“Last year I introduced 11 bills, three had a public hearing and two passed one chamber,” said freshman State Representative Christine Palm (D-36th). Heading into her second legislative session, Palm said her intention was to focus on passing those two bills — one mandating the inclusion of climate change in the public school science curriculum and the other prohibiting seismic surveying in Long Island Sound.
Teaching climate change
Palm’s first bill would require that all public school districts in Connecticut include the topic of climate change in the science curriculum, something that is currently recommended as part of the Next Generation Science Standards adopted by the state in 2015, but that it is not mandated.
In 2019, that bill, “An Act Concerning the Teaching of Climate Change in Public Schools,” passed the House, but was never raised in the Senate. This year, because of the short session, the bill must be proposed by the Education Committee to be considered for a vote.
“I’ve been spending the off time doing some internal lobbying to get them to take up the bill,” Palm said. “Since the bill already passed through one chamber it has a better chance of getting through the Senate. I’m feeling more confident it will pass this year. It has strong support from both sides of the aisle, the Environment Committee and the Department of Education.”
Rebutting concerns that the bill would amount to an unfunded mandate, Palm pointed out that the mandated curriculum was already available to school districts.
Palm said that many simply assume that climate change is already taught in schools, but Palm explained that passing this bill is not just about making sure all students are educated about global warming, it’s also about sending a national message.
“Passing this bill would send a really strong message to everybody that Connecticut cares about the climate. Despite our national decisions to pull out of the Paris Accords, Connecticut takes climate change seriously,” she said.
Palm’s second bill – banning seismic surveying in Long Island Sound – passed without discussion in the Senate last year. Combined with a measure sponsored by Senator Mary Looney (D-11th) banning offshore drilling, the bill faced virtually no opposition, but was never raised in the House, Palm said.
“It’s frustrating that it wasn’t raised, but this year we will have another shot at it,” Palm said. “It’s important as a state with hundreds of miles of coastline to put this pre-emptive strike into place against the possibility that Trump’s EPA will allow the blowing up of our ocean floor.”
According to Palm, if a company were to request a permit from the EPA for surveying off Connecticut’s coast, it would likely be granted under rules in place, after the current administration lifted a ban put in place under Barack Obama.
“Connecticut is one of several states that have joined forces in the judicial branch to sue the Trump Administration to not allow surveying,” Palm said. “But we need a legislative track and a judicial action to do our best to prevent this from ever happening.”
The idea, Palm said, is that if the legislation passes, state law would prevent the federal government from giving a permit to survey in Connecticut waters. Even if the measure fails to pass, however, such a permit could still be taken away through the courts.
Connecting with Millennials and Generation Z
In October, Palm and Governor Ned Lamont held a roundtable discussion with Millennial and Generation Z residents of Connecticut. The goal was to find out what the younger generations liked about the state, and what needed to be changed to ensure that they would stay.
“Over and over again we heard that we were one of the few states that really fights for women’s reproductive rights, that we passed paid family leave and a higher minimum wage,” Palm said. “They wished we were working on a better public transportation system and more affordable housing.”
Palm said it felt wonderful to hear both men and women praising the state’s pro-choice platform.
“One bill that didn’t get through last year was regarding crisis pregnancy centers that falsely advertise that you can have abortion services and then they bombard you with morality lessons,” Palm said. “The bill wouldn’t shut these down, but would require them to advertise accurately what services you can get.”
According to Palm, this bill could be one way to maintain what Millennials and Generation Z like about this state.
Connecting with her constituents
Although Palm said she is working to connect with the younger generations, the population in her district, which includes Chester, Deep River, Essex and Haddam, is on average much older. Palm said that the environment and taxes are significant concerns for her consituents.
“There are a lot of environmental people here worried about protecting the Connecticut River, but everybody talks about taxes,” Palm said. “I’m not saying that isn’t a legitimate concern, but in our region, taxes really are a lot lower than in the urban centers.”
Instead of simply reducing taxes, Palm said she thinks a restructuring of the tax system is needed.
“We have inequitable taxes. We need to take a very serious look at our tax system which is property-based, but nobody wants to go there,” Palm said. “But unless we do that, we are never going to bridge the divide between working class and the uber wealthy.”
In addition to property taxes, Palm said she fields many concerns about individual properties – including falling trees and dams that residents are required to inspect and maintain regularly.
“I would love the state to find a way to help property owners that have dead or large trees in danger of falling,” Palm said. In her region, she said she has seen more and more trees falling onto town roads or buildings due to invasives like the Emerald Ash Borer, and from high winds.
Reelection or not
Palm said that although they are not her issues, it’s essential that the questions of tolls and the legalization of marijuana be brought back to the table.
“It’s inevitable on those issues that we have to make a decision,” Palm said. “They’re unpopular, it’s a short session and it’s an election year, so people are very worried if they vote for tolls that their fate will be sealed. I’m a freshman, so I could be naïve, but I’m for biting the bullet and a little bravery. We can’t just be thinking about getting reelected.”