HARTFORD, CT — Memorial Day may be summer’s unofficial start, but it also marks the final stretch of the legislative session. This week will make or break several pieces of legislation as lawmakers look to work through the weekend.
The General Assembly has until Wednesday, June 7, to pass most legislation. While many, including House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, have called the deadline arbitrary, what it means is that it basically gets much harder to pass any legislation that can’t be snuck into a budget implementer as the deadline gets closer.
That’s because they will have to agree on what to debate and discuss if they have to return after June 7.
If the closely divided House doesn’t have a budget deal before next Monday, then it’s unlikely they will finish up approving a budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. As the session winds down power starts to shift to the minority party, which is the Republican Party in the House. The Senate, although it is evenly divided between the parties, still has Democratic Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman to break a tie vote in their favor. However, even getting legislation called for debate this year in the Senate has been challenging because of the new power sharing agreement.
The House is split 79-72, so it only takes a handful of members to kill any piece of legislation. That means any the of caucuses from the moderate Democrats to the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus can easily kill a proposal by threatening to vote against it.
Essentially, it means Democrats and Republicans will need to work together and deals will need to be made if anything is going to make it through the last week and a half of the legislative session.
So far there haven’t been any big breakdowns in communication in the House, but the Senate has, at times, struggled to keep business moving.
In addition to passing a budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, lawmakers still have to resolve a $317 million budget deficit in the current fiscal year. The size of the deficit is a slight improvement, accordingto the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis.
But aside from the budget there are several major pieces of policy that hang in the balance.
Last week, the Senate approved legislation that would allow the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes build a casino off tribal land in East Windsor. The House then said it was opposed to giving the tribe exclusivity. Later today, Schaghticoke Tribal Nation Chief Richard Velky is expected to threaten to sue the state if it doesn’t open a competitive bidding process.
Another bill, one that would change how nuclear energy is sold in Connecticut, hasn’t passed either chamber and House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said energy policy is still a “Rubik’s Cube” for him. A similar bill was rushed through the Senate last year in the final days of the session only to be tabled for a vote in the House.
A bill that would create a regulatory structure for ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft passed the House and awaits a vote in the Senate.
Yet another bill that would allow electric car companies like Tesla to bypass the franchise system and sell directly to Connecticut consumers has been on the House calendar since May 9.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan effort to change what pharmacists can tell their patients about drug prices unanimously passed the Senate and is awaiting action in the House. Following passage in the Senate, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy sent a letter to Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, chastising them for being “unnecessarily antagonistic” to the insurance industry, which employs 60,000 state residents.
Last week, the House spent six hours debating a campaign finance bill that would limit the amount of money that individuals or outside groups could give to independent expenditure groups in Connecticut. The fate of that legislation is still unknown in the Senate, which did not participate fully in discussions on crafting the bill.
The Senate is expected on Wednesday to take up legislation that would give adoptees access to their original birth certificates. In Connecticut and most other states, adoptees receive amended birth certificates that omit the biological parents’ names. In 2014, those born after 1983 were given access to those records. The legislation the Senate will debate this week would give all adoptees access regardless of when they were born.
The Senate Democrats also would like to approve a Paid Family Medical Leave system. They even put it in the budget revisions the sent to the governor May 16. The bill has been sitting on the Senate calendar since March, but a spokesman for the caucus said he wouldn’t rule anything out at the moment.
Even though the cost of the program would be paid by employee contributions, Republicans still object to the idea and say it sends the wrong message to business and is too costly for low-wage workers.
The bill, as it’s currently written, would require employers with more than two employees to contribute a portion of their weekly pay to the trust fund. The size of that contribution has not yet been determined. Employees would then be allowed to take up to 12 weeks a year of paid leave at 100 percent of their salary capped at $1,000 per week to take care of a family member or themselves. Legislative analysts estimate that 1,587,400 employees would be covered by the proposal.
In the House, Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said on May 23 that he would like to vote on a proposal to increase the minimum wage. However, the House bill had effectively died when it was referred back to the Appropriations Committee and never called for a vote.
Republicans and many moderate Democrats have opposed the measure, feeling it would give businesses another reason to consider leaving Connecticut or move faster toward automation.
A bill that had been winding its way through the legislature would have raised the minimum wage from $10.10 to $11 on Jan. 1, 2018, and it would gradually increase to $15-an-hour by Jan. 1, 2022.