State lawmakers will be sworn in Wednesday at the start of the 2023 legislative session during which they are expected to tackle issues ranging from passing a two-year state operating budget to crafting an early in-person voting policy.
The House and Senate are expected to gavel in separately at 10 a.m. when lawmakers in both chambers will take the oath of office and begin their two-year terms. The ceremonies will also mark the start of this year’s legislative session which will run through June 7.
Before the end of the five-month session, state policymakers will work to craft a two-year budget against the backdrop of a Fiscal Year ‘23 surplus of about $1 billion and a Rainy Day Fund of around $2.87 billion, according to a Tuesday estimate from the state comptroller. The tax and spending plan eventually adopted will be the result of competing priorities.
Gov. Ned Lamont, who will be sworn in for a second term during a noon ceremony at the state armory, will provide his own budgetary recommendations in February. But Lamont signaled last month he planned to propose a modest income tax cut for families earning around $150,000 a year. Legislative Democrats, meanwhile, have identified other priorities including making permanent a one-time tax credit for families with children, which was offered last year.
Lawmakers are also expected to weigh in on election policies this year. For the first time, legislators will be able to consider permitting a period of early in-person voting as a result of a ballot question approved by voters during the November election. Currently, Connecticut is one of just four states where voters have no option to cast ballots in person ahead of Election Day.
Policymakers will be tasked with crafting the details of that policy and so far early discussions have ranged from suggestions to permit a narrow early voting period of just a few days to a two-week window proposed last month by the state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Legislators may also weigh a proposal to implement or study ranked choice voting in Connecticut this session. Ranked choice — also known as instant-runoff voting — is an electoral process designed to help third-party candidates compete without becoming “spoilers” by allowing voters to rank their preferred candidates. If a voters’ first choice fails to capture a majority, then their ballot will instead be cast for their second favorite candidate.
Lamont surprised observers last year when he promised to support legislation to allow ranked-choice contests in Connecticut’s federal elections and allow the option on a municipal level. A spokesman for Lamont said Tuesday that the governor still planned to propose legislation on the matter though no details were yet available.
Lawmakers will likely be considering proposals on the cost and reliability of energy in Connecticut this year as they take office days after a hike in the electricity rates of Connecticut consumers. On Tuesday, state energy regulators and their regional counterparts heard testimony from Eversource Energy executives on the market conditions which led to the rise in rates.
This week Sen. Norm Needleman, an Essex Democrat who co-chairs the Energy Committee, said his panel’s work this year would seek to balance energy affordability with grid-reliability and strategies to mitigate climate change.
Legislators may tackle another environmental concern this year: the expanding population of black bears in Connecticut — estimated at more than 1,000 — and their increasing encounters with state residents. One such encounter made news in October when a bear injured a 10-year-old boy in Morris. Lawmakers are expected to reconsider unsuccessful proposals from prior sessions including authorizing a hunting season for bears.