ctnewsjunkie file photo
Senate President Martin Looney (ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT — Gov. Ned Lamont, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano and House Minority Leader Themis Klarides wrote Senate President Martin Looney last week to ask where he stood on draft legislation that would limit the ability of servers and bartenders to bring class action lawsuits against restaurants.

The draft legislation, which had a public hearing earlier this month, would require the state Department of Labor to create new regulations and rules regarding how restaurants segregate the hours of service and non-service work, such as rolling silverware and filling salt shakers.

Looney previously told the four that he would sign an emergency certification that would allow a special session on the legislation, which is one of three issues leftover from the session that ended in June.

“We appreciate your willingness to sign an emergency certification of this bill, but are concerned that you also emphasized that your caucus has no position on the matter,” Lamont, Aresimowicz, Fasano and Klarides wrote.

They said before proceeding with a special session, “[W]e respectfully request to know your personal position on the proposed legislation. We stand ready to act on this legislation and believe it would pass with a majority in both chambers.”

In his response Monday, Looney indicated concern that he was being asked his personal position on a bill.

“Asking my personal views on a proposal stating that my leadership is ‘critical’ and urging me to garner support for its passage, while at the same time stating that you have confidence it would pass is an inherent contradiction,” Looney wrote.

The bill is expected to start in the House. Looney wondered in his response whether there’s any guarantee it would pass without an amendment. He said he agreed to the emergency certification to enable the House to move the process forward by “replacing speculation and hypotheticals with reality.”

“I had hoped that by offering to sign an emergency certification, we might move toward closure on at least this one special session issue since the others continue pending as they have for months while the General Assembly awaits additional information or plans from the administration,” Looney wrote.

In the summer, Lamont vetoed a bill that sought to retroactively change the law so restaurant workers would not be able to sue restaurant owners for failing to properly keep track of their hours. It had passed both chambers unanimously.

Lamont called the bill “an illegal attempt to retroactively deprive restaurant workers of their day in court. Restaurant workers across our state say they went to work under rules that promised them a higher wage than they were paid.”

The House and the Senate failed to override the veto in July, but seem to have come to a consensus with Lamont’s administration on a way forward. The draft legislation would require the labor department to write new regulations more accurately reflecting the guidance they’ve given to restaurants.

Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, has said restaurants have been operating for years under so-called 80/20 guidelines. Those guidelines essentially say restaurant owners don’t need to keep track of all the side work servers do when they’re not waiting on customers as long as they don’t spend more than 20% of their time on those tasks.

The draft legislation also would make it tougher for servers to organize class action lawsuits.

More than a dozen class action lawsuits have been filed, mostly by one law firm, against a number of restaurants for not appropriately keeping track of servers’ hours based on DOL guidance.

The threat to the industry posed by the lawsuits prompted the Connecticut Restaurant Association to lobby for a change to the law.