Policy Watch: 2015 Legislative Session

This column appears in the June 11 – 18 edition of the Hartford News…

Next week’s column will feature commentary on FBI informant Al Sharpton’s visit to Hartford last Saturday. Sharpton asked for $100 donations from North End residents who attended a rally against the wave of gun violence in the city… Community Party member and Spanish Speaking Center Executive Director Mary Sanders, who wrote CP’s Trayvon Martin Act, will be a guest on the Fox CT The Real Story political program, hosted by Jenn Bernstein and Al Terzi Sundays at 10:00 am. Fox CT is on Comcast channel 6 in Hartford. More info soon… S.B. 1035 An Act Concerning Bullying in the Workplace which contained CP’s Safe Work Environment Act advisory board amendment, was not called for a vote in the Senate. Stay tuned for news and commentary on the workplace bullying issue.

The state budget debate continued throughout the night of June 2 into the next morning (the last day of the legislative session) in the House of Representatives. The root cause of this annual fiscal crisis is the refusal of both the Democrats and Republicans to pass a truly progressive income tax so that the rich will pay their fair share, both parties choosing not to close corporate tax loopholes, and the $6 BILLION in revenue that the state loses as the result of corporate tax breaks which are not subject to legislative oversight. The Republicans whined all morning but they share the blame. If you’re mad, be mad at both parties.

The Republicans always kick that bs about rich people leaving the state if they’re taxed more, because they know most people won’t do their homework. A recent study found that only 6% of the people who have left Connecticut did so because of taxes. http://trendct.org/2015/04/16/connecticut-migration-where-people-go-and-where-they-come-from/ The revenue from taxing the rich, stopping corporations in Connecticut from stashing their profits in another state and the legislature conducting annual reviews of corporate tax breaks would wipe out the current deficit, with PLENTY to spare.

“Highlights” from the state budget bill that was barely passed by the legislature (73-70 vote in the House, 19-17 in the Senate) courtesy of the Connecticut Mirror: “The (human services) cuts include reducing Medicaid eligibility — a move expected to cause 20,000 to 25,000 poor parents to lose coverage — and requiring seniors to pay more for home care. Two grants that help the state’s lowest-performing schools will decrease. The Commissioners’ Network — a group of struggling schools targeted for state intervention and funding — will get $4.7 million less than was provided in the state budget for this school year. The state’s 15 Priority School Districts will lose $3.6 million that helps extend the school day and offer summer programs. Funding to help public schools pay for transporting students is cut by $1.6 million, or 6 percent.”

While the Republicans complain about the small increases in taxes on the rich and corporations, 20,000 to 25,000 poor families in this state just lost their damn health care insurance. The GOP wasn’t screaming about that. Republicans want the poor and public sector employees (I’m a state worker) to pay through the nose, while the rich and corporations pay nothing. Most poor people in this state are Black and Latino. The public sector is the biggest employer of Black people. Anybody notice a pattern here?

The Republicans talk about CT corporations being job creators; well they damn sure aren’t creating any jobs in low income communities of color, where the unemployment rate is at Depression-era levels. In some areas of CT, the unemployment rate among Black males age 18-25 is as high as 50%. Both the Democrats and Republicans are corporatists. That’s clearly reflected in this budget by the Democratic controlled legislature.

The Wall Street corporatist agenda is to roll back the wages and benefits of the workers. That means killing public sector employment and privatizing state services. State employees have already made wage/benefit concessions twice since 2009. The Republicans want more concessions. They spent the final day of the legislative session blaming the state budget deficit on public sector workers.

HB 5437, Rep. Matt Ritter’s racial profiling bill, was killed after lawmakers asked that funding for the bill be switched to S.B. 1109, the police use of force bill that was passed by the Senate. I don’t really need to explain why this is nonsensical, but I will anyway. Police use of force and racial profiling are directly connected, as we have seen in high profile police murder cases across the country. South Carolina police officer Michael Slager shot Walter Scott in the back following what defense attorney Mark Geragos called a “pretext stop”, which means that Slager invented a reason (“broken third brake light”) to stop Scott based on his race.

If a cop is wearing a body camera, there (hopefully) will be less chance of me getting shot in the back during a traffic stop, but without a deterrent I can still be pulled over by a patrol officer because I’m Black. The protests that have swept the nation are about racial profiling AND excessive use of force by the police. The move to defund H.B. 5437 appears to be about who at the State Capitol gets credit for the racial profiling/police brutality issue, or should I say who doesn’t get credit, and I’m not just talking about my colleague Mary Sanders and myself. As usual, political careers took priority over the public safety of people of color. The Alvin W. Penn Act racial profiling law reforms that Mary and I have been pushing are being blocked because we’re the outsiders. What’s ironic is that Mary and I both publicly supported S.B 1109.

