Lawmakers urged to think beyond budget in special session

Published on Sunday, 18 June 2017 12:59
Written by SUSAN HAIGH

ASSOCIATED PRESS

HARTFORD - Besides an unfinished state budget, Connecticut lawmakers could find themselves this summer debating bills that didn't survive the regular legislative session, including proposals to protect health insurance benefits for women and make the process of doling out funds from a state employee charitable campaign more flexible.

Since the General Assembly adjourned June 7, various groups and lawmakers have been making pitches to resurrect failed bills in the special legislative session.

East Lyme Sen. Paul Formica, a Republican, said he's checking to see if there's an opportunity to revive legislation that advocates say could help reduce the risk that the Millstone nuclear power plant in Waterford might close. The bill, which cleared only the Senate, requires the state to assess the financial viability of Millstone and other nuclear power plants in the region and come up with recommendations that are in the best interest of ratepayers.

“I don't think there's anything as important to Connecticut as this,” said Formica, noting how Millstone produces half of the state's energy. Environmental groups and other energy companies strongly opposed the bill during the regular session, questioning whether Millstone deserves any special financial treatment from the state.

Last week, Democratic Comptroller Kevin Lembo asked lawmakers to resuscitate legislation that would have revamped the administrative structure of the Connecticut State Employees Campaign for Charitable Campaign, an initiative that allows state workers to donate to various charities through a payroll deduction.

Meanwhile, NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut have launched an online petition, urging state legislators to reconsider a bill that attempts to protect health benefits for women if Congress overhauls the Affordable Care Act. The bill previously passed the Senate unanimously but was pulled midway during a House of Representatives debate on the final night.

Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson, a chief proponent of the bill, said she typically doesn't like resurrecting failed bills when the legislature goes into extra innings to finish its work.

“I generally think you've got to get it done during session. That's the way it's supposed to work. But I think this is a really big issue,” she said, arguing the timing is crucial if Congress strips mandated coverage for services such as breast cancer risk assessments before the next regular legislative session convenes in February. “I think this might be a unique circumstance.”

It's unclear when state lawmakers will return to vote. While legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy have said they hope to reach an agreement on a new two-year state budget before the current fiscal year ends on June 30, it's questionable whether that's be possible given the level of disagreement over how to fix a projected two-year, $5 billion deficit.

Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano said Tuesday his “gut reaction” is that a deal won't be reached in time, requiring Malloy to then issue stop-gap budgets until a final plan is approved.

“It's premature to speculate about what could be considered under the call (for a special session),” said Adam Joseph, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats. “Our immediate focus is negotiating a budget.”

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said he's reluctant to repeat past practices of resurrecting bills with little to no financial impact in a special session dedicated to finishing the state budget, especially given the close partisan makeup of the General Assembly. While Democrats hold a seven-vote majority in the House, there are equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans in the 18-18 Senate.

“The problem is: it becomes like that old carnival game, the whack-a-mole. You have something in to pick up a vote here or make somebody happy here and then you lose something on the other side,” he said. “So I think that's a dangerous game to get into when we have such slim margins, basically in the Senate and also in the House.”

Aside from bills with little to no fiscal impact, advocates want many unresolved budget-related issues to be addressed in the special session.

Eastern Connecticut homeowners with foundations that are crumbling because of the presence of an iron sulfide are hoping state lawmakers will provide them financial assistance of some kind to help cover very expensive fixes to their homes.

Legislators are also being urged to revamp the state's local education funding system, parts of which have been ruled unconstitutional, as well as protect programs serving people with disabilities.



Posted in The Bristol Press, General News, on Sunday, 18 June 2017 12:59. Updated: Sunday, 18 June 2017 13:02.