Saturday, November 01, 2008

Banned in Connecticut

There are three days before the general election – during which voters will decide the question: “Shall there be a constitutional convention? The letter below, written by state Rep. Arthur J. O'Neill and sent to the Hartford Courant still lies unpublished on the paper’s cutting room floor. It is reprinted here for the general edification of that hearty band of revolutionists who read this blog. Pity that the Courant has chosen to be so selective in its letters.

Below is a letter that the Hartford Courant refused to print from a State Rep that was recently honored by the entire legislature:

On November 4 the voters of Connecticut will be given the opportunity to vote on the following ballot question: "Shall there be a Constitutional Convention to amend or revise the Constitution of the State?" This is a safeguard of the rights of citizens. Article Thirteen of the existing State Constitution requires that this question be presented to the voters every 20 years. At the Constitutional Convention of 1965, a provision was added to Article Thirteen that guarantees each generation of voters the opportunity to require the legislature to call a Constitutional Convention. Historically, the legislature has failed in its duty to amend the Constitution.

We, the citizens of Connecticut, should vote "YES" to call a Constitutional Convention and seize this moment to make at least one important change in our system of government: empower the citizenry of Connecticut to exercise the right of initiative and referendum. The right of initiative and referendum exists in many states from Massachusetts to California as well as in the majority of Connecticut towns. Under initiative and referendum, citizens would be allowed to circulate petitions to place proposed laws directly on the ballot. This would enable citizens to bypass the legislature in cases when the legislature is unable or unwilling to act whether due to: partisan deadlock, special interest influence, or the obstructionism of one well placed Senator or House member.

Consider the following example of obstructionism. In 2005, the Connecticut Education Association urged the legislature to adopt a Constitutional Amendment to require the General Assembly to fully fund the Teacher Retirement Account (TRA), which is responsible for the payment of local teacher pensions. The legislature has under funded the TRA by so much, for so long, that the TRA is now short nearly seven billion dollars. Some steps have been taken to address this shortfall, but if this problem is not solved soon, Connecticut taxpayers will be faced with huge tax increases in order to pay teacher
pensions or teachers will not get their full pensions.

The proposed Constitutional amendment to prevent future under funding was co-sponsored by 134 legislators and unanimously passed all committees to which it was referred. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, who had sole power to call the Constitutional Amendment to vote, prevented the Amendment from being voted on or debated by the House of Representatives. In 2006, a similar proposed Constitutional Amendment, co-sponsored by 107 legislators died in the Senate, because it was never called for a debate and vote, even though it was co-sponsored by a majority of the members of the Senate. One Senator had the power to call the Amendment to a vote, but he never did so.

Opponents of a Constitutional Convention and a citizen initiative referendum claim that neither is necessary because the General Assembly should be trusted to pass any necessary laws or constitutional amendments that citizens seek. As the foregoing examples clearly illustrate, the will of the General Assembly and will of the people can be thwarted by the action or inaction of one person. The Constitutional Convention and citizen initiative referendum will prevent any one person. The Constitutional Convention and citizen initiative referendum will prevent any one person from holding and misusing legislative power, thus restoring a system of checks and balances to our state government.

By voting "YES" for the Constitutional Convention, the citizens of Connecticut will have the opportunity to reclaim the legislative process to which they are entitled.

Arthur J. O'Neill
State Representative
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