February 12th, 2021
In This Issue:
From Paddi's Desk
Testifying Tips
CT Agency Corner
Municipal Roundup
From Inside The Golden Dome
Behind the Scenes
This Day in CT History
The fast track just got faster!

While the week leading up to the Governor’s budget presentation is filled with rumors, panic and sometimes enthusiasm, a virtual session surely changes the tone. Up until Tuesday of this past week, no one was quite sure how Wednesday would play out. Would committees who had public hearings on substantial issues push a pause button so folks could tune into the Governor as he delivered a virtual budget announcement? Would committees who scheduled meetings to raise the final bills of the 2021 session move the meeting along so they could see if he raised taxes? How was he going to clean up the two year budget deficit of over $2 billion in years one and two? Or was he really going to hold the line on new programs and focus on getting Connecticut out of the COVID-19 daze and start rebuilding the state’s economy?

On Wednesday, while the committees continued to meet and hear public testimony, the Governor presented a pre-taped address outlining his priorities, many of which were “leaked” or announced a couple days earlier, and no one was there to greet him with a standing ovation despite each chamber being squarely under Democratic control. Some speculated he would ask leaders to join him as part of his address—even though it was to be pre-taped—but that didn’t happen.

As the Governor sat in his executive office with a suit and tie and presented a two year spending plan of up to $23.5 billion, legislators went about their business as usual. Commissioners stayed hard at work and lobbyists might have been the biggest audience watching the Governor’s address so they could catch the finest of details in the Governor’s presentation.

The usual rush to get a hold of the inches and inches of documents that support the Governor’s speech was far easier than previous years. The documents popped up with about 30 minutes to spare and one could follow along with the Governor’s speech since it too was released earlier in the day.
Not too many surprises at all. His pledge all this year was to get Connecticut out of the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuild the economy and that seemed to be the biggest and most prominent theme. There were some moments where he talked about his vision and values for the state, but nothing in terms of new programs. Some industries were taken aback as he asked for a tax on tractor trailer vehicles based on miles driven in the state to help the dwindling transportation fund, and a tax on insurance carriers to help keep health insurance affordable under the Access CT insurance exchange program. Businesses saw, yet again, action on the corporate tax surcharge which expired last month, rise from the dead so to speak, and now it’s proposed to become permanent at 10% if your gross revenue exceeds $100 million. Not so sure some large corporations who have decided to stay here rather than flee will like that!

So as folks started to scour through the pages of numbers and narratives, the OPM Secretary took to the virtual podium yesterday to address the media as well as the Appropriations Committee, highlighting the good about the budget proposal and explaining to some not-so-sure legislators why it’s the right way to go. Opposition began to pop by the afternoon when the coalition of state employees said to Governor Lamont – “Not so fast, we’ve given up raises since 2015 and were not doing it again. For background here, many members of the public believe that while they fretted about their jobs, were furloughed or laid off, state employees “worked remotely”—even though their workload was somewhat limited over the past year with state agencies and the legislative building being closed and making the pivot to remote work.

The Capitol is closed over the next two workdays due to back-to-back state holidays. Folks will return to a packed schedule of public hearings. The agendas are packed with loads of bills, 2786 to be exact, and the public hearings for the budget proposals will soon begin. Every line item has large proponents for keeping it funded or expanding the funds available. Not so much for cutting the resource for any state funded program. How this is managed virtually will certainly be interesting. Usually it’s a nightmare with hundreds coming to the Capitol waiting for their three minutes. Agency heads get grilled for hours by committee members defending the Governor’s decisions as the media looks for those “human interest stories” to add depth to their reports. Not so this year.

As the state comes upon the one year anniversary of this strange and troublesome pandemic, it will be interesting to see what type of reaction or recognition of the last 365 days will occur. One day it seems like a lifetime ago, and then it seems like it was just yesterday when we all heard the Governor’s infamous words – “Stay safe, stay home.” 
Important tips to Keep in Mind when Preparing to Testify

Don’t lose your link!
When you register to testify at a public hearing this session, you will eventually receive an email from the clerk staffing the committee. This email will come from an email account that ends in cga.ct.gov, so please be on the lookout for this email after you register. It will contain a unique link that’s specific for you and your assigned timeslot for testifying.

This past week we had some very tense moments where folks couldn’t locate their links and it was nearly impossible to interrupt the committee clerks to ask if they would send a replacement link. Do NOT take the chance—save it in a spot where you can quickly locate it when your timeslot is approaching. This will ensure you don’t miss out on your big moment.

Prepare to testify with our Virtual Media Survival Guide
With public hearings being entirely virtual this year, we want to make sure you sound and look your best when testifying over Zoom. Our public relations team has provided a useful Virtual Media Survival Guide that will help you in preparing for a public hearing—including tips on camera placement, lighting and technology. You can access the Virtual Media Survival Guide by clicking here.
Department of Social Services Contemplates Next Steps for Medical Transportation

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 are 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.
Federal Education Recovery Efforts Begin

It is no surprise, because we’ve read all about it, that Congress has just passed a massive stimulus bill as a result of the country wide pain caused by the pandemic. What you may not be aware of is what the impact is on schools and in particular, CT schools.  The $129 billion aid package for K-12 was released Monday by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va. Democrats plan to include relief for schools. The bill’s requirement that a minimum amount (roughly 25 percent) go toward academic recovery efforts at the state and local level. That is the minimum amount that must pay for “implementation of evidence-based interventions, such as summer learning, extended day, or extended school year programs, and ensure such interventions respond to students’ academic, social, and emotional needs.” In addition, students who’ve been disproportionately affected by the pandemic would get top priority for this funding, according to the legislation. In CT, they will be designated to receive $492 million, which will be directly disbursed amongst school districts in CT and will be subject to those provisions mentioned earlier.
 
