House gives final legislative approval to a bill that declares racism a public health hazard in Connecticut

The Connecticut House of Representatives gave final legislative passage to a bill that declares racism as a public health hazard and puts in place a series of measures to address the racial inequities in health care.

The 114-33 vote came after more than four hours of often impassioned debate. The bill was approved by the state Senate last month and now goes to Gov. Ned Lamont for consideration.

Rep. Brandon McGee, a Democrat from Hartford, said the debate on racial inequities was extraordinary. “At least for the nine years that I’ve been here, I’ve never sat through 4 1/2—plus hours of a debate on race,” he said. “This is amazing that today we’re all fighting for equity in the true sense.”

Following last year’s protests for racial equality in response to the murder of George Floyd — and after the COVID-19 crisis laid bare racial disparities in health care — at least five other states and dozens of municipalities have passed measures declaring racism a health risk.

But Connecticut’s bill goes further than most by setting benchmarks for data collection by race and ethnicity, establishing a commission on gun-violence prevention and requiring implicit-bias training for medical professionals who care for pregnant women, among other provisions.

“This is historic,” tweeted Tekisha Everette, executive director of Health Equity Solutions, which has lobbied in support of some of the bill’s provisions for the past four years.

Everette said the pandemic and the deaths of George Floyd and other Black men and women at the hands of police combined to generate a sense of urgency to address the harms caused by racism.

“They created the perfect storm of political will and [the sense] that [the legislation] is something tangible that we can do,” Everette said.

Not everyone agreed. Rep. Kimberly Fiorello, a Republican from Greenwich, questioned the need for the bill.

“We are going to declare as a fact that racism is a public health crisis in Connecticut? This body is going to declare [to] the world ... Connecticut is racist?” Fiorello asked.

Disparities can’t be legislated away, she said, “because disparity is a natural state of the world. You can look across this room right here and you’re going to see disparity. Some of us are healthier than others, some of us are taller, some of us are prettier.”

Fiorello invoked the Declaration of Independence, and it’s famous assertion that “all men are created equal.”

“What we’re saying there is we can look across this room and see the disparities, but we’re actually equal,” she said.

Later in the debate, Rep. McGee referred back to Fiorello’s comments while making a closing argument in favor of the bill.

“As I recall, when the Declaration was written, Black folks were not full humans,” McGee said. “I’m not certain that equity was a part of that.”

Racism, he added, “is deeply embedded throughout our systems, policies and culture.”

And, “while the national and international protests in response to the murder of — to just name two of many, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — initially spurred [declarations of racism as a health hazard], racism has been a public health crisis since the founding of this country, not just last week and not just throughout the summer of 2020.”

The bill, McGee said, represents “a good first step” at remedying that.

Daniela Altimari can be reached at