PO Box 163, Fairfield CT 06824

Rats Subvert Connecticut’s Democratic Process 

There has been an ugly infestation of rats in Connecticut – not the small furry rodents – but rather sneaky pieces of legislation that get written into bills at the eleventh hour without a public hearing or input by Connecticut’s citizens. “Rats” purposely avoid public participation and are one of the biggest affronts to democracy in our State.

Input and public participation by our citizenry is one of the greatest strengths of our democracy.

During each State legislative session, many citizens, groups and organizations from across Connecticut spend countless hours following and tracking legislation, registering to testify, drafting testimony. For those who testify in-person vs. submitting written testimony, it means waiting hours to have your turn to be heard by a given committee and to speak in favor or against a given piece of legislation. In recent sessions some of us waited until the wee hours of the morning before testifying in front of lawmakers – going to our jobs the next day bleary eyed but feeling good that we contributed to our democratic process.

Rats are an ugly manifestation of Connecticut’s deteriorating legislative process – and rats purposely mute proper process in the light of day and the public’s voice on measures and bills that will critically impact our state.

The more controversial the measure, the more likely it is to turn up as a rat, where some concepts are never even discussed in a public hearing before being passed into law. The institution of the General Assembly in Connecticut has seemingly endorsed this process and allows backroom self-dealing, eliminates transparency and manipulates the system – this is no longer governance by the people and for the people of our remarkable State.

Rats Are Bipartisan
The Constitution State has seen three recent and egregious examples of rats — it was uncovered in June that a Middlebury state representative used a rat to stop a proposed development of a more than 700,000 square foot distribution center. The proposed project near Republican State Rep. Bill Pizzuto’s home had faced strong opposition from a significant number of local residents in the last year. According to a variety of media sources, Pizzuto influenced majority leaders to insert the text into the state budget package that would prohibit the siting and construction of a large warehouse such as the one proposed for a parcel of land near Pizzuto’s Middlebury home. Gov. Ned Lamont said he knew nothing about the provision when he signed the budget legislation (over 800 pages), which passed by overwhelming bipartisan margins.

In Fairfield County, Stamford Mayor Caroline Simmons, a former Democrat State representative, reportedly also had a strong hand in inserting a rat into the state budget package. The City of Stamford has been conducting the Charter Revision process, a democratic exercise which allows the public to weigh in on changes to a community’s charter – a town or city’s governing blueprint. Simmons admitted her administration was instrumental in placing language in the budget package that would prohibit towns in Connecticut from changing their charters regarding certain issues related to eminent domain and zoning. Simmons purportedly interfered with the work of locally appointed members of the Stamford Charter Revision Commission by causing the legislature to add provisions to the State’s budget bill that was given to legislators to vote on with virtually no time to review. According to media reports on the rats, when asked whether Simmons requested that the charter provisions be included in the bond bill, House Speaker Matt Ritter said, “Caroline is a dear friend.”

Early on the afternoon of June 2, many of us heaved sighs of relief when the Hartford Courant reported that the majority leader, State Rep. Jason Rojas, publicly announced that the two main housing bills on transit oriented communities and “Fair Share” mandated low-income municipal housing quotas were dead. But at 11 PM, the Senate majority leader, Bob Duff, with five other House and Senate Leaders including the P&D and Housing Chairs slipped an amendment into the 4-page Senate Bill 998 that originally only allowed municipalities to grant tax abatements for conservation easements. The newly stuffed 75-page bill included “Fair Share” phase 1, where unelected state bureaucrats will set the number of affordable housing units required for development by each municipality — establishing unfunded mandates could cost municipalities over $20 billion. It narrowly passed in the House by 4 votes at 2:08 AM on Saturday morning, June 3, 2023.

The actions by Pizzuto, Simmons and Duff were completely undemocratic and unconscionable. In the case of Middlebury, it precluded the applicant of the warehouse from going through the local regulatory process which the developer is rightfully allowed to have and potential economic development in Middlebury and other small towns. In Stamford, Mayor Simmons’ reported interference by pushing a rat into state statute to override Stamford’s charter revision process deprived Stamford’s own Board of Representatives from considering the new charter proposals and in turn deprived the voters of Stamford of the opportunity to vote yea or nay on these changes. Unfortunately, this rat will also impact other municipalities aside from Stamford. The unfunded mandates of Senator Duff’s pet rat of “Fair Share” are potentially financially crippling to every municipality that will have no alternative but to increase mill rates to fund mandated affordable development, which will mushroom the highly regressive property taxes, making CT even less affordable.

The ideal place for addressing these local zoning and development concerns and the resulting infrastructure and environmental impacts rests with the elected and appointed local municipal leaders. Should local residents feel their local leaders are not properly addressing such local concerns, they should make every effort to elect new leadership.

State Lawmakers who sneak rats into legislation circumvent the committee and public hearing process and in so doing are rats themselves. All legislators must have adequate time to review bill language. Party leaders that allow such rats to be included and the legislators who vote for these bills without reading them are no less accountable.

It has to end. It’s time to expect better. Our elected leaders should be embarrassed about the ongoing rat infestation. It’s time for term limits, checks and balances and for every Connecticut resident to decry “rats” as a normal course of business and a way to run roughshod on public participation and a transparent legislative process. Every state and municipal election is an opportunity for CT’s citizens to clean house.

Alexis Harrison, Fairfield, CT
Maria Weingarten, New Canaan, CT

Harrison and Weingarten are co-founders of CT169Strong