Get these items passed in 2021 state legislative session
As has seemingly been the case for the past dozen years, the challenge to balance the budget will be the dominant issue of the legislative session in Connecticut, the problem compounded by fiscal damage related to the pandemic-caused recession but aided by a record surplus.
However, the resumption of regular General Assembly business — albeit much of it via Zoom and other remote mediums — also provides the opportunity to enact legislation that has been bandied about for several years but not pushed across the finish line.
Democrats clearly have the votes to legislate aggressively, controlling the House of Representatives 98 to 53 and the Senate 24-12, both margins expanded by the results of the Nov. 3 election. In Ned Lamont, the state has a Democratic governor who, while prepared to push back against the progressive wing of the party on tax increases, will also want to get some things done in advance of a possible run for a second term.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a reminder that the public health cannot be taken for granted.
The legislature should remove the religious exemption that has led to an increasing number of public-school students getting exempted from vaccination against contagious childhood diseases.
In all but a small number of cases, religious restrictions are not the real motivation for applying for the exemption, but the only available excuse to avoid the vaccines because of ungrounded fears concerning their safety. As fewer students get vaccinations, herd immunity is lost and outbreaks become more likely, endangering in particular students who, for genuine health reasons, cannot be safely vaccinated.
Pass the law and require vaccinations for entry into public schools, making only health exemptions. If parents want to move their children to private schools, or to home school, to avoid vaccinations, that will be their right.
Property tax reform
Lamont ran on the issue. It was one reason he won The Day’s endorsement. It is time for him to use these large Democratic majorities to pursue it. The state’s cities desperately needed.
Relief could include boosting state subsidies to make up for large concentrations on property tax nonprofit and government properties. It could be a move to equalize − or end − the property tax on motor vehicles, now far higher in cities. Or municipalities could be given authority to assess taxation for services large nonprofits utilize, such as public safety and public works. But do something.
In addition to black market sales, people in Connecticut are also buying marijuana legally for recreational use in nearby states, including Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont. It is time for Connecticut to take the first step toward legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana.
We continue to promote a two-step process. This session form a diverse, ad-hoc committee to consider the challenges and best approach to legalizing and taxing the sale of marijuana. The committee recommendations could then guide subsequent legislation regulating marijuana sales and addressing issues such as the prevention of impaired driving.
Ideally, Congress would in the meantime repeal the federal law treating marijuana possession and sale as serious a crime as peddling heroin. That repeal would leave the marijuana debate up to the states, making it a states’ rights issue that Republicans should, in political theory, support.
Online sports betting
Lamont has stood in the way of a legislature ready to enact laws to allow online sport betting and casino gaming.
The governor, finally, appears ready to work with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to develop a framework for these changes. This would produce not only needed revenues for the state, as would marijuana legalization, but would also help the fortunes of the Foxwoods Resort and Mohegan Sun tribal casinos, hit hard by the pandemic.
The compacts between the state and the tribes give them exclusive rights to casino games. In return, the tribes pay the state 25% of gross slots revenue, producing more than $8 billion for the state since 1993. The tribes assert that sports betting is a casino game covered by the compacts. It is unclear if the courts would agree, but the process of settling such a dispute would be ugly and prolonged and could endanger the slot revenues.
Far better to work with the tribes on creating a legislative proposal for adoption this session.
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 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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Whether further developments prove Lamont right or wrong, making tough decisions — and sometimes unpopular ones — is called leadership.
There is no good reason lawmakers should deny voters the opportunity to make this decision as soon as possible.