Story By John Murray

  Satellite dishes are a scourge in the inner cities throughout Connecticut, with some multi-family homes having up to 12 dishes anchored to the side of a structure.  New tenants in multi-family houses are currently forced to install new equipment when they call the satellite dish companies, and the old ones are not removed. The end result is a cluttered mess.

    State Representative Geraldo Reyes Jr. of the 75th District lives in the South End of Waterbury, and he said the satellite dishes are “blight, pollution, and affect the quality of life in the inner cities.”

   Reyes has been complaining about the issue for years, but now as an elected official in the state legislature he is uniquely positioned to do something about it. He asked aides and researchers in Hartford to dig into the issue and see how other states across the country handled the problem.

   “I was shocked when they came back and told me that no state in America has dealt with this issue so far,” Reyes said. “If we try something in Connecticut, we will be the first in the country.”

   Motivated by years of driving past satellite dish blight, Reyes plunged into the issue.

State Representative Geraldo Reyes Jr.

  Reyes sponsored House Bill #5377 to create a task force to study the situation, and recommend a solution to satellite dish blight. Reyes said there is no quick answer to a problem dealing with property owners, tenants and satellite dish companies, and that is why he advocated for the creation of a task force.

   A task force could explore the complexities and recommend the issue be tackled by city ordinance, or by a statewide law. Reyes’ bill made it through the Housing Committee and was called to the floor of the House of Representative this morning for a vote. The debate about the bill set off fireworks in the chamber.

   Several legislators from rural districts called the bill “ridiculous” and “a joke”, while others simply called the creation of a task force a waste of time when the legislators should be tackling more important issues, particularly the budget.

   But Reyes had plenty of support on the floor of the House of Representatives. State Representative Larry Butler of the 72nd District lives in the North End of Waterbury and as the Chairman of the Housing Committee championed the bill.  Butler said he was unaware of the issue until Reyes brought it to his attention. “The problem is with the multi-family homes and the dishes were in plain view, but I never noticed them before.”

State Representative Larry Butler

   Butler said there are many complicated issues that come before the legislature during a short session that need further investigation, and since the satellite dish issue would set a national precedent, it was important to study.

   State Representative Sam Belsito, a Republican from the 53rd District covering Ashford, Willington and part of Tolland said, “stop wasting our time on task forces. This is a problem that should be handled by the homeowner and has to go through the towns. This is not a state issue.”

   Reyes spoke to the legislature and said “it’s not easy telling homeowners what to do if there is no ordinance or law in place to enforce.” Reyes said the satellite dish companies don’t remove the dishes because there would be holes left in the roof or side of the building and they would be liable for the damage. “Try calling a satellite dish company to come remove a dish,” Reyes said. “They will never come.”

   Reyes said that homes with multiple, often unused, satellite dishes become an eyesore and are damaging to the images of city neighborhoods.

   “To me this is what qualifies as urban pollution and the clutter is ruining the beauty of our neighborhoods and could be a determent to life improvements. If a policy is enacted, “Reyes said, “it could spur economic growth, ultimately improving property values in communities.”

   Reyes told his fellow legislators that he isn’t sure if the issue should be handled on a state or local level, but currently there are no local ordinances dealing with satellite dishes in Connecticut.

   “This is a very real problem in my district,” Reyes said, “and just because it is an inner city issue doesn’t mean it’s not an issue for all of us.”

   State Representative Daniel Rovero is a Democrat representing Killingly, Putnam and Thompson and said the bill “was a joke” and satellite dishes are “not a problem in my town, so pass a law in your area to deal with the issue.”

   Larry Butler took exception at Rovero’s blunt and parochial remarks and reminded him, “that we represent the entire state and when one area in Connecticut has a problem we come together to tackle the problem.”

   Butler also reminded Representative Rovero that Waterbury wasn’t experiencing an epidemic of crumbling foundations – like Eastern Connecticut is – yet he would support legislation to assist thousands of homeowners (many in Rovero’s district) because it was the right thing to do.

   Tony D’Amelio is a Republican from the 71st District and represents the Town Plot and Brooklyn neighborhoods of Waterbury, and all of Middlebury. D’Amelio said when he first saw the bill he wasn’t sure what to make of it, but as he drove around his district he spotted a house with 8 satellite dishes bolted to its side, and many multi-family homes with 3 and four dishes.

State Representative Tony D’Amelio

  “I happened to own a house where a tenant put in a satellite dish and when they moved out the dish was still there. I took the dish off but it cost me $500 to repair the hole in the roof,” D’Amelio said. “There has to be some liability on the satellite dish companies. It’s a free for all, it’s out of hand, and this is worth studying.”

   Democrat Russell Morin from Wethersfield spoke on the bill and scolded the legislators who took shots at Reyes and Butler. “If you don’t agree with the bill, vote no,” Morin said, “but don’t take shots at representatives who are dealing with issues in their districts. Just because something is not important to you, doesn’t mean it’s not important.”

  Minutes later the house voted 83-61 to pass Reyes’ bill and create a task force to study the issue of satellite dishes. The entire Waterbury delegation – Jeff Berger, Tony D’Amelio, Geraldo Reyes, Larry Butler and Stephanie Cummings all voted in favor of the bill. This is Reyes first piece of legislation to pass the House of Representatives, and it’s the first legislation in America to tackle an issue that Reyes sees every morning when he walks out of his house in the South End of Waterbury.

  “I hope we can develop good policy around this issue,” Reyes said, “because right now nothing exists.”