Chris Powell: Of 'rats' and foreign and local flights in Conn.

While freedom of information prevailed with some big stuff during this year's sessions of the Connecticut General Assembly, legislators still snuck secrecy into bills here and there, and of course did it secretly as well. At least two such incidents involved the budget "implementer" bill, which was passed in the legislature's special session.

The "implementer" is supposed to do no more than implement decisions already made by budget legislation, whose provisions have faced public hearing and discussion. But the "implementer" often is used to enact policies that have received no scrutiny at all. Since legislators are given little time to review the "implementer" before a vote is called, unscrutinized provisions -- in legislative jargon, "rats" -- sometimes become law.

That was the case with an "implementer" provision to exempt the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority from the state Freedom of Information Act. Authority members said they didn't want their communications with each other between meetings to be subject to disclosure, as if utility regulation isn't the public's business.

The authority's objection might have been challenged at a public hearing. But there was no hearing and no legislator questioned the secrecy provision as the "implementer" was rushed through.

Another "rat" to defeat open government, a provision to nullify legislation subjecting state-financed "charter" schools to freedom-of-information law, was inserted into an early draft of the "implementer" but was noticed, complained about, and removed.

Still more anti-FOI language was belatedly inserted, without a hearing, into a bill requiring municipal school systems to report their special-education expenses to the state. The bill passed but, for other reasons, Governor Malloy vetoed it.

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey and state Senate President Martin Looney, whose offices are responsible for the "implementer" bill, should investigate where the "rats" came from and demand accountability. The speaker and Senate president also should arrange repeal of the provision exempting the utility regulators from the FOI law, sending the idea back through the normal legislative process.

With its last-minute secret writing and rewriting of the state budget legislation this year, the legislature made itself ridiculous. Public deliberation would have avoided that. The legislature's sneakiness risks making it contemptible.


Connecticut may not fully appreciate its main airport, Bradley International, in Windsor Locks. While Bradley is small, it offers much convenience -- 29 daily direct flights, many of them reaching air traffic hubs: Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Minneapolis, Newark, Philadelphia, Washington, Toronto and Montreal.

But Toronto, Montreal, and Cancun, Mexico, are the only destinations that make Bradley international, and while those cities have excellent connections, the Air Canada flights between Toronto, Montreal, and Bradley use small twin-propeller planes that may make some people nervous, while Cancun is far out of the way.

So spurred, by Governor Malloy, the Connecticut Airport Authority is aiming to recruit an airline to operate direct flights from Bradley to Europe. Ireland's Aer Lingus is the leading prospect and would take Bradley passengers to Dublin, which has excellent connections to the continent.

A direct flight to Europe is a nice idea but probably not realistic, since state government might have to subsidize it with $5 million, with no assurance that it ever would become self-sustaining.

But being less ambitious could still be a big improvement -- that is, starting service between Bradley and Logan International in Boston and Kennedy International in New York, and increasing flights from Bradley to Newark and Philadelphia. Many Connecticut residents fly to Europe from Boston and New York, and getting to the airports there involves hours of surface travel far less convenient than a flight from Bradley would be.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.