Imagine there were a bill under consideration in the legislature that, if approved, would legalize marijuana use in Connecticut. Would the existence of that debate mean we’re all free to spend the next few days firing up joints, without waiting to see if the bill actually becomes law?
Or let’s say lawmakers were thinking of raising the speed limit to 65 mph on the entire length of I-84. Would the introduction of such a bill be legal justification to immediately start blowing through Hartford at that top speed?
These would not qualify as difficult civics questions, and yet, under the curious logic of state Rep. Mitch Bolinsky, the answer to both questions would seem to be “yes.”
Bolinsky, a Newtown Republican, has introduced legislation that in most cases would set a six-month waiting period before a town clerk could release the death certificate of a child under 18. The bill was drafted after news reporters requested copies of death certificates for those killed inside Sandy Hook Elementary School – and after Newtown Town Clerk Debbie Aurelia, in a bow to the sensitivity of the tragedy, refused to release them.
Bolinsky famously called reporters seeking the records “jackals.” But perhaps more intriguing is the logical path he is following in defending Aurelia. Bolinsky told the Danbury News-Times‘ Dirk Perrefort that he does not believe Aurelia’s actions violate state law because there is pending legislation that would change the rules, and she hasn’t yet broken that potential, future law.
“She is still within that six-month window that is being proposed,” the newspaper quoted him as saying. “I would argue that she is well within her rights and I support what she’s doing.”
There is no serious dispute that death certificates in Connecticut are public records and town clerks are bound by their oaths of office to release them. So this is more the municipal equivalent of civil disobedience, where a town official has concluded that the interests served by disobeying the law are greater than the interest served by adhering to the statute.
Those are individual decisions, and it will be up to the Freedom of Information Commission to decide what consequences, if any, there will be for a town clerk who makes a principled decision to break the law.
But a legislator who endorses the practice on the chance that the action will stop being illegal some time down the road may not like what he finds following that concept to its logical conclusion.
In January, Bolinsky introduced another bill that, if approved, would repeal the state’s $250 business entity tax. Would Rep. Bolinsky be sympathetic to a company that stops paying the tax immediately, under the argument that, hey, there’s pending legislation?
I’ve left a telephone message for Bolinsky. When I hear back, I’ll ask him.