Kevin Witkos guest column: Malloy trying to get around legislative process [Register Citizen]

March 10, 2015

By State Sen. Kevin Witkos | New Haven Register/Register Citizen

When the governor can’t get his way, he changes the rules of play.

The legislative process has a structure, an organization and a set of rules that ensure a fair democratic process.
This includes public hearings, multiple votes, and an all-important committee review period.

But the way in which Gov. Dannel Malloy is proposing changes to state liquor laws is challenging our tried and true system.

This year, Governor Malloy has multiple proposals that would affect alcohol sales in Connecticut.

Many of these ideas don’t have the support of small businesses that fear these changes could put local package stores out of business. People are also concerned that his proposals to extend liquor store hours won’t generate more business, just as Sunday sales have failed to boost overall sales.

Like many of the governor’s other legislative proposals from years past, these ideas would have to jump significant hurdles in the General Law Committee, a bipartisan group of legislators who have voted against the governor’s past proposals including bills that would have:

  • Instituted a medallion system for licensing package stores which would require new stores to purchase a medallion from an existing store owner.
  • Expanded liquor sales to supermarkets and convenience stores.
  • Removed the rules that set minimum retail prices.

So what does the governor do knowing some significant challenges lie ahead? He tries to dodge the bullet.

Instead of proposing his ideas as General Law bills, Governor Malloy’s alcohol sales bills have all been drafted under the guise of Finance bills, circumventing the established system.

The problem here is twofold.

First, by not submitting these bills to the General Law Committee, which is required by state law to review all legislation relating to alcoholic beverages, the governor is preventing the experts, who year after year have worked with all members of the community to understand the impact of changes to state liquor laws, from weighing in.

Second, this move shows a disregard for the system and rules that others must follow. It sets a bad precedent.

The General Law committee is made up of legislators who understand the intricacies of liquor laws and the impact on consumers, retailers and distributors. Trying to avoid these experts because they have previously rejected your proposals completely disrespects the legislative system.

If the governor can sidestep the process here, what’s next? Will we be hearing Environment bills in the Commerce Committee? Public Health bills in the Energy Committee?

The governor has a lot of work to do to prove that his proposals, including plans to extend liquor store hours, would truly benefit Connecticut consumers and business. The shortfalls of Sunday sales and the governor’s past struggles to get other liquor law reforms passed tell us the governor can expect challenges this year as well. But changing the rules and circumventing the system is never the way to pave a path to success.