HARTFORD (AP) - Connecticut lawmakers on Wednesday wrapped up a five-month legislative session marked by Democratic victories, the first in years with a sizeable Democratic legislative majority and a new Democratic governor.
Even though there was the typical flurry of activity on the final day - a rush to pass legislation before the midnight adjournment - many major bills had already been approved, most notably a new two-year, $43 billion budget deal reached between the Democrats.
Other big topics in this year’s session, including the authorization of electronic highway tolls, possibly sports betting and other gambling, as well as unfinished bills that borrow money for school construction and other projects, appeared headed for a special legislative session.
Lawmakers also need to return to Hartford to approve a tentative agreement Lamont recently reached with the Connecticut Hospital Association to settle a 2015 lawsuit over a state hospital tax the facilities filed when former Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was still in office.
No dates have been announced yet for any special sessions.
For Gov. Ned Lamont, who praised state lawmakers for their hard work in an early Thursday morning address, Wednesday marked the end of his first legislative session. The wealthy former businessman, who had little political experience before taking on the job of governor in January, had vowed that a state budget would be approved on-time. The last two-year budget, a bipartisan one, passed after a nearly 17-week impasse, just before Halloween.
“Fiscal stability is key to economic growth,” Lamont said. “This is a budget that gets us going in the right direction.”
But Republican Senate Leader Len Fasano, of North Haven, said Lamont shouldn’t take credit just yet for passing a new state budget. Fasano has raised concerns that the Democrats’ plan counts on savings from state employee unions that hasn’t been finalized.
“You didn’t get a budget done on time because you didn’t get a union deal,” Fasano said. “If you’re going to make a document that is false, that’s kind of scary to me. And this budget in my view is unconstitutional. It certainly has a huge deficit and we’ll be back in to fix it.”
Lawmakers spent the final hours of the legislative session passing relatively non-controversial bills, such as a fee on boaters to raise money to combat invasive aquatic plants and another bill that continues efforts to address the opioid abuse problem. One of the longer and contentious debates of the day was in the House of Representatives, where mostly Democratic lawmakers passed a sweeping police accountability bill that updates the state’s police pursuit laws, preventing officers from shooting into or at a fleeting vehicle.
“We should not be telling them what they need to do,” said Republican Rep. Rosa Rebimbas of Naugatuck.
Democrats believe they scored some big policy wins this session, including setting aside $2 billion in a budget reserve account; restructuring teacher pension payments; passing a new paid family medical leave program and approving a plan to incrementally increase Connecticut’s current $10.10 an hour minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2023.
“The minimum wage is something I’m really, really proud about,” said Democratic House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, of Berlin. “To allow individuals, younger individuals, people that are working multiple part-time jobs to get a living wage, is really important to me.”
Lawmakers, however, were unable to reached agreement on whether to legalize recreational marijuana. Some Democrats have suggested putting the question before the voters, possibly on the 2020 ballot. And while the House had a short debate on a bill to allow adoptees to obtain their birth certificates, it was withdrawn from consideration on Wednesday.
Despite last-minute efforts, lawmakers did not pass bills that would modernize the state’s election system and make it easier for people to register to vote; authorize a tribal casino in Bridgeport; clamp down on alleged deceptive advertising by crisis pregnancy centers in Connecticut; or call for a new election in Stratford’s 120th Assembly District, where Democrat Phil Young won by 13 votes in November. The Republican James Feehan challenged the tally because about 75 voters received the wrong ballots.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, of Derby, expressed dismay that Democrats used their greater numbers in the General Assembly this session to force their agenda through the process, noting how the new two-year budget includes roughly $2 billion in tax increases over two years and diverts from past bipartisan efforts to make Connecticut more business-friendly.
“I think the saddest part of this is, they have stuck to a consistent theme and that’s disregarding what the people of this state want,” she said. “This is just pushing more and more people out of the state.”