April 27th, 2018
Welcome to In the Loop!

From Paddi's Desk

10 more days...

Honestly, I'm not really sure how to describe the activities of the CT Legislature this week. With fewer than 10 calendar days but just eight working days left, there is still so much to get done.

While the House met three of this week's five days, the Senate, due to unavoidable personal commitments, met only two days. Neither Chamber accomplished much -the House managed to take up 34 pieces of legislation by design, since they wanted to cover some very hot-button and controversial issues that took many hours for debate. These included national popular vote, financial aid for DREAMERS and a healthcare bill that included mandating insurance coverage for women, children and teens. The Senate could only address items where the Republican and Democratic leadership could agree based on the "power sharing" terms established last year, when the equal membership became a challenging way to run the Senate circle. They managed to approve 19 proposals and sent them to the House for their review.

One interesting action took place in the Senate, mostly because Senators were in and out of the Chamber. A bill was brought out, debated, placed on the consent calendar and approved 35-1, only to have Sen. Fasano rise and ask for a reconsideration of the consent calendar to have it removed. After that action took place, the Senate reintroduced the bill and, after a short debate, ended up only approving it on a bipartisan vote of 19 -16. The tight vote took Senate leaders by surprise, causing them to request that Senators stay in the Chamber as they planned on several more bills being debated and then placing them on the consent calendar.

Now, why do I point this out? With such commotion caused by the split on the Chief Justice nomination, the nomination of 40 new judges, the breakdown of the budget process, the challenges created by the new formation of the Progressive Caucus, the deal the Governor cut with the city of Hartford on picking up the city debt service, the number of legislators either retiring or seeking higher office and, now, the serious split on how to deal with the soon-to-be-insolvent transportation fund, the ability for state legislators to focus on one thing is becoming impossible.

Next week, the House will convene Monday through Saturday with Sunday off. After that, they will meet around-the-clock for session from Monday to adjournment on Wednesday, May 9th at midnight. The Senate is out on Monday and announced they will meet Tuesday to Saturday, returning the following week for another around-the-clock Monday to Wednesday at midnight schedule. Will this be enough time to tackle all the "must do" items? For the Senate, they just have to decide on what items are "must do" versus "want to do." That decision is based, at this time, more on politics than on policy, but that's just my speculation.

What's the "biggest bang for the debate time," so to speak? The House will see its so many split groups - city delegations, the Progressive Caucus, the suburbs versus the cities, the Republican wish list versus the Democratic wish list - compete for "air time" on the long-winded Chamber floor.

What will absolutely be required is approving the 42 nominated appointments to the Judicial Branch, or they will have to return to the legislature on a conditional interim assignment next January before they are officially appointed to serve their eight-year terms. No less than a full day will be required to take up that many appointments in the House, and at least a full day in the Senate.

At best, there's about seven days of available debate time for the 2018 legislature. Talk about a race to the finish.

CT Agency Corner   

CT Agency Corner - The Fate of Tolls Decided Next Week 

by Mike Johnson

CT's long battle with whether or not to institute tolls has an important week ahead, as House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz has committed his intention to bring the subject for a vote next week.
Bringing this decision to its most critical point is the fact that the special transportation fund (STF) is headed towards bankruptcy in the new fiscal year. Without an additional source of revenue, lawmakers would be forced to either allocate dollars through existing resources or raise the gas tax to account for the funds. At the beginning of the session, Governor Malloy pursued the idea of a four cent raise in the gas tax to help prevent insolvency for the STF, in addition to a $3 per fee on tire purchases, and the transfer of sales tax revenues from car sales from the general fund to the transportation account for fiscal year 2019. With his approval rating being at an all-time low of 22%, the legislature is extremely weary of embracing that idea.
One thing made clear by the Speaker during a press conference this week was that he believes the bill that would be voted on would be able to set up an appointed authority that establishes what the toll system would be in CT. This system would include pricing, frequency of the tolls and how the funds would be used. It's also believed to be an issue that would still need to come back to the legislature once the plan has been written so that the legislature can vote on the plan.
How will the Republicans vote on this bill this year? It's become very clear that the majority of Republicans in both the House and Senate opposed the original draft of the bill ( 5393), which would not require an additional vote of the legislature to establish the authority's recommendations on tolls. However, if there's a new draft with changes mentioned by the Speaker, there could be a better chance that a bill would pass. All eyes will be on the Capitol next week to see what toll proposals could move forward.
Did You Know?

This Week in History

The Connecticut Humane Society was founded, 1881

The Connecticut Humane Society, 137 years old and established on April 26, 1881, the oldest animal welfare organization in Connecticut, was founded by a young woman while still in high school.

