Attorney General: Werner Oyanadel, Acting Executive Director, Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, Formal Opinion 2010-005, Attorney General, State of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

September 21, 2010

 

Werner Oyanadel
Acting Executive Director

State of Connecticut
Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission
18-20 Trinity Street
Hartford, CT  06106

 

Dear Mr. Oyanadel:

 

This letter responds to your request for a formal legal opinion concerning the authority of the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission (the “Commission”) to hold its 13th annual event celebrating Hispanic accomplishments and awarding monetary scholarships for youth higher education.

 

 You state in your letter that you have received emails from State Auditor Maura Pardo advising you that the Commission may no longer hold its annual event recognizing youth and leaders in Connecticut’s Hispanic community due to language in 2009 Conn. Pub. Acts No. 09-07, § 143 (Sept. 2009 Special Session)(hereinafter referred to as “Public Act 09-07”), which took effect in October 2009. Among other provisions, Public Act 09-07, § 143, amended Conn. Gen. Stat. § 2-120 to change the specific duties and obligations of the Commission. Because the Auditor plans to cite the Commission for improperly moving forward with its preparations for this year’s 13th annual event in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 2-120, as amended by Public Act 09-07, you are seeking our opinion as to whether the Commission’s plans to conduct the event are in compliance with its statutory authority.

 

            We conclude that the Commission’s plan to hold its 13th annual event to recognize youth and leaders in Connecticut’s Hispanic community and award monetary scholarships for youth higher education falls within the scope of the Commission’s authority under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 2-120 as amended by Public Act 09-07. Accordingly, we conclude that the Commission is authorized to conduct its annual event under current state law.

 

The General Assembly established the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission by statute in 1994 and included, as the Commission’s original appointees, all members of the Governor’s Council for Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs established by Executive Order No. Ten of Governor Lowell P. Weicker, Jr. See 1994 Conn. Pub. Acts No. 95-152. The statute establishing the Commission, which was codified at Conn. Gen. Stat. § 2-120, charged the Commission with a list of specific responsibilities. As of January 1, 2009, those responsibilities were to:

 

(1) Review and comment on any proposed state legislation and regulations that would affect the Latino and Puerto Rican populations in the state and provide to the members of the General Assembly copies of any such comments;

(2) Advise and provide information to the Governor and the General Assembly on the state's policies concerning the Latino and Puerto Rican communities;

(3) Advise the Governor and the General Assembly concerning the coordination and administration of state programs serving the Latino and Puerto Rican populations;

(4) Maintain a liaison between the Latino and Puerto Rican communities and governmental entities, including, but not limited to, the General Assembly;

(5) Encourage Latino and Puerto Rican representation at all levels of state government, including state boards and commissions, and maintain an accessible list of prospective appointees who are members of the Latino or Puerto Rican community;

(6) Secure appropriate recognition of the accomplishments and contributions of Latino and Puerto Rican populations of the state;

(7) Work in consultation with the joint committee of the General Assembly having cognizance of matters relating to legislative management for the purpose of establishing a plan of short-term and long-term initiatives based on the needs of the Latino and Puerto Rican community; and

(8) Prepare and submit to the Governor an annual report concerning its activities with any appropriate recommendations concerning the Latino and Puerto Rican populations of the state and submit a copy of the report to the joint committee of the General Assembly having cognizance of matters relating to legislative management, which committee shall distribute a copy of the report to each member of the General Assembly.

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 2-120(c)(Revision of Jan. 1, 2009).

