A bill legalizing recreational cannabis will not see a vote in the House until a special legislative session sometime within the next two weeks, House Speaker Matt Ritter said Wednesday afternoon.
The legislation, which passed the Senate early Tuesday morning on a narrow vote, was awaiting action in the House, where Republicans were prepared to engage in a lengthy debate on the bill. With about 10 hours left in the regular legislative session, the debate could have easily pushed past the midnight deadline for adjournment.
“Obviously our colleagues on the other side of the aisle weren’t going to let us vote on it today,” Ritter told reporters after meeting with his caucus. “So we’ll vote at a date and time of our choosing. And that will be sometime in the next … seven to 14 days.”
Earlier in the day, the House speaker seemed to be considering a controversial break from the legislature’s longstanding tradition of allowing unlimited debate and “calling the question” to force a vote.
Ritter said his decision was made easier by the late arrival of a separate bill required to implement the state budget. Without a budget implementer in place before Wednesday’s adjournment, the lawmakers will be required to reconvene at a later date.
He expected that some Republican lawmakers may be convinced to support the legalization bill in the days ahead.
“They know, I think, that it’s politically — at this point people know it’s reality, inevitable. I bet you, when we go into special session, Republicans will vote for it. I bet you,” Ritter said.
House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said he expected there would be no support from House Republicans when the bill is eventually raised in the chamber. He said the bill required greater scrutiny and most lawmakers did not see the language until too late in the session.
“It’s a win in the sense that Connecticut needs a full deliberation of the bill,” Candelora said. “When we knew they were going to call the bill on Monday, the clock in our opinion had already run out. We really just should have made a decision right then and there to put it into special session.”
If raised during a special session, the bill will need to be approved again by the Senate. Sen. Gary Winfield, a New Haven Democrat who is co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday he was confident the proposal would have the votes to pass again, but he was disappointed by the decision not to run it in the House before the conclusion of the regular session.
“I thought of this, and I think many people thought of this as a session of equity,” Winfield said. “Equity was a big part of that bill. I don’t know how you walk out of here without even having the fight. I just — it is beyond my capacity to understand.”
The promise of a special session offers a potential lifeline for any number of bills that do not pass before the deadline of midnight tonight. For instance, Ritter said SB 5 would be included in the eventual implementer bill. That proposal, a host of updates to Connecticut voting laws, passed the Senate but was never raised by the House.
Ritter said that might not be the only thing that comes back. He said he would be open to considering the Transportation Climate Initiative, a cap-and-invest program that would raise gas prices. Lawmakers had previously declined to act on the controversial proposal this year.
“The danger in filibustering and not letting people vote is that, in my view, the Senate president and I and the Senate majority leader and House majority leader can relitigate whatever we want to relitigate,” Ritter said. “Not sure who thinks it’s a good strategy to put us back in special session, but now that opportunity is there, we’ll take full advantage.”
Senate President Martin Looney declined to speculate what might be raised during the special session, but he said lawmakers would likely look at how to allocate leftover federal funding that was not used in the budget.
“We’ll be going over the list of things that both chambers want,” Looney said of the coming special session. “But certainly Senate Bill 5 is a high priority for us.”
Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly said he expected that the cannabis bill, which he opposed, would ultimately be raised during the special session.
“We’ll take things one day at a time. We know cannabis will be in there. I’m not a fan of that but we’ll look and have conversations on what is or isn’t in the implementer,” Kelly said.