Tuesday, May 17, 2022

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Palm Discusses Priorities for Upcoming Legislative Session

State Representative Christine Palm (D-36) shared her priorities for the upcoming legislative session that starts in February. Protecting voting rights, addressing hydrilla (an aquatic invasive species), educating students about climate change, revisiting an end-of-life “aid in dying” bill, and exploring formula-based financial assistance to non-profits are among them.

Palm was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2018 and serves as an assistant majority leader. She is a member of the Government Administration and Elections (GAE) Committee and the Judiciary Committee. She also serves as vice chair of the Environment Committee and chair of the Internship Committee.

“My priorities are protecting voting rights as a member of GAE,” said Palm. “I’m very passionate about hydrilla, which affects the four towns that I represent very profoundly and is already starting to affect the rest of the state.”

Hydrilla, which is present in the Connecticut River, forms a dense mat of vegetation that impedes boating and other recreational activities, with impacts on aquatic habitats for fish, waterfowl and other native species.

“The problem is that it sucks out the oxygen and deoxygenates the water and so healthy plants and animals die,” said Palm. “So, it’s really changing our eco-system in a profound way.”

Palm said she created an informal working group of environmentalists, biologists, interested citizens, and boaters to explore the issue. The legislation she plans to introduce will “involve a massive infusion of funds,” she said, potentially from the federal government.

Hydrilla’s future impact on local economies is readily apparent, according to Palm.

“All environmental problems have an effect on the economy, but the effect on the economy with hydrilla is very obvious and profound and immediate,” said Palm. “Boaters just can’t get through the stuff. So, it’s really going to affect tourism in our area, and the marina industry, which is big here. So, that is a big priority of mine as vice chair” of the Environment Committee.

She also plans to re-introduce a bill that makes learning about climate change mandatory for students in grades 5 to 12. An omnibus education reform act that was passed last year required all schools to offer it as an elective.

“I still want it required,” said Palm. “I think it should be an absolute requirement because the kids who choose to take it are the kids who already care about it. Everybody needs to know about it and be armed with knowledge to fight it.”

Another piece of legislation that Palm said she supports deals with “aid in dying.” One of the more recent pieces of legislation on this topic was in 2019, when the Public Health Committee considered an aid in dying bill, but it did not progress out of committee, according to the Office of Legislative Research.

“I do believe very much in this bill, so that if people are at the end of their life and they are suffering terribly, I believe they have the right to hasten their own end as long as we make absolutely sure that there is no coercion,” said Palm.

Palm also discussed the state’s financial support of the arts and social service nonprofits, saying that “the arts nonprofits, which are very important in my district, have been shortchanged.”

A more permanent source of funding is needed, according to Palm.

“I think the state funding for non-profits should be a direct proportional tie to what they contribute to the economy,” said Palm. “There should be an actual formula that ties their reimbursement and their support by the state to what they actually provide to our towns, rather than scatter shot.”

Palm said she is also exploring whether the benefits afforded to teachers through the Teacher’s Retirement Board are adequate.

“So, the Teacher’s Retirement Board and how we treat our retired teachers is of concern to me because they don’t get regular Social Security and then some of the benefits that they get don’t seem to be adequate,” said Palm, adding that scrutinizing this topic is on her “to-do list.”

Other topics that could be covered this session, said Palm, deal with managing the ongoing pandemic and addressing some of its impacts, such as children’s mental health and juvenile crime reform.

She noted that the state legislature failed to pass Governor Ned Lamont’s Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), which aimed to cap and reduce vehicular greenhouse gas emissions in collaboration with neighboring states.

“The failure of TCI, the failure of political will, and I’m going to call it that, to get TCI over the finish line, means that we need to do some very serious climate change bills, some very serious air quality bills,” said Palm.

This legislation could potentially include addressing environmental justice, medium- and heavy-duty truck emissions, producer responsibility and solid waste management diversion, according to Palm.

This year’s legislative session will run from early February to early May, and legislators may only introduce bills to deal with budgetary, revenue and financial issues. Bills on other topics can be introduced by the committee with jurisdiction over that particular subject matter.

“I’m just ready to get back to work,” said Palm, of this year’s short session. “I miss being at the Capitol. I miss being with my colleagues and working on language. The nuance of lawmaking is so interesting and exciting.”

Elizabeth Reinhart covers news for Chester, Deep River, and Essex for Zip06. Email Elizabeth at e.reinhart@shorepublishing.com.

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