Saturday, December 29, 2007

More reason for my idea on Auditors' hearings.

Today's Hartford Courant had an article about wasteful spending in the Department of Children and Families. It is very good that this article brought public attention to these problems. And I would note something also very important - the article was based on an audit report by the State Auditors of Public Accounts.

As I have noted before, the Auditors are a very effective and time-tested state agency for rooting out waste, inefficiency and noncompliance with the law on the part of state departments. I think that the legislature should take better advantage of what this agency does. As I said back in October: idea is that, whenever the Auditors issue one of their regular reports on a state agency, the legislative committee responsible for that agency should hold a public hearing on the report. This will give Mr. Jaekle and Mr. Johnston the ability to present the major points their staff have discovered and recommended. And, it will allow legislators to ask questions of both the Auditors and, of course, of the heads of the agencies being reviewed, to gain an even better understanding of what is happening, and not happening, in state government - and what can be done to make things run better. This knowledge, in turn, could then be used by legislators in crafting better legislation for the state and in the annual state budget process.
Legislators cannot personally monitor state departments. We can visit them from time to time but, for the most part, what we know about how efficient they are and whether they are following the decisions of the legislature is in hearings at the State Capitol. And most of the time, the main ones we hear from are the top administrators in the departments, themselves. And these administrators will typically paint a rosy picture of how they are doing at running their respective departments.

Legislators and, as we see from the Courant article today, the public can only get a true picture of how things are going in state departments if we have an independent review. That is what the Auditors of Public Accounts do - and they do it well.

The legislature would find itself in a much better position to do our job if we, as I have suggested, hold regular hearings on the Auditor's findings.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays, everyone!

I have not had the chance to post anything recently, largely because of the holiday season. So, I just wanted to wish everyone well.

I hope that everyone's holiday season has been a pleasant and restful time with family and friends.

And best wishes to everyone in this last week of 2007!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Hearing on Appealate Court and Workers' Compensation Commission nominees.

The Judiciary Committee held a hearing and meeting on interim nominations by the Governor to the State Appellate Court and the Workers' Compensation Commission.

An interim appointment is a temporary appointment made between regular sessions of the General Assembly. All three of today's nominees are being appointed only until the sixth Wednesday of the next regular session of the legislature - which is March 12, 2008. The Governor can do this with the approval of the legislature's Judiciary Committee in order to allow for the jobs to be filled until the full legislature has time to review the nominations.

I decided to vote for all three interim appointments. The votes are presently being "held open", meaning that Committee members will be allowed to cast their votes on the motion to confirm the nominees until 5pm today. That is when it will have been decided. But, at the formal meeting, all of the legislators present supported all three nominees.

It looks like Attorney Jodi Murray Gregg of Stamford is about to be confirmed as a Workers' Compensation Commissioner, and Judge Robert E. Beach, Jr. of Glastonbury and Judge Richard A. Robinson of Stratford are about to be confirmed for the State Appellate Court.

Since the Appellate Court makes decisions similar to, though not as final as, the State Supreme Court, there was a couple of very important matters I asked both nominees about.

First, I asked them about the individual rights we have under that State Constitution. Of course, individuals have rights under the U.S. Constitution. But we also have rights under the Connecticut Constitution. It is understood that our rights in Connecticut are the whichever of the two constitutions gives us the strongest individual rights. So, if the federal Constitution has stronger individual rights, the State courts follow the U.S. Constitutional rights. If the State Constitution has stronger individual rights, the State courts follow the State Constitutional rights.

My question was, supposing that the State and U.S. constitutions have provide for the same or similar rights, but the federal courts rule that those constitutional rights provide less protection for individuals than the similar rights have been applied here in Connecticut under our State Constitution. Should the State Appellate Court go along with the Connecticut Constitutional rights or the federal courts' decisions?

This is a question I consider very important in light of a lot of the actions of the federal executive branch in recent years and some of the laws that were passed by Congress, especially before the 2006 election, that undermine individual rights and freedoms, combined with concerns that the new federal Supreme Court seems less inclined than past ones to take a stand for a lot of individual rights. I want to know that government officials of Connecticut will have to respect people's rights under our State Constitution.

The second question I asked both nominees might sound esoteric, but it is actually very important to a number of important issues that come before the State's courts. Both the State and federal constitutions provide that everyone is entitled to the equal protection of the laws. But, when we are asking whether someone actually has the equal protection of the laws, we can look at things in two different ways.

On the one hand, we can look at how the law is written and judge whether the law gives people equal treatment on paper. Do the words, themselves, give equal weight to the rights of everyone?

On the other hand we can look at the practical effect of the law. When we look at the real world results of government agencies or others following the law, do the outcomes that occur result in equal protections for everyone?

While Courts clearly must look at both of these, my question to the nominees was which of these two ways of looking at things should have greater weight?

Since there is not a lot going on at the Capitol right now, you will probably have the opportunity to watch the hearing on CTN. What do you think of the two judge's answers to my questions?

Tony Norris' memorial.

Yesterday, I was pleased to be able to volunteer at the dinner in honor of Tony Norris at the Marchegian Society Ballroom on Acorn Street.

The event was a great tribute to a phenomenal human being. And it was fitting that the event was at the Marchegian Hall right across the street from Urban Oaks organic farm, founded by Tony and his partner Mike Kandefer.

It was said by more than one person in attendance that, as an organizer, Tony would have really liked his tribute to be that kind of community event - with a committee organizing people to set up a hall, cook food and, of course, get people to attend.

It was good to hear different people talk about the different things Tony did to help and care for people in different stages and parts of his life. He touches so many lives and did so many things that I am sure that few people knew everything he did.

