Steve Majerus-Collins/CTNJ file photo
CT-N control room at the Legislative Office Building (Steve Majerus-Collins/CTNJ file photo)

The General Administration and Elections Committee narrowly approved a bill Monday that would expand television coverage of state government.

The bill to create a State Civic Network was approved 8-6, along party lines.

Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester, said the bill is still a “work in progress” and there are still discussions ongoing about how to expand television coverage of state government.

“The goal is something that’s important to all of us in Connecticut,” Cassano said. “How we’re going to do that and accomplish that is something that’s going to have to be decided over the next couple of months.”

The bill would allow a nonprofit organization stream up to 15 live events at the same time rather than the two currently possible. It would also ensure that every legislative hearing, Supreme Court case, appellate court oral argument and most executive branch meetings would be shown as they take place, according to supporters of the bill.

Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, said the goal is laudable, but in this “budget environment I just can’t get to first base.”

Paul Giguere, president of the Connecticut Network, which currently holds the contract to broadcast state government said the money to support the network would come from cable subscribers if the original legislation passed. It no longer would have to rely on funding from the state budget.

The state currently spends $3.2 million a year on CT-N’s operation, which employees 46 people. The bill would transfer the cost to cable subscribers.

Rep, Richard Smith, R-New Fairfield, said he was hoping they could find a way to do this without costing Connecticut residents a lot of money.

“I am concerned about the cost aspect of it,” Smith said Monday.

Giguere said he doesn’t understand that argument since it would reduce the cost to taxpayers.
Cable subscribers would be asked to pay about 40 cents more, but cable companies told the committee that it would cost much more than that to support a nonprofit public affairs network.

John Erma, state president of AT&T, said a Connecticut cable customer who pays $100 a month for service will have to pay nearly an additional $12.50 a month in state taxes and fees if the proposal is approved. Giguere estimated it would cost an additional $5 per year for cable subscribers.

Rep. David Alexander, D-Enfield, said an additional 40 cents doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but he’s sure it would negatively impact his constituents.

At the same time, Alexander said trying to make this work and expand coverage is a worthy discussion.

Rep. Patricia Miller, D-Stamford, said she still has issues with how the state is going to pay for the expansion of the network. However, she supported the bill Monday so those discussions can continue.

Giguere said he hasn’t seen the amended language approved by the committee Monday, but was told only one section was removed from the bill. The section was related to how the Public Utility Regulatory Authority would set the rates for cable providers.