Sine Dine with a nearly empty Capitol and LOB: In a very different scenario from the usual pomp and fanfare of the midnight adjournment of legislative session, legislative leaders in the Senate and House of the general assembly formally ended the 2020 legislative session on May 6th, donning masks. The COVID-19 pandemic essentially ended the session in mid-March, when the building was officially closed to the public. A strange end to session indeed, with no last-minute horse trading to pass bills, hallways crowded with lobbyists, or a multitude of bills on house and senate calendars waiting for last-minute action. Goodbyes and thank you’s went out to Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, and House Minority Leader Themis Klarides. With three of the four caucus leaders not seeking re-election, next session will be very different.
It is anticipated that legislators will return to the capitol for a special session in June or July, depending on the status of COVID-19 hospitalizations and testing. The agenda for special session will be to make revisions to the second year of a two-year budget that has been decimated due to COVID -19 effects on the economy. Revenues are dramatically dropping, and there are more than 400,000 unemployed in Connecticut. They are also likely to consider changes to procedures on how legislative business could continue in the face of another pandemic crisis. Legislators are deciding how they will meet and vote if large gatherings are still prohibited due to COVID-19 when the special session is convened. The agenda may also include changes to absentee ballot/voting rules.
Update on Governor Lamont ‘s phased-in approach to reopening Connecticut’s economy
Last week Governor Lamont presented a plan to reopen Connecticut’s economy in phases beginning May 20, 2020. This week it was announced that the second phase of reopening could begin June 20, depending on the status of COVID -19 infections. The Governor stressed that if Connecticut doesn’t reach its May 20 testing goal, the first phase of reopening may be pushed back. Even as the restrictions are lifted, the Governor said he urges employers to continue to let people work from home. For additional information on the timeline and protocols for reopening, see: https://portal.ct.gov/Office-of-the-Governor/News/Press-Releases/2020/05-2020/Governor-Lamont-Coronavirus-Update-May-7.
Schools are officially closed for the rest of the year: This week, it came as no surprise that Governor Lamont ordered K-12 schools throughout Connecticut to remain closed for the rest of the academic year. Schools will continue to provide meals for children, and teachers will continue to provide remote learning until the end of the school year. If all goes as planned, summer camps will begin their sessions in early July.
On to election ballots: Secretary of the State Denise Merrill announced in a video conference this week that she would like to send every voter an absentee ballot application for both the August 11 primary, and November 6 general election. This plan is not without controversy for a few reasons: 1. most voters won’t be able to use them under the law as it currently stands and 2. some worry about potential voter fraud. Under Connecticut law, in order to obtain an absentee ballot, a voter signs that they are using the ballot because they are unable to appear at the polls for one of six reasons:
(1) Actively serving in the U.S. Armed forces,
(3) Physical disability,
(4) Out of town during voting hours,
(5) Working as an official at a polling place during primary or general election,
(6) Religious reason.
Under current law, a voter can get an absentee ballot if they have COVID-19, or other illness, however, wanting to avoid illness is not one of the enumerated reasons.
Secretary of State Merrill stated she believes there is nothing preventing lawmakers from allowing voters to use COVID-19 as a reason for voting by absentee. She also stated financial assistance will be available to municipalities for their plans to protect both voters and poll workers from COVID-19.