As this year’s legislative session gets underway, Connecticut lawmakers are working on a number of controversial bills on key issues including campaign finance reform, same-sex civil unions, education spending and stem cell research.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell is pushing her recently released campaign finance and ethics reform proposal, which would ban political contributions from state contractors and lobbyists, in addition to lowering contribution limits across the board. The issue is particularly timely since Rell’s predecessor, John Rowland, pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges last month.
Though campaign finance reform is an issue with bipartisan support, some Democrats have argued that the governor’s proposed legislation is insufficient, instead suggesting that campaigns should be directly financed by the state government. On the other hand, many Republicans counter that the state should not foot the bill for political campaigns.
“I wouldn’t want a taxpayer, without picking who they support, to have money go to a campaign that could be going to health care or to paying for the needy,” said state Rep. Alfred Adinolfi, a Republican who represents parts of Cheshire and Hamden.
Another contentious issue expected to surface during this year’s legislative session is same-sex marriage. Several Democrats in the State House have said they believe the Democratic-controlled legislature will pass a bill legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples this year, and the Judiciary Committee is already working on such a proposal.
Echoing the views of many Republicans in the legislature, Rell has said she favors equal rights for homosexuals but believes marriage is between a man and a woman.
Another brewing controversy in the legislature pertains to state funding for public education. State representatives from Connecticut’s small towns are fighting for increased funding for their school districts, while Connecticut’s cities are afraid they stand to lose some of the aid they currently receive.
In a state facing a $1 billion budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year, state Rep. Patricia Dillon EPH ’98, a Democrat who represents New Haven, said she expects controversy in the legislature about whether money will go to education or health care, specifically to address rising prescription drug costs.
The issue is particularly relevant in New Haven, which relies on the state for the vast majority of its education funding.
“I would be anxious, unless we tack a lot of money in there, that New Haven not be damaged as every town in the state looks at education funding as a way of propping up their budget,” Dillon said.
Rell, who recently underwent surgery for breast cancer, is also pushing legislation on stem cell research. Following the precedent set by California, which recently assigned $3 billion in state funds to stem cell research, Rell is expected to propose $10 to $20 million for research in Connecticut. That money would directly impact Yale, as the state’s leading research institution.
Though there is bipartisan support for stem cell research in the legislature, the governor’s proposal has spurred mixed reactions, with some Democrats calling for a more generous state contribution of over $100 million.
“On the dollar amount, the governor’s proposal seems to have put some folks into a bidding war,” Dillon said.