Minimum Wage Bill, Jobs Package Won’t Stay Dead
The Senate Democrats’ jobs package and a bill to raise the minimum wage were among the those that dropped dead last Wednesday. But both appear to be ready to crawl from the grave to latch onto budget implementers when the legislature meets for special session.
The bills in question both died May 9 after a standoff between House and Senate leadership. Despite its bipartisan support, House Speaker Chris Donovan held the jobs bill hoping to convince Senate Democrats to pass his minimum wage increase. Senate President Donald Williams maintained that there was never enough support to pass the bill in the Senate.
After the legislative session concluded, Williams said people would be scratching their heads wondering why a bill helping to create jobs didn’t pass. He said he planned to have the bill, which expands job programs created last fall, inserted into to a budget implementer during special session.
“It was wrong for anyone to think that these two bills should in any way be linked at a time when our businesses need help in a very tough economy,” Williams said last week.
But he’s not the only one hoping to resurrect his signature piece of legislation. If Donovan has his way, the bills will be linked again. In a statement, Donovan said he intends to have both concepts inserted in the same implementer.
“I absolutely support SB1, which along with an increase to the minimum wage will be part of a special session bill,” Donovan said. “Increasing the minimum wage has the support of 70 percent of Connecticut voters and will help over 100,000 state residents meet basic needs.”
On Wednesday, Williams said he hadn’t spoken with Donovan about his intentions and would refrain from commenting until they had a conversation. Messages were left for Donovan, who was not immediately available for comment.
Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Hartford, who supported a later version of the minimum wage bill, said Donovan’s plan endangers a good bill for the second time.
“I think he’s jeopardizing an important piece of legislation,” LeBeau said.
As Speaker of the House, Donovan was calling the shots in the lower chamber and could have passed the jobs bill during the regular session, LeBeau said. But under his leadership, the bill was never raised.
“Ultimately, he killed the bill,” LeBeau said.
If a bill dies in session it shouldn’t be revived in a trailer session dedicated to implementing the state’s budget, House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said. When the House passed the resolution calling for a special session, Cafero said he specifically asked about the scope of the session and was told it would be strictly for budget-related bills.
“If we can make no justification on how [raising the minimum wage] implements the budget, they’re breaking their word,” he said.
The big fear in holding a trailer session, Cafero said, is that everyone who had a bill die during the regular session will try to get it jammed into a budget implementer.
“It’s a fraud on the state of Connecticut,” Cafero said.
Why have a legislative process if it will be ignored under one-party government, Cafero asked. Why not just have one massive implementer bill and cram everyone’s legislation into it?
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said the jobs package is related to the state budget, which already plans to fund programs helping small businesses. Raising it during a session focused on the budget could be appropriate but the minimum wage hike is another story, he said.
“Reviving bills that died, especially ones that died due to lack of support in the legislature, has no business in the special session,” he said.
McKinney said Donovan’s plan to include the minimum wage bill “smacks of a lot of politics” given the fact that he is in the midst of a campaign for a congressional seat. If there still isn’t enough support for his bill in the Senate, its inclusion could jeopardize the budget implementer into which it’s inserted in.
“Maybe I should be happy about that because it’s a bad budget, but that to me is not the right course of action,” McKinney said.
Also expected to be revived is legislation removing a statutory requirement that the state employ at least 1,248 state troopers.
In place of the staffing mandate, the bill asks the staff of the Program Review and Investigations Committee to conduct a study next year and arrive at a data-driven recommendation for the appropriate number of state police.
The requirement has been largely ignored since it was adopted in 2001. The legislature has only appropriated enough money to fund that many troopers during one year. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed the bill following a lawsuit by the troopers union after 56 officers were laid off.
The bill died on the Senate calendar but Andrew McDonald, Malloy’s chief legal counsel, has said he expects it to be included in an implementer.
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman said Wednesday that she wasn’t sure if a bill to change the composition of the Insurance Exchange Board will be included as a budget implementer.
Meanwhile, state Health Care Advocate Vicki Veltri said the state risks federal funds if it doesn’t include at least one consumer advocate on the board. She said the federal government changed its regulations in March requiring states to have at least one voting member represent consumers. Veltri is on the board, but does not vote.
Christine Stuart contributed to this report