Courtesy of CT Voices for Children

In the last-minute crush of legislative business Wednesday, a bill that created the Office of Early Childhood died on the House calendar because, according to Democrats, the Senate refused to pass a bill that would allow Sunday bow hunting. Republicans countered that it was a ridiculous accusation.

According to Democratic lawmakers, House Republicans led by House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero promised to filibuster the bill creating the Office of Early Childhood if the Senate Democrats led by Sen. President Donald Williams didn’t pass the bow hunting bill.

“Republicans killed the early childhood initiative because they linked it to a completely unrelated and obscure issue — Sunday hunting,” Williams said Friday.

Cafero said that’s not entirely accurate. He said you can’t boil the issue down to one bill or another. He said the Democrats wasted time on the last day by trying to sneak language into a bill that moved up the date of when undocumented immigrants could apply for their driver’s licenses. That language was eventually removed, but in the meantime Republicans slowed down debate on the floor killing precious minutes in the final few hours of the session — the only power they have as a minority.

“They can call a bill anytime they want,” Cafero said Friday. “They don’t have to wait until the last day.”

He said he promised to limit debate on the budget implementer to an hour and a half before his legal staff discovered the language regarding the undocumented immigrants. To blame it on Sunday hunting, a bill the Republicans did want, is ridiculous since they’re the majority and control the agenda the entire session, Cafero said.

Holding one bill hostage for another is the sort of thing that happens all the time in the final hours of the legislative session, but this one is unique. The two-year state budget that passed Monday included $127 million in the first year and $232 million in the second year for an office, which technically doesn’t exist.

There’s been discussion about how to proceed to make sure the money and the programs it funds don’t remain in limbo. Williams said they’re looking at accomplishing what needs to be done in immediate future and if it can be done by executive order.

The new office combined all the early childhood programs currently spread throughout four state agencies. It was an initiative proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy as part of his budget and it was a measure that had bipartisan support.

“Improving early childhood education has been a priority of the governor’s for some time. We are exploring our options,” Andrew Doba, Malloy’s spokesman, said Friday.

Early childhood advocates were disappointed and concerned about the fate of the new office.

“We’re concerned about the uncertainty the failure to enact this bill creates,” Maggie Adair, executive director of the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance, said. “We remain committed to the establishment of a comprehensive, coordinated early childhood system that works for children and families.”

The issue needs to be fixed so that services are not disrupted, Adair said.

Williams said they are currently exploring their options and determining whether they can use an executive order and appropriate the funds through one of the existing state agencies. There’s also the option of returning for a special session, or if Malloy vetoes any legislation, a veto session. But Williams said that would be a last resort.

The question Adair has is whether funds can be released and distributed on July 1, 2013, from an Office of Early Childhood that does not legally exist.

An Attorney General’s opinion from 2005  would seem to suggest that appropriating the funds is a legislative function, not an executive function, and could not be done without the approval of the legislature or the Finance Advisory Committee.

“The Governor cannot, on her own, establish new staff positions requiring new taxpayer funds,” then-Attorney General Richard Blumenthal wrote in his opinion to Williams on an issue involving the establishment of the State Contracting Standards Board by executive order.

In that same opinion Blumenthal wrote that “Legislative action is also necessary to make the Board and other reforms truly effective. As an interim step, reforms by executive order must necessarily be limited in effect.”