The Capitol Beat: February 25-March 1, 2013

From Gaffney, Bennett & Associates

February 25, 2013 – March 1, 2013

We hit March 1 and the sky hasn’t fallen just yet but the numbers coming from the federal government from Washington, D.C. and Hartford are sobering in the best of times.  The feds calculate that the cuts over the remaining seven months to non-defense programs will be 9 percent and 13 percent for defense programs. Because Connecticut has had a long relationship with the defense, pharmaceutical and R&D sectors, these cuts could be crippling to some, absent an agreement, Add to that, the cuts to education, the safety net for the mentally ill, elderly, and veterans, and various economic and small business development programs and you’ve got a potential witch’s brew.  And that’s just the week in Washington, D.C., where, as freshman U.S. Senator Chris Murphy put it, they continue to lurch from “crisis to crisis.” We wish we had rosier news from Connecticut’s Capitol this week, but the state economy is still in a deficit mode with talks of new revenue ideas beginning to creep into the conversations in the hallways. It may be time to buckle your seatbelt.

Comptroller Certifies $131.1 Million Deficit:  State Comptroller Kevin Lembo on Friday affirmed what Governor Malloy’s budget chief Ben Barnes told the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee in his presentation last week: this is not your normal economic recovery.  Lembo certified a $131.3 million deficit for the current fiscal year. The difference between his numbers and the Governor’s budget office, which is projecting a $55.7 million deficit, is primarily due to the Medicaid spending trend, according to Lembo. He said Medicaid caseloads continue to exceed expectations.

“Changes are Coming:” Those were the words uttered by the Department of Social Services (DSS) Commissioner in recent testimony before a legislative committee.  He was referring to the way Connecticut’s human services programs and its providers operate and are reimbursed. One example can be found in the proposed changes contained in Section 11 of HB 6367—the Governor’s budget proposal for Human Services.  This section contains changes in the way Medicaid rates would be paid for inpatient care at acute care and children’s hospitals – the rates would be paid based on diagnosis-related groups, or DRGs, and periodically rebased by DSS. Additionally, this section proposes significant changes to the payment methodology for outpatient and emergency-room episodes. Because hospitals are a microcosm of the communities they serve, proposed cuts to these entities, which face massive federal reforms, tend to ripple through the entire fabric of the community.  This may not be the final outcome after the budget is negotiated, but there is no doubt that changes are coming.

Bipartisan Mental Health Panel Finalizing Proposals for Legislature:  The panel tasked with trying to knit together holes in our mental health delivery system, particularly for adolescents and young adults, in the wake of the Sandy Hook killings, is finalizing the details of its legislative proposal.  “Instead of outpatient commitment (court-ordered treatment), we thought it would work better to provide case management-slash-coordination for individuals who seem to be recycling in and out of (probate) courts,” said Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, who co-chairs the panel. Additionally, the panel is expected to recommend that: educators receive “mental health first aid” training to help them identify problems, and to endorse a Massachusetts’ program that helps pediatricians intervene when children have psychiatric needs.  The Legislature is expected to take up legislation this month that deals with mental health, gun control, and school security.

Labor Committee Approves Hike in Minimum Wage:  The Labor Committee this week approved a bill that would raise the minimum wage in Connecticut from $8.25 per hour to $9.75 per hour in two stages over the next two years, and index increases beginning in 2016.  Given the state of the economy, many believe this could be a laborious bill to pass this legislative session.

One M.O.R.E. Time:  The Municipal Opportunities for Regional Efficiencies (M.O.R.E.) body has been resurrected as a bipartisan, bicameral body (its first incarnation was strictly a House body).  The panel to be chaired by state Rep. Tim Larson, D-East Hartford, will consist of four subcommittees covering: mandate relief, education, regionalism, and local revenue options.  Recommendations are expected this session and beyond and input from the public and municipalities will be encouraged.

