The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT)
Legislature racks up wins, losses for 2018
Mix of gridlock, bipartisanship mark short session
HARTFORD — Whether Connecticut lawmakers accomplished a lot or practically nothing in 2018 depends on who you ask, who they are speaking to, and their mood. Sitting in a windowless meeting room in the deserted Legislative Office building on Thursday morning, a tired Rep. Gail Lavielle, RWilton, saw few large achievements in their work.
“It wasn’t a session of enormous accomplishment,” she said.
In the 65 days of the 2018 session — minus a few snow days — legislators passed 213 bills, General Assembly records show.
That’s down from 239 in the previous short session in 2016 and 258 in 2014, according to the Governor’s Office. But numbers don’t tell the whole picture because bills can vary in scope and importance.
“We made a lot of accomplishments,” said House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy hit the 2018 highlights in his closing remarks just early Thursday — before lawmakers spread like seeds to the wind to campaign in their districts for the summer.
“When we first gathered in this
chamber a few short months ago, many of us said we would fight for pay equity, and together this session, we created new laws that will help ensure equal pay for equal work,” the Democrat told legislators. “I said that day in February that we would continue our efforts to fight gun violence, and together, we did it by banning bump stocks in the state of Connecticut!”
The list continued: electronic tracking for rape kits, better reproductive care for female inmates, plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, access to financial aid for undocumented students, entering the National Popular Vote compact, and wage increases for personal care assistants and group home workers.
They made changes to future Hartford state aid after a debt-assistance contract for the city surprised many. They installed Connecticut’s first ever black chief justice, Richard A. Robinson.
“Domestic violence with the dual arrest (bill) — again we are making a strong stand for safety, specifically women,” said Aresimowicz, brightly picking up where the governor left off in a news conference on Thursday afternoon. “And the Holocaust genocide curriculum ... putting that forward in the way that we did — bipartisan — was special.”
Last but not least, hours before the session ended, Democrats and Republicans reached a bipartisan deal for 2019 budget adjustments, avoiding many cuts to municipal aid, transportation and programs for the low-income and disabled. They passed the modifications 45 minutes before the closing gavel fell.
“I think it is once again a monumental step for the state of Connecticut that a bipartisan deal for the second time in a row has been reached,” said Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, on Wednesday afternoon.
The experience was very different from the 2017 negotiations, which continued four months after deadline before a two-year budget agreement was produced, House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford said.
“Last year was very difficult for a lot of folks, and for us in particular, and for the state,” he said. “And to get out on time, to have folks feel like we all accomplished something together — it really was a nice moment in that chamber.”
But an equally lengthy list of bills were left on the committee room or chambers’ floors, never to see Malloy’s desk for a signature — including many high-profile items like raising the minimum wage, passing sexualharassment reforms, legalizing recreational marijuana and sports betting, outlawing ghost guns and issuing a request for proposals for a Bridgeport casino.
Throughout the session, Aresimowicz promised an in-depth study on how to bring tolls to revenuestrapped Connecticut would be put to a vote in the House chamber. Tolls were Aresimowicz’s number one priority, he said Thursday. That vote never happened.
“I am most proud of not getting tolls passed,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby. “This has not been thought through properly.”
Her party would have liked to see a bigger effort to address the state’s unfunded liabilities. That, too, never passed.
Affecting legislative output were many factors Democratic leaders did not hesitate to point out in their session wrap-up news conference on Thursday. This year was a short session, with less time to get things done than in even-numbered years.
An 18-18 tie in the Senate resulted in more gridlock and longer negotiations. Sometimes bills could not pass the House if there was the perception that they might not gain votes in the session.
“Factions began to form,” on the Democratic side, too, Lavielle said. “The Progressive Caucus got very outspoken . ... another faction that has been there for a while calls themselves the Moderates.”
A spectrum of opinion that sometimes causes divides is present in the GOP, Lavielle said.
The politicians have their reasons for making legislative output look voluminous or minimal because it colors their legacies and the November election.
Democrats said Thursday the 2018 legislation passed shows the progress they can make even without historically strong majorities.
“We put partisan politics to the side,” Aresimowicz said. “We were able to act in the best interest of the state of Connecticut and were willing to compromise to make that happen.”
On the flip side, if you want to do more than study solutions to the state’s fiscal problems, “elect Republicans,” Klarides said.
The Republican budget that failed, but was put to a vote in the House on Wednesday night, shows the GOP has policy ready if a majority is passed to them in November, Lavielle said.
But “it’s a little easier being in the minority,” she added. “You don’t actually have to govern. You stop bad things and you try to get through anything you think you can.”
With the session adjourned, the politicians will take these messages to the polls.