May 21, 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
People who need people…or maybe puppies…are the luckiest people in the world

This week at the Capitol there were some happy people! With the lockdown still in effect, our client the Connecticut Humane Society (CHS) held the first “reception” for the 2021 Session. Every January they bring puppies who participated in the popular Puppy Bowl on Super Bowl Sunday to the Legislative Office Building. But this year the CHS brought four adorable puppies to the lawn of the Capitol where they provided some much-needed “kisses” and “snuggles” to legislators who were debating some very controversial issues in each of the chambers.

The S&L Team had a blast greeting old friends and finally getting to meet with many freshmen legislators face-to-face. The fresh air, the sunshine and the camera opportunities definitely lifted many spirits and created quite the buzz inside the Capitol. Many adorable photos were being shared online as the reception went along and we welcomed members of the Senate, House and Governor’s Office—and even the Lt. Governor herself found time to stop by for cute puppy snuggles!

The event was strategically set for the same day as the reopening of Connecticut—which allowed for the casual gathering that spurred a ton of conversation. There was much mingling of a mix of members from each side of the aisle who had not seen each other in months, and who greeted each other with hugs, handshakes and fist bumps. Some discussed the finer points of legislation yet to be debated, some dissected the experience of a virtual session and others caught up on family stories. But all seemed to agree that what makes this career worthwhile is the people, the interactions and the diverse philosophies and backgrounds of all those involved in the process. 

Many legislators readily acknowledged that they miss all of us! They miss the role we play as technical experts on many subjects, as well as our role in translating legislation, sharing political insights, critiquing amendments, assisting in “fixing” bills to make them work and the interruptions they face as they try to sneak off to the restrooms! Many missed the ability to wander outside the chamber when a debate goes way too long and casually catch up on the scoop of the day, share some laughs and even recall the best war stories of past sessions. 

It’s interesting that legislators—regardless of party or chamber membership—all seem to agree that there were some good things that came out of this virtual session. They thought that some aspects of virtual testimony were actually helpful, but not all the time. Others mentioned the usefulness of technology when gathering as a caucus, without having to take a two hour drive from Fairfield or New London Counties—definitely a must keep. But clearly, the in-person connections with the critical players in the process and their constituents will be the greatest joy of all when we return to an in-person session.  

All in all, it was my best day this session. It was so clear that everyone is looking forward to the re-opening of the Capitol and getting on with the PEOPLE’s business!
Appropriations Committee Votes to Adjust Governor’s Priority Spending with American Rescue Plan Funds

This week the legislative Appropriations Committee modified and approved the proposed COVID-19 relief spending program proposed by Governor Lamont.

The State of Connecticut received approximately $2.8B from the American Rescue Plan approved by the Federal government and that money is permitted to be spent on both capital and operational expenses. This funding, which does not include money directly allocated to cities and towns in state, is required to be approved by CT’s Appropriations Committee then voted on by the full general assembly.

Balancing the State Budget
$1.75B is being used to help balance the state’s budget deficit over the course of the next two years with $759M in the first year and $894M in the second year. The spending levels that increased during the pandemic such as social services spending and unemployment relief are mitigate partially by these funds in addition to other increased expenses incurred by the state. It is important to note that the state actually exceeded the anticipated receipt of their sales tax revenue due in large to the influx of new residents moving into Connecticut the past year and the lack of domestic and international travel.

Boosting the Hospitality and Tourism Industries
$45M ARP funds will be used to support hospitality industries which were closed at the very beginning of the pandemic and the reopening of these sectors including hotels, motels, transportation and campgrounds. These funds will also support modernizing regulatory and licensing requirements related to the hospitality industry.

Support for the Unemployment Insurance Fund
$310M Connecticut's Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund has over the years been chronically underfunded well before the pandemic during the Great Recession and was already “batting from behind” when the sudden influx of unemployment claims were filed during the initial COVID-19 shutdowns in March. Governor Lamont proposed $50M for this fund but the legislature is proposing to increase the amount by $260M. The State estimates that they can, “fully or partially repay the federal UI loans in order to prevent increased taxes on employers.” They also note that, “at least 24 states have used Coronavirus Relief Funds to meet unemployment benefit obligations or pay down principal on federal UI loans.”

