2011 State Legislation Session Recap (Part 1) – The Bills That Didn’t Make It

July 12, 2011

We work with consultant Alison Johnson, a state budget expert and longtime legislative analyst, to help us understand the impact of legislation and the state budget on Connecticut’s most vulnerable populations.

We asked her to write a post for our blog about legislation related to our priority areas raised during the 2011 state legislative session. This is the first of three posts that she will write for us, and this one is about bills that did not pass.

The 2011 state legislative session was the first in two decades under a Democratic governor and General Assembly.  Despite the Democratic majority, passing legislation was not an easy task considering the daunting challenge of filling a $1.6 billion state budget shortfall.  While the session was dominated by budget negotiations and health care reform efforts, the Connecticut Health Foundation (CT Health) also tracked several bills related to our priority areas —  children’s mental health, oral health and racial and ethnic health disparities — throughout the policy-making process.  Although the following bills did not pass, legislation often needs several years to gain enough momentum to pass into law, receive adequate funding and begin implementation.

Children’s Mental Health

Several bills related to delaying in-school suspensions:

and others that would allow local/regional boards of education to determine which conduct warrants an in-school suspension:

never progressed past the Education Committee.

So why is a health foundation paying attention to a bill related to in-school suspensions? For one thing, if students are in school and in class, they have a better chance of staying connected to needed mental health services. The reason this is controversial is that there is an added cost to school districts to keep students on site during suspensions, and these bills sought to address that added financial burden.

Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities

An Act Concerning Implementation of Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Standards in Health Care Settings (HB 5608) would have required licensed Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) providers or federally-funded institutions to adopt the Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Standards (CLAS) issued by the U.S. Department Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health. The bill also would have required the Commission on Health Equity to establish a comprehensive collaborative committee to implement and monitor use of these standards. While the Public Health Committee looked favorably on the bill, it did not pass out of the Government, Administration and Elections (GAE) Committee.

Our tie to this bill is probably a little more obvious. Linguistic and cultural differences between patients and providers can result in miscommunication that can have serious results: wrong diagnosis, incorrect treatments, even death. We believe linguistically and culturally competent providers and staff can greatly diminish these tragedies and improve overall health outcomes over time.

Although this didn’t pass, all is not lost! The fact that this bill was proposed, and the Public Health Committee passed it, represents a step in the right direction. Our hope is that the CLAS standards will be integrated into state and/or federal health care reform, which will be featured in our second in the series. This is really our first time sharing that we do this kind of work. Did you find it useful?  What other questions do you have?

Did you know CT Health is active in the public policy arena? We are. At our core, we’re committed to changing the systems that influence the health status of our residents, and one of those systems is government. As public policy plays an important role in how public health is valued and health care is practiced, it makes sense for us to play a role in the public policy-making process. This recent article from Fortune discusses all the ways that philanthropy makes a difference, including involvement in public policy.

We are restricted by the IRS, however, from lobbying and funding our grantees to lobby, as we are a private foundation. Instead, we track and monitor legislation so that  we can educate and inform advocates, state government decision-makers and elected officials about the consequences of budget, legislative and regulatory proposals on Connecticut residents, especially the un- and under-served..

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