June 4, 2021
In This Issue:
From Paddi's Desk
CT Agency Corner
Municipal Roundup
From Inside The Golden Dome
Behind the Scenes
This Day in CT History
How to train for a marathon… and the last week of session

Every year around this time, talk at the State Capitol centers around the similarities of surviving a 150-day session and preparing for a 26.2-mile marathon—especially what to expect when entering the final mile.

Next week marks the beginning of the final mile of this year’s 2021 marathon extraordinaire! Those with more experience and knowledge of marathons than I are all over the internet offering advice on how to best prepare for taking on this exhausting event; how novices should approach the daunting experience of their first marathon and lessons runners should take with them when they enter their next race. I thought it might be interesting to share and compare some of those thoughts, when the marathon in question is a 5-month legislative session.

Long-distance running continues to draw plenty of newbies each year to join the ranks of the more experienced runners. Runners tend to be highly motivated, focused and filled with optimism at the start of their training, or even a race.

Mile 1: Opening Day

It was just like Opening Day of the 2021 Session: There was excitement for the Governor, the freshmen class of legislators as well as the returning House and Senate members—and even the lobbyists—as the 2021 Session kicked off on January 6th. As with training for a marathon, the newly elected legislators were filled with energy, excitement about the journey ahead, facing the challenges of the unexpected and fulfilling one of their bucket list “must-dos!”

As the legislature sailed through the unique COVID-influenced public hearing process with a minor stumble here and there, the two chambers started out on an even keel, with solid teamwork and even some moments of pure pleasure. As the freshmen legislators warmed up, they settled into the steady rhythm of the legislative process, picked up the protocols, etiquette and flow of floor debate, and all seemed as if there was a victory down the road.

But session, like a marathon, is about endurance.

Mile 13: The Committee Process Ends

As the committee process gave way to more frequent and longer House and Senate sessions, some of the first-mile excitement waned and a little less of the “we’re all in this together,” camaraderie was evident. The peppy January talk of walking side-by-side and working together kind of got lost somewhere around mile 13, as committees struggled to agree on which bills to move forward.

For a brief moment, some lawmakers, staffers and lobbyists felt relief. “We’re halfway there!” Then the reality of the long road still ahead loomed large. The cordial relationship between House and Senate committee co-chairs and ranking members got a little stressed and the pressure increased on the majority party Democrats to get the business of the day done while being peppered by questions from minority Republicans—some intended to clarify or make a bill better, and others intended to grind down their stamina.

Avoiding “The Wall”

Marathon runners will tell you about the experience of “hitting the wall.” That moment at about mile 18 or 20 when their glycogen is depleted and their mental edge starts to wane. The course becomes longer, steeper and less exciting as the final mile faces you. Physical exhaustion, mental fatigue, emotional highs and lows, stress and even losing focus on your goals all happen during the last few days of session.

The State Capitol has its own version. Runners - aka legislators, staffers, lobbyists and even the Governor need to prepare physically and mentally to avoid the wall so they can finish the race—with a mixture of nutrition, hydration, mental toughness and positive reinforcement to carry them through the fluctuation of moods, emotions, confidence and physical stamina. Nothing seems to be going right. At times, folks forget what they set out to accomplish in the first place, or get drawn into the drama of the day, the recent news conference or even a bad news report. 

Runners feed on the cheering crowd along the race course. And legislators often look for support and motivation from like-minded organizations and individuals, but with the Capitol campus closed to the public, lobbying corps, advocates and family members, many have found it hard to maneuver through the stressful debates and negotiations without hitting the wall.

Some legislators this session engaged in a bit too much socialization, which drew the attention of the media, the public and rebukes from their leaders. But most kept their eyes forward and followed the more seasoned marathoners toward the finish.

The Final Mile

So how do you get through the blur of the last mile? Successful runners and those of us in the legislative arena have learned that the best way to end the race where you want to be is to pace yourself from the beginning. That way, you don’t end up losing more time in the end than what was gained by pushing the envelope on the earlier part of the race. And as with runners, legislators need to tap into the motivations that spurred them to run (for office) in the first place. 

Humor helps, as well. House Speaker Matt Ritter is known for reciting the towns in the districts of the House members he calls upon, and he often draws upon his wit to provide a bit of color commentary to break up long debates and help keep his 150 members relaxed. In the Senate, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz many times kept the 36 members aligned by gently reminding a senator now and then that they were veering off the path and that they should keep moving forward and keep their eyes on the prize.    

The Finish Line

Every marathon and legislative session feels different, but there is one feeling they have in common: the sense of accomplishment when crossing the finish line. It’s not yet quite clear who will cross the finish line first—the Governor, the Democrats or the Republicans, the House or the Senate—but the victory is not in who’s first, but in mastering the perseverance, tenacity and longevity to cross the finish line.

What we do know is that on midnight June 9th, the 2021 legislative marathon will be over. And hopefully the people of Connecticut will be the winner. 
Youth Development Program Expanded

Gov. Ned Lamont earlier this session announced the use of COVID relief dollars to assist with the expanded opportunity for youth services this summer for those who are attending college in Connecticut or are college students coming back to the state for the summer.

This week, it was announced by the Governor's office that Connecticut will be able to benefit from the expansion of the program and additional $2 million will raise the investment to $7.7 million to support the program. According to the Executive Branch, eligible services like transportation, food support, and other items that will decrease barriers to participation.

