HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — The 2021 regular legislative session gaveled out Thursday at midnight. As of June 10, the governor has signed 42 bills into law. Many of them surrounding equity.
Lawmakers will go into extra innings next week over the cannabis bill. It has been an “unusual” legislative session because of the pandemic.
On January 6, COVID forced an outdoor swearing in and remote meetings.
State Representative Vin Candelora, the Republican House Minority Leader, said it’s time to open the people’s house: “We have wanted this building open since January.”
Lawmakers have had the ability to vote remotely from laptops or in person in the chamber since the pandemic began last year.
In the final days of the session, more legislators took their seats in the Senate and House with masks on, a rule that has been enforced daily.
State Senator Martin Looney, the Democratic Senate President, admits it was a productive session given the circumstances: “It was more challenging than usual because of the pandemic and the concern that we were still in a situation of great risk when we started the session.”
Two constitutional amendments were passed:
- In 2022, voters decide on early voting prior to election day.
- In 2024, voters decide on expanding no-excuse absentee ballots.
House Speaker Matt Ritter (D-Hartford) said he’s never seen so many ovations from members during a caucus: “Our caucus is jazzed up and feels really, really good about where we are.”
The vaccine-hesitant failed to stop a bill mandating childhood immunizations – no more religious exemptions unless you already had one.
Billions in federal aid to help the state recover. A $1.5-billion five-year bond package for infrastructure.
“It’s not just cities. It’s distressed municipalities. It’s eastern Connecticut. It’s the Naugatuck Valley,” added Speaker Ritter.
COVID reopening rules like the ones for restaurants to expand outdoor dining and telehealth now law. A $46-billion, two-year bi-partisan state budget was passed. It is said to be balanced with no tax increases and remains under the spending cap.
State Senator Kevin Kelly, the Republican Senate Minority Leader, admits there was a huge void.
“We got a lot of things accomplished, but the peoples’ voice needed to have a bigger presence.”
While the state’s Husky plan was expanded with the help of federal dollars to subsidize low-income families, many lawmakers wanted to see health care reform.
Senator Kelly said it was a missed opportunity. “Nothing was done to make health care more affordable for all working- and middle-class families.” Adding, “Today, we are no closer to reducing insurance premiums for the middle class over the long term or better controlling skyrocketing costs than we were at the start of the session.”
In the end, a bill to legalize cannabis created overtime when the clock ran out on a debate that was going to turn into a filibuster.
State Representative Jason Perillo (R-Shelton) said, “We had a piece of legislation that was delivering favors to specific individuals and any bill that is that big when there are hundreds of millions of dollars at stake you have to be able to look at those things.”
The legislature is expected to return next week for a special session to take up cannabis and the implementer bill – which executes everything in the state budget.
Republicans say they don’t want it to be “Christmas in June” referring to added “gifts or goodies” being added to the budget. They are asking the governor to hold the line on extra spending and taxes.
The non-profit community is also concerned.
Gian Carl Casa, President & CEO of CT Community Nonprofit Alliance, wants lawmakers and the governor to address the inequities during the debate over the implementer language.
“The pandemic has heightened trauma and exacerbated mental health issues, and the opioid epidemic continues to take lives. This is the worst time to leave programs that treat substance abuse out of a historic funding increase that has been given to so many other community nonprofits.”
Governor Lamont responded in a Thursday afternoon press briefing saying its negotiations on the implementer will continue Friday. But he also warned against using short-term dollars for long-term expenses.
“You tie the hands of future governors and make it more complicated to balance a budget,” he said. “We don’t need any Christmas trees. It’s summertime.”
Leaders may open the building soon. Will it be in time for next week’s special session? That is up to Legislative Management.