Christine Stuart file photo

The state Senate approved a bill Friday morning 21-12, which would require a US Senate vacancy to be filled by a special election, instead of gubernatorial appointment.

Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, said the bill returns the power to elect a US Senator to the people of Connecticut. Since the 1940s the power to appoint a US Senator has resided with the governor, but recent scandals like the one in Illinois over Barack Obama’s vacant senate seat has given the concept of holding a special election more momentum than in previous years. The bill now heads to the House for a approval.

Also Republicans tried to change the rules of the Senate to create a bipartisan committee of ethics to allow for senators to be disciplined by their peers.

The Republican move comes on the heels of two recent election complaints against two Democratic senators who were noticeably absent during the debate and vote Friday morning.

Sen. Thomas Gaffey, D-Meriden, who was fined $6,000 in March for double-billing the state and his own political action committee for expenses related to his attendance at legislative conferences, and Sen. Joseph Crisco, D-Woodbridge, who was fined $4,000 this week for violating state election laws related to his re-election campaign, were both absent.

Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Southport, predicted that the resolution to change the rules would be defeated, but tried to remind his Democratic colleagues that once upon a time, the concept was something they supported.

Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said it opens the doors to frivolous complaints against any of the 36 senators. He said it means even if someone believed a rumor was true they couldn’t be held responsible for making a false statement against a senator. McKinney said he met with Williams earlier in the day Thursday and would have agreed to limit who was able to file complaints to the 36 senators in the circle.

The idea of a bipartisan committee on Senate ethics first came up at the end of 2007 when former Sen. Louis DeLuca admitted to asking a man with mafia-ties to beat up his granddaughter’s husband because he thought she was being abused. A six-member panel, three Senators from each party, was appointed to determine whether to recommend a censure, reprimand, or expulsion. DeLuca ended up resigning before the committee made its final recommendation.

Support for changing the Senate’s rules to create a permit bipartisan committee on ethics seems to have faded since.

The bill failed mostly along party lines by a vote of 13-20, with only one Democrat, Sen. Ed Meyer, D-Guilford, voting for it.