20 Aug 2014
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Capitol Dispatch: It's Super Bowl Week for Local Politics

A look at what a few legislators are thinking this week including their thoughts on local elections.

Capitol Dispatch: It's Super Bowl Week for Local Politics

I WANTED TO BE…A LUMBERJACK!

"Can FEMA send electricians, tree cutters and troops to help restoration efforts? Not to omit those who truly are in need, but do we need untold amounts of food and water?” So said one  after the storm.

'Tree cutters' being the operative words here. Seems what towns really want are troops of buffalo plaid, chainsaw-toting citizens marching down the streets.

“Oh, where to begin,” state Rep. John Frey, a Republican representing Ridgefield in the 111th House District posted on Facebook. “Yes, more tree trimming is needed. With the second highest electric rates in the country, one would have to question the need for yet higher rates. Don't the utilities in other states trim trees too? Wouldn't less outages be cost-effective for the utility? And the hearings following Irene were a joke. Don't hold your breath for a remedy out of Hartford.”

CL&P officials conceded more frequent tree trimming could keep power outages to a minimum, but they said that would necessitate electric rate increases.

Of course those tremendous trees don’t have to go to waste. City Bench, the creation of Ted Esselstyn and Zeb Esselstyn of Higganum, creates furniture from trees once destined for the wood chipper. An exhibition at the Connecticut Historical Society “New Life for Connecticut Trees” highlights their work.

THE BALLOTS WILL COME OUT TOMORROW

In light of last week’s Civic Health Index and because Tuesday is Election Day, Capitol DisPatch asked lawmakers the importance of local elections.

Connecticut was the first of the 13 colonies to adopt a constitution, “The Fundamental Orders of 1639”. That explains the moniker “The Constitution State” and the state’s tradition of representative government, according to the newly released Civic Health Index. The state’s 169 towns and municipalities shed county government in the 1960s, a move that created unique challenges.

“Tip O’Neil was right, all politics is local,” said state Rep. Livvy Floren, a Republican representing Greenwich and Stamford in the 149th House District. “Frankly municipal elections impact people 10 times more than other races, but people don’t vote.”

But Floren doesn’t blame voter apathy; rather she attributes the lackluster turnout to a sense of inevitability. So many races are uncontested, and there is also a feeling of ‘Why bother? The incumbent is going to win anyway.’ Although Floren added that’s not the case in .

Last week Secretary of the State Denise Merrill told Capitol DisPatch much work must be done to get more people to vote and to encourage more people to register to vote.

This week state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a Democrat representing Westport in the 136th House District shined a light on the Westport League of Women Voters. He lauded their decades long efforts to teach civics to young students. He also found himself going to the head of the class.

That’s right, Steinberg taught civics to several high school classes. Among topics discussed was whether people’s votes matter and why people should bother voting.

“Students were surprised about local elections, they were surprised to learn that turnout drops by more than half,” Steinberg said

Now with so many people still recovering from last weekend’s storm, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed an Executive Order extending voter registration until Mon. Nov. 7, at noon.

“The severity of the power outages and other damage from this past weekend’s snow has the potential to disenfranchise thousands of Connecticut voters who are without electricity and even unable to leave their homes,” said Secretary Merrill, Connecticut’s Chief Elections Official in a press release. 

TO GRANDPARENTS HOUSE WE GO…OR NOT?

The Task Force on Grandparents Rights, which stems from the Committee on Aging, keeps meeting to determine how best to enhance visitation rights for grandparents.

The task force must study legal and social issues related to grandparents' access to visitation, the impact of the loss of contact on families, the social supports to promote the continuation of these relationships, and that any legislative proposals are consistent with the state constitution. Their report is due Feb. 1, 2012.

“We heard many heart wrenching stories during public hearing testimony,” said Steinberg, a member of the Aging Committee.

Carmen Stanford, program manager of Generations, a community of 24 townhouses for grandparents raising their children testified that grandparents “may be in the 40’s, or they may be in their 70’s, when they step in to help their families.”

Several court cases led to the task force.

In Roth v. Weston, a maternal grandmother and aunt petitioned for visitation with children whose father had terminated it after the children's mother committed suicide. The relatives claimed visitation served the children's best interest, although they didn’t argue the father was unfit. In his response, the father presented reasons why he believed visitation wasn’t in the children's best interest.

The trial court granted the petition. However, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed the petition, ruling it would be unconstitutional unless it required any third party, including a grandparent or a great-grandparent, seeking visitation to make specific and good-faith allegations that (1) a parent-like relationship exists between the child and the person seeking visitation and (2) denial of the visitation will cause real and significant harm to the child. That degree of harm must be analogous to a claim that the child is neglected, uncared-for, or dependent within the meaning of Connecticut's child abuse statutes.

“It sounds like the system isn’t serving the needs of the kids right now,” Steinberg said. “Suffice it to say the rights of the parents are far more respected than rights of grandparents no matter the situation…and it could be that they [parents] haven’t been declared legally unfit. It could be situations of deadbeat parents, drug abusers, negligent/border line abusive, maybe even convicted before.”

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