What Does 2014 Hold for Lawmakers?
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Posted to: Education, Election 2014, Town News, Health Care, Labor, Nonprofits, Pension, Public Safety, State Budget, Taxes, State Capitol, Transparency
From bringing back tolls to regulating drones and the sale of puppies, the Office of Legislative Research offered a 25-page report that predicts which bills and concepts may be raised during the 2014 legislative session.
“We identified issues based on interim studies; research requests; non-confidential discussions with legislators, other legislative participants, and executive branch agencies; and our general subject matter knowledge,” the report states.
The session, which starts in Feb. 5, will be a short session. That means individual lawmakers won’t be introducing bills. Instead, legislative committees will introduce and write legislation.
Some of that legislation will be based on the work of task forces formed during the 2013 legislative session that ended in June.
One of the more active and visible is a 17-member task force that was created under a hastily-passed law intended to prevent the disclosure of crime scene photographs and certain audio recordings collected by police following the Sandy Hook shooting and other homicides. The task force, which calls itself the “Task Force on Victim Privacy and the Public’s Right to Know,” will hold its last meeting Tuesday to make recommendations to the legislature.
Under the same topic of privacy, the legislature may explore legislation regarding unmanned drones, like those that Amazon.com wants to use to deliver packages. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 13 states (not including Connecticut) have enacted laws on drones, and 10 have adopted resolutions on their use.
There also is a task force investigating the sale of puppies in pet stores. Lawmakers on the task force are weighing proposals, including whether the state should prohibit the sale of cats and dogs at pet shops to prevent animals raised in puppy mills by commercial breeders from being sold in the state.
A more perennial issue for Connecticut’s legislature is the return of highway tolls.
“In recent sessions the idea of electronic tolling has been explored both to raise money needed to maintain and repair state highways and to finance the extension of Route 11 from Salem to I-95. None of these proposals has succeeded,” research staff wrote in the report.
But the fuel efficiency of new vehicles and the shoddy conditions of Connecticut’s roads and bridges means there’s always room to debate the issue. This year, Connecticut’s petroleum gross receipts tax increased about 4 cents per gallon and diesel fuel climbed about 3.7 cents per gallon. In total, the two tax increases are expected to bring in about $60 million a year.
Since 2014 is an election year, it’s unlikely legislators will be looking to increase taxes. And while it’s predicted the state will end this fiscal year and the next with a surplus, nonpartisan analysts are predicting a deficit of $1.1 to $1.4 billion over the following three fiscal years.
It’s also a budget adjustment year, so technically every piece of legislation needs to be related to making a change to the state budget. However, there are few issues with no impact on the budget.
When it comes to public safety, the issue of dispatch consolidation has again captured the attention of lawmakers in the eastern and western portion of the state most impacted by the move by the state police to centralize their dispatch functions.
“The division says the consolidation will increase efficiency in dispatching emergency services, but the state police union says it will endanger public safety and put troopers at risk. Legislators may want to review this issue, especially as it affects response times and staffing,” legislative research staff wrote.
One of the hardest hit areas of the budget in 2013 was the state’s reduction in funding to hospitals. Most hospitals in the state are nonprofit but are exploring the possibility of converting to for-profit to give them access to more capital.
“By law, nonprofit hospitals seeking to convert to for-profit status by a sale or change in control of operations need the approval of both the Department of Public Health and the attorney general. The Public Health Committee held informational sessions on this issue, and the legislature may consider changes to the approval process for such transactions,” the report reads.
Also in the healthcare arena, the legislature may debate a bill that would require the state’s health insurance exchange to negotiate rates with insurance carriers.
The Senate passed a bill that would have forced Access Health CT to negotiate premiums with carriers, but it failed to get raised in the House. A few months later a White House report found that Connecticut had the fourth highest insurance premiums in the country being offered through government insurance exchanges. Legislative researchers believe it’s an issue that could get raised in 2014.
Another issue that may be revived this year is how juvenile offenders are sentenced.
In less than a decade, the U.S. Supreme Court has three times upheld a position that juvenile criminals are less culpable and therefore less deserving of severe punishment than are their adult counterparts. But Connecticut has failed to take action on the issue.
The 2013 legislation also would have eliminated life sentences for offenders under the age of 18 and would have required the courts to consider certain factors when sentencing juveniles between the ages of 14 and 18. The bill passed the House almost unanimously by a 137 to 4 vote, but was still on the Senate calendar on June 5 when the legislative session ended.
Big changes are on the horizon for students and teachers across Connecticut.
Connecticut is one of 45 states rolling out the new Common Core State Standards for math and language arts, transitioning away from its Connecticut Mastery Test and Connecticut Academic Performance Test. Full implementation of the new testing criteria will start in the 2014-15 school year. The legislature may decide how they want to implement the new test and the new teacher evaluation system.
“To avoid too many changes taking place simultaneously in the education system, the state may seek a delay in full implementation of the evaluation system until there is more time for teachers and students to adapt to CCSS [Common Core State Standards],” researchers wrote. “Connecticut is currently waiting for federal flexibility approval regarding testing tied to CCSS and the timing of the full implementation of the teacher evaluation. The General Assembly may need to consider legislation that would help the state gain federal approval.”
Also, since the new tests are administered on computers the technological capability of school districts to administer them also may pose challenges.