HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A bill that declares racism a public health crisis in Connecticut, an issue proponents contend was highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic and needs to finally be quantified and addressed, heads to Gov. Ned Lamont's desk.
The wide-ranging legislation passed on a bipartisan vote of 114 to 33 following a lengthy and at times emotional debate that often focused on race. State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, co-chairman of the Public Health Committee, noted how the final vote by the General Assembly on the bill was taking place on the 100th anniversary of the massacre that destroyed a thriving Black community in Tulsa known as Black Wall Street.
“This is an important bill for this legislature on this very important day,” said Steinberg.
He pointed out how the Oklahoma legislature in 1907 had passed a bill, also known by the name SB 1, which imposed Jim Crow laws legalizing racial segregation in the state that made it “all too easy" for that community to be destroyed and ultimately turned into a commercial and industrial section of the city.
In Connecticut, Steinberg said, minority neighborhoods have often been located near pollution-causing factories, highways and commercial areas that can have a direct negative impact on people's health.
“The bill we have before us today seeks to address or redress in some ways some of those disparities created by racism,” he said.
The bill creates a new state commission that will be charged with documenting the effect of racism on public health in Connecticut. The group is supposed to come up with its first strategic plan by Jan. 1, 2022, for state lawmakers to begin eliminating health disparities and inequities in areas ranging from access to quality health care to air and water quality.
A new study of the recruitment and retention of minority health care workers is also included in the bill, as well as a provision that requires state agencies, boards and commission to collect demographic data concerning race. Also, Connecticut hospitals will be required to include implicit bias training as part of their staff training and working group will be created to improve breast cancer awareness and prevention, especially within communities of color.
Rep. Kimberly Fiorello, R-Greenwich, took issue with declaring racism a public health crisis in Connecticut, arguing there are many reasons for disparities in society.
“I'm very concerned about this bill. It comes out straight-forward in saying that all of us, everyone here, everyone in our whole state has to accept as fact that racism ... is blatantly happening everywhere in public health in this state," she said. "Does that ring true to the good people of Connecticut?"
Rep. Brandon McGee, D-Hartford, noted that racism can be insidious, driven by public policies that this legislation will help address by requiring health information data by race to be collected — something some lawmakers have been seeking for years to quantify the impacts of racism.
“Without it we can’t necessarily root out the racism embedded in our status quo or course correct when we’ve made an assumption that a policy will address inequities or inequalities if the data shows it doesn’t,” McGee said.
Among the other aspects of the bill, the state Department of Public Health will be required to study Connecticut’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, the legislation creates a new gun violence intervention and prevention advisory committee that will coordinate various groups, including community outreach organizations and victim service providers, to work on a plan to reduce street-level gun violence in the state.