it is the opportunity for Connecticut's people to have their opinions heard before legislators make up their minds on legislation under consideration.

Do you find this new resource helpful?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

At the Capitol today: doctors and insurance companies, Supreme Court and higher education.

Like most days this time of year, it was a busy day at the Capitol. I decided to take a few moments after getting home and eating dinner to write a few words about the events today at the Capitol. I cannot say that I will have the time to write a daily report every day, but I will try to as much as possible.

I am a member of both the Public Health Committee and the Judiciary Committee. Both had public hearings at the same time. Since I have not perfected the art of being in two places at once, I had to alternate between the two.

The Public Health Committee hearing was on a long list of bills. One of them was a bill HB5308 to address a problem many health professionals (doctors, dentists, etc.) have said that are having with insurance companies having arbitrary policies on payments. Here is what HB5308 says:
That chapter 700c of the general statutes be amended to (1) require that contracts between managed care organizations or preferred provider networks and physicians include provisions that: (A) Provide an explanation of the physician payment methodology, the time periods for physician payments, the information to be relied on to calculate payments and adjustments and the process to be relied on to resolve disputes concerning physician payments; and (B) require that managed care organizations or preferred provider networks provide to each participating physician a complete copy of all current procedural terminology codes and all current reimbursements for such codes that determine the physician's reimbursement for the entire contract period; and (2) prohibit provisions in such contracts that allow managed care organizations or preferred provider networks to unilaterally change any term or provision of the agreed-upon contract.
We heard from both health professionals, who support the bill, and at least one insurance company - Anthem - testified against the bill. Anther bill, HB6841, is similar to HB5308, except that it creates a task force to study doing what HB5308 would do. Because the co-chairs (the House chair and the Senate chair) of the Public Health Committee decided to draft HB6841 in official legal form, it looks more likely that the committee will vote on that bill.

The Judiciary Committee held a hearing on very significant issue. At issue was the incident last year when William Sullivan, former Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, prevented a court decision from being released because he thought it might be embarrassing to another member of the Supreme Court, Peter Zarella, who Justice Sullivan knew Gov. Rell was about to name as his successor.

The fact that Sullivan resigned suddenly from office at the end the last year's legislative session, combined with the "hold" placed on this particular decision of the court, made the co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee suspicious that Sullivan and perhaps others wanted to ram the Zarella nomination through a legislative confirmation vote before legislators had time to find out whether they thought he would be a good choice. In other words, did the Chief Justice try to prevent the legislature from exercising its responsibility to oversee the choices of who gets on the Supreme Court?

Ironically, the court decision that was held out of the public eye was a decision about whether certain administrative functions of the Court system should be exempt from public disclosure under the state's Freedom of Information Act.

Sullivan appeared apologetic for what he had done, and denied that he did it to help Zarella win the vote for Chief Justice in the legislature. But he also said that he kept the public from seeing the Court's decision in order to keep Zarella from being embarrassed during the time that Zarella was being considered for Chief Justice by the legislature.

Whatever happened, Zarella was forced withdraw his nomination and Gov. Rell has since named a different person - Chase Rogers - to be her new choice for Chief Justice.

Finally, the Appropriations Committee, which I am not a member of, has been holding hearings on Gov. Rell's proposed budget. The public portions of the hearings are held in the evenings, and today's hearing included funding for the state's public colleges and universities. I mention this because a New Britain resident, known for his blog "spazeboy", testified in support of funding for community colleges. He is a student at Tunxis Community College. He was very articulate and raised good points.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Older video - Campaign Finance Reform forum on March 20, 2006.

This is a bit older video, but I thought it would be a good way to get started with posting of videos on this blog.

Keep in mind that I was speaking after the legislature approved the historic Campaign Finance Reform law in 2005 and before the important changes were made - that I made the motion to approve in the House of Representatives - that made the law clearer and more workable.

I hope you find this interesting.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Welcome to my blog!

Dear Friends,

Keeping up with modern times, I have decided to open a blog that will allow me to post news and information about my work at the Capitol.

This will allow me to keep you informed in a more up-to-date way than I can on either of my two regular websites:

My personal website:
My official State website.

But these websites are (hopefully) a useful resource for you, and I will continue to update them, as time permits.

Another useful thing about this blog is that you can use the "comments" feature at the bottom of each blog entry that I post to ask questions or express your opinions on anything going on at the Capitol. (Of course, I offer this as a way for people to have reasonable discussion, so please keep any comments civil and neighborly.)

So keep checking this blog for updates, information and even video clips!

Take care, everyone!