Legislative session had its ups and downs

With no budget passed and a transportation lockbox that has a big hole in it, there were only a few things to cheer at the close of this legislative session, Wilton state Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) told The Bulletin last week. The session ended at midnight June 7.

“We sat around and did nothing a lot,” she said, adding a good deal of time was spent discussing “bills that were not going to pass” because legislators were told beforehand there would be no vote.

There were, however, a number of bills that passed including:

  • Increased penalties for hate crimes;

  • A ban on conversion therapy for minors;

  • Strengthened anti-human trafficking laws;

  • Strengthened domestic violence penalties;

  • Regulations to govern Uber and other transportation networking companies;

  • Permitting a new casino in East Windsor;

  • Establishing special education training for teaching dyslexic students.

Lavielle was especially pleased with the bill regarding dyslexic students. “People had been getting endorsements in special education and early reading, and were not required to take training in dyslexia,” she said. “This is a really good piece of legislation.”

Another bill she likes was introduced by the state comptroller to increase oversight and reporting requirements of companies benefiting from economic development programs. Many companies have been given loans or tax credits with the understanding they would create jobs, but quantifiable metrics have not been applied to measure the results.

“There will be a lot more auditing and checking on whether each individual program is bringing enough revenue into the state to make it worthwhile,” she said. “Jobs are supposed to bring in income tax revenue. This is to check and see if each of these things is doing that.”

Lavielle did not vote for the casino bill that will allow a casino to be built in East Windsor, but she acknowledged that casinos are “huge job creators.” The Mashantucket Pequots, which run Foxwoods, and the Mohegans, which run Mohegan Sun, were concerned the new MGM casino in Springfield, Mass., would take business away from them. The state gets 25% of casino income. Lavielle questioned the wisdom of another casino, wondering if they would be cannibalizing themselves.

Lavielle is waiting to hear the outcome of an education mandate relief bill she supported that passed just as the session was ending. It has yet to be signed or vetoed by the governor.

Among the bill’s provisions:

  • The regional calendar would be optional;

  • Only a small team of people must be trained in restraint and seclusion as opposed to everyone in a school;

  • Schools would be allowed to exercise discretion on how to provide education to students who have been expelled.

On the flip side, several controversial bills were discussed including tolls, recreational marijuana, Tesla sales direct to consumers, and campaign finance, none of which passed.

Transportation lockbox

What did pass, with little Republican support, was a measure to present to voters a constitutional amendment that would establish a transportation lockbox.

Lavielle described it as “a lockbox with a pretty lock on the front and a great big gaping hole in the back.”

While the lockbox measure says everything in the Special Transportation Fund must be used for transportation purposes, it doesn’t say what money must be put into it, Lavielle said.

“You could have tolls or train fare hikes and that money would never go into it,” she said. “And it doesn’t define transportation purposes.”

An amendment was proposed that specified what funds go in and what they must be used for, which Republicans supported, but did not pass, she said.

“We made clear we supported a lockbox,” Lavielle said. “When you put this one on the ballot you’re really not telling the truth to the people of Connecticut.

“This is a misleading piece of legislation. It suggests people will get a lockbox when they vote for it, but they will not.”

The budget

With no budget passed the legislature will be called back for a special session, but no date has been set.

“There’s a lot of hope there’s a vote by June 30,” she said. If there is no vote by June 30, the end of the fiscal year, the governor will have the authority to run the state until there is one.

“The state’s really hit a wall,” she said, when asked what the difficulty was. Legislators “kept relying on inflated revenue projections that did not materialize,” she said. Income tax revenue was more than $500 million below projections. At this stage, there is only so much they can cut.

“It’s the public sector benefit costs that have skyrocketed so much,” she said. “We are very firm about making some structural changes to the benefit costs and about not extending the existing contract which expires in 2022 another five years to 2027.”

No one, she said, wants to make the towns pay for the teachers’ pension. She called it a “farce” and “misleading.”

“Who are the towns?” she said. “The towns are people who live in them, …it’s doubling up on the residents to pay even more in tax. It’s taking more out of people’s pockets. You would be changing the tax authority but not the source.”

Despite the conflicts, Lavielle said, “Of the things we did get to work on, I can’t say enough about the wonderful, extraordinary working relationships I’ve been able to build. The compromise and discussion, we’ve never been able to pass bills on mandate relief  before.

“The closeness of the numbers really, I think, stimulated a lot more close working together than we’ve ever had before,” she said of the Democrats’ slim lead in the House. “I really appreciated that.

“The bright spot, the kind of thing everyone wants us to do, on the things that didn’t involve money, we were able to do.”