Is it Still a Right When the Government Forces You to Do it?
The Government Administration and Elections Committee started off the week with a slew of bills that would change the way voting is done in the state. The most egregious being an ‘Act Concerning Mandatory Voting’.The bill requires all eligible voters in the state to cast a ballot at an election or provide a “valid” reason for not doing so. Election officials will mail all electors who did not vote a form inquiring as to why they chose to sit out the election. If the voter does not respond with a valid reason, they will be subject to a fine.
Former Connecticut Secretary of the State Miles Rapoport testified in front of the committee suggesting that non-voters be forced to work one or two hours of community service, and that the state could offer tax breaks and lottery tickets to those who do vote. He also made sure to slip in a plug for his new book — “100% Democracy: The Case for Universal Voting” — even offering lawmakers a free copy.
Committee members also heard from the public on two identical bills — HB 5702 and HB 5714 —that will allow all incarcerated individuals to vote. Current law allows those awaiting trial and inmates serving time for misdemeanors to vote. However, according to Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas, it is “incredibly uncommon” for these individuals to exercise their right to vote.
So why the need to extend this to those in prison for serious and often violent crimes? According to testimony from Denise Drummond, Legislative Policy Analyst for the state’s Commission on Women, Children, Seniors, Equity, and Opportunity, “allowing an incarcerated individual access to vote creates a sense of belonging and value and provides a connection to the community in which they reside.”
Extending voting rights to those who cannot follow the law should not have a role in making laws that the rest of us must follow.
Ranked choice voting (RCV) was also on the agenda with lawmakers hearing testimony on four bills that would transform the voting process in the state. Yankee Institute submitted testimony opposing these bills. Contrary to the popular belief that RCV can amplify the voters’ voices, the “exhausted ballots” phenomenon can prevent votes from being counted. Exhausted ballots occur when voters’ ballots are untallied because none of their marked candidates remain in the contest. Because these votes are not tabulated in the final round, those voters’ ballots would not count. Hence, it is as if they never voted on election day — they have been effectively disenfranchised. This could happen to some voters without their even having realized it.
The Working Families Party also opposes RCV. They pointed out that other jurisdictions have seen a large share of ballot counting errors. In Almedia County, Calif., votes were “miscalculated for so long that for weeks authorities declared the wrong candidate the winner and had to take it back when the mistake was discovered.”
Big Labor and their friends in the Communist Party
CT AFL-CIO — one of the state’s largest unions — and the Connecticut Communist Party (CCP) appeared to have compared notes when writing testimony in support of numerous anti-business bills put forth by the Labor and Public Employees Committee.
One bill will eliminate the subminimum wage for all tipped workers so they will make at least the minimum wage. Currently, the hourly wage for servers is $6.38 and $8.23 for bartenders plus tips. Employers are required to pay the difference if the tips workers earned don’t bring their hourly wage up to the state’s current minimum wage.
CT Department of Labor Commissioner Danté Bartolomeo stated in written testimony that she was concerned that a potential unintended consequence of this proposal, “may result in customers tipping less, even at high-end establishments, and drive down those tipped worker’s wages.”
Shellye Davis, Executive Vice President of CT AFL-CIO, and Joelle Fishman, President of CCP, both stated that the practice of tipping was established after the Civil War as a way for employers to get out of having to pay formerly enslaved persons.
Fishman asked, “How can the continuation of this practice be justified in this day?” She went on to say, “It is the responsibility of government to make sure that families can thrive.”
Two bills were also introduced that will mandate all businesses to provide paid sick time. One requires all employers to provide 80 hours of paid leave each year or face penalties and civil action through the Attorney General’s office for failure to keep accurate balances of employee leave records. The other — proposed by Gov. Ned Lamont — forces employers with 11 or more workers to provide 40 hours of paid leave and those with fewer than ten employees must provide 40 hours of unpaid leave.
Neither bill states whether municipalities are exempt from the definition of employer causing towns to be concerned about the cost of this unfunded mandate, which could potentially increase property taxes and/or cuts in personnel or programs.
Yankee Institute Fellow Frank Ricci noted in his testimony that mandating sick days will increase the costs of doing business, which is likely to be passed on both to consumers in the form of higher prices and to employees in the form of reduced benefits or wages. It could also lead to negative economic consequences such as job losses, reduced investment, and decreased competitiveness. It will certainly deter any new company from deciding to locate in Connecticut.
Slamming the Breaks on the Highway Use Tax
On Wednesday, House Republicans joined a group of business owners at a press conference discussing the negative impact of the state’s highway use tax (HUT) on trucks will have on the economy. They also encouraged members of the public to testify Friday (March 10) in favor of legislation that will eliminate it.
Jonathan Dill, owner-operator of two tractor-trailers, stated in written testimony that the tax will cost him approximately $700 a month. Mr. Dill has tried to pass it along to his customers with limited success. He also has had to increase his “unpaid office time” calculating and filing this tax.
Passed in 2021, HUT went into effect in January. It is levied according to a truck’s weight and how many miles traveled. The tax brought in $4.3 million in revenue in its first month, most of which came from out-of-state truckers.
The tax is estimated to generate approximately $90 million a year for the special transportation fund. It’s unlikely to sunset, with Gov. Ned Lamont saying, “You got to pay your bills in life. We’ve got a lot of expense when it comes to roads and bridges.”