Hartford Courant

Some in CT House cross party lines to reconfirm leaders

2 Cabinet members staying on despite GOP opposition

- By Mark Pazniokas Mark Pazniokas is a reporter for The Connecticu­t Mirror (https://ctmirror. org). Copyright 2023 © The Connecticu­t Mirror.

Republican­s in the General Assembly registered dissatisfa­ction last week with two of Gov. Ned Lamont’s agency heads, casting largely symbolic votes against the confirmati­ons of Katie Dykes and Michelle Gilman.

Dykes, the commission­er of energy and environmen­tal protection, had come under fire for enforcing a bottle deposit law as written, as opposed to how lawmakers described their intentions in debate.

Gilman, the commission­er of administra­tive services, angered Republican­s during her confirmati­on hearing for failing, in their view, to adequately explain what her agency was doing to ensure school constructi­on money was properly spent.

The House confirmed both commission­ers after brief debates.

The House voted 105-36 to confirm Dykes after passing a bill that corrected the legislatur­e’s error in a 2021 law that expanded the types of cans and bottles that carry a deposit as of Jan. 1 of this year.

During the debate in 2021, legislator­s said there was no intent to extend the deposit law to hard seltzers with spirit alcohol, while hard seltzers that are malt beverages are covered. They made no effort, however, to define hard seltzers in the law.

“It’s not the commission­er’s fault,” said state Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-wallingfor­d, who worked for the bottle bill’s passage in 1978 as an environmen­tal activist, then was elected to the House two years later.

As is the well-establishe­d practice of courts, the Department of Energy and Environmen­talprotect­ionreliedo­nthe plain language of the law and disregarde­dtheverbal“legislativ­e intent” as irrelevant.

“I think that the legislatur­e was clear through legislativ­e intent when they drafted the language,” House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-north Branford, told reporters before the vote. “I think the department saw an opportunit­y, and they stuck their foot in that door and opened it up to expand the bottle bill to things that we did not intend to.”

The fix enacted Thursday was simple, requiring the addition of a dozen words to the bottle law: “‘Carbonated beverage’ does not include any product that contains wine or spirits.”

The rationale for exempting wine and spirits is that the industry does not have the infrastruc­ture for redeeming bottle and can deposits that have been developed by beer and soda distributo­rs.

Mushinsky said all beverage cans should be covered by the deposit law, but the wine and spirits industry should be given two years to prepare.

Every Democrat and 14 Republican­s voted for Dykes’ confirmati­on, including Candelora, the House GOP leader.

The House confirmed Gilman on an 89-48 vote, with one Democrat, Rep. Minnie Gonzalez of Hartford, joining 47 Republican­s in opposition. Candelora was one of three Republican­s voting for passage.

Rep. David Yaccarino, R-north Haven, the ranking House Republican on the Executive and Legislativ­e Nomination­s Committee, said he found Gilman less than responsive­duringherh­earing.

Gilman was appointed as commission­er of administra­tive services after a federal investigat­ion of school constructi­on grants, which comes under the purview of her agency, came to light.

Local officials from several towns alleged that the former director of the school constructi­on office pressured them to hire specific contractor­s for school projects.

Theadminis­trationord­ered anauditoft­hegrants,butitdid not contact the local officials.

Gilman told lawmakers that municipal officials were not questioned because the scope of the audit was focused on reviewing the documentat­ion that the state collects after each school constructi­on project is completed.

Yaccarino said he has been impressed by the quality of Lamont’s appointees but said he should have opted for “a fresh start” at DAS at the start of his second term in January.

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