Recycling Market Development Council is Born:  The Governor and the Commissioners of the Department of Economic and Community Development and the Energy and Environment this week announced the creation of the Recycling Market Development Council to modernize the state’s solid waste system and materials management policies, and to increase recovery of recyclable materials.  The Council will be a stakeholder group comprised of businesses engaged in the collection, hauling, sorting, processing, sale, and purchasing of recyclable materials. The Connecticut Economic Resource Center estimates these businesses account for nearly 5,000 direct and indirect jobs, $746 million in sales, and $59 million in state tax revenue.

Energy and Technology Set to Hear Testimony on Governor’s Energy Strategy Proposal:  On March 7, the Energy and Technology Committee is poised to hear testimony on HB 6360, the Governor’s comprehensive energy strategy proposal. Among other things, HB 6360 encourages energy conservation and efficiency (e.g. requiring gas and electric distribution companies to produce a combined plan every three years, subject to approval by the Department of Energy and Environment and the Energy Efficiency Board).  In addition, the proposal calls for: updating metering; promoting micro grids; requiring disclosure and benchmarking of usage at certain commercial, residential and non-residential buildings; expanding use of natural gas; and reducing emissions.

Highlights of public hearings in the the week ahead*:

Judiciary Committee
 Monday, March 4 | 10 am | Room 1D Subjects:  Courts, probate, victim compensation, civil matters and claims

Finance Committee
 Monday, March 4 | 10:30 am | Room 2E  
Subjects: OPM bills, bills to implement 
the Governor’s budget

*Transportation Committee
 Monday, March 4 | 6:30 pm
 | Wilbur Cross High School, 181 Mitchell Drive, New Haven. 
Subject: Transport of products and equipment via oversize tractor-trailers

Energy and Technology Committee
 Tuesday, March 5 | 11 am | Room 1D Subjects:  Electricity and technology

Children’s Committee 
Tuesday, March 5 | 11 am | Room 2B
 Subject: Employer mandate

Program Review and Investigations Committee
 Tuesday, March 5 | 12 noon | Room 2E Subjects:  Farmland Preservation Program: RBA analysis, Insurance Fund assessment methodology, Medicaid: Improper payments, Maximizing federal revenues, Public higher education involvement in state urban issues

Human Services Committee
 Tuesday, March 5 | Noon | Room 2A 
 Subjects:  Long term care, Medicaid reimbursement, and provider network

Labor Committee 
Tuesday, March 5 | 3 pm | Room 1C 
Subjects: Miscellaneous labor bills

*Insurance and Real Estate Committee
 Tuesday, March 5 | 6 pm | 
Nathan Hale School in New Haven. 
 Subjects:  Property and casualty insurance, catastrophic event claims

*General Law Committee 
Tuesday, March 5 | 6 pm
 Bloomfield Senior Services, 330 Park Avenue, Bloomfield.   
Subjects: Various, including the confidentiality of information obtained by the attorney general during antitrust litigation

Commerce Committee 
Thursday, March 7 | 10:15 am | Room 1D 
Subjects: Regulations, permitting and employer mandate relief

Energy and Technology Committee 
Thursday, March 7 | 11 am | Room 2D 
Subject: Bill to implement Governor’s Comprehensive Energy Strategy

Insurance and Real Estate Committee
 Thursday, March 7 | 1 pm | Room 2C
 Subjects:  Long-term care, insurance department authority

Transportation Committee
 Friday, March 8 | 10 am | Room 2C 
Subjects: Miscellaneous

Environment Committee 
Friday, March 8 | 10:30 am | Room 1D Subjects: mattress stewardship, shoreline taskforce, boating, miscellaneous

*Public Health Committee 
Friday, March 8th | 11 am
 | Beckham Hall, Wesleyan University, 55 Wyllys Avenue, Middletown. 
Subject:  mental health and immunizations

*Denotes hearing is in a location other than the Legislative Office Building.

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