House leaders said Wednesday they have rebuked some rank-and-file lawmakers for incidents involving heavy drinking during some of the marathon legislative proceedings that accompany the final days of the session.
“I’m not going to downplay this. I have on multiple occasions had to talk to the caucus or individuals in my office,” House Speaker Matt Ritter told reporters during a morning press conference.
During the briefing, Ritter was asked to respond to a Wednesday morning post by blogger and former legislator, Kevin Rennie, which detailed incidents involving apparently intoxicated lawmakers.
In particular, Rennie pointed to a Thursday CT-N video of Rep. Robin Comey, D-Branford, who appeared discombobulated while attempting to speak on the House floor. The House briefly stood at ease while others assisted her and eventually escorted her from the chamber.
Comey apologized in a statement.
“I would like to sincerely apologize for my behavior last Thursday night,” Comey said.
“That evening, while speaking on H.B. 6558, I suddenly and unexpectedly began to feel unwell. This was due to several factors, including anxiety, exhaustion, and, regrettably, the wine I had with dinner. In an abundance of caution, I did not drive home and remained in Hartford until the following morning,” Comey said. “This type of behavior is not typical for me. I take full responsibility for my error in judgement.”
Ritter declined to address individual incidents such as the one involving Comey. He said medical conditions may play a role in some episodes.
“There might be some health care issues associated with some things, but what I would say, at the end of the day, is we take it very, very seriously. It’s not just Democrats, quite frankly,” he said. “Hopefully, people have gotten the message and if they don’t, and I can assure you, if anyone wants to push or assume that our patience is unlimited, they will sorely regret that decision.”
Asked about potential punishments for continued misbehavior, Ritter said lawmakers could be stripped of their committee assignments. But in general, he and House Majority Leader Jason Rojas said the problems were not widespread.
“These are the exceptions and not any kind of norm. And just because they’re exceptions, doesn’t make it anymore acceptable but I don’t want the public to think this is what’s happening on any kind of regular basis here at the capitol. There are people doing serious work. That’s clear by the amount of legislation we’ve been able to move this session,” Rojas said.
Although drinking is not uncommon at the state Capitol during the waning days of a legislative session, Ritter said this year felt different, in part due to COVID-19 precautions. The building remains generally closed to the public and is more empty than is typical during the last week of session. He defended the decision to keep the building closed, saying there have been no COVID cases.
“But when you have very few people around and you have a lot of idle time and the ability to vote from your office, yeah, that probably has contributed to it a little bit,” he said. “I think that’s fair to say.”