Wilton legislator: School bills are technically dead but still alive
It ain’t over till it’s over. Uttered by the late Yogi Berra, those words don’t just apply to baseball, they also apply to two state legislative bills that would force public schools such as Wilton’s to regionalize with other school districts.
There was news last week that the two bills, SB738 introduced by Senate President pro Tempore Martin Looney, and SB457 sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, were dead because the Education Committee didn’t move forward on them.
While that news is technically correct, it doesn’t mean the language and ideas expressed in those bills won’t raise their heads again.
On March 1, public hearings for the bills were heard by the legislature’s Education Committee. Busloads of residents from Wilton, including students, testified in opposition.
State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) who represents parts of Wilton, Norwalk and Westport and sits on the committee, explained that the Looney and Duff bills were “concept” bills — full of ideas and concepts but lacking specific details.
“They were not fully developed bills,” she told The Bulletin. “If you hear a concept bill in a public hearing, after the hearing if you want to bring the concept bill to a vote, it needs to be fully drafted before being brought up. The chairs of the committee did not elect to get those bills fully drafted,” she said.
Because the bills were so hotly contested by the public, Lavielle said legislators may have feared they would have trouble with their constituents by voting either for or against them. While she had no concerns because she was strongly opposed to the bills, as were many of her constituents, it may have been an issue for legislators in a more mixed political district.
“What this accomplishes if you don’t move a bill forward, you have absolved everybody from having to vote for it or against it,” she said.
But regionalization language from Looney’s bill could come in through the back door by being tacked on to another bill. “If for example, Looney’s bill is attached to a budget bill, legislators can say they wanted to vote yes for the budget, and not explain voting for the Looney bill,” she said.
Governor’s bill misconception
Lavielle said there is a misconception about Gov. Ned Lamont’s bill SB874, which calls for the creation of a commission for shared school services, a bill which many saw as a precursor to school regionalization.
Last week, the governor’s office announced the bill had been revised to remove regionalization language from it.
But regionalization opponents shouldn’t rest easy on the “revised” language, Lavielle said, because the revision was merely advisory.
“Lamont’s changes are only suggestions and are not part of the bill. It is up to the legislature. So he hasn’t really changed anything. He is just saying what he would like to see in the bill. The fact the governor has communicated his wishes is not definite,” she said.
She said on April 1, it will be up to the committee chairs to decide whether to adopt the governor’s substitute language.
“Everything is possible. The chairs may decide to run the bill with the governor’s modifications, run it as originally written, make their own changes, or not run it all. The decision is up to them. The essential thing to remember is the governor is not a legislator. He tells us what he is thinking but not what the legislature is going to do. Only the legislature can move bills forward, amend them, kill them, resurrect them or turn them into law,” she said.
Agreeing with Lavielle, in an email to The Bulletin, state Rep. Tom O’Dea (R-125), who represents New Canaan and part of Wilton, warned residents who are opposed to the school regionalization bills and the governor’s bill to be vigilant.
“It was because of Wilton’s lead in the bipartisan fight against forced regionalization that the language was changed. That does not mean that the intent of the legislators who supported the bill has changed,” O’Dea said.