December 17, 2021
In This Issue:
From Paddi's Desk
CT Agency Corner
Municipal Roundup
From Inside The Golden Dome
This Day in CT History

Time is Ticking!

45 business days to Opening Day for the 2022 session (February 9th) and then it’s a short 65 business days (May 4th) to adjournment – WOW. It’s so hard to imagine all the work that needs to get done and the timeframe to do it.

TICK TOCK TICK TOCK is all I can think of right now! Then add to the mix a statewide election on Nov 8th and there’s going to be some fireworks under the capitol dome for sure! The two House caucuses have already outlined what they think is important – House Republicans believe the 2022 top priority is the steady and shocking surprise in random acts of theft, carjacking and threats to schools, and the consequences that the juveniles should face as a result of their behavior. House Republican leader Vin Candelora (R- North Branford) also mentions that the current requirements to quarantine students every time they come into contact with someone who tests positive for the COVID-19 virus needs to be curtailed since it certainly is an indirect contributor to the uptick in juvenile crime. And his final priority outlined this past week is centered on the fact that despite most other state capitols being “fully open for business", the Connecticut Capitol Building's access is still restricted to the first floors. The legislature is still rotating days for staffers to come in their office, and the building is closed on Wednesdays. Candelora says the message is inconsistent with the status of the impact of the COVID-19 virus where he believes that the closure is impacting residents' trust and favorability of the state legislature and state government in general. With a closed door, many believe that it reflects on transparency issues and “deals” being made behind closed doors with little input from the real public. “People can go to restaurants, the movies and fitness centers, but they can’t come to the Capitol? We’re shut down as if it was March of 2020. It’s one building that needs to be transparent and it’s not following the science,” Candelora said in a recent media interview.

What did Speaker Matt Ritter (D – Hartford) have to say about his caucus' priorities pertaining to those announced by the house republican leader? Regarding addressing the alarming juvenile crime increase – Ritter explains his caucus sees it as a matter “of shortage of mental health services for young people that makes a major obstacle toward making inroads on the widespread crime being committed. In the Hartford Courant Thea Montanez, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin’s chief of staff, penned an op-ed outlining some very similar convictions, namely that a history of unaddressed mental health issues as well as a life living under traumatic experiences have led to this unfortunate public threat.    

About opening the capitol building for the public, Speaker Ritter said “I think we’d all like to open things up, but it going to come down to where we are with Omicron in January and February. You can’t pack 200 people in a room if there is a major public hearing on a controversial piece of legislation or flood the open spaces to the limit and expect all things will be fine.”

A sleeper issue was mentioned by Speaker Ritter that will take all the air out of the capitol for days and possibly weeks, the approval of negotiated new contracts with the state employee unions collectively known as the SEBAC agreement. The agreement, last approved in 2017, was based on former Governor Malloy’s negotiation for the retirement changes now being mentioned as a factor for the large scale retirement of state employees that has been all over the media. Speaker Ritter pointed out that each one of the contracts requires a separate vote and hours and hours of debate.

I had a very interesting thought about what was NOT mentioned by either house leader - the state of the budget. Due to a strong retail environment, a focused migration of high income earners in Fairfield county and the significant federal dollars flowing into the state coffers, unlike other years of a two year budget, there’s plenty of funding to keep the budget in the black as well as make significant contributions to pay down the state debt and fully fund the rainy day fund.

 The challenge will be for a mostly progressive house on the democratic side to keep large, expensive new programs out of the debate as they look at reelection and the desire to make their stronghold constituents happy, while draining the well positioned budget and putting pressure on the 2023 session when a new legislature will be seated. A newly engaged democratic caucus in the house was mentioned a couple weeks ago, the CT Blue dogs. They are moderate, fiscally conservative members in the house who may have to team up with the republican members to keep this temptation from becoming reality.

So as we look to the holidays and I think of a new year's resolution for the legislature, it might be to take it slow, be forward thinking and enjoy the feeling of calm rather than crank up spending and deal with it next year and the following years. Sometimes it’s referred to as 'kicking the can down the road' and it seems as if even the Governor is looking for a break from that steady habit and prefers one of strategy spending on long term investments in infrastructure and quality of living initiatives.

We’ll know better in 45 business days when they return to the capitol and hear the governor’s budget / state of the state message on opening day.  
Remembering Edith Prague

Sometimes in your professional career there are those that stand out and stand tall. Former commissioner, and state senator Edith Prague is one of those memorable people Patrick and I came across in our career as lobbyists. I first met her when I worked as the external affairs director for the CT Easter Seal Society located in eastern CT. Through my work on behalf of persons with disabilities and then Representative Prague’s work with the elderly, we’d collaborate on many an issue at the state capitol. In 1990 she joined the Weicker administration and we continued to work together on many issues again. She was direct, transparent, caring, funny and always approachable. As she “retired” from her role as commissioner and became a force in the state senate we continued to work together on a lot of different issues. Patrick’s relationship with Senator Prague always made me laugh. While they came from somewhat “different” perspectives, I’d chuckle when she stood up to support some issue related to the CT Beer Wholesalers or another business concern we were lobbying for! We both loved to interface and lobby Senator Prague because she always took the time to listen, ask really insightful questions (which helped us reframe or change our strategy to reflect her thoughtful suggestions) and she would always follow up to inform us on her decision on the legislation. When she officially retired in 2021, not only did CT lose a great legislator, Patrick and I lost a wonderful friend. May you rest in peace Senator Prague – job well done. 
Executive Authority Set to Expire in February. Will it Extend Further?

Governor Lamont's ability to guide the state through certain administrative policies without approval by the legislature was given to him in March 2020 and has been extended four times since then. Very few disputed the importance of this right in the beginning, but will legislative leaders and the public support continue this right past February?

