HARTFORD, CT — The hustle and bustle of the 2020 legislative session might be over, but none of the legislative leaders have been willing to close the books on a session that ends on May 6.
While some of this year’s 1,200 bills and resolutions made it through their respective committees, there are hundreds that never received a public hearing. However, legislative leaders from both parties have been reluctant to say all that legislation is officially dead.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said he hopes lawmakers will be able to reconvene before May 6, even if that’s looking less possible by the day.
The coronavirus is expected to peak in Connecticut in two weeks and “it’s not going to get easier” after that, Looney said.
“I don’t think anybody can predict when we will leave the bunker,” he said.
The General Assembly last met on March 11 and when they did, they adopted new rules to allow legislators to vote by telephone to pass bills out of committee.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said she’s not sure when they will return and if there will be anything the legislature needs to do.
“We are trying to take this one day at a time,” Klarides said.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said legislative leaders will talk again on Monday and will likely extend the amount of time the state Capitol building is closed.
“Right now there’s nothing we have to come in and act upon,” Aresimowicz said.
Four days after the 151 House members met in March, Rep. Jane Garibay, D-Windsor, got sick and tested positive for the virus. She’s recovering at home and is the only lawmaker known to have contracted the virus so far.
Aresimowicz said even though they haven’t been able to be together, his caucus has been meeting an average of twice a week via conference call. He said members ask and answer questions and then turn over their questions to the state agencies or the governor’s office for response.
Aresimowicz said they are getting a lot of questions about unemployment and whether someone should get tested for the virus.
Aresimowicz said they haven’t talked about taking any official legislative action, but if there are bills that can be acted upon before May 6— and it’s safe to go back — then they will.
Looney suggested that unfinished, but necessary, legislative business go into one large omnibus bill lawmakers can pass when it’s safe to gather in a group.
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he’s not sure when it will be safe to return. He said he expected to be able to tell his friends and colleagues that he decided not to seek re-election face-to-face, but he ended up doing it in a series of conference calls.
Fasano said he has no idea when they expect to return to the building and there’s nothing critical or urgent for them to act on at the moment.
He said it wouldn’t be the end of the world if some matters waited until the beginning of the next legislative session, which doesn’t begin until January 2021.
Fasano said the governor has the ability to make budget adjustments and any deficit at the end of the year will be covered by the Rainy Day Fund. He said it’s also going to be difficult to predict these things, too.
“The Office of Fiscal Analysis works off trends and history. There’s no history for this,” Fasano added.
While there’s no playbook for what will happen next, some legislative bodies around the country have been trying to figure out ways to meet.
Last month, members of the Arkansas House met in a college basketball arena to vote on a budget shortfall caused by the coronavirus. Lawmakers in South Dakota met in a video call to consider 10 emergency bills.
Vermont lawmakers are testing a still-to-be-designed remote voting system.
There are some pitfalls to remote debate.
In Vermont, according to VT Digger, a Senate Committee hearing was derailed when the Zoom stream was hacked by pornographic images.