By Max Moran
The directors of the state’s two new legislative commissions are optimistic about the future of their organizations, even though each is taking on the responsibility of what used to be six separate entities.
The commissions are non-partisan arms of the legislature that research policy and coordinate information for lawmakers. Each is focused on marginalized communities.
The state had six separate commissions for decades, but under the budget agreement between Gov. Dannel Malloy and the General Assembly, they were reorganized into two groups: one that focuses on racial minority groups, and another that works on issues involving women, children and seniors. The two new entities that began work in July include staff from the former six commissions.
The consolidation of the legislative commissions saved the state about $1.4 million. Each of the new commissions has a $700,000 budget.
Steven Hernandez, the executive director for the newly-formed Commission on Women, Children and Seniors, said that the staffs were not unionized and are now working “for much less pay.”
The other newly-formed Commission on Equity and Opportunity encompasses the former African-American Affairs, Asian Pacific American Affairs, and Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commissions.
Subira Gordon, the former legislative analyst for the African-American Affairs Commission, is the executive director of the Commission on Equity and Opportunity.
“We still have staff focusing on individual policy areas even though everyone works for the overarching commission,” Gordon said. “I think the adjustment is going well due to that fact, and we were fortunate enough to keep a lot of the same people on staff in their old roles.”
Gordon said the group has dealt with some minor growing pains, like educating specialists on one racial group about the challenges facing another. Gordon, for instance, said she was unaware of some issues within the Asian-American community, but has been learning from staffers.
While consolidation is never easy, the new commissions do have the advantage of a larger overall staff size.
“Each commission on both sides has three policy staff rather than one policy staff for each commission. I think that’s going to be very helpful for us going forward,” Gordon said. She hopes to mobilize the larger staff within the Commission on Equity and Opportunity for specific issues that will have an “all hands on deck” mentality.
Currently, the Commission on Equity and Opportunity is reviewing work that the prior commissions completed, including work on problem gambling drafted by the former Asian-American and Pacific Islanders Commission.
“I’m really interested in representing those small refugee communities that are in Connecticut, to get their voice heard at the legislature. Not using our voices, but really empowering them to be a part of the legislative process,” Gordon said.
Meanwhile, the newly-formed Commission on Women, Children and Seniors Commission has a six person staff. The group is also advised by a 63-member board which includes commissioners with unexpired terms from the former commissions.
Hernandez said the new organization makes it easier for the group to examine “intersectionality” within their communities, which is a way of looking at how multiple aspects of a person’s identity affect their experiences, such as how black women face discrimination for their race and gender.
“We’re living our mandate,” Hernandez said. “Part of our mandate is to erase arbitrary lines where they exist, and we’re doing it.”
For example, when the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women was working on trafficking it realized children were being trafficked, but children under the age of 18 didn’t fall under its mandate, according to Christine Palm, communications director of the Commission on Women, Children and Seniors. The new entity includes both women and children.
Hernandez said he’s also working to make sure that the work the old six commissions started has not been interrupted. He appointed a former employee of the women’s commission as chair of the trafficking council that she spearheaded, even though she’s no longer working for any of the commissions.