The Omicron variant has escalated our rates of infections and hospitalizations in the state. However, if vaccination rates from the booster continue to rise, would the state still need the state of emergency? The purpose of the state of emergency is to enable policy that helps prevent the spread of COVID-19 to be decided on expeditiously and without having an overly political debate on the topics that get adopted. The biggest problem being presented in that scenario is that the state does have the legislature decide on every other kind of policy in the state, and given that the legislature is in session from February-May with flexibility to also have a special session if needed, one can easily make the argument that the powers are not necessary.

Governor Lamont is heading into a re-election year as are other state legislative and constitutional offices, so the answer to the questions posed above will need to be thoughtfully crafted and planned. The Administration received national attention and praise over their management of the pandemic, so the argument they will likely make going into the February session is to give their office flexibility to move on policies that still need to be addressed such as vaccine requirements and potential mask requirements. The Governor has stated his intentions that restaurants and public venues will not be shut down again. But the mask requirement, which for now has been left up to towns, could get addressed as we’ve seen in other cities such as New York City, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

In what will likely become a wedge political issue and a hotly debated topic in the legislature this year, many municipalities are seeking answers to the recent increase in stolen cars in their communities. Car thefts have been decreasing in Connecticut’s larger cities, but have sharply increased in the suburbs. Overall, thefts are down almost 80% overall from three decades ago. Many elderly communities in the state are growing concerned and are pushing their local leaders to act. Towns like East Lyme have seen an increase in vehicle thefts since 2019 and recently had an incident when a person with a stolen vehicle struck a local police officer. The problem is that the offenders aren’t typically from the town they’re stealing cars from, so some of the early intervention programs locally wouldn’t curb the problem, which is why people are looking to their state officials to get more involved. Connecticut Republicans have called for special sessions to address the issue, while Democrats have suggested that they’re looking at the problem the wrong way. Either way, local leaders, especially those from small suburban communities, are likely going to be pitted against the urban centers for resolution this session. 

East Hartford is continuing to build on their partnership with Goodwin University to build a multi-phase development that would include a riverfront hotel, restaurants and housing. Despite the location to the Connecticut River, both Hartford and East Hartford have not seen much riverfront development. The Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) will give East Hartford two million dollars to match four million from both the city and Goodwin University to acquire land along the river for the development. This first phase will include a marina which would provide facilities for residents to kayak, spend time by the water and enjoy the public space. 
Connecticut & the Climate

On Thursday, Governor Lamont signed an executive order pertaining to Connecticut's efforts to combat climate change. Last session, the Governor's notorious TCI initiative failed due to pressure from the legislature. The TCI would have caused a raise in gas prices of five to ten cents per gallon. Due to the sharply rising gas prices experienced in the state, the Governor's proposal died on June 9th. This new executive order seeks to implement certain aspects of the TCI, as well as other climate initiatives, by using executive branch resources. The EO will create a Connecticut Equity and Environmental Justice Advisory council within the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP). This council will provide advice to the department on the rollout of certain initiatives like the air quality roll out program, which seeks to improve air quality around the state, and specifically near major highways where emissions are highest. The council's role is to provide a lens of equity when the state is making decisions about remedying environmental injustices.

While element of the TCI that would increase gas prices was not present in the Governor's executive order, there were still elements that keep with the TCI's theme, reducing transportation-related carbon emissions. The executive order includes a number of transportation initiatives including development of a statewide battery electric bus fleet by 2035, reduction of miles traveled by Department of Transportation employees and a plan to upgrade culverts to better accommodate stormwater as storms intensify and become more frequent. To view all 23 items of this executive order, click here.
December 17th: A Future President Earns His Dolphins

Decades before he became President of the United States, a young James “Jimmy” Earl Carter, Jr. had his sights set on a lifelong career in the U.S. Navy. As a teenager, Carter dreamed of attending the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. After graduating from high school in rural Plains, Georgia at the age of 17, he studied mathematics at two local colleges to qualify for admission to the Naval Academy. Carter was accepted in 1943 and pursued an accelerated course of study offered to midshipmen during World War II. As a result, he graduated in only three years.

After serving as a training and education officer for two years, Ensign Carter decided to change the course of his Navy career and attend Submarine School, which brought him to Naval Submarine Base New London, located in Groton, Connecticut. There, Carter underwent a rigorous, six-month training program, graduating on December 17, 1948 and receiving the gold dolphins pin insignia awarded to all US Navy submarine officers.

After several years of serving on diesel submarines in the Pacific, Carter returned to Groton in 1952 to be interviewed for the Navy’s brand-new nuclear submarine program. He was promptly promoted to Lieutenant and spent the next year preparing to become the engineering officer for the USS Seawolf nuclear submarine, being constructed at nearby Electric Boat in Groton. When Carter’s father died suddenly in mid-1953, however, the promising young officer decided to shelve his plans for a military career and headed back to rural Georgia to take over the family business of peanut farming.

Many years later — after Carter’s rapid rise to a political stardom that included being elected President of the United States in 1976 — the U.S. Navy honored Carter by naming the third and final Seawolf-class submarine after him. In June 2004, Carter returned to Groton again to watch his wife Roslynn officially christen the USS Jimmy Carter. The very next year, as the federal government sought to close military bases across the country to save money, the former president and submarine officer personally petitioned against the slated closing of Submarine Base New London, a move many supporters saw as fundamental to the ultimately successful efforts to keep the base open. Even though his life ultimately steered him away from the Silent Service, Jimmy Carter found important ways to give back to his country thanks in part to the time he spent at the sub base in Groton, Connecticut.

The original article from the CT Humanities Council can be found here.
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