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Get Informed and Speak Up -- That's Democracy

East Haven High's Democracy Day.

March 23 was the 40th anniversary of 18-year-olds gaining the right to vote. East Haven High School celebrated this occasion by holding Democracy Day, and I was invited to speak to two classes about the importance of voting.

I didn’t have any prepared remarks, but the theme of our conversation quickly turned to how an ordinary citizen can make a difference in the political process. I asked the students how many they read a newspaper or an online news source. Only two raised their hands.

“If you want to take on the responsibility of choosing who to vote for and trying to better your community, the first step is being informed,” I told them.

I was peppered with questions about my new job as state representative and the more I answered, the more I realized the acute importance of the public hearing process. Every bill raised in the Connecticut legislature must go through a public hearing, where we hear testimony from public officials and members of the public. This, I gushed to my listeners, is a great way to get your voice heard. Legislators cannot possibly have expert knowledge on all of the bills that we hear so input from the public is a vital part of the process.

We don’t always hear from experts at these hearings, but we do hear from people from all walks of life with different and valuable perspectives. Testifying in front of a committee can be an unnerving experience and I have great respect for those who feel so passionately about an issue, that they are willing to come forward and speak about it.

On March 21, the Judiciary Committee, on which I sit, heard testimony on a bill regarding transgender rights. The day dragged on and the testimony became dry and repetitive. But my ears perked up when a young graduate student took the mic and introduced herself as Elizabeth Deck from East Haven.

Elizabeth is studying at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work and was testifying in favor of equal rights for transgendered individuals. Her profession’s code of ethics, she explained, instructs her to “help people in need, address social problems and challenge social injustices.” She felt strongly enough about this particular social injustice to speak on behalf of an entire group of people of which she is not a member.

I went up to her after she spoke and introduced myself.

“Were you nervous?” I asked.

“A little,” she said, but then told me that she had testified last year in support of a bill for mandatory paid sick leave. Apparently she’s a seasoned veteran.

“Thanks so much for coming,” I told her. “You make East Haven proud.”

When the bell rang at East Haven High signifying the end of my Q&A with the kids, I smiled as many of them filled out voter registration cards provided by their government teacher, Mr. DeNuzzo.

“I’m going to start reading the newspaper now, Mr. Albis,” said senior Andrew Schneer as he completed his form and walked out the door to go to his next class.

This, I thought, is what Democracy Day is all about.

Lance Coughlin March 25, 2011 at 07:34 PM
Is there a link to that "gender identification" bill? Because it sounds pretty ridiculous to me.
James Albis March 25, 2011 at 08:02 PM
http://cga.ct.gov/asp/cgabillstatus/cgabillstatus.asp?selBillType=Bill&bill_num=6599&which_year=2011 It proposes that gender identity be added to the list of traits that employers, schools, landlords, etc. cannot discriminate against.
Gene Ruocco March 25, 2011 at 08:20 PM
Good job James, we are always looking for good young men and women for our Democratic Party, hope you signed some up, or at least got some names. “A primary object…Should be the Education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing… than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country”.-George Washington Keep up the good work for the people of the 99th District.
StavenObserver March 25, 2011 at 08:34 PM
EMPLOYERS? YEAH GOOD LUCK ENFORCING THAT WITH ME PAL. MY BUSINESS HAS A REPUTATION TO MAINTAIN. I WILL NOT JEAPORDIZE IT FOR SOME STUPID LAW THAT I'M SURE LAWLOR AND MCDONALD ARE INVOLVED IN.
Max Synder March 25, 2011 at 11:02 PM
Thanks James. And Lance, did you ever hear of the work "empathy"?
Angry Parent March 26, 2011 at 03:22 AM
I see we have morons in full force in Hartford, with a real big one at the helm. They all seem to have a pre-occupation with homosexuality, cross dressing and lax criminal accountability. NOW, they want to subject females to the perversions of guys/boys who want to stroll into their locker rooms and rest rooms? Tell me Mr. State Rep. what can schools do to disciplone the boys who decide to run into girls locker rooms? Decide to peer in on them taking a leak? Nothing! Because now, not even a school would be able to take any type of action on those people. A store security guard, a store manager, or anyone one else with control over a permises could no longer do a god-damned thing. As a parent, if one of my children has to face that kind of harrassment or discomfort or insecurity, I will handle it. It's obvious you people decide who's privilidged to be protected and who isn't. This has to be one of the stupidest proposed laws for which I'm sure it all but passed, I have ever read.
Angry Parent March 26, 2011 at 03:25 AM
Lance, you were a cop. How often did you come across criminals who you couldn't do anything to because out of touch legislators passed laws that ended up protecting them? You're a lawyer too right? Do you see this creating a very large loop hole for problems? I would appreciate your input.
Lance Coughlin March 26, 2011 at 03:28 PM
As written an employer would be forced to retain a male employee that suddenly decides to become a drag queen or a female employee that takes male hormones and grows a goatee. Call me politically incorrect, but I'd prefer if someone like that wasn't making my apizza or ham and cheese sub. I keep waiting for Allen Funt or Ashton Kutcher to jump out and say this legislation was just a practical joke, but I'm afraid Mr. Albis and Mr. Lawlor are SERIOUS! So to prepare you all, I offer you the future "Dannell Malloy Dream Team" cafeteria staff at Joseph Melillo Middle School. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgWn7zbgxZ4 How's that hope and change treating you?
Lance Coughlin March 26, 2011 at 03:41 PM
I never thought of it in those terms because I knew the laws and adhered to them, there was no other option. I think the laws are pretty fair to both the cops and the criminals, and operating within the confines of the law I managed to have pretty good success.
Lance Coughlin March 26, 2011 at 10:40 PM
And by the way it sounds like this was a voter registration drive of sorts with only one party represented. Shady.

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