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Capitol Update: March madness is on hold


The coronavirus has shut down the Capitol and LOB until March 30 as a full “disinfecting” of the building is being done. In addition, there will be no public hearings next week. While the building is being “cleansed”, hopefully not just of germs, but of ill-thought legislation. Here is a re-cap of the short week:

The long-awaited bond package was passed in the House and Senate this week. Although Governor Lamont stated he did not want to bond more than $1.3 billion and keep Connecticut on a “debt diet”, the legislature approved a $4.7 billion bond package. Some highlights include: $25 million a year for nonprofit providers, $5 million for a state plan to deal with the coronavirus, $475 million for school construction projects, $65 million for improvements to the XL Center, and hundreds of millions of dollars for the state colleges and universities. The bill also gives cities and towns the long awaited money they need to improve local roads and infrastructure. For additional details, please see https://www.cga.ct.gov/2020/TOB/h/pdf/2020HB-05518-R00-HB.PDF

Labor Committee met and sent some bills of interest out of committee and to the house and senate floor. They include:

HB 5270: the anti “Janus bill” which is an attempt to push back against the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME that allows public sector employees to opt out of union membership without being forced to pay any union fees. The bill grants state government union officials greater access to private employee information of new hires, including phone numbers, home and work addresses, email addresses and work shifts. While there is inclusion of language that requires revocable written authorization from the employee to provide this information to their union, unfortunately the language still ensures the union will have frequently updated access to all employee work information including their worksite location. The bill guarantees union representatives access to new employee orientations, where typically, they recruit members. Union representatives would have the right to meet with newly hired employees within the bargaining unit for up to 2 hours within the first 30 days after the date of hire. There would be no charge to the pay or leave time of the employees. Union representatives and employees would be permitted to meet on the employer’s premises during the workday to discuss workplace-related complaints and issues. Unions would also be able to conduct worksite meetings during breaks and before and after the workday. The bill does not offer the employee any access to information regarding their rights under the Janus v AFSCME supreme court decision, nor does it require the union to inform employees of their right to join, or not join a union. Yankee Institute recommends the committee require unions, or another third party, to provide workers with information regarding their full rights under the law during their orientation. Employees have a constitutional right to be advised they may opt out of joining a union. Codify the Janus decision into state law, so that workers have knowledge of their first amendment right to join or not join a public union.

SB 350: Bill codifies the prevailing wage contract. Yankee Institute opposed this bill, as it would require prevailing wage rates be equivalent to the wage rates imposed by union contracts. This reduces transparency, and will significantly drive up the cost of infrastructure construction costs for state and municipal projects in Connecticut. The prevailing wage mandate is widely considered one of the most costly and burdensome unfunded mandates. Instead of driving up the costs of public projects, this committee should repeal the prevailing wage in order to decrease costs, while also increasing the amount of work available for workers.

Yankee opposed HB 5274 which would make probate court employees eligible to participate in collective bargaining. It would increase costs of an already fiscally risky system, and there has been no clear need or want expresses by workers.

Bills Yankee Institute supported this week:

Yankee Institute supported a bill before the Commerce committee this week that establishes a tax credit for businesses that hire formerly incarcerated individuals. SB 20 will go a long way in helping formerly incarcerated people find jobs, housing, and other related necessities by incentivizing employers to hire formerly incarcerated individuals through a tax credit. This bill would supplement existing options for employers at the federal and state level. Employers want to hire qualified and skilled workers, but sometimes liability issues make them fearful of hiring someone with a criminal record. Through these programs, the state and federal governments mitigate that fear and that barrier to entry. Senate Bill 20 would take things a step further by not just removing a barrier to entry, but incentivizing hiring, and tells employers the state wants to help them to hire people, not force them to.

Yankee also supported SB 311 which will make changes to the minimum budget requirement.  The minimum budget requirement is a state mandate that should be repealed, as it assumes leaders of cities and towns do not know how to effectively manage their own education budgets. The minimum budget requirement creates a disincentive for school districts to find ways to creatively cut their budget. There have been huge losses in school-aged children and population decline is projected to continue.  In addition, one of the main reasons we have not been able to attract young families to Connecticut is because of the high cost of living here, including very high property taxes. The minimum budget requirement is one of the many reasons our property taxes are so high. Yankee Institute supports this bill, but recommends a better option, eliminate the state’s minimum budget requirement, or increase the project thresholds that trigger prevailing wage requirements.

Healthcare:

The public option bill passed out of the Insurance & Real Estate committee this week. SB 356 would allow small employers to purchase health coverage for employees through the expansion of the state-run State Employee Partnership Plan. The State Employee Partnership Plan lost $10.3 million in 2018. Plans that are administered by the comptroller’s office are also regulated by his office, not the insurance department. While Yankee concedes healthcare costs are one of the biggest concerns for individuals and small businesses, Yankee Institute recommends looking into and conducting a “cost-benefit” analysis of all the mandates Connecticut adds to health care plans, not another state-run plan.  Mandates and state assessments represent 23% of Connecticut’s healthcare costs amounting to more than $2,000 annually to a healthcare plan.

Stay safe, and stay tuned for updates as we all weather the storm the coronavirus has caused.

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