Welcome to The Hartford Portfolio, Yankee Institute’s update on what’s happening at the State Capitol during the legislative session.
Session is in full swing with committees meeting to discuss which bills they will be voting on before lawmakers adjourn in May. If you learned about how a bill becomes a law from “Schoolhouse Rock,” Connecticut’s system may be a bit confusing. Instead of fully formed bills, lawmakers introduce “concepts” that can be as little as a single sentence and provide little information about the final direction of the bill. Members of the public sometimes testify about the bill—or at least, what they think the bill is about—before it’s been written. Committees vote on whether to build out each concept bill, though the final bill language sometimes doesn’t match what was imagined when testimony was offered. (Yankee Institute has provided ideas to reform this process to make public input more meaningful).
Here’s some of what we saw in Hartford this week:
- The State Senate on Monday met for almost seven hours and approved the two pandemic-related measures that passed the House last week. Senators voted (21-14) to codify a number of Governor Lamont’s executive orders, including the school mask mandate and restrictions on nursing home visits, which were set to begin expiring at the end of the month. Lamont signed the measure on Tuesday. Each school district will now get to decide whether students continue masking, though state officials for the remainder of the school year can still overrule them and require masks. As Governor Lamont had put it a few days prior, “people have earned this freedom.” The Senate also approved a resolution extending Connecticut’s state of emergency declaration, primarily to let residents continue drawing an extra $30 million per month in extra federal food stamp benefits.
- Officials from Governor Lamont’s Office of Policy and Management (OPM) briefed the General Assembly’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee on the governor’s budget proposal. Lawmakers heard among other things how Lamont plans to spend the state’s expected $1.5 billion surplus, with $305 million being set aside for pay raises and other contract changes that could come out of ongoing union negotiations. The governor’s plan calls for “economic development” spending that includes free admission at state attractions, free bus service on weekends—and $150,000 for state officials to have a presence at the Travelers Championship golf tournament in Cromwell. OPM also outlined ongoing plans to hire more than 250 people by June 30 to help spend $6 billion in federal infrastructure funds. Most of the positions are engineering roles at the state Department of Transportation, where the feds will cover 80 percent of the cost.
- The Labor and Public Employees Committee raised 30 “concepts” on Tuesday, including “an act concerning employees” and “an act protecting Connecticut workers.” Another 14 bills are expected next week. More-detailed proposals so far have included one that would let striking workers collect unemployment compensation, rules that would restrict employers from talking to their workers about unions, and an expansion of the state’s paid sick-time mandate.