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Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signs executive order creating the Office of Early Childhood (Christine Stuart photo)

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed an executive order today taking the unusual step of creating the Office of Early Childhood.

The General Assembly failed to pass a bill creating the new office on the final night of the legislative session, but the state budget allocated $127 million in the first year and $232 million in the second year to the office.

Instead of leaving those dollars hanging in legislative limbo, Malloy’s executive order seeks to offer a temporary solution.

“It is my sincere hope that the legislature — when they come into session next — will take up the legislative package, which would have passed probably unanimously or nearly so,” Malloy said on Friday after the state Bond Commission meeting.

He said there are a “whole bunch of people who have to be paid and we have a whole bunch of providers who have to get checks.” That wouldn’t happen without the executive order in place, Malloy said.

On Monday at a playground in West Hartford, Malloy said that it was the legislature’s intention to create the office when it allocated the funds.

“And the proof of that is, it’s in the budget,” Malloy said. “There was no doubt this legislation, until it got tied up in some politics, was going to pass.”

The executive order created a “coordinated system of early child care and education” by July 1 with the funds allocated for the office. Malloy said it does everything the bill would have done except for create the Early Childhood cabinet, a move that can’t be done without legislation.

The legislation creating the office sought to streamline the funding and state services currently offered by four state agencies. 

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said Monday that his legal staff is still reviewing the order.

“I understand the creation, I don’t mind that at all,” Cafero said. “I want to make sure though that creating it by executive order we’re not starting a bad precedent.”

The Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance welcomed news of the executive order.

“This action alleviates our concern that services would have been interrupted, given that the state budget transferred early childhood funds and programs to a non-existent entity in the absence of legislation actually establishing an Office of Early Childhood,” Maggie Adair, executive director of the organization, said.

She said the executive order is necessary in order to continue the current early childhood services. Advocates were hoping for a special legislative session to fully implement the office, but Malloy said he wasn’t going to recall the legislature and was doubtful they would want to return to overturn any of his vetoes. Currently, Malloy has only vetoed two bills.

The legislation creating the Office of Early Childhood died on the House calendar on the final night of the legislative session when the state Senate refused to take up a bill that would allow Sunday bow hunting.

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 two weeks ago.

Cafero said that’s not entirely accurate. He said you can’t boil the issue down to one bill or another. He said the Democratic Party is in the majority and can call a bill anytime they want.

“They don’t have to wait until the last day,” Cafero said two weeks ago.

Since the first day of the fiscal year is July 1 there wasn’t much time to find a solution to the problem, even if it isn’t the most ideal solution.

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.

Malloy maintained that the executive order is an interim step and he hopes the legislature will return in February to approve it through legislative action.

“There’s no reason to re-debate this thing. There’s no reason to do anything, but pass the legislation as drafted,” Malloy said.

Malloy also sees the creation of the office as a step toward creation of a universal pre-K system.

“It also is a real beginning to getting towards a universal access program in the state of Connecticut,” Malloy said Monday.“No child should have to be denied a quality, early childhood learning experience because of their parents financial circumstances.” 

Creation of a universal pre-K system in Stamford was one of the public policies Malloy touts as one of his proudest accomplishments from his tenure as mayor of that city.

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