PPE and Supplies
$20M Pandemic highlighted the need for a DESPP/DEMHS emergency management warehouse, with a small logistics staff to run it. Most, if not all, states have some sort of a warehouse for emergency management to store assets. According to State officials, CT is paying thousands of dollars on a monthly basis to rent space at a warehouse, and the PPE inventory is being overseen and secured on a temporary basis by DEMHS staff, who have foregone their usual duties for a year, and by volunteer CT National Guard members. This investment in a warehouse includes a small logistics staff to oversee, maintain, and distribute as necessary the commodities and equipment needed in any emergency.
With the potential influx of millions of dollars in federal aid, through the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP), many Connecticut cities and towns are already looking at how to protect themselves from shortfalls when the money stops flowing in a couple of years. State leaders suggested this week a twofold approach. One, focus on initiatives that can demonstrate success, and avoid making long-term commitments.  In a meeting between municipal leaders and Gov. Ned Lamont on Tuesday, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker asked what towns and cities are supposed to do when the $2.8 billion in federal COVID-19 relief monies run out in two years.
Some communities want to bring on more teachers or social workers to help with a one or two year transition back to in person classes. While that may be paid for within the next two years through these newly allocated funds, they’re looking for ways to do that without taking on the long term financial burden of adding more tenured faculty to the payroll. The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities hosted Tuesday’s meeting so municipal leaders and Lamont’s administration can talk this year about the most effective way to use the funds. Lamont said he sees three chief goals for federal aid, saying “Our big priority is to come out of this pandemic stronger as a state, our big priority is economic growth and development, and our big priority is economic opportunity for everybody.”
In addition to federal aid, a proposal surfacing from budget discussions could place another tranche of state funding for those communities typically referred to as distressed communities. The possibility of almost $2 billion over the next 10 years could come to reality for projects in the most needed cities in our state for infrastructure and programs to make them more vibrant and attractive. This would be a program that moves away from the typical bonding projects requested by towns and cities to the state, which could take years to get funded. This would streamline that process and give more control to the legislature to disperse funds as opposed to the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) and the Governor. Speaker Ritter announced the plan in concept this week and suggested the goal is “to continue an annual investment of funds, both for infrastructure and investing in people and programs,” Ritter said, “not subject to the highs and lows” of the annual budgeting process.
SB 1 Passes in the Senate

The Senate this week accomplished its top priority, SB 1. Each session, the number one title is reserved for the proposal of highest importance to the Senate leadership. For many of the past several years, SB 1 was related to establishment of a paid family and medical leave program, and has also been assigned to proposals addressing tax reform and economic development.

This year, this bill was titled An Act Equalizing Comprehensive Access to Mental, Behavioral and Physical Health Care in Response to the Pandemic. This bill was raised by the Public Health committee and is a comprehensive proposal with many pieces, including declaring racism as a public health crisis and establishing a commission on racial equity in public health, studying the recruitment and retention of health care workers of color, implementing implicit bias trainings at hospitals, increasing gun violence prevention measures, and many other provisions that would collect data on some of the existing health disparities. Senator Mary Daugherty Abrams (D-Meriden) led the debate leading to its passage in the Senate as the co-chair of the Public Health Committee.

Proponents in the Senate spoke about how many of these proposals stemmed from an event held last summer at the Capitol on Juneteenth, the June 19th holiday commemorating emancipation, where many legislators gathered and called for legislation that would address health inequities in our state. SB 1 passed with bipartisan support and a final vote of 30 yay, 5 nay and now heads to the House.
Freshmen Legislator Profile: Tony Scott (R-Monroe)

Representative Tony Scott is only three weeks into his legislative career, but he’s set a clear goal to utilize the remaining few weeks of his inaugural session to build as many relationships as he can, on both sides of the aisle.

This strategy was recommended to him by House Minority Vin Candelora and is one I definitely agree with. Like his fellow freshmen Representative Corey Paris, Rep. Scott came in by way of a special election. He replaces former State Rep. JP Sredzinski who decided to leave his seat a few months ago for family reasons.

Rep. Scott shared with me that his inspiration for running came from his daughter, who he described as showing bravery to put herself out there to run for CT Kid Governor last year when she was in the fifth grade. She ultimately won her elementary school and advanced to the district competition but didn’t win the top title this time. Rep. Scott had been involved in his community for many years but never in an elected position and was ready to step in after the seat became available. His district covers his hometown of Monroe and also part of Newtown.

Unsurprisingly, he is a big fan of his district. Rep. Scott mentioned that the sense of community is what draws people to move there, including the local annual events like the Firemen’s Carnival and the Strawberry Festival. He also mentioned the farmers’ market that starts up around this time of year on Fridays, where you will run into many of your neighbors while supporting local businesses, and the concert series on Friday nights that many people enjoy after the market.

He’s been assigned the same committee assignments as his predecessor - Human Services, Higher Education and Public Safety - and is getting up to speed on some of their major issues. But ultimately, getting to know the committee leadership and some of the members is what he hopes to accomplish this session so that he’s able to spend the off session getting to work on developing priorities for next year. 
May 21, 1901, Not So Fast! - America's First Speed Limit Law

Today in 1901, Connecticut became the first state in America to pass a law governing the speed of automobiles. According to the new law, cars were not to exceed 12 miles per hour within city limits and 15 miles per hour on rural or suburban roads, and were required to slow down whenever they approached an intersection. Since automobiles were still vastly outnumbered by horses and horse-drawn carriages in 1901, the law also governed the interaction between the two types of vehicles: Automobiles were to slow down upon approaching any horse in the road, and if the horse appeared frightened, the motor vehicle was required to come to a complete stop.

Technically, there had been speed limit laws passed earlier in American history — in colonial Boston and New York, magistrates passed laws that forbade riding horses at a gallop through city streets. Connecticut’s “Act Regulating the Speed of Motor Vehicles,” however, was the first speed limit law for automobiles.
Even though the parts of the law governing speed proved difficult to enforce, given the lack of accurate speed-measuring devices in 1901, the maximum penalty for breaking the law served as a sufficient deterrent. Violators could be fined up to $200 — which translates to nearly $6,000 in today’s dollars!

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