State Sen. Michael McLachlan: Not a good General Assembly session for state’s taxpayers

June 18, 2012

This year’s legislative session at the state Capitol was not a good one for Connecticut taxpayers.

On the bright side, we were able to make progress on a few issues which impact veterans, health care and public safety.

I have compiled a list of issues which stand out for me as successes and disappointments.

Let me start with the good news:

Tougher penalties for vandalism of vets memorials.

I was proud to join with Democrats and Republicans in beefing up state laws to discourage vandals and thieves from defacing or stealing veterans’ memorials.

Thieves often try to sell the metal they remove from the monuments. The thefts not only hurt veterans and their families, but also communities.

The time had come to send a strong message to would-be criminals.

Under our new state law, a person faces a felony for intentionally defacing, mutilating, destroying or removing any part of a memorial or monument, or for possessing or trying to sell it. The penalty is up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both.

Residential hospice facilities.

I was pleased to help guide a bill through the legislature which updates the decades-old regulations for residential hospice facilities.

Passage of this bill solidifies the business plan for the proposed new residential hospice facility in Danbury, which will serve western Connecticut residents.

With these new regulations in place, a modern hospice facility will be built right here in Danbury and provide vital services in our region.

Screening for heart defects.

It was uplifting to see my proposal to require screening for newborns’ heart defects to become law.

This law is a tribute to the hard work and advocacy of Marie Hatcher of Sherman. Marie’s son, Matthew, was born with a congenital heart defect, and Marie has become a strong and effective champion for this simple, non-invasive, and cost-effective screening that will save lives.

Early detection leads to early intervention to correct the defect so children can lead a normal life. Marie’s advocacy is a great example of how one person can be the catalyst for positive change.

Easing the pain at the pumps.

This year, Democrats and Republicans joined together to cap the state’s rising gas tax. Capping a rising tax may not produce a lot of relief, but it’s a start.

When we are talking in a bipartisan manner about providing relief to taxpayers and finding common ground, it is always a productive discussion.

And now the bad news.

The budget.

I believe that this year marked a setback for fiscal responsibility. Even after hammering Connecticut taxpayers with the largest tax hike in state history, our government continues to engage in the shell games and fiscal gimmicks of the past.

Money was raided and swept from other funds to cover operating deficits.

Why does this happen? Because the folks in charge of the purse strings at the state Capitol are addicted to spending your money.

The $573 million New Britain to Hartford busway is one example. So is the $600,000 that was spent on new legislative scoreboards.

So is the $300,000 of your money that would have been provided to renovate the headquarters of the Communist Party in Connecticut had Republicans and veterans not successfully resisted that allotment.

The fact is, we need more representatives in Hartford who put your wallets and pocketbooks above everything else.

It’s your money. Every dollar we spend matters. Many at the state Capitol have forgotten that.

The legislative process.

Time after time, massive bills numbering hundreds of pages are handed to us at the last minute.

This was the case with the giant education reform bill, which was presented to legislators at midnight one evening. We were expected to read through the bill and vote on it shortly afterward.

And just last week, we were handed two bills totaling 658 pages and expected to vote on them within hours.

Often, the topics in these huge bills have never received a public hearing.

Our bosses — the voters — were never given a chance to weigh in on the issues. That’s not representative government, and I will never support a process which fails the transparency test.

Taxpayers may rest assured that I will continue to be their eyes and ears at the state Capitol.

Bad ideas like border tolls are gaining momentum, but I will strongly oppose those job-killing concepts.

We need more fiscal watchdogs in Hartford. Let’s hope more of them are sent to serve at the state Capitol in November.