The Senate passed 71 bills on a consent calendar in the last minutes of session and approved a budget bill with barely 15-minutes to spare, but a lot of business still didn’t make the cut this year.
When the smoke cleared, a bill that would prohibit the discrimination against unemployed workers and a bill to allow Sunday bowhunting remained on the Senate calendar.
Retiring Sen. President Donald Williams said that in a short session, because of the timetable, there are a number of issues that get left undone.
In theory, a short session gives the part-time legislature a chance to adjust the two-year budget, but every year lawmakers wind up raising a host of unrelated proposals for debate.
“I can’t think of examples where bills died or did not have a chance because of the increased tension between the chambers,” Williams told reporters Thursday afternoon.
Williams was referring to his relationship with House Speaker Brendan Sharkey. The conflict between the two became obvious in April when Sharkey took the unusual step of suspending his chamber’s rules in order to quickly raise and publicly kill a top legislative priority of Williams.
Sharkey defended the decision Thursday at a separate press conference, saying that if he hadn’t taken swift action then the proponents of the grass seed bill would have been a “distraction” during the last three weeks of the session.
“What we did procedurally was take a vote and make a statement at the same time,” Sharkey said. “When we’re wrong we need to reconcile, but when we’re wronged we have to respond.”
Sharkey tried to dismiss the incident as “inside baseball” and something nobody in Connecticut cared about aside from those who “binge watch House of Cards,” the Netflix series about a ruthlessly ambitious politician played by Kevin Spacey.
“Because we took care of it when we did I don’t think it rippled into any other issues,” Sharkey said of the feud.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who had proposed the legislation regarding the nondiscrimination of unemployed individuals, called the lack of action on the bill “disappointing.”
“We do know there’s a prejudice in the marketplace against the long-term unemployed,” Malloy said. “This just gives some protections with respect to making sure somebody’s resume would be reviewed, but also spoke of programs for the long-term unemployed.”
He said he doesn’t understand why something like this couldn’t be taken up when “there was more than enough time.”
The bill would have made it illegal for employers to discriminate against unemployed individuals applying for jobs. The bill passed the House on April 25 and languished on the Senate calendar.
Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, speculated Thursday that the bill might have fallen victim to time pressure at the end of the session even though it was something the Senate could have acted upon for more than a week before the deadline.
“We had a narrowing funnel in the last couple of weeks and not everything got through that funnel,” Looney said. “That is certainly a valuable bill and I hope to see it passed next year.”
Why were they able to pass legislation specifying that knocking someone unconscious in an unprovoked attack is considered a second-degree assault under Connecticut statute, but weren’t able to find support for other things like giving juvenile offenders an opportunity for parole?
“Well, certain bills were important to certain legislators,” Looney said. “In the last day or so certain things passing in one chamber become contingent on certain things passing in another chamber. It’s all part of the minuet that’s played.”
Malloy said he doesn’t know if it was the leadership feud, Sunday bowhunting, or a bill lifting a ban on fishing for glass eels that caused the unemployment bill to fall victim to the clock. A bill allowing glass eel fishing passed in the final few hours in exchange for final passage of a bill that implements a three-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing waste.
Asked about the failure of the Sunday bowhunting bill, Republicans blamed Williams.
“I don’t get that,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said. “Sen. Williams has declared that as long as he’s senator it’ll never pass so we’ve got play that game, but I don’t get it. One person.”
This year’s bill was proposed by state Energy and Environmental Protection Department as a deer population control measure. Unlike similar proposals in prior years, it was limited to property owners in areas of the state that the agency determined were overpopulated by deer.
“It’s something I’ve never been a fan of,” Williams said Thursday. “I think most people in the Capitol know that. But we’ll see what happens next year.”
Although Williams is not seeking re-election and will not be back next year, he said that if a Sunday hunting proposal moves forward, he hopes it has a local option allowing town leaders to weigh in on whether to allow the Sunday hunting.
Williams also had a hand in the rejection of legislation this year aimed at balancing the privacy of crime victims with Connecticut’s public disclosure law.
Lawmakers put the issue on their agenda last year when they created a task force as part of a bill restricting access to some law enforcement records. The bill was a last-minute action passed without a public hearing to prevent the disclosure of images from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
The task force wrote recommendations that some open government advocates derided, in part, because it they restricted access to emergency 911 recordings. Williams opposed the bill as “destructive” and unnecessary. It’s various iterations never came up for a vote this year.
Williams said he hoped lawmakers would not take up those recommendations again next year.
“I hope it’s dead and if it’s not, well I just might have to come back as a private citizen and testify again. With maybe a little less impact,” he said.
Looney, who is expected to take over as Senate president next year, said he shared Williams’ concerns about the bill. He said he would favor continued access to 911 recordings.
“I think by and large 911 tapes should be available because in many cases they are an indicator of whether police performance, in terms of responding to a crime, was as we would hope it would be,” he said. “I think that’s an important issue for the public.”