This investment, which is in addition to the $5 million the state previously allocated for the program, will bolster more opportunities for underserved communities in the state that were limited to remote learning in some cases more than a year. A number of these applications will be made available and for more information on enrolling please click here https://opp.org/programs/work-2-learn/
The session is winding down, which means long nights of technical debates. But sometimes we get a little bit of levity! We wanted to share Thursday's late night debate on requiring the disclosure of the condition of CT's many dams! (video courtesy of CT Dems' Twitter/CT-N)
Legislature Passes Bill on Children's Mental Health

This week, the legislature passed SB 2 An Act Concerning Social Equity and the Health, Safety and Education of Children. As written, the bill would expand mental health services and interventions for kids by implementing suicide prevention training in local and district health departments that will be administered by the Office of the Child Advocate and the Youth Suicide Advisory Board once every three years starting July 1, 2022. This bill comes in response to an increased rate of children seeking psychiatric care, as well as increased rates of more acute illnesses, including those at risk for suicide.

A main component of the bill consists of the "Question, Persuade, and Refer" (QPR) Program. The program aims to teach people how to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to question, persuade, and refer someone to help. Local health officials will determine which employees will receive the training, but recipients will likely include health department employees, school employees, volunteers and employees at youth organizations, social service workers and members of fire and police departments.

The legislation also allows children to take two mental health days per school year. If a district already has mental health days, the two new days from this bill will be tacked on. The bill also requires the commissioner of education to set up virtual learning standards, and will allow school districts to permit virtual learning for grades 9-12 starting next year as long as such standards are followed. The 38 page bill, which addresses many more issues, can be found here.

As we near the end of the legislative session, stay tuned to see how the legislature's final actions will effect municipalities!
Prison Phone Call Bill Passes in Concurrence

After passage in the House this week and in the Senate prior to that, the bill that would remove the cost charged to incarcerated people for making telephone calls is close to the finish line in it's journey to become part of Connecticut law. Advocates have pointed to the fact that maintaining contact with family and friends outside of prison is critical to a successful reentry once prisoners reach the end of their sentence, and the current pricing structure is cost prohibitive for many families. SB 972 passed with bipartisan support in both chambers.

But during a budget press conference yesterday, Governor Lamont and senior members of his administration including the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) were asked by a reporter about pieces of the budget that are still being negotiated with legislative leaders - and this bill came up as part of their answer.

The Governor's team, while acknowledging that something needs to be done, indicated that perhaps instead of making calls free, Connecticut could look to lower the costs to be more in line with the pricing that other states charge. This is one of many policies that are in "stand alone" bills, but also will need corresponding language and funding to be included in the budget document. As of Friday afternoon, leaders were still trying to come to a deal on the budget, although all sides have indicated that they are close. Speaker Ritter announced that the House will run a budget with or without a deal with the Governor, as soon as Saturday of this week.
Freshmen Legislator Profile: John-Michael Parker (D-Madison)

Representative John-Michael Parker came in to office this session with clear goals - wanting to pass legislation to support youth mental health, environmental protections, and to invest in arts, culture, and tourism. Overall, he wanted to build relationships with his new colleagues—in and outside of the legislature—and learn the legislative process so that he can be the most effective representative for his community.
 
Rep. Parker was born and raised in Madison, Connecticut, and now represents the 101st district which includes Madison and Durham. He graduated from Daniel Hand High School in 2006 and Yale in 2010, and moved back to CT in early 2018 after working as a teacher, an artist, and non-profit leader because he wanted to build a future in the community that made him who he is. After a very narrow loss two years ago, he was successful in winning the seat in a rematch election last fall.

He mentioned that he's been surprised by the pace of session so far, and by the breadth and sheer volume of issues to learn about! Given that we've been living in a virtual world during COVID-19, starting the session on Zoom wasn't too tough for him. But over these last few weeks, as he's had the opportunity to spend more time in the Chamber and is working in-person, he's realized how much the virtual format misses and how amazing it will be, next year, to return to normal!

He serves on the education, public health, and environment committees, and is enjoying this work because they tackle issues he's most excited about working on and relate to his professional experience. In his life before politics, Rep. Parker worked professionally as a touring musician, as the frontman of indie rock band Great Caesar. He's thankful to find ways to bring music and creativity into his campaigns, especially through working with young people in the district. 
June 4, 1982: America's First Lemon Law

Today in 1982, in response to an increasing number of consumer complaints about seriously defective new automobiles (colloquially called “lemons”), the Connecticut legislature passed the nation’s first “Lemon Law.” Introduced by freshman representative John J. Woodcock III of South Windsor, the law was loosely modeled on a set of consumer protections for automobile buyers that had been introduced — but rejected by — the California state legislature two years earlier.

Connecticut’s “Lemon Law” — formally titled “An Act Concerning Automobile Warranties” — strengthened legal protections for consumers who were seeking repairs for faulty vehicles and established time limits for dealers and manufacturers to repair defects that were covered under warranty. Furthermore, if the vehicle’s issues could not be repaired within four attempts, the manufacturer was required to either replace the automobile or provide a full refund to the consumer. After the law’s successful passage on June 4, 1982, state representative Woodcock continued to make a name for himself as one of Connecticut’s leading consumer advocates, later focusing on the successful passage of a lemon law for used cars (the first lemon law addressed only new vehicles), and a law against odometer tampering.

Connecticut’s bold stand for automobile consumer protections made waves in both the national news and other state legislatures. Today, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have their own sets of lemon laws. Over 30 years after it became the first “Lemon Law” in the United States, Connecticut’s “Automobile Warranties” statute is still going strong: in 2017, the state Department of Consumer Protection processed 64 cases relating to the Lemon Law, resulting in over $2,300,000 returned to Connecticut car buyers.

Here is a link to the full article - Provided by CT Humanities Council.
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