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ABOUT TOWN: Specials

What was the legislature serving up at its recent special sessions?

Nothing too tasty. “Rats” and “Christmas Trees.”

A “Christmas Tree” bill is something that has unrelated baubles hanging from it and gifts underneath, brought in under cover of darkness. And not by a bunch of reindeer.

What is a legislative “rat?” Why do I bring this up?

It is a small piece of a larger document of legislation that just appears, usually at the last moment, when no one knows it is there and doesn’t have the time to look for it. No public hearing sheds light on it. No one but the invisible hand that placed it there is privy to its existence.

In the early days of the Internet, when the state of Connecticut published the minutes of its legislative sessions and the bills that were under consideration without easy links or shortcuts to committees, you had to read the entirety of long documents to find out what your bill was turning into.

I would do this as an exercise in open government. Could I keep track of a bill and follow it through the process? I did, for a friend who had connections in the Senate.

To my surprise, I found a new section added one morning. This happened just after it passed out of the House! It was a “rat” that totally turned around the original intent of the bill!

After notifying those interested, it was no surprise to me that the bill never saw the floor of the Senate, or the light of day there, either!

We have just completed a legislative special session in Hartford that was needed to implement Connecticut’s budget. It spawned another special session within it. No notice of this second special session appeared anywhere, to my knowledge.

Why am I surprised? Because I thought there were rules — rules that prevent bills from being brought back from the dead. Bills that had not passed both houses of the legislature by the end of the previous regular session, at midnight on May 9 were now undead.

Some of these bills were not remotely related to the budget. Hence the necessity for a special session within the special session.

Charter

I particularly point out these unpleasant facts to remind everyone in Weston that our proposed new charter is not a product of the General Assembly.

Weston’s Charter Revision Commission played by the rules. No one did anything outside the strictures of Freedom of Information laws. I am pretty sure of that because I watched the process live every bit of the way.

The commission has stated that it wants the new charter to be voted up or down on Election Day, Nov. 6, via a simple “yes” or “no” vote. I am with them on this.

The new charter contains very different wording than the old one. Words mean a lot in legal documents, which the charter is.

A thorough explication of its text should be presented to the public prior to Election Day, to make clear what the changes mean to the voters and why they should vote “yes.”

NOTE: “About Town” is also a television program. It appears on Fridays and Saturdays from 5:30 to 6 p.m. on Cablevision Channel 88 (Public Access). Or see it at aboutweston.com. This week’s guest is Toni Boucher, state Senator, 26th District.

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