Legislature Limps To The Finish
HARTFORD, CT — In the waning hours of the 2017 legislative session, lawmakers were unable to find much agreement between the two chambers or parties.
The Senate didn’t convene until almost 5:30 p.m. and the business in the House ground to a standstill Wednesday afternoon as members worked on amending a nuclear energy bill. The bill that was approved by the Senate early in the morning was expected to be watered-down even further, passed by the House, and sent back to the Senate.
But things change quickly on the final night of the legislative session.
The same nuclear energy amendment was debated and withdrawn in the House, officially killing the legislation Dominion Energy wanted to help plan for the future of the Millstone Nuclear Plant in Waterford.
Both chambers were able to agree to return for a special session so they can resolve the $5.1 billion budget deficit over the next two years. The call for the special session was broad enough to allow for debates on crumbling foundations and the definition of a constitutional spending cap.
Until then, almost every bill with a fiscal note over $20,000 was left on the calendar as lawmakers looked for ways to turn their pet projects into studies or task forces.
In the final 24 hours, the House and Senate were able to send legislation expanding gaming in Connecticut to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
In the final few days, they also held a number of debates on issues like electronic tolls, recreational marijuana, earned family medical leave, and excessive or deadly force by police. After talking about the issues for more than an hour, each of those issues was tabled and never allowed to be called for a vote because the votes for passage weren’t there.
Female legislators hastily called a press conference late Wednesday afternoon to press the House to vote on a bill before midnight to protect women from any action the federal government might take in rolling back insurance coverage for certain women’s preventative services.
The Senate passed the bill last Friday, but the House delayed action on the vote earlier Wednesday afternoon.
“This bill has bipartisan support,” Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson, said. “I’m hopeful the House will take this back up in the next six hours.”
But even if the House approves the bill, it’s fate is unknown, since Malloy criticized the Senate bill after it passed. The governor said the Republican amendment allowing expectant mothers to enroll in a plan in the individual insurance market 30 days after confirming their pregnancy essentially turned good legislation into bad legislation.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said that while he may not have done very well with his daily predictions about what bills would be debated and passed, he feels like the session went well and his members were heard.
Aresimowicz was tasked this year with overseeing a much smaller majority of 79 Democrats.
“There are inherent conflicts in what we do,” Aresimowicz said. “The majorities are tighter, but overall I am very proud of the House.”
He said he feels like they worked on a lot of issues in a bipartisan way.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said the Democrats really didn’t have a choice given their numbers. Republicans picked up eight seats in the House, bringing their membership up to 72, and three in the state Senate where they are evenly tied, 18-18, with the Democrats.
“The occasional flare-ups will happen,” Aresimowicz admitted.
Klarides said the new way of operating the House has been to call a bill and then “PT” it, which means to “pass it temporarily.”
“If you call a bill, you should debate it, then vote on it. If you don’t want a vote, then don’t call it in the first place,” Klarides said.
Klarides said Aresimowicz must be “overly tired and stressed out” to think this was a good session.
She said they disagree on many things, but they work well together.
However, “if we don’t agree on the vision and direction of this state none of it matters,” Klarides said.
Klarides said the General Assembly needs to be focused on making sure the state of Connecticut is friendly to businesses so they can grow in the state. She said the only way to make that happen is through structural budget changes, such as adopting a spending cap.
Jack Kramer contributed to this report.