HARTFORD, CT — Legislative leaders voted Wednesday to change the rules of the 2020 legislative session so they could continue the public’s business, but minimize the risk of having someone contract COVID-19.
The state Capitol and the Legislative Office Building will close between Thursday and Sunday for cleaning and when it reopens Monday there will only be committee meetings on the agenda. There will not be any public hearings the week of March 16.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said they are also extending the “joint favorable” bill deadlines by three days. They will also give legislative attorneys three more days to draft the bills.
“We are not closing the building. We are not limiting access,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said. “What we’re trying to do is limit the amount of business that requires large numbers of the public and lobbyists and legislators from coming into the building.”
The rule change adopted Wednesday will allow legislators to vote by phone, but it will not allow them to make amendments or statements about legislation. The new rule will only apply when the governor declares a public health emergency.
Lawmakers said they are trying to minimize the number of people in the building while still continuing their business.
“You cannot email your vote in,” Ritter said. “There’s no app, no button.” However, if a lawmaker doesn’t feel safe coming to the building to vote then they can vote by phone.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said this is a way for them to keep the government going while also keeping people safe.
“We think this is a good middle of the road,” she added.
What will happen to some bills that are hanging in the balance?
“It could ultimately impact the calendar,” Aresimowicz said.
He’s asked all his committee chairs to get him a list of the priority bills that must pass before the May 6 adjournment. He said agency bills and funding bills that could cause people to lose services if they don’t pass will be at the top of the agenda.
He said legislative leaders will be in contact with each other and will reassess the situation daily.
Social distancing and crowds of less than 100 are difficult in a building that runs on conversations, public hearings, and relationships.
On any given day there are 541 staffers and 187 legislators in the building. That’s in addition to hundreds of Connecticut residents and lobbyists who come to the building to testify on various bills.
“The public’s health and well-being is our number one priority, and we appreciate the understanding and flexibility of the people of Connecticut while we as a state work to prepare and protect our communities,” all six legislative leaders said in a joint statement.