by Jennifer Swift
May 12, 2014
08:31 AMConnecticut Politics
Reviewing the 2014 Session of the Connecticut Legislature
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (at right) addresses the Connecticut House and Senate on the final day of this year’s session.
A pesky snowstorm delayed the start of the 2014 legislative session, and though it was a shorter session in this even-numbered election year by statute (and legislators didn’t have to fully craft a budget), politics did not take a reprieve. Republicans and Democrats duked it out right down to the wire, flexing their muscles leading up to November’s election, proffering plenty of floor speeches and ardent support or disapproval for each issue, ostensibly debating for the good of the people but wary that any comment may be resurrected on campaign fliers in the coming months.
Election-year politics didn’t just dominate the General Assembly. The year started off during the State of the State address with a litany of new policy suggestions from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who eventually decided to acknowledge that he was running for re-election, although everyone had already read between the lines after his announcement of a seemingly politically motivated $55 tax rebate, which as it turns out, was a promise he’d later have to rescind.
Much of this session was spent debating issues already decided in the previous year, while some bills passed last session still haven’t gone anywhere.
In short, it was politics as usual—rehashing what was done before, pointing fingers and stalling, and celebrating the victories that incumbents hope to ride through November.
In an unlikely twist, Keno again dominated, careening through a will-they-won’t-they repeal discussion until nearly the end of the session. Passed as a budgetary fix last year, despite Republican opposition and polling that showed it was unpopular, Keno was repealed as part of the budget in this session, a year after it was penned and agreements between the state and Native American tribes and casinos began.
The budget was the cause for the back-and-forth nature of the session—when numbers looked good, Keno seemed like the thing to nix as politicians who argued it as a necessary evil last year now didn’t see the need to implement it. But then when the $500 million projected budget surplus shrunk dramatically—killing Malloy’s proposed $55 tax rebate for taxpayers—Keno looked like more of sure bet to make up the shortfall. Ultimately, however, it met its demise as the legislature opted for other budget fixes.
Keno wasn’t the only issue to be resurrected. Democrats crafted much of their legislative playbook after the State of the Union address given by President Obama—taking up the causes of increasing the minimum wage, extending pre-kindergarten and a launching a statewide retirement account.
Minimum wage was an issue that had been decided by the legislature last year, and was already set to increase incrementally in future years. But on the heels of Obama’s speech and his subsequent visit to Connecticut, the General Assembly decided to again increase it, this time to the $10.10 wanted by the President on a federal level.
The new legislation will increase the minimum wage in 2015 to $9.15, $9.60 in 2016 and to $10.10 in 2017. Connecticut is now the first state to sign a law raising the minimum wage to $10.10.
Responding to both Obama and Malloy having cited the need for an increase in the opportunities for early childhood education, the legislature moved to create 1,020 school readiness slots as well as a “Smart Start” grant program to expand preschool opportunities further in the next year, and thousands more in following years. The plan is for the program to continue to expand to include more students.
“Retirement for all” is an issue the legislature has repeatedly signaled as one it needs to address, but still isn’t sure on what course to take. In 2013, it was proposed to create a state-run retirement fund for those without an employer-sponsored retirement plan, but that never came to fruition. In this session the issue went further with the state now creating a Connecticut Retirement Security Board, which is tasked with developing a retirement program and submitting it to the legislature by April 2016. The panel is to look into what it would take to create such a program in the state—so expect this issue to crop up again in the coming year.
The legislature often creates task forces and directs them to suggest legislation, giving a deadline for proposals. Last year in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a bill was passed that restricts the release of photos and audio recordings for all homicide victims. A task force was formed to look into the issue and make recommendations, and although recommendations were made—such as one that would have changed Freedom of Information laws to only allow the public to inspect materials privately, and then go through a process to get copies and prove there’s a need to publish such information—none was acted upon by the legislature this year.
There are other issues taken up by the legislature last year that haven’t gone anywhere.
Connecticut legislators patted themselves on the back last year for passing a GMO- labeling bill, which stipulates that genetically modified foods be labeled as such—but one of the bill’s stipulations, requiring other states to pass similar legislation, has stopped it from actually going into effect.
Although Connecticut became the first in the nation to pass a bill requiring GMO labeling, Vermont will be the first to have the law go into effect, as it is not tied to other states. Connecticut’s law will only go into effect if four other states adopt a labeling law. One state must border Connecticut, and the total population of the states must exceed 20 million based on the 2010 Census.
New York has taken up the issue and may pass it in this year’s assembly. Maine passed a law similar to Connecticut’s in regard to the stipulations, which means Maine and Vermont’s passing of GMO-labeling laws will contribute to Connecticut’s ability to have its law go into effect. However, it still is a year away, at least.
Some of the more hotly contested issues of 2013 were left alone—including gun-control laws and campaign-finance rules.
In an election year, changes to the controversial gun-control legislation stayed far from the legislature. The gun-control laws were upheld in court and deemed constitutional despite at least one lawsuit opposing the laws—but the issue will be revived leading up to the election, and is expected to become part of the debate in the race for governor.
Though changes in the overall tax code for the state would have likely pleased some residents, proposals by House Speaker Brendan Sharkey fell flat in the Senate. Any kind of tax reform—whether it be changes to the nonprofit tax structure or automobile taxes—will not be a campaign issue this year.
Another highly controversial issue that has been pushed to another year is physician-assisted suicide, which, despite public-opinion polling and lobbying, wasn’t taken up by the legislature this session.
In the end, Democrats and Republicans will, of course, disagree in theirs assessments of the year. Democrats will herald their list of accomplishments while Republicans will argue that residents are safest when the Democratic majority isn’t in session.
“The only good news about this year’s session is that it’s over,” Republican party chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. said in a statement.
Reviewing the 2014 Session of the Connecticut Legislature