My State Legislative Agenda

Many of my politically inclined friends get all concerned about some bill that grabs national attention out of Washington, or out of some State when the bill is particularly noteworthy. Yet every year numerous bills get considered in state legislatures that most people never hear about. Between my work for a health center, and my wife's work for a good government organization, I end up following a lot of different bills. We've ended up getting to know many of the State Representatives and State Senators in Hartford and with that, I'm sharing some of my thoughts on various bills that are being considered.

I'll start off with one of the bigger issue bills that has already gotten a lot of coverage, SB 280 - AN ACT REVISING THE PENALTY FOR CAPITAL FELONIES. This bill would replace the death penalty with "a penalty of life imprisonment without the possibility of release for certain murders committed on or after the effective date of this act". I have been a long time opponent of the death penalty. The issue has been argued over and over, and I don't think I can add much to the debate at this point.

Then, there are various health related bills. Starting the list is 5285: AN ACT ADJUSTING COMMUNITY HEALTH CENTER RATES FOR CAPITAL INVESTMENTS. I work for a community health center. I see on a daily basis the important role that community health centers play in providing health care, especially for underserved populations, as well as the financial benefit they bring to the state by helping people avoid more costly emergency room visits. The problem is that there aren't good ongoing mechanisms for funding capital improvements for community health centers. This bill would establish a mechanism, similar to one for funding capital improvements for nursing homes. It appears to be a really good bill.

Perhaps related to this is SB 405, AN ACT CONCERNING TARGETED HEALTH AREAS. This bill would "establish a Targeted Health Area program and provide economic incentives to licensed physicians and physician offices providing primary care services or needed medical specialties in such targeted health areas". I have not read this bill as closely as some of the other bills, but on first reading, this bill also seems really important. One of the issues of health care reform is that, hopefully, more people will get primary care, thus reducing the need for more costly emergency room care. Unfortunately, it is hard to get good primary care providers and this will would address that.

On the dental side of things, HB 5242, AN ACT CONCERNING DONATED DENTAL SERVICES looks like a cost effective way to help provide dental services to people that currently go without. There are some great programs for donated dental services like Give Kids a Smile Day and the Connecticut Missions of Mercy. Efforts by the state to help with these important programs can go a long way.

There is also bill AN ACT CONCERNING SERVICES PROVIDED BY DENTAL PROFESSIONALS AND CERTIFICATION FOR ADVANCED DENTAL HYGIENE PRACTITIONERS. This looks like another way to help get more dental service available in our state. I'm just starting to read up on this bill, so I don't know the details yet, but it makes a lot of sense to me. I hope to write more about this soon.

A different bill, HB 5243 AN ACT CONCERNING THE USE OF MERCURY IN DENTISTRY on first glance seems like a good idea. Nobody wants to get mercury poisoning. However, looking at it a bit more closely, this bill probably isn't as good an idea as it seems. First, the evidence that fillings made with mercury are problematic is at best, weak. I know that I have more than my share of mercury based fillings, as does the head of dentistry at our health center. Yet the bigger problem is that currently, Medicaid only pays for mercury based fillings for molars of adults. Unless Medicaid funding gets changed, this law would result in more poor adults losing teeth that otherwise could be saved. With budgets tight, I doubt we would see the funding for more expensive fillings for adults on Medicaid, and without that being addressed, this will would probably do more damage than good.

Finally, on the dental side, there is AN ACT CONCERNING SERVICES PROVIDED BY DENTAL PROFESSIONALS AND CERTIFICATION FOR ADVANCED DENTAL HYGIENE PRACTITIONERS. A similar bill was heard last year, passed committee, but was never heard on the full floor. On first reading, this also seems like a good idea. The bill last year faced opposition from dental organizations, but it appears as if there is less opposition this year. In my mind, this fits very nicely with some of the other bills described above about finding creative new ways to make sure that people can receive quality medical and dental services that they are currently not receiving. So, this looks like a good bill.

On the good government side, there are a few bills that I'm interested in. On Monday, there will be a public hearing on AN ACT CONCERNING CHANGES TO THE PUBLIC FINANCING ACT AND OTHER ELECTION LAWS. Here, I'm going off of the talking points I've seen on the bill and have not yet read the bill in its entirety. The bill has strong disclosure requirements and strong shareholder protections. These appear to be a strong, well thought out, response to Citizens United. Likewise it would strengthen coordination and disclaimer rules.

Yet on the down side, it would significantly increase various contribution limits which is not a good thing, and some of the penalties for violating the law appear to be strengthened to the point of being draconian.

A few other good government laws worth looking at include HB 5024, AN ACT CONCERNING VOTING RIGHTS. This would enact election day registration. While I've heard the concerns about laws that make it easier to vote, I believe we are better off if we find ways, including election day registration, to get more people involved in the political process.

To address possible abuses, there is bill HB 5022, AN ACT INCREASING PENALTIES FOR VOTER INTIMIDATION AND INTERFERENCE. This bill, together with HB 5024, seems like the best way to encourage voter participation and discourage voting abuses.

If I had more time, there are many many more bills I could, and probably should comment on, but this is a start, and I hope it encourages some of my readers to think more about bills that their State Legislature is considering.

What bills are you watching?

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