 

In October, 2009, the General Assembly adopted Public Act 09-07 (Sept. 2009 Spec. Session), which amended Conn. Gen. Stat. § 2-120(c) to change the duties of the Commission. The Commission’s duties under § 2-120(c) as amended by Public Act 09-07 are to:

 

(1) Focus its efforts on the following quality of life desired results for the Latino and Puerto Rican population of the state: (A) That all members of the Latino and Puerto Rican population of the state are healthy; (B) that all members of the Latino and Puerto Rican population are safe; (C) that all members of the Latino and Puerto Rican population of the state achieve educational success; (D) that all members of the Latino and Puerto Rican population of the state are economically self-sufficient; and (E) that all members of the Latino and Puerto Rican population of the state are free from discrimination. The commission shall meet regularly to review matters pertaining to the achievement of the desired results described in subparagraphs (A) to (E), inclusive, of this subdivision and, not later than January first, annually, shall submit a status report concerning such desired results to the joint standing committee of the General Assembly having cognizance of appropriations. The commission shall develop (i) appropriate population-level indicators of the state's progress in achieving such desired results, and (ii) strategies that are intended to improve progress on such indicators through a process that is inclusive of all relevant partners, including, but not limited to, state and local government agencies, the faith community, the business sector, nonprofit organizations, advocacy groups and philanthropic organizations;

(2) Make recommendations to the General Assembly and the Governor for new or enhanced policies, programs and services that will foster progress in achieving the desired results described in subdivision (1) of this subsection;

(3) Review and comment on any proposed state legislation or recommendations that may affect the Latino and Puerto Rican population of the state and provide copies of any such comments to members of the General Assembly;

(4) Advise the General Assembly and Governor concerning the coordination and administration of state programs that affect the Latino and Puerto Rican population of the state;

(5) Gather and maintain current information regarding the Latino and Puerto Rican population of the state that can be used to better understand the status, condition and contributions of such Latino and Puerto Rican population. Such information shall be included in the annual report described in subsection (d) of this section and shall be made available to legislators and other interested parties upon request;

(6) Maintain a liaison between the Latino and Puerto Rican population of the state and government agencies, including the General Assembly; and

(7) Conduct educational and outreach activities intended to raise awareness of critical issues for the Latino and Puerto Rican population of the state.

Public Act 09-07, § 143 (Sept. 2009 Special Session), codified at Conn. Gen. Stat. § 2-120(c)(2010 Supplement).

Comparing the Commission’s duties before and after the amendment, it is apparent that, among other changes, the General Assembly has deleted the specific charge that the Commission “secure appropriate recognition of the accomplishments and contributions of Latino and Puerto Rican populations of the state,” which arguably was the authority for past annual events. See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-120(c)(6)(Revision of Jan. 1, 2009).  The General Assembly has added several new duties to the Commission’s responsibilities, however, including the duty to “[f]ocus its efforts on the quality of life desired results for the Latino and Puerto Rican population of the state . . . that all members of the Latino and Puerto Rican population of the state achieve educational success,” and to “conduct educational and outreach activities intended to raise awareness of critical issues for the Latino and Puerto Rican population of the state.” Public Act 09-07, §§ 143 (c)(1) and 143(c)(7). The Commission is also required under the new law to “[g]ather and maintain current information regarding the Latino and Puerto Rican population of the state that can be used to better understand the status, condition and contributions of such Latino and Puerto Rican population.” Public Act 09-07, § 143(c)(5). The question is whether these new duties authorize the Commission to conduct its annual event celebrating Hispanic accomplishments and awarding monetary scholarships for youth higher education.  You have informed this office that one hundred percent of the Commission’s scholarship awards are paid for from private donations.

 

“When construing a statute, [the court’s] fundamental objective is to ascertain and give effect to the apparent intent of the legislature.” C.R. Klewin Northeast, LLC v. Fleming, 284 Conn. 250, 261 (2007). To determine that intent, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-2z directs that”[t]he meaning of [the] statute shall, in the first instance, be ascertained from the text of the statute itself and its relationship to other statutes. If after examining such text and considering such relationship, the meaning of such text is plain and unambiguous and does not yield absurd or unworkable results, extratextual evidence of the meaning of the statute shall not be considered.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-2z. “When a statute is not plain and unambiguous, [the Court] also look[s] for interpretive guidance to the legislative history and circumstances surrounding its enactment, to the legislative policy it was designed to implement, and to its relationship to existing legislation and common law principles governing the same general subject matter.” State v. Orr, 291 Conn. 642, 651 (2009).

 

Looking at the text of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 2-120(c) as amended, the requirement that the Commission “[f]ocus its efforts on the quality of life desired results for the Latino and Puerto Rican population of the state . . . that all members of the Latino and Puerto Rican population of the state achieve educational success,” plainly encompasses, and is furthered by, the Commission’s efforts to award monetary scholarships to Latino and Puerto Rican students to attend institutions of higher education. Because a main priority of the Commission’s annual event is to support access to higher educational opportunities for Hispanic youth in the state, we conclude that the annual event falls well within the scope of the Commission’s duty to focus its efforts on helping the Latino and Puerto Rican population of the state achieve educational success.

 

The Commission’s annual event also falls within the scope of its duty under § 2-120(c)(7), as amended, to “[c]onduct educational and outreach activities intended to raise awareness of critical issues for the Latino and Puerto Rican population of the state.” Certainly, the annual event is an “outreach activity” “intended to raise awareness of critical issues for the Latino and Puerto Rican population.”  The importance of education and access to higher education is plainly such a critical issue. To the extent that the annual event also recognizes leaders for work on issues critical to Connecticut’s Hispanic community, such activity would also fall within the scope of § 2-120(c)(7). Finally, by gathering information from event participants through participant surveys, the event furthers the Commission’s duty to “[g]ather and maintain current information regarding the Latino and Puerto Rican population of the state that can be used to better understand the status, condition and contributions of such Latino and Puerto Rican population.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 2-120(c)(5).

 

Turning to another section of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 2-120, it should be noted that subsection (f), as amended by Public Act 09-07, authorizes the Commission to “inform leaders of business, education, state and local governments and the communications media of the nature and scope of the problems faced by the Latino and Puerto Rican population of the state, with a view to enlisting such persons’ support in working toward solving such problems” and to “accept any gift, donation or bequest for the purpose of performing the duties described in subsection (c) of this section.” Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 2-120(f)(9) and 2-120(f)(5), as amended by Public Act 09-07. To the extent that you are questioning whether Commission employees may solicit monetary scholarship awards for higher education for Hispanic youth, the plain language of these sections authorizes the solicitation and acceptance of such donations.

 

Because the plain language of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 2-120, as amended by Public Act 09-07, leads to the conclusion that the Commission’s annual event falls within the scope of the Commission’s statutory responsibilities, resort to the statute’s legislative history is unnecessary.  Even if the statute’s legislative history is considered, however, it does not change the conclusion that the amendments to § 2-120 were not intended to bar the Commission’s annual event. Instead, the legislative history of Public Act 09-07 indicates that the legislative intent of the amendments to § 2-120, and to the statutes governing five other legislative Commissions,[1] was to make the focus of the six legislative commissions uniform and identical. See 52 Conn. H. R. Proc., pt. 36, 2009 Sept. Special Sess. 11446 (Oct. 2, 2009)(remarks of Rep. Cafero)(“another thing that we’re doing in this bill is we are making uniform, identical the focus of each and every commission”). Thus, Public Act 09-07 changed the Commission’s duties, and those of the other commissions, to make them all the same. Nowhere is there any suggestion that, in imposing uniformity, the legislature intended to eliminate the Commission’s authority to conduct its annual event celebrating Hispanic accomplishments and awarding monetary scholarships for youth higher education.

 

In sum, we conclude the Commission is authorized by Conn. Gen. Stat. § 2-120 to hold its annual event celebrating Hispanic accomplishments and awarding monetary scholarships for youth higher education and that nothing in Public Act 09-07 (Sept. 2009 Special Session) deprived it of that authority.  

 

Very truly yours,

 

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL



[1] The other Commissions are the African-American Affairs Commission, the Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission, the Commission on Aging, the Commission on Children, and the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women.


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