House Speaker Brendan Sharkey has tried to strike a new tone of bipartisanship in the General Assembly this year, but it’s too soon to tell if that approach will lead to better public policy.
Sharkey, who was elected in January by the House of Representatives, was preceded in his position by former House Speaker Chris Donovan, who, according to some of his former colleagues, was more ideologically driven.
“I think we work best when we’re working together,” Sharkey said in announcing a bipartisan effort to relaunch a commission to look at municipal and regional opportunities and efficiencies.
A Republican lawmaker credited Sharkey with a willingness to work across the aisle when he jumped to the speaker’s defense in the midst of a press conference.
Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said his experience with Sharkey when he was chairman of Planning and Development was that he strived for a bipartisan approach with everything he did.
“I think that Brendan being speaker — I think that the building itself has felt a sort of shift in a more bipartisan approach to many issues, including committee work,” Fasano said.
He said his Republican members have told him that “there’s certainly been a more defined idea of government vis-a-vis the speaker of a bipartisan approach to issues.”
But Sharkey acknowledged there are limits to bipartisanship.
“I think everybody recognizes there is a majority and minority party,” Sharkey said. “If certain things we can’t reach agreement on, but it has the support of the majority — the majority has the votes to do those things.”
But Sharkey said to the extent that can be avoided, “I think that’s a good thing.”
Even when it comes to the recommendations from the legislature’s post-Newtown Super Committee?
The gun control subcommittee of Super Committee, chaired by Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney and Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, doesn’t seem to be close to finding consensus on the various proposals it has debated.
Asked what “consensus” means, Sharkey described it as “enough votes to pass with members of all four caucuses in support, not majorities within each caucus necessarily, but with folks on both sides of the aisle supporting it.”
“If it has support from all four caucuses with enough support to pass, that’s consensus,” Sharkey clarified.
Those “consensus” recommendations are expected to be handed over to legislative leadership sometime in March.
“To the extent that we as leaders are able to take the recommendations and advice of this task force from all sides, from all four caucuses, and come up with a package of legislation, I’m expecting we should be able to do that in the first half of March.”
But Fasano, who earlier defended Sharkey’s bipartisan credibility, said he didn’t necessarily agree with his definition of consensus.
“I think my perception of consensus may be a little bit higher than Speaker Sharkey,” Fasano said. “I think consensus may be just more than one member of a caucus.”
However, Fasano said he gets the impression that the way the conversations are going that there will be “broad consensus” on a final bill.
Already the school security subcommittee has forwarded its recommendations to legislative leadership and the mental health subcommittee is not far behind. It’s the subcommittee on gun control that seems to be stalled.
Sharkey said there was no separate bill or legislative vehicle for Malloy’s proposals, but he said lawmakers have already considered many of them.
“I think the governor’s recommendations are helpful. It provides us with a little bit of a blueprint for where he’s coming from, and many of those things will probably be considered,” he said.
What’s more important at the moment, Sharkey said, is coming up with a set of recommendations for an emergency certified bill the General Assembly will vote on next month. An emergency certified bill does not have to go through the regular legislative process and can be immediately brought to the floor of the House or the Senate for a vote, but Sharkey wants to hold at least one hearing on the final piece of legislation.
“A public conversation about the proposed E-cert [emergency certified],” Sharkey said. “It won’t be the usual 17 hours, thousands of people signing up. We’ll probably try to narrow that by inviting guests who represent particular interests on all sides of these issues to get their thoughts on how that bill is crafted,” he said.
Hugh McQuaid contributed to this report.