Gertrude O. Lewis, before her senior year at Hartford High, paid a visit in 1880 to George Angell, President of the Massachusetts SPCA. She was deeply concerned about the callous treatment of children, companion animals and animals used in the workplace and sport and the lack of an agency in Connecticut to offer assistance. Mr. Angell agreed to lecture at an organizational meeting in Hartford in November 1880 and Gertrude set about recruiting townspeople to attend. She obtained a letter of introduction from Rev. Joseph Twichell, the prominent pastor of Asylum Hill Congregational Church and in a day and age without modern transportation, electricity or telephones, she visited with many business leaders and citizens.

In Mr. Angell's own words: "when I entered the church Sunday evening, I found one of the finest audiences it was ever my privilege to address, the very cream of Hartford ... at the close of my lecture, although the hour was half past nine, nearly two hundred remained ... to give their names then and there to organize a society ... the Connecticut Humane Society ... a live organization, which will probably continue its work of humanity a hundred years after this writer ... now stands as a monument of the power of one modest but earnest schoolgirl." Started by a youthful Gertrude Lewis and with the help of both everyday citizens and prominent people such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Olivia and Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), Rev. Francis Goodwin and Mrs. Elizabeth Colt, the Society has expanded from its original location on Washington Street in Hartford to Newington, Westport and Waterford.

In 1999, CHS opened the Fox Memorial Clinic, a donor-subsidized, full service veterinary clinic. Gertrude remained associated with the Society until her death in 1957 at age 97 with both her dream, and Mr. Angell's prophecy, alive and thriving well into the 21st century.
In This Issue:
The Real Scoop

As technology continues to evolve, seemingly faster than we can keep up with, cryptocurrency has emerged as a new way to exchange money and goods.

How do we keep track of these exchanges and how do we monitor and regulate this new industry? Can we use this new industry to create efficiencies? Thus is the emergence of the importance of blockchain. 

There is now talk of blockchain extending beyond just monitoring exchanges, but as a tool for delivery of public services. How do we implement these new services, and more importantly, how will they be regulated?

Read more  here.


by Ryan Bingham

The countdown until the end of session continues.
With less than two weeks left, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) is lobbying hard for a new law to preserve emergency funds for cities and towns.  The effort is to protect the "rainy day" funds or undesignated fund balances that each municipality is required to keep in order to maintain positive bond ratings from the rating agencies like Moody's or Standard and Poor's.  The protection would be from using those funds as an argument against them in union arbitration settlement processes. 
SB421 "aims to protect the municipalities of Connecticut from passing on the efforts of these ratings down to the citizens of the state," Joe Delong of CCM maintained during a press conference.  If the reserve was 15 percent or less than the town/cities operating budget, then it cannot be considered during any arbitration award.  Often, during binding arbitration processes, the arbiters will look at the ability for the town to pay the employees represented in the arbitration. When they look at the ability to pay, they consider many sources of revenue and the size of the fund balance is sometimes weighed as sign that the government can afford to pay higher wages or more lucrative benefits. The legislature's Planning and Development Committee has already passed a bill that would block arbitration panels from considering - and dipping into - the fund balance as they try to determine the municipality's ability to pay for the union agreement. Based on the state's high-profile fiscal problems, numerous municipalities have received negative outlooks or had downgrades in their bond ratings.

Behind the Scenes

by Chelsea Neelon

This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with with Representative Jason Rojas,  of the 9th House District and House Chair of Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee to hear more about his time as a legislator and some thoughts on the 2018 legislative session. 
What are some of your legislative priorities for the session?
- Addressing the budget, in particular the finance side of the budget to try to meet the expectations of the Appropriations Committee in the context of recognizing there is only so much revenue we can politically achieve but also without doing undo harm to the state's economy by pulling more money out of the private market.

What legislation are you most proud of getting passed?
- I was involved in creating the Connecticut K - 3rd reading initiative. It has been implemented across the state and has shown remarkable results, really improving the kids in this age range's reading abilities and performance.

What is your favorite memory as a legislator?
-  Back in my first or second term, and I know this is a silly one, a bat flew into the chamber. We had to stop the process because the bat was flying around and some of the maintenance staff ended up knocking it down from the gallery. Then Rep. Annie Hornish, who was a very big animal advocate, yelled out and was concerned we were going to hurt the bat. The bat did survive and we put it outside, no bats were harmed in the making of our legislative session. :)

What is your favorite late night session snack?
It's not food! It's always the Hosmer tangerine seltzer. But if I had to pick, it would be Slim Jims.

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