HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Wednesday is a big day at the State Capitol in Hartford as lawmakers are back for the 2021 legislative session.
At 10 a.m., leaders were sworn in.
See how this year’s State of the State will be different than previous years:
The pandemic has created many changes. Snow fencing and bike rails have been put up to designate areas for lawmakers versus space for expected protestors. When the 2021 session opens, the swearing-in ceremony will take place outside. It’s expected to be 40 degrees.
Not since former Governor Lowell P. Weicker in 1991 has such a ceremony taken place outdoors.
Representative Matt Ritter Democratic incoming House Speaker told News 8, “I’m not sure even the best of planning could have predicted everything we saw.”
The pandemic disruption continues. In years past. the opening day meant packed chambers and ceremonial traditions. This year, outdoor oaths, potential protestors and a highly produced taped 14-minute speech by the governor will be new traditions.
News 8 cameras were there when Glastonbury ad agency Cronin was filming. It’s unclear how much the video cost and who is paying for it. The 2021 session will be virtual.
Representative Vin Candelora, Republican House Minority Leader warns, “The system is set up to be an echo chamber and that can be dangerous.”
YouTube channels have been set up for every committee room. No public face to face testimony, which means outside groups will not be in the halls grabbing the attention of weary lawmakers.
Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly questioned how that is fair and equitable.
“Where do those individuals go in a virtual world? Does that mean these communities don’t have a voice in government?”
The Connecticut Catholic Conference is among those who are concerned. Their Executive Director Christopher Healy said remote control is government control.
“Never in our history going back to 1636 have we ever suspended the rights of the people to address grievances in person.”
News 8 has learned negotiation over details of a virtual session has, at times, can get heated. From how long will lawmakers have to review the budget bill to will there be remote voting. All lawmakers now have access.
Senator Martin Looney, Democratic Senate President said, “We are upgrading systems members can vote without being in the chamber.”
The pandemic has hurt the state budget. Nonpartisan analysts estimate a current budget hole of more than $850 million. Democrats are optimistic about an economic rebound once more people are vaccinated. Republicans said this budget discussion should have happened months ago. Now they have to make tough choices in the next few months.
The state also has to contend with long-term debt from employee union contracts. Lawmakers could try to help the budget by taxing the rich, increasing the gas tax, legalizing online sports gambling or legalizing recreational marijuana.
Tackling health care is a major concern in a pandemic. Also, so much of what the state has done during this pandemic has been by executive order. Some Republicans have likened Governor Lamont’s power in the last 10 months to that of a king. Lawmakers could take that power away.
The swearing-in ceremony begins at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 6. Rep. Ritter’s father Thomas Ritter will swear him in. The elder Ritter was Speaker of the House in 1993-1998. The only other time in state history that a father and son were connected by the speaker’s gavel was back in the 1800s when the Perry’s from Fairfield held the honor.
Lawmakers will adopt the rules. The governor will sit in the house chamber with the incoming speaker and watch the video on the video board at noon.