Malloy: Opposition to ‘Second-Chance’ racially motivated [Hearst]

May 14, 2015

Article as it appeared in Hearst Media

HARTFORD — Lawmakers picked up the pieces this morning following a massive breakdown in the House of Representatives over the governor’s charges of racism on Wednesday.

The House resumed business at about 8:30 Wednesday night after a five-and-a-half-hour stoppage after Republicans led by House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, walked out in protest.

Work resumed only after Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey and Majority leader Joe Aresimowicz criticized Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s remarks, first reported by Hearst Connecticut Media. The House worked on 14 relatively minor bills until 12:10 a.m. Thursday.

“We cannot condone injecting racism into the debate over challenging legislation,” said Aresimowicz, D-Berlin. “Questioning the intentions of those with differing opinions is counterproductive to the work that needs to be done in the Legislature.”

The political fireworks went off shortly after noon Wednesday, when Malloy was critical of Republican attempts to portray his “Second-Chance Society” package as soft on crime.

Malloy said virtually any location in the state’s cities, particularly the big urban areas of Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford, is near a drug-free school zone – the 1,500-foot area – which results in mandatory felonies for drug possession. Even residents using drugs in their homes can be subject to mandatory two-year prison sentences from which suburban residents are largely free. Malloy’s bill would treat all drug-possession cases as misdemeanors, as an effort to reduce the racial disparity in state prisons.

“To treat those folks differently because they live in those communities is patently unfair and if not racist in intent, is racist in its outcome,” Malloy said.

In an afternoon interview, he cited recent press releases from “seven to nine” GOP lawmakers who misunderstand the bill and overstate its reach.

Malloy said the GOP position displays insensitivity to minority Hispanic and African-American communities. Malloy stressed his proposal would have no effect on existing laws against dealing drugs in school zones. All three competing budget proposals — Malloy’s, legislative Democrats and Republicans — include the savings from the closure of 1,150 prison beds anticipated by the “Second-Chance Society” bill.

The Second-Chance Society bill was approved last month in the powerful Judiciary Committee by a tight 22-20 vote, with support from two Republican senators.

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said Wednesday he was “greatly offended” by Malloy’s characterization of some lawmakers.

“It is outrageous that the governor has taken on such a divisive tone just because some people may not agree with his entire bill,” Fasano said. “The governor should be respectful when people voice their concerns. Instead he has made unfounded, spurious, disrespectful and arrogant remarks that borderline bullying. He also fails to mention the fact that many Republicans have voiced their support for the concept of a Second Chance Society. Republicans have put forward an urban agenda that embraces many elements of the Second Chance philosophy and identifies new ways to help reduce recidivism and reform the justice system. We are open to having that conversation. Republicans have shown our ability to work with the governor on these issues. Nevertheless, the governor’s demeanor continues to create partisanship where there shouldn’t be.”

Klarides, speaking with reporters in the Capitol Press Room, called Malloy a “bully” and his remarks inappropriate.

“The one thing that we have, no matter what we agree or disagree on, is respect for each other’s opinions,” she said. “Being called racist goes so far below what any governor should do because we don’t agree with his ideas. It’s shameful. It’s vile and I would hope he would understand that there is no place for that in this building. It’s your classic bully mentality.”
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