During the Senate debate on S.B. 1109, Sen. Martin Looney went on about the importance of police departments recruiting and hiring Blacks. Let’s be clear: hiring more Black cops will not “increase trust” between the police and the Black community. The cop who pointed a gun at me was Black. It’s not hard to find YouTube videos of Black cops brutalizing Black people. When Blacks become police officers they are forced to assimilate and follow the code that they are “blue first”. What will “increase trust” is cops who engage in brutality and murder being tried, convicted and dropped down a hole.

H.B. 5437 included the Community Party’s Trayvon Martin Act traffic stop receipt amendment, which would have required patrol officers to give a copy of their traffic stop report to motorists. Rep. Bruce Morris spoke passionately in favor of H.B. 5437 at a March 20 Judiciary Committee public hearing, after he revealed that he had been racially profiled days before. S.B. 1109 was not called for a vote in the House; the bill will be debated during a special legislative session (date TBA). H.B. 6863, the bill Rep. Ritter drafted in response to a West Hartford police officer profiling former Major League Baseball player and current ESPN analyst Doug Glanville in his own driveway, was passed by the General Assembly. http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/04/i-was-racially-profiled-in-my-own-driveway/360615/

Thanks to Mary for her hard work on our campaign to pass H.B. 5437. Big shout out to Debbie Duncan-Cook, Janet Frazao-Conaci, Kimberly D’Amico and others who contacted their legislators and voiced their support for our bill. Last but not least, thanks to Rep. Ritter for supporting our work for the past 5 years, when others would not. We will continue the fight to stop racial profiling and police containment of communities of color in Connecticut. It’s a damn shame that with everything going on in this country, the 2015 legislative session ended without any new laws to protect people of color in this state from racial profiling, police brutality and extrajudicial killings. Disgusting, but not surprising.

Gov. Malloy’s Second Chance Society bill, which was not voted on by the House after being passed by the Senate on the last day of the session, is riddled with flaws. The Democrats caved and allowed the Republicans to add language which would allow a judge to hit an addict with a felony charge if they’re charged with drug possession for a third time. Relapse is a part of the substance abuse recovery process. This provision leaves an opening for addicts to continue to be criminalized by the judicial system. The employment piece calls for a formerly incarcerated individual to be considered for a full pardon “after they complete their probation or jail sentence, followed by several years of responsible citizenship”.

The inability to find gainful employment is what causes many formerly incarcerated individuals to end up back in prison. They can’t wait “several years” to find the type of job which is crucial to them becoming productive citizens. Restoring the conditional job offer provision to the state Ban the Box law would remove the obstacle faced by job applicants who have a legal history. The drug free school zone law remains at a stupid 1500 feet year round, which means that individuals will continue to be subject to the school zone charge on weekends, holidays, vacations and other times when school is not in session. Blacks and Latinos have been getting banged with mandatory minimum jail sentences for possessing drugs within 1500 feet of an empty building. Malloy’s bill will also be debated during the special session.

General Electric and Aetna have responded to the small tax increases on corporations and the passage of a law requiring them to report out of state income for tax purposes by engaging in extortion. GE sent an email to their employees informing them that they have formed a committee to explore the possibility of leaving CT, and urged their workers to contact their legislators and voice their opposition to the budget bill. CT was the only state in the Northeast that did not use combined reporting, which prevents companies from moving profits to another state to avoid paying taxes on the money. http://www.ctvoices.org/publications/closing-corporate-tax-loopholes-through-mandatory-combined-reporting

Of course now GE is scaring the crap out of their employees in order to get them to do GE’s dirty work. The Huffington Post reported that companies like GE dodge taxes by keeping profits overseas. “Sixty big U.S. companies analyzed by the Wall Street Journal kept on average more than 40 percent of their annual profits overseas last year. The companies have attributed a growing amount of their revenue to foreign sales, and they have assigned patents and licenses to foreign subsidiaries. Thanks to these practices, the U.S. is not only losing out on tax revenue, but it is also missing money kept overseas that will not be used to invest in the U.S. or pay dividends to shareholders. GE has come under fire for its light tax burden. Though it has been earning billions in profits, it paid an average tax rate of just 1.8 percent between 2002 and 2011, according to Citizens for Tax Justice.”

The 2015 legislative session ended with the poor, people of color and other vulnerable populations getting screwed, as usual. It will take a strong third party movement to challenge the duopoly in this state, and hold the Democrats and Republicans accountable.

Follow CP on Twitter for state, national and world news headlines. https://twitter.com/CommunityParty1 Check out my Facebook page for daily news commentary. https://www.facebook.com/david.samuels.948 Listen to WQTQ 89.9 FM for CP’s public service announcements on our racial justice initiatives. https://www.facebook.com/wqtqfm Check out our No Sellout blog ( https://hendu39.wordpress.com/) for the complete archive of CP columns and Northend Agent’s for selected columns ( http://www.northendagents.com/) . Contact us at 860-206-8879 or info.community.party@gmail.com

David Samuels

Founder

Community Party

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