House Passes 'Captive Audience' Bill After Exhaustive Debate; Measure Goes To Senate
May 12, 2011
Lawmakers in the House of Representatives, after a debate topping 10 hours, voted 78-65 to approve a bill that would bar employers from requiring their workers to attend meetings to discuss religion, politics or union organizing.
The proposal, dubbed the "captive audience bill," was a talker: The debate began just after 2 p.m. and continued well into the night. Republicans offered numerous amendments — all of them unsuccessful — in their effort to kill the measure outright or slowly discuss it to death.
Supporters say a law is needed to protect the rights of workers and prevent them from being coerced into attending meetings. Union leaders say "captive audience" meetings are used to intimidate workers, squelch union activity, and even influence elections and shape public policy.
Rep. Bruce "Zeke" Zalaski, D-Southington, said he always thought employers could tell workers what to do on work time. "After 33 years in the same factory, I almost believed what they used to tell me,'' he said.
But when he began researching the bill, Zalaski said, he came to the conclusion that "workers should have rights, even in the workplace."
Republicans sought to characterize the measure as anti-business.
"When you get a company that either wants to move into Connecticut or expand in Connecticut, when they look at the political message, the political temperament in the state … what do you think this says?'' asked House Republican Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk. "You know what it says? Take your business elsewhere.''
Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, called the bill poorly worded and vague. "I'm not saying it's not valid,'' she said. "We have vague terms from hello to goodbye and at the end of the day, we don't have a solution to the problem."
The bill covers all private-sector, state and municipal employers, though religious and political organizations are exempt. It also would permit casual conversations about religion or politics among workers as long as participation in such discussions is not required.
The bill now moves to the Senate. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy would sign the bill should it reach his desk, said his spokeswoman, Colleen Flanagan.
Oregon passed captive-audience legislation in 2009. Wisconsin approved a similar bill, although the law was declared unconstitutional last year.
Rather than vote on a bill that would legalize the medicinal use of marijuana, the Senate on Wednesday sent the measure to the finance committee for consideration.
The bill had been sent to the full Senate by the public health committee, which passed it 22-4 on May 3. Although the bill passed by a wide margin, some lawmakers who voted in favor of it said they weren't entirely happy with the measure's wording.
Under the proposed legislation, people with a written certification from their physician could legally possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and grow up to four marijuana plants no more than 4 feet high. To qualify, the patient would need to be certified as having a debilitating medical condition such as cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis.
A bill to establish a Connecticut Brewery Trail, similar to the existing Connecticut Wine Trail, won unanimous approval Wednesday in the Senate and now goes to the House for action.
The measure would promote the state's brewing industry — now including five breweries and 11 brew pubs — by authorizing road signs showing motorists how to follow the "trail" to brewers.
"This effort is about bolstering a burgeoning industry in our state," said Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, the bill's main sponsor, who has a brewing company in his district.
Courant Staff Writer Jon Lender contributed to this story.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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