Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

May 9, 2016 Other Voices

CT should adopt unicameral legislature

Jim O'Neill

At the end of the movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," the two are surrounded by the Bolivian Army, but once Sundance assures Butch that he had not seen a particular detective outside, Butch responds, “Oh good. For a moment there, I thought we were in trouble.”

Similar confidence to overcome adversity wasn't shared by state budget director Ben Barnes last year, when he said Connecticut has “entered into a period of permanent fiscal crisis.”

Few situations are permanent and solutions will almost always fix them, so let's examine what can be done. Even that flood that made Noah a household name receded.

So where did our problems start? England!

British colonies were established under English law thus giving each state a House of Lords and a House of Commons, though by varying names. State governments kept the British model they were used to, and as a result, we have been living 400 years in the past when it comes to our own state government.

Do we need a House of Lords? Nay! We should rid ourselves of the unnecessary appendage we call the state Senate.

Unlike New York, California, Florida and Texas with large territories, large populations and diverse interests, Connecticut can be circumnavigated by car in less than a day. What impacts Putnam impacts Greenwich, so why do we need a check on the House of Representatives by a Senate cloaked in more secrecy than Yale's Skull & Bones?

With only the House of Representatives to negotiate with, the executive branch can present a budget and only have to get shaken down once rather than twice. Everybody will be able to see who voted for what, bringing long-desired accountability.

Since we are changing the state Constitution let us also reorganize how the House of Representatives can operate more efficiently, while providing much less stress for our part-time legislators.

First, reduce the number of committees from 27 to 17. Managing so many committee meetings and public hearings while keeping up with the bills is nearly impossible to do. Having legislators more focused will result in better drafted and thought-out bills.

Require that the House adjourn at or before midnight unless allowed by a two-thirds affirmative vote. Nothing good happens with exhausted members.

Have them convene the session in January and submit bills to the non-partisan legislative attorneys for drafting. Recess until the beginning of April, unless sessions are required to confirm nominations or address emergencies.

By May, the bills will be fully drafted. The Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA) should have a reasonably accurate measure of all bills' costs, rather than its all too often “potential cost” analysis. This is another reason the budget has been so out of balance in recent years. Legislators vote bills out of committee without knowing what impact they will have fiscally. In addition, the Office of Legislative Research (OLR) now provides little more than a summary of the bill. It should provide truly researched statements so that lawmakers and the public can fully understand the intent and impact of each bill.

Like all bureaucracies, OFA and OLR are terrified of saying anything that will irritate lawmakers. After all, they are funded by the legislature. But is it too much for OFA to mention in its analysis something like: “Nebraska tried this 10 years ago and the cost went from $1,000 to $500,000 in just five years?” Maybe OLR could check and find out that specific treatments provided in the bill have not been effective elsewhere.

Allow the committees to hold public hearings in May and June and make whatever changes they deem necessary based on public input and committee discussions.

Then recess again. During this period have the non-partisan legislative attorneys adjust the bills as determined by the committees. They will also draft all amendments for final debate.

Reconvene in September to debate all the bills for final action. No last ditch surprise amendments would be allowed. They would not be needed because the bills would have been thoroughly read and understood.

Finally, change the state budget cycle to Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, so that it will be aligned with the federal budget. This makes it more accurate to determine federal reimbursements thereby allowing smarter budgeting.

Then in 400 years, if this hasn't helped, we can rethink the entire process again.

Jim O'Neill worked for the House Republicans from 1981 to 1986, serving as special assistant to Connecticut House Speaker R.E. VanNorstrand. He was a legislative liaison for the executive branch for more than 25 years.

Read more

State has role in boosting affordable, high-speed Internet access

Collaboration key to solving community problems

Expanded homeowners insurance proposal harmful to consumers

State must adapt to new fiscal reality

CT could benefit from NY’s self-insurance restrictions

CT should create highway trust fund

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF