Special Session Day 3: Senate takes up bills including contentious school construction priority list

Politics

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Earlier this week, the State Bond Commission approved $500-million in school construction funding. Who gets that money is decided at a later date. What the State Senate is set to decide Thursday is which schools get on the priority list. And that is where the controversy begins.

RELATED: CT lawmakers dig into second day of special session: Energy Bill, Transfer Act, absentee ballot counting still to debate

Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) is pushing to get a new Norwalk High School built because he says the P-Tech program run with the help of IBM could be a choice for surrounding towns. The idea would be to have towns send their students to a new Norwalk High.

Sen. Duff said Thursday, “We need a new building, it’s 50-years-old modelled after a prison so the concrete walls are hard to learn in you can’t get Wi-fi consistently.”

But Republicans in the House tried to strip the project out of the Construction Bill. Many say Duff jumped the line to get his school on the priority list.

Minority Leader Sen. Len Fasano (R) said, “Some were upset last minute about Norwalk bumping other people out.”

The State Office of Policy and Management – a division of school construction grants which decides what school project gets funded – must still review each project.

OPM Secretary Melissa McCaw says the review is a separate process where the office determines two things: “That there is a need and that the project is cost-effective.”

RELATED: Special Session Day 2: CT House of Reps. pass Energy Bill targeting Eversource, UI in special session

Meantime, some changes to the Energy Bill have come to light. Reimbursements for lost food and medicine as a result of a storm will not be retroactive to Hurricane Isaias.

The state regulators who oversee the utilities will likely not get more staff despite the added workload. At least for now, says Senate President Martin Looney (D), “We will look at staffing and deal with that next session.” He says it will be considered in the overall budget conversation.

Republicans are happy about changes Democrats accepted, like narrowing the time frame in which absentee ballots can be processed before the election and halting an idea to extend mailing absentees applications for future elections.

Senator Fasano, “That they’ll mail out absentee ballots wasn’t timely and we could deal with that in the future.”

RELATED: Legislature starts special session with several initiatives on the agenda

There were also bipartisan changes to the Transfer Act and the Environmental Justice Bill.

Also voted on: a State Supreme Court nomination and three appellate court judges.

Under consideration as of early evening: a Hemp Bill to extend the date for certificates to grow and sell hemp products so it aligns with the federal law.

A bill allowing condo owners to apply for aid if a person has a crumbling foundation is also being considered, plus a bill allowing state marshals to recoup fees for paperwork they paid for after researching state documents, and legislation to allow for late property tax exemptions.

A bill to tweak the prevailing wage on construction projects in the state had some issues and was pulled from the agenda in the House, and therefore was not taken up by the Senate.

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