Who Loses When The Public's Business Is Done In Secret?

The Hartford Courant

During this year's session of the General Assembly, more than the usual amount of legislation was negotiated in secret, pushed to passage without a public hearing, sprung on unsuspecting lawmakers by leaders in the session's last minutes or otherwise hatched without proper vetting.

The legislative corner-cutting at the expense of transparency is becoming so prevalent that some harried freedom-of-information advocates bandied about the idea of a constitutional amendment that would prohibit legislation from becoming law without a public hearing.

The idea didn't take off. There are rare times when needed legislation warrants emergency certification. But who can blame those who prize open government for proposing it?

What a dismal record of legerdemain the legislature compiled this year.

Incredibly, keno was added to Connecticut's gambling menu by the legislature at the last minute without a public hearing. Something as controversial and as fraught with addiction and revenue issues as an expansion of gambling should be at the top of the list of bills requiring a public hearing, expert input and unhurried deliberation.

A major bill exempting crime-scene photographs and other information from freedom-of-information requirements was conceived and negotiated in secret.

The big budget implementation bill played host, as it usually does, to individual lawmakers' wish lists of self-interested stuff — sometimes called "rats" — that hasn't gone through the regular legislative process.

Some of the rats are all dressed up in the legislative-language equivalents of wigs and fake mustaches in hopes they'll blend in.

One unscrupulous example was an item written in legalese pushing ahead the starting date for allowing undocumented immigrants to have Connecticut driver's licenses by 1½ years. Republicans sniffed it out and it was deleted.

And the implementer is home to earmarks authorized by legislative leaders that pay for small projects here and there around Connecticut that weren't included in the budget. This practice could lend itself to political deal-making.

The General Assembly's leaders must practice better time management, so work doesn't bunch up as the session is coming to an end. They must reacquaint themselves with the idea of open government. There's no good reason for all the secrecy.

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