Attorney General: The Honorable Amalia Vazquez Bzdyra, Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, 2000-029 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

September 28, 2000

The Honorable Amalia Vazquez Bzdyra
Chairperson
Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities
21 Grand Street
Hartford, CT 06106

Dear Chairperson Bzdyra:

I am writing in response to the letter of August 12, 2000 requesting an opinion on whether a contract between the Connecticut Department of Correction (Department) and the Virginia Department of Correction will terminate on October 21, 2000 for noncompliance with the provisions of Conn. Gen. Stats. §§ 4a-60 and 4a-60a.

While the focus of your letter, and most of the public debate, has been on the exemption in the contract, this contractual provision is in fact of only marginal legal significance. The central question is whether there has been a violation of the antidiscrimination provisions of state and federal law.

My understanding is that the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) is currently formally investigating claims by inmates of illegal discrimination at Wallens Ridge Prison. If your ongoing investigation and subsequent hearing lead to a finding that Connecticut citizens have been victims of discriminatory practices, you have the authority to order immediate steps to terminate the contract, along with any other measures necessary to protect individual rights. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-86. The CHRO’s authority to act against discrimination continues to exist, regardless of how long the exemption or contract remain in effect. Following your investigation and finding, the Department of Correction would be obligated to take appropriate action pursuant to your order.

By way of further explanation, the statutory provisions cited in your letter require that all contracts entered into by any state agency contain certain specified nondiscrimination agreements. The Commission has the authority under Conn. Gen. Stats. § 46a-56(b) to exempt a contractor from complying with these provisions under certain circumstances, including situations where the contractual services will be performed outside the State of Connecticut. As you are aware, on June 25, 1996, Commission counsel provided the Department with a blanket exemption from the above nondiscrimination requirements in contracts with other states and the federal government "for services performed within their jurisdiction and facilities." Additionally, on September 23, 1999, the Commission’s Executive Director provided a specific exemption for this contract.

Your questions concern the fact that the contract provides for an initial term of one year, with provision for renewal for up to two years upon mutual agreement of the parties. The renewal provision does not require the execution of a new contract, but instead takes effect unless the existing contract is "otherwise terminated." You indicate that the Commission has refused to extend the above exemption to any renewal term of the present contract with Virginia, and ask whether this refusal will prohibit the Department from extending the contract past October 21, 2000, the end of its initial term.

By their terms, these exemptions apply to the contract as a whole. I find nothing in the exemptions that limits them to any particular period of the contract, or requires the Department to obtain an additional exemption if it decides to extend this contract in accordance with its terms. The Commission's action on June 15, 2000 declining to renew the exemption, therefore, does not affect the continuing validity of the contract previously approved by the Commission.

The contractual exemptions provided to the out-of-state contractor do not excuse the Department from complying with Connecticut’s antidiscrimination laws, as the contract itself makes clear. Article 30, Section 30.1. No contract can supersede or negate the Department’s legal obligations under our antidiscrimination laws. Despite the transfer of Connecticut inmates to a Virginia prison, the Connecticut Commissioner of Corrections continues to be the legal custodian of those inmates, and is bound by Connecticut law. Article 27, Section 27.1. If there have been violations of Connecticut antidiscrimination laws, whether at Wallens Ridge or elsewhere, appropriate remedial action is within your authority. Such action may include terminating the contract with the Virginia Department of Corrections, or any other measures necessary to protect the rights of Connecticut citizens and enforce the law. Indeed, discriminatory practices of this kind would very likely also violate Virginia’s antidiscrimination statutes, which are similar to ours, and would support legal action if necessary.

I believe that this opinion letter fully answers your inquiry, but if you have any further questions, I would be pleased to address them.

Very truly yours,

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL
ATTORNEY GENERAL

RB/jb


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