July 24, 2020
IN THE LOOP
The latest from the folks across the street from the Capitol

From Paddi's Desk
And the swallows return to Capistrano..aka the legislature was in Hartford this week!

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.





 

CT Agency Corner
Department of Social Services Contemplates Next Steps for Medical Transportation
by Mike Johnson

The state Department of Social Services (DSS) maintains transportation options for those on Medicaid that need help going to and coming back from routine medical appointments. This type of service is called non-emergency medical transportation, or NEMT for short, and unfortunately the state has not had much luck with their most recent vendors.
 
A large national livery service called Logisticare first managed the contract but fell victim to a number of complaints from Medicaid recipients not getting to their appointments on time. They caused such unrest in the system that the legislature even required one year to have the state go out to bid for this contract since Logisticare kept getting renewed.
 
The state in 2017 decided to move forward with a specialized NEMT ride-sharing company called Veyo that promised seamless tracking of their vehicles and up-to-the-minute updates for passengers looking for rides. On paper, this model presented a lot of opportunities since it removed the "middle man" of having a dispatch center and instead has the driver work directly with the passenger.
 
I think those reading this know where this story is going - The ending has been anything but a fairy tale. Dropped rides, missed appointments and vehicles not suitable for those with disabilities was the result of the first year met with a mandate from the legislature that the company provide monthly progress reports on how they fixed their early problems.
 
Which brings us to today - Veyo's three-year contract with the state ends in December and while the company has shown drastic improvement from their initial failure to launch, many are wondering if the state will give Veyo another chance at a three-year contract.
 
Admittedly, the logistics (no pun intended) of an NEMT system is anything but simple. Roughly 20% of the state's population is on Medicaid and eligible for this benefit. That number comes to 800,000 residents that a company would be responsible for assisting while also remembering that the number of eligible residents changes every year!
 
To say that NEMT is a thankless job is an understatement. However, if managed well and with the appropriate stakeholder-engagement, there's hope still that someone can get it right. Let's just hope whoever takes over this contract will be up for the challenge.

 

This Week in History
July 24, 1975 - "Supreme Court Orders Watergate Tapes be Handed Over" 

The US Supreme Court orders President Nixon to hand over tape recordings of White House conversations about the Watergate affair to the Watergate special prosecutor.

One of the tapes he released came to be known as the smoking gun tape.  It revealed that just six days after the Watergate break-in Nixon and Haldeman had discussed the ways to obstruct the FBI's investigation. 

This revelation directly led to a collapse in congressional support for Nixon and resulted in his resignation as president on August 9, 1974.



In This Issue:

Municipal Roundup
Housing Options in Towns a Trending Topic for 2021
by Mike Johnson 

Connecticut towns and cities have had a love/hate relationship with our affordable housing statute 8-30g. The statute, passed in 1989, required at the time that towns prospectively build in a 25% capacity for affordable housing units to help grow percentages for affordable housing.
 
Needless to say, towns in Connecticut have not only avoided meeting that threshold but have litigated and legislated ways around this long-standing law. Everything from state-permitted moratoriums for individual towns and challenges on appeal by homeowners opposed to affordable housing in their neighborhoods has stood as the biggest barriers for low-income housing to be more available.
 
A major milestone on this issue occurred last week where the CT Conference of Municipalities (CCM) stood up to say that they have an organization that has not been directly involved in "housing segregation" but believes now is the time to do so. Joe DeLong, executive director of CCM, said this week to the CT Mirror that, "Our organization for years has really focused on local control, making sure that one size did not fit all, and things that, frankly, were probably a hindrance to some of these efforts."
 
The last time Connecticut addressed this issue was actually to make it easier for towns after land use appeals to be able to prevent affordable housing from being constructed and even extended moratoriums for municipalities. Housing advocates are calling for a dramatic reworking to get affluent towns with as little as 3% affordable housing to increase their capacity.




The Day in Hartford
by  Mike Johnson 

As you all know our office is located across the street from the Legislative Office Building and State Capitol. 

Today's legislative session presented a rare day in Hartford with the legislature's first remote session and protests from the police unions and Black Lives Matter advocates.

Here are some photos of the Capitol Region today: