In a brief show of bipartisanship Wednesday, the House unanimously voted to hold utility companies accountable for storm restoration and power outages.
Lawmakers, many still angry from the damage their towns sustained during the two storms that rocked the state this past fall, sent to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s desk a bill that expands the power of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to monitor and track storm readiness.
The bill already passed the Senate overwhelmingly on Saturday.
Fielding questions from lawmakers, Rep. Vickie Nardello, D-Prospect, said that this bill was one of the best pieces of legislation the House raised this year.
The bill requires utility companies to submit readiness plans to the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority every two years, rather than every five. It also allocates about $15 million for a program that would create self-sustaining electrical grids for the most important pieces of infrastructure, like hospitals, police departments, and fire stations.
But that’s where agreement seemed to an end.
Democratic legislative leaders have been frustrated with the pace of the opposing chamber, according to House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero.
Cafero said House Speaker Chris Donovan and Senate President Donald Williams have been bickering all day. Each had their signature piece of legislation for the session poised to die on the other’s calendar at midnight.
“Everybody’s fightin’, everybody’s fightin’,” Cafero said Wednesday night.
Donovan said earlier in the day that they weren’t able to raise the Senate’s job expansion bill because Republicans will filibuster it until the bitter end. Cafero suspects Donovan is upset because the Senate has been unable to garner enough support to raise a bill increasing the minimum wage, which passed in his chamber.
Williams conceded a week ago that he doesn’t have enough votes to raise the minimum wage. He said Wednesday evening that the story hasn’t changed.
“We would do it if we had the votes,” Williams said of the minimum wage.
Williams insisted that the jobs bill, which his caucus made its number one priority this year, has had overwhelming bipartisan support and he’s at a loss as to why Republicans would suddenly have concerns.
While Malloy touted this session as the “Year of Education,” Williams and his caucus — members of which are are facing re-election — were focused on jobs and the economy.
“Of course we’ll have time for other issues like education, energy, consumer protection, but the overriding concern for us is to continue the momentum that we started in the last regular session, the jobs special session, and to do more to help revive the economy,” Williams said back in February when the 2012 session got under way.
On Wednesday his narrative had changed.
“These were priorities for us, but if you look at everything we passed this entire session, I think it’s a very strong record, especially for a short session,” Williams said.
Cafero said they’ve had concerns about the jobs expansion bill since February.
“To blame the House or Senate Republicans is a joke,” Cafero said.
Rep. Selim Noujaim, R-Waterbury, said he brought his concerns to Williams before the Senate vote and expected him to take his suggestions to heart, but he failed to include them in the version the Senate passed a few weeks ago. He said he likes the bill and wanted it to pass with just a few modifications.
Democratic legislative leaders also were trying to negotiate the call to special session Wednesday, which they will have to adopt before midnight so they can return to finish their business. Lawmakers are expected to return to adopt a bond package for infrastructure improvements and language which will help it implement the budget.
Depending upon how tightly they craft the call to special session, lawmakers may be holding out hope that they will be able to reintroduce legislation to boost the minimum wage or expand the jobs bill they passed last October.
Malloy is expected to address a joint session of the General Assembly at midnight.
Hugh McQuaid contributed to this report.