Susan Bigelow

The short but surprisingly productive 2022 session of the General Assembly is coming to a close this week. As Democrats race to pass bills, and Republicans do all they can to talk them to death, a question that has to be on the minds of a lot of legislators is what the session means, if anything, for the elections coming up this fall.

The short session, held from February to May in even-numbered years, is a somewhat more political beast than the longer, odd-year session. The elections are much closer, which, along with the reduced amount of time, tends to make everyone more cautious and less inclined to try and do anything big. 

And yet, the legislature did act on a couple of important, even controversial issues this spring. How will that help or hurt members of the Democratic majority in the fall?

Perhaps the most controversial bill passed, at least in a national sense, expanded abortion rights, enacting protections for out-of-state patients and the clinicians who treat them. The bill also increased the number of clinicians who can perform abortions, allowing physician assistants, APRNs (advanced practice registered nurses), and nurse midwives to perform the procedure.

It’s a bill drafted in response to both the draconian rollback of abortion rights in states like Texas, and an expected Supreme Court decision that would limit or reverse Roe v. Wade. As such, it’s put us right smack in the middle of the culture wars. 

That said, it probably won’t be much of a factor in the fall. By and large, abortion isn’t all that controversial in Connecticut. Yes, there was a fairly well-attended March for Life rally at the state capitol earlier this year, but abortion doesn’t top most voters’ lists when they decide which candidates to support.

There’s always a chance that Republicans who voted for the bill or Democrats who voted against it might draw a primary challenger based on that issue, but it’s not likely. Then again, if the Supreme Court does strike down Roe v. Wade, the politics of abortion could shift dramatically, and it may become much less of a sleeper issue in Connecticut.

A much-needed environmental bill, however, might prove to be a little more troublesome. The House just passed the Connecticut Clean Air Act, which does important things like promoting increased electric vehicle use, including more electric buses, and adopting stricter California emissions standards for some classes of commercial vehicles.

The danger here is that adopting stricter emissions standards for medium and heavy-duty trucks, while absolutely necessary, could be seen as exacerbating inflation. Since obscenely wealthy companies like Amazon clearly need to pass the costs of retooling their fleets onto consumers, that could push the prices of goods higher. That’s the theory, anyway, and it’s something voters understand. Inflation is absolutely uppermost on voters’ minds right now, while climate change and the environment, sadly, aren’t.

However, since this change to emissions standards will bring us in line with populous surrounding states like New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, the actual impact to costs will probably be negligible. Companies should already be working to make their fleets greener. Unfortunately, reality and political campaigns rarely travel together.

Fiscal matters might be the real troublemaker for Democrats this fall. There are two sides to this coin: a budget adjustment package that extends the gas tax holiday until after the elections and provides millions in tax relief elsewhere, and a contract with state employee unions that hands out raises and bonuses.

A tax-cutting budget from Democrats ought to make a lot of people happy, but Republicans, who are always pressing for tax cuts, aren’t thrilled. The conservative Yankee Institute called the cuts an election-year “gimmick,” which, to be fair, they are. Tax cuts are pretty much always gimmicks, especially during election years! Still, we should expect Republicans to hit this hard, even if they’re just mad they didn’t get to do this themselves.

The union contract, on the other hand, is going to be the subject of a lot of attacks. Full disclosure: in my non-columnist life I’m a state employee and union member, so I won’t discuss how I feel about the contract or its impacts in this space. I will note, however, that contracts like this have historically been very unpopular. I fully expect Republicans to hammer Democrats with it whenever they can, and it could end up being a serious headache for Gov. Ned Lamont’s re-election campaign. I wouldn’t be surprised if Republicans attempt to tie the contract into inflation concerns, as well.

So yes, the session has been a productive one, and Democrats have a lot to feel good about. Come the fall, though, they may find that a few of the votes they’ve made won’t go over well with voters.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

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