Flavor Of 2011 Legislative Session In Eye Of Beholder
With a new administration at the helm, the last week of the legislative session seems to have ground to a halt as the Republican lawmakers who were left out of the budget process opt to grill Democratic lawmakers as they try to pass legislation.
The Senate was able to debate and vote on two bills Wednesday. The House was able to pass more than that, but that chamber hasn’t had a substantial consent calendar of bills both Republicans and Democrats can agree upon.
Sen. President Donald Williams said there’s no question that debate in the Senate has lasted much longer than debates on similar legislation in previous years.
For instance, the debate on a bill that offered in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants lasted about three hours in 2007, but this year the same bill lasted about eight hours.
Some of the length of the debate can be attributed to the new Republican Senators who seem to be more quizzical than Senators in previous years, Williams said. However, Williams maintained that he has kept the lines of communication open with Republicans about bills that may be called.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said Wednesday that the length of debate is longer than in previous years because Republicans were left out of the budget process and as a result have many more questions about legislation.
“There’s no intention to delay the conversation, but we weren’t in the room when the bills were being drafted so naturally we’re going to have more questions,” McKinney said.
McKinney credited his Democratic colleagues for passing some of the more controversial bills early on in the legislative process than in previous years.
But with the first Democratic governor in 20 years steering the ship McKinney admitted there’s a natural tension created by the Democrats who want to rush through bills because they know they have the votes. He said it’s the right of the minority party to ask questions.
Last year under a Republican governor, the legislature’s Democratic majority was forced to act in a bipartisan manner, McKinney said.
“By necessity there’s a lot more compromise,” McKinney said. “The process is much shorter when there’s bipartisan government.”
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said the process in the House moves along a little more smoothly because of his relationship with Speaker of the House Chris Donovan.
“We respect each other,” Cafero said. But that doesn’t mean they don’t disagree.
“There’s a lot of unsettled business here and we in the minority only have the ability to react,” Cafero said.
He said he doesn’t believe this year is much different than last year.
“What is different is who is driving the legislation and this year it’s predominantly the governor,” Cafero said. “He’s taken the notion of ‘action governor’ to whole new levels by personally lobbying for bills.”
Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s senior communications adviser, said “this governor is really trying to change the way we do business in this state.”
Occhiogrosso said Malloy took over a state with a $3.5 billion deficit that hadn’t grown jobs in 20 years and he’s trying to change that.
“I think they’re frustrated by the fact that a Democratic governor can work with a Democratic legislature in a way no governor could,” Occhiogrosso said.
Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy, who has made trips to the Capitol the past few days, said the Democrats are “flush with absolute power.”
He said with a Democrat in the governor’s office and control over both of the House and the Senate Connecticut is just like Washington D.C. was in 2010 when one party pushed through national health care reform.
“It defies all convention even when liberals elsewhere see there’s not a limited amount of money,” Healy said. “There’s nothing to stop them.”
Donovan dismissed the slow pace of the session and said he didn’t believe it was different than previous sessions.
“I don’t know if it is much different.” Donovan said. “I think we’re setting a good pace.”
He said Republicans were left out of the budget debate last year by their own Republican governor so he doesn’t understand why their complaints would be any different this year.
“Maybe there are bills we wouldn’t have brought up last year, but not many,” Donovan said.
Last year Rell vetoed 13 bills and the Democrat-controlled legislature overrode six of them. This year Malloy hasn’t threatened to veto any legislation, but it’s likely that’s because he supports most of the legislation passed.
Frustrated lobbyists, who were reluctant to go on the record with less than a week left in the session, tried to put a positive spin on it and believe the new dynamics will just take some getting used to.
“Non-controversial bills which should have breezed through the process have gotten caught up on the calendar,” one lobbyist said Wednesday. But, on the other hand, some legislation which has been stalled for years is already on its way to the governor’s desk.
As a former mayor Malloy doesn’t have a benchmark from which to judge the progress of the final days of the legislative session, but he said Thursday he believes they’re certainly getting a lot of work done.
“No one thought we would have a budget framework in place by May 6 and we did,” Malloy said. “No one thought we’d have a round of concessions that would be agreeable to the people in the legislature when we did.”
“We’re taking on important issues, including job creation on a long term basis with the UConn package which has already passed one house. I’m fully satisfied with the efforts,” Malloy said. “I have already called the speaker and the president pro temp to thank them for their hard work and diligence.”