Also, coming from the Wall Street Journal, and certainly supported by many school districts throughout the state is the ongoing and necessary push for vaccinating teachers. The WSJ reports that, “A key to reopening school doors is getting teachers vaccinated against the coronavirus. That isn’t as straightforward as moving them to the front of the line for shots.” As pointed out by the National Education Association (NEA), it’s not about whether or not teachers will get it when it is available to them. The NEA found 84% of members have either already received the vaccine, scheduled their appointments or planned to do so when it became available. Sixty-three percent of respondents said they would feel more willing to teach in person with the vaccine. CT recently accounted that teachers will be eligible in the next group of essential workers, but they are currently behind those that are aged 65 and greater.
More on Governor Lamont's Proposed Budget
 
Interested in watching the Governor's Budget Address Speech? One upside of a virtual session is that because everything is being recorded, we have access to (and can share recordings of) meetings and speeches after they happen. You can watch the full 25 minute speech as it was presented in real time on Wednesday by clicking here.

As you may have heard, almost as soon as the budget went live, legislators began the process of reviewing and pulling out which pieces they want to target for changes in their version of a draft budget. Some of the early sticking points included the Governor's thoughts on what legalizing recreational cannabis should look like in CT, funding for human services like Medicaid programs, and the use of federal stimulus dollars for education spending. These discussions began this week as the Appropriations committee is starting to gear up for their process to develop the spending side of the budget.

The taxing side of the budget will bring to light another major area of disagreement between the Governor's proposed budget and what some democratic legislative leaders have proposed. While Governor Lamont did not include any broad based tax increases, Senate President Martin Looney (D-New Haven) and Representative Sean Scanlon, Chair of the Finance Committee (D-Guilford) have both raised tax packages that would increase taxes on the state's wealthiest citizens and provide relief to poor and middle class families with children. The Finance, Revenue & Bonding committee will begin to meet more frequently over the next few weeks to consider some of these ideas.
Freshmen Legislator Profile: Michael DiGiovancarlo (D-Waterbury)

Next up in our Freshmen Legislator Profile Series, we introduce you to Representative Michael DiGiovancarlo. Rep. DiGiovancarlo challenged an incumbent republican member of the House last Fall and was elected to represent the 74th District located entirely in Waterbury. We asked Rep. DiGiovancarlo to share some information with us and here's what he had to say:

I am excited to be here on behalf of the Waterbury community. Each day I find myself learning more and more about the issues that directly impact my constituents and Connecticut residents. I am very interested in legislation that affect seniors, veterans, our children and working families and am listening each day in Committee Meetings and Public Hearings to gain information about these important issues. This year, I serve on the Public Safety, Veterans and Commerce Committees – all of which are incredible areas to make a positive impact in.
 
  • I am a born and raised Waterbury resident
  • I am a community police officer for the Waterbury Police Department
  • I don’t mind country music
  • I enjoy golfing (if and when I have time)
  • I am celebrating 23 years of marriage and have two boys, a 15 year old and 19 year old

-Rep. DiGiovancarlo
February 12th, 1853. England's Most Famous Detective Was Born in Hartford
A scion of one of Connecticut’s oldest and most prominent families, world-famous actor and playwright William Hooker Gillette, was born in Hartford in 1853. Drawn early to the theater arts, he left the city at the age of 20 to seek his fortune as an actor and stage producer. He met with only moderate success for a quarter century, until 1899, when he landed the title part of the detective Sherlock Holmes in a new stage adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s internationally popular mysteries.

Gillette was the first man to portray Sherlock Holmes in a stage play sanctioned by Conan Doyle himself, and he personally assisted the author in refining the original script to better suit the demands of the theater. Gillette’s brilliant portrayal of the Victorian detective was hugely successful — so popular, in fact, that the actor was soon touring the United States and Europe to sold-out audiences. Gillette became the iconic public embodiment of the fictional English detective and starred in a variety of Sherlock Holmes dramatic productions for the next two decades. He was responsible for some of the most memorable characteristics we now associate with the eccentrically individualistic detective, including Holmes’s wearing a “deerstalker” hat, smoking a curved pipe, using a magnifying glass, and playing the violin. Gillette became so closely identified with the character he helped complete that when Conan Doyle began writing new Sherlock Holmes novels in 1901, he insisted Gillette be used as the model for the accompanying illustrations. This forever linked the Connecticut actor’s stage identity with the “canonical” print version of England’s most famous fictional sleuth.
Late in life, after years of basking in international stardom, Gillette unofficially retired from acting. However, like many a performer after him, the lifelong thespian found he couldn’t stay away from the limelight. In 1930, at 76, the actor announced a final farewell tour in which he would travel along the East Coast reprising his role as the world’s greatest detective one last time. Connecticut newspapers were abuzz with the news that Gillette would perform at the popular Parsons Theatre in downtown Hartford for three days only.

Following performances in Washington, D.C., where he dined with President Herbert Hoover, and Baltimore, where he laid a wreath on the grave of Edgar Allan Poe for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Gillette came back to his home state, opening his final Hartford appearance on February 12. The next day, he was feted by some of the city’s most notable residents at a grand luncheon at the Hartford Club. The guests – many of them lifelong friends and associates – presented the famous actor with gifts, accolades, and anecdotes marking his legendary career and contributions to the arts. Over 400 people attended the luncheon, and thousands more tuned in to hear Gillette endure plenty of good-natured roasting by old friends in a live broadcast on WTIC-AM radio.
At the end of his tour, Gillette retired to the unusual stone castle he had built high above the Connecticut River in East Haddam. Five years after his death in 1937, the State of Connecticut purchased the actor’s estate, and today the castle and grounds are open to the public as part of Gillette Castle State Park, one of Connecticut’s most popular attractions.
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