It’s 837 pages and 24,800 lines of public policy, some of which lawmakers were just reading for the first time Tuesday. It’s supposed to be language to implement the budget but there was much more to the so-called implementer bill.
“This is what was provided to us this morning. It’s what the majority has worked on for the past four days,” Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly said, holding a ream of paper.
The bill passed 23 to 7 with six senators absent.
“There are a number of items in the implementer that have nothing to do with the budget,” Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, said.
One of those had to do with Native American mascots.
If you’re one of 12 cities and towns with a Native American mascot or imagery then you could lose gaming revenue from the two federally recognized tribes.
“You have a year to remove that imagery and-or mascots or name, anything associated with that or you will lose dollars relative to the Native American tribal nations gaming funds,” Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said.
Osten said it was unfair for towns to expect a portion of slot machine revenue raised by tribes if they insist on using names and imagery the tribes find offensive.
“The people it reflects on have said they don’t appreciate this, that they think this is wrong,” Osten said. “Why should the dollars that they raise be used to support something like this? Again, towns, communities can choose to keep [the names or mascots], they just don’t get the dollars associated with the Native American communities.”
But not everyone felt it was necessary.
“I haven’t seen any mascots that are unduly over the top or ridicule another culture so I think some folks are a little overly sensitive to the entire issue,” Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said.
Republicans, many of whom voted for the budget, said they wouldn’t be voting for the budget implementer because it does much more than implement the budget.
“Just because you’re in the majority doesn’t mean you should act this way. Just because the governor’s office couldn’t get things through the legislative cycle doesn’t mean you jam it in the implementer,” Miner said.
He questioned language about the state’s trash management plans and whether “pay as you throw” would have been mandated. Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, said there was money in the budget to help towns that want to move forward with “pay as you throw.”
Only one town in the state of Connecticut, the town of Stonington, has a “pay as you throw” program.
As expected, the implementer included elements of a broad voting proposal passed by the Senate this year but never raised by the House. The bill makes permanent the absentee ballot dropboxes installed during the pandemic, allows workers to take two hours of unpaid time off in order to vote in an election, and restores the voting rights of people who are on parole. The bill also broadens to other agencies the motor-voter system which automatically sends voter registration forms to eligible residents.
The bill would also allow state agencies to contract with other states, which some worried could lead to bad policies the legislature would have no control over.
“This is not just a slight crack in the door,” Miner said. “I cited TCI before. I cited whether or not we ship inmates to another state for certain type of incarceration.”
He said it means there would be “no legislative authority. No legislative oversight. No committee responsibilities.”
Another unexpected element of the implementer bill involved speed enforcement cameras. The Transportation Committee this year passed an omnibus bill designed to make Connecticut roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists. The bill included three pilot programs to test speed enforcement cameras in hospital, school and work zones around the state. Lawmakers scrapped the camera program before passing the bill during the regular session.
However, one of pilot programs resurfaced in the implementer. The bill included language allowing speed cameras at three highway work zones. Sen. Will Haskell, a Westport Democrat who is co-chair of the Transportation Committee, said the cameras will be aimed at drivers traveling more than 15 miles over the speed limits and will issue warnings on the first offense.
“We know that across the country, more than 700 people die every year in work zone fatalities,” Haskell said. “We want to follow the good example of other states of bringing down the speed of drivers because we know it’s going to save lives.”
The House is expected to take up the legislation Wednesday.
Hugh McQuaid contributed to this report.