House restores local zoning over solid-waste facilities

Is skipping the normal vetting process the best way to correct a legislative mistake made six years ago? By a vote of a 120 to 8, the state House of Representatives declared Thursday night that it was.

The House approved and sent to the Senate an "emergency-certified" bill that restores local regulatory control over solid-waste facilities, a reaction to a court ruling in November in a Milford case involving a legislator's husband.

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Rep. Richard Roy, D-Milford

The emergency designation means that the bill never received the normal review by legislative committees, nor was it subject to a public hearing.

"Why the rush?" asked Rep. Sean Williams, R-Watertown. "It can't at least wait a couple of days to have people heard?"

The quick action was prompted by the pending the approval of permits for the expansion of Recycling, Inc.'s waste facility in Milford, a project opposed by city officials.

But a Superior Court judge ruled in November that the legislature pre-empted local regulatory control in a law passed unanimously by the General Assembly in April 2006. After the ruling, the city hired the law firm of David A. Slossberg, the husband of Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford.

The Slossberg connection prompted some grumbling among Republicans during the debate, but few legislators were willing to vote against a bill the restores some zoning authority over waste facilities.

"It appears to me this bill is trying to do the right thing for the wrong reasons," said Rep. John Shaban, R-Redding. He voted for a Republican amendment that would have restore local control only for new facilities, not existing ones. It failed 83 to 47.

But Shaban was not among the seven Republicans and one Democrat, Patricia Dillon of New Haven, to vote against passage of the bill.

[How they voted]

"It certainly smells," Williams said of the involvement of Slossberg's husband. He made the comment to reporters after the debate.

Slossberg said legislators should have no reservations about the involvement of her husband's law firm.

"There is no conflict. A conflict exists where there is financial gain," she said. "The law firm represents the city. I represent the residents of the city."

If the emergency-certification process struck some legislators as messy, so was the handling of the original legislation, a mundane bill titled, "An Act Concerning Watercraft and Children."

It became a vehicle for a raft of amendments near the end of the session, including revisions to the state law on solid-waste management.

Rep. Richard Roy, D-Milford, the co-chairman of the Environment Committee, who co-sponsored the 2006 amendment, said a drafting error was responsible for the loss of local zoning control.

He said he was stunned to a see a court decision asserting it was the intent of the legislature to strip municipalities of all local control.

"That's never been our intent," he said.

"It fell out accidentally. We're just putting it back," Slossberg said.

Roy and Slossberg said the new bill was narrowly drawn. Towns cannot ban solid-waste facilities, but they can set conditions and limits with zoning rules.

Dan Silver, the lawyer for Recycling, Inc., said the law will make new facilities impossible.

"This sets back solid waste in Connecticut by 30 years," Silver said. "You will never see the siting of another solid waste facility in Connecticut. What are we going to do with our trash?"

Silver said there was no excuse for the legislature to rush the bill through with a hearing or examination by legislative committees.

"This is an improper use of the emergency-certification situation," Silver said. "Why does it have to go into effect tomorrow without a public hearing?"

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