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Atty. Ralph D. Sherman

130 West Main Street • New Britain, Connecticut 06052

tel. (860) 229-0213 • fax (860) 229-0235 • e-mail


Legal Opinion

September 1997

How some legislators view their work

Many clients—gun-owners and others—express frustration about the way that the legislature changes the law. They say the changes are unpredictable, illogical, and upsetting to citizens who are accustomed to things being a certain way and have planned their lives accordingly.

A good example is the 1994 law that prohibits the issuance of a pistol permit to anyone who has been convicted of certain misdemeanors, even if the convictions are decades old. The result has been that hundreds or even thousands of individuals who held permits for years have now seen their permits revoked because of the change in the law (Public Act 94-1).

"How can they do that?" people ask.

The answer was provided at the end of the last legislative session by Rep. Michael Lawlor (who, by the way, is well known for supporting anti-gun legislation).

Perhaps you recall the story of Clarence Jackson, a man who became known as the "lottery loser." He possessed a winning state lottery ticket that would have brought a large jackpot—if the ticket had been redeemed before the one-year deadline. Unfortunately for Jackson, he found the ticket in a relative’s belongings shortly after the deadline had passed.

With professional help, Mr. Jackson lobbied the state legislature for a bill that would make his ticket legal even though it was late. In the end, the bill failed to pass.

To me, Mr. Jackson’s case seemed simple. There were rules in effect, the rules applied to everyone who played the lottery, and the rules said that Mr. Jackson’s ticket was worthless after a certain date. Period.

But that wasn’t how Rep. Lawlor saw it. When a vote was near on the "lottery loser" bill, Lawlor was quoted in at least one newspaper.

"You say we can’t change the rules," Rep. Lawlor argued to his colleagues. "That’s all we do here is change the rules! We’re the Legislature!"

And that is how Rep. Lawlor views his job.

Incidentally, another legislator, Sen. Alvin Penn, also made a revealing statement when he discussed the Jackson bill, which he blocked from passage. Explaining his action, Sen. Penn said, "If I compromise myself based on my feelings, people would say, ‘He did it because [Mr. Jackson] is black, or because he’s poor.’" Therefore if only Mr. Jackson were white or rich—or if the legislature could have voted in secret—then Sen. Penn would have been able to succumb to his "feelings."

Does this stuff scare you? Think about it the next time NRA or the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen sends you a "Legislative Alert."

Copyright 1997 by Ralph D. Sherman

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