HARTFORD, CT — There’s no lack of pressing issues to debate during the 2018 legislative session, but you wouldn’t know that from the anemic amount of pre-filed bills.
The deadline for individual legislators to submit legislation is Feb. 9 and the deadline for committees to propose legislation is Feb. 22.
At the end of last week, the Senate clerks had only received one bill and the House clerks had received around 20. That’s far fewer than previous years.
Since this year is considered a “budget adjustment” year, any legislation that’s submitted by individual lawmakers needs to relate to budgetary, revenue, or financial matters. That means bills proposing naming rights for bridges or creation of another state polka are off limits.
Legislative leaders said they stressed the rules of what should be considered in a short session year, the session ends May 9, when they met with their members in early January. However, a flood of legislation could still be forthcoming and will be posted online Feb. 7 when the session opens.
This will be Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s last chance to influence the state budget process and try to save his successor from having to inherit a budget deficit half the size that he inherited.
According to the January revenue forecast, Malloy will have to close an estimated $165 million budget gap in the 2019 budget.
Legislative leaders who negotiated the two-year budget without Malloy have said they are working on solutions to resolve the $244.6 million that cropped up in the 2018 budget. Still it means Malloy is left making adjustments to a budget he didn’t help craft.
Additionally, the budget as passed included structural deficits in the out years totaling $1.9 billion in 2020, $2.6 billion in 2021, and $3.1 billion in 2022. These deficits are largely due to statutorily scheduled net revenue adjustments and the remainder of the deficits reflect the assumed increase in fixed costs.
Not unlike recent years the budget will be the main focus of the legislative session, but there are other issues that may offer legislators a reprieve from the doom and gloom.
According to the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Research, which tracks issues based on interim studies, research requests, nonconfidential discussions with legislators, and executive branch agencies, there are a number of issues that will be raised again this year.
The Environment Committee is likely to take up a bill that would establish a bear hunting season.
UConn wildlife biologists have been tracking Connecticut’s black bear population and have determined that the population, which is highest in the outermost suburbs, is increasing and bears are adjusting to living in a habitat shared with humans. Last year, the Senate debated and then essentially defeated a bill that would have allowed for bear hunting to reduce the population.
It’s also expected to take up changes to Connecticut’s bottle bill, and the Education Committee is expected to discuss Connecticut’s school funding formula following the Connecticut Supreme Court’s recent decision not to intervene in the matter. Last year, while they were waiting for the court to act, the General Assembly revised the Education Cost Sharing formula.
The Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee is expected to debate ways in which they could modify the state tax code to reduce the impact of the changes by the federal government.
The committee also will examine ways to reduce the amount of tax revenue it forgoes annually because of tax credits, exemptions, and deductions.
And it’s expected to debate an increase in the gas tax.
Connecticut has two gas taxes. One is flat and the other is 8.1 percent of the wholesale price of gas at New Haven Harbor. That means state taxes on a gallon of gas were about 42 cents last Friday.
Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, who co-chairs the Finance Committee, has proposed a 4-cent increase to the flat portion of the gas tax, and Malloy proposed a 7-cent increase, also to the flat portion of the tax.
Malloy and legislative Democrats have said increasing the gas tax — at a time when fuel efficiency and the number of electric vehicles on the road is increasing — just makes sense.
Malloy and Democratic legislative leaders in the House have also proposed approving electronic tolls for most of Connecticut’s main highways, like I-95, I-84, and I-91.
Without new funding streams for the Special Transportation Fund, the Malloy administration says there won’t be enough money left in the fund to go to Wall Street and seek financing.
The belt tightening efforts will continue, too.
The General Administrations and Elections Committee is likely to look at extending their expenditure oversight and control to quasi-public agencies, including to their contracting or personnel practices.
Even though the General Assembly created these agencies to operate with more autonomy, recent reports indicate they gave large severance payments to departing employees. It may reconsider legislation that would require quasi-public agencies to submit contracts with an annual cost of more than $100,000 to the attorney general and legislative committee of cognizance for review.
Meanwhile, the Labor and Public Employees Committee is expected to take up Paid Family and Medical Leave. This will be the fourth year in a row the issue has been raised for debate. In previous years it’s gotten a public hearing and even a committee vote, but has never been called in either the House or the Senate.
Past proposals would have created an employee-based fee that would be taken from their paycheck and then placed into a fund that would be distributed to an employee who needed to take leave. The proposal seeks to avoid creating a burden for employers.
There will also be legislation proposed requiring Connecticut residents to purchase health insurance. The federal government voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s mandate requiring individuals to have health insurance, but Connecticut is one of nine states considering creating one of its own.
All of these issues and more, such as legalizing marijuana, gaming issues, and banning bump stocks on guns, will be done with the 2018 election as the backdrop.
It’s a gubernatorial election year and there are dozens of candidates running with no clear frontrunner in either party. All 151 House seats and 36 Senate seats are also up for re-election. The Senate is evenly divided 18-18 and Republicans are four seats away from gaining a majority in the House. If they do, it will be the first time since 1986 that Republicans controlled that chamber.