As expected, the House returned to the Capitol after 4.5 months of self-isolating back in their districts. It sure wasn't a normal session day. With the technology challenges of managing 151 legislators and dozens of staff, the gavel went down almost on time but the halls were empty and the gallery locked. The lawns of the LOB and Capitol were filled with folks voicing their opinions on a variety of perspectives.
Hundreds gathered on the LOB park rallying for the "back the blue " movement to recognize the majority of law enforcement who serve their communities with respect, honor, and selflessness, while on the Capitol lawn the Black Lives Matter advocates wanted to vocally support legislators expecting to vote to remove police immunity. The position most Democratic legislators have taken is that police accountability is just part of what needs to be addressed to transform CT into a "fairer and more equitable" state. On top of that teacher unions arrived to remind folks that a full in-classroom setting isn't the safest nor best way to deal with back to school in the fall.
It was an odd day with far more folks outside than inside the building as the doors were locked for anyone except selected staffers, security, and elected officials.
It's not clear how many folks from the public or lobbying corps watched thru CT-N but those of us that followed the proceedings got a glimpse of times to come until the COVID-19 virus has a vaccine. With glitches in voting from personal offices, to microphones on the legislators' desks not projecting to legislators holed up in their offices and then in the middle of the absentee ballot debate, a full-fledged glitch where the audio on CT-N began to sound like an echo chamber and made it difficult for those inside the building as well as those listening in on CTN difficult at best.
With great effort and diligence, everyone tried to do their best to create the normal flow of debate and discussion but from this outsider watching on CTN, it seemed that debate and back and forth were stiff, awkward, and at times difficult to understand. The debate was limited due to the awkwardness of having to "raise their hand virtually to speak", jog from their offices, down the elevators, across the interstate highway exit, thru the Capitol parking lot and then into the Capitol and up to the second level to debate, question and discuss some very important and controversial topics - not only the expansion of absentee balloting in the upcoming primary/ presidential elections but the legality of making the changes without a constitutional amendment as required by former AG Jepsen ruling on the proper constitutional process to make any changes to vote by absentee ballot.
Then there was the highly controversial police accountability bill which as of this morning was still being debated.
The most controversial element was whether law enforcement would retain their personal liability immunity or forgo the protections of personal protections as a result of some bad apples in law enforcement. The past week tens of dozens of police officers and police commissioners lobbied their state representatives about concerns over the difficulty in future recruitment, massive early retirements, and delayed commitments for a more inclusive police force across the state.
The House debated an amendment to strip the immunity piece out of the bill throughout the night and when the amendment was called the votes were cast from 6:30 AM - 7:40 AM. The final vote was historic - a 72-72 tie with seven legislators absent not voting meaning that the amendment to prevent immunity from being stripped was defeated! Ten Democrats voted with the Republicans who introduced the amendment that was defeated and only one Republican voted with the Democrats which ensured the amendment was defeated.
Not an easy day in Hartford but an important one that will surely be looked years from now as one of the most historic legislative sessions ever.
The Senate on Tuesday of next week to take up the four bills and most believe the cap on insulin costs, an extension of telemedicine coverage and absentee voting will find an easy passage in the senate but the police accountability bill, no matter how resolved by the house, will keep the senators in Hartford longer than usual for a special session. Some even predict that the vote could be by the slimmest of margins as the pressure mounts by police chiefs and badged police officers lobby their local senator to either make the change to the personal liability sections or to keep any changes made in the house.
As the sun rose today and greeted legislators who debated this bill all day, night, and day again, the next big hurdle will take place in the senate. It a good bet that some midnight oil will be burned on the third floor before the controversy is settled one way or another. We can only hope that by then, the technology should be up and running smoothly and lively debate will be what fills the chamber.. let's hope.