From the time he was young, he worked hard to undo the systems of unfairness and build a better world, as former State Representative and House Majority Leader David Pudlin described. He worked hard to build a stronger community in New Britain. For example, as the deeply honored community leader, Mr. Alton Brooks, pointed out, Tony was instrumental in building up the organization that became the Human Resources Agency. Former Congressional candidate Charlotte Koskoff talked about Tony's dynamic work in politics - and her race in 1994 was just one of many in which Tony's work was instrumental. Of course, in the past nearly two decades, he has worked on building up the Urban Oaks farm. And, as anyone active in the East Side knows, he has been a great leader in the East Side NRZ.

As if to sum up in my own mind what Tony meant to us all, as I was driving into the parking lot to volunteer at the Marchegian Society, I was wondering about what tasks I would be asked to do to set up for the event. I knew that I would find out my job by reporting to the event organizer, who, knowing it was a Tony Norris event, for just a moment, I, by reflex, expected would be Tony.

And that is just one part of the giant presence we will miss so very much in our community.

But mostly, we will all miss our dear friend.

Chris Murphy meeting in New Britain

Congressman Chris Murphy had a meeting in New Britain with representatives of different organizations in City Hall in New Britain last Friday.

It was a good opportunity to hear some of the details of Rep. Murphy's work, as well as more details about what is going on at in the federal government.

Even knowing about his good work at the State Capitol when he was a State Representative and State Senator, I am very impressed by how hard he has been working to represent us and to ensure that he reaches out to know how the people he represents feel on key issues.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Special session today.

Today the House and Senate were in special session. But, was, really, for procedural reasons.

The foremost of these reasons was to approve a resolution that calls the legislature into a special session to take up:
Bills relating to criminal offenses, sentencing and procedure, the incarceration, release and supervision of offenders, and the sharing of criminal justice information, including the costs related to such bills.
That session could, legally, be convened tomorrow. But, it looks like it will really occur in January.

There are a number of other issues that I am trying to also get taken up in that special session, as well. For example, the legislature approved $1 million to assist ambulance services, like the New Britain EMS, that have special funding needs, but the state Department of Social Services is refusing to release the money the way the legislature intended, so we need to approve legislation to direct the Department to release the money where it is needed.

More work is ahead in both of these areas.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Budget accountability hearing.

Today, the two budget committees of the legislature held a joint hearing on the state budget and the projections on the state's future financial prospects. The Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, of which I am a member, and the Appropriations Committee, which I am not, heard from representatives of the Office of Fiscal Analysis and the Office of Policy and Management.

Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA) is the legislature's budget office. It provides legislators with information on state spending and revenue and tells us how much legislation is expected to cost.

The Office of Policy and Management is the Governor's budget office. It also does spending and revenue estimates, but its main role is to administer the state budget on behalf of the Governor and according to her direction.

What we heard from both offices is that the state budget is expected to have a surplus in the current budget year (fiscal year 2007-08) and next year (FY2008-09), but that there are budget deficits expected after that.

It is common for both budget offices to predict deficits for a future year, and for the state to end up with a surplus once we actually reach that year. They try to be a little pessimistic about the future. But that pessimism helps legislators and the Governor to be cautious when we planning for the future.

And, since deficits are predicted for the future, we have to think about how we can plan ahead to prevent them.

Another big concern is the size of the state debt: $14.4 billion. Connecticut has an especially high state debt because the way the state spending cap has been interpreted has forced the state to borrow for things that it really should not have. The problems caused by this interpretation need to be addressed so that more and more of the state's budget does not get taken up by debt repayment.

All-in-all, it was a very informative hearing.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

New Pastor at Spottswoods welcomed.

Yesterday evening I was very happy to attend a welcoming reception for Rev. Sherman G. Dunmore, Sr., his wife Sharon V. Dunmore and their children. Rev. Dunmore is the new Pastor at New Britain's Spottswood AME Zion Church.

The Church community, religious leaders from New Britain and beyond come out to welcome Rev. Dunmore to New Britain. Joining them were a number of elected officials - Sen. Don DeFronzo (D-6), Ald. Shirley Black (D-3), Ald. Adam Platosz (D-2), Board of Education member Brian Riley and Democratic Party Chairman John McNamara.

I am very impressed by what I have already heard of Rev. Dunmore's active work in the communities in which he has served. I look forward to working with him for many things New Britain needs to accomplish for a stronger community.

Sen. Donald DeFronzo honored for work for people with disabilities.

The New Britain Herald has an article today about an award Sen. Donald DeFronzo (D-6) received from the ARC of Connecticut.

As the Herald says,
...He was honored for his work to create a pilot program of janitorial contracts for companies that employed people with disabilities and disadvantages.

“The objective of the program is to ensure that employment opportunities exist for all workers — specifically for people who traditionally can have difficulty finding employment opportunities — and to create more integrated job opportunities with good wages and benefits and job security,” DeFronzo said. “Thus far, the pilot has produced some promising results.”

The pilot program has made considerable progress since its launch. It has five companies as qualified partners. The partnership with Capitol Cleaners alone will yield 16 positions for disabled or disadvantaged workers by April.
I can attest, personally, to the enormous work Sen. DeFronzo did on this. I was involved, too, in advocating for this legislation, but no-one did more work on it, by far, than he did.

This is an award he richly deserves.

Rep. Sandy Nafis holiday extravaganza.

Rep. Sandy Nafis and I both represent different parts of Newington in the legislature. Sandy is very active in town and is well known and liked.

She does many things to benefit the town, big and small. And one of those is her annual holiday extravaganza and the home of her and her husband, Alan Nafis, which was last night.

The party is a good opportunity for people to come together, but it also doubles as a food drive. Guests at the event are asked to bring a donation of a non-perishable food item for local food pantries.

Sandy and Alan deserve a lot of credit for opening up their home...and for a good cause.