The Capitol Beat: March 25-29, 2013

From Gaffney, Bennett & Associates

March 25, 2013 – March 29, 2013

Given the holy day observances this past week, and the absence of a session day, it was relatively quiet around the state Capitol.  Some committees wrapped up their business early, including the Education Committee, which was among the last to meet on Thursday when it voted out an amended version of the Governor’s major education proposal—HB 6357—An Act Implementing the Budget Recommendations of the Governor Concerning Education.

In the week ahead, the Planning & Development and Public Health Committees will be finishing up bills originating in their respective committees, which will leave only Judiciary (4/19), Appropriations (4/23) and the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee (4/24) left to act on their own bills.    Typically, the Appropriations Committee will vote on an alternative budget a week or so before its deadline and the Finance Committee will follow the next day with a proposed revenue package to pay for it—after seeing the April revenue projections. The various subcommittees of the Appropriations Committee are expected to deliver their recommendations for agency spending to the full committee this week.   Some are anticipating that the full Appropriations Committee will vote out a budget bill that is closer to the current services bottom line, instead of accepting all of the Governor’s proposed cuts and spending cap ideas. We shall see. If that is the case, and depending on what the revenue picture looks like come mid-April, the Finance Committee may be assigned the unenviable task of finding much heftier revenues.   For this reason, many who live and do business in the state are on high alert. Nonetheless, whatever budget-tax package comes out of the committees, the real white-knuckle negotiations between leadership and the administration begin after that and, with any luck, will be resolved without too much stress, struggle and sacrifice by the June 5 regular session adjournment. Spring hopes eternal!

Following are some of the developments and debates that occurred in Hartford this week:

Still Pending in Public Health Committee, Proposal to Label Genetically Engineered Products A bill awaiting action in the Public Health Committee, HB 6519, would require the following food products that have been produced using genetic engineering to be labeled:  food intended for retail sale, raw agricultural commodities, and seed or seed stock. Though broadly opposed by the grocery manufacturers, the biopharmaceutical industry, CT Farm Bureau, and others, a similar bill focusing solely on baby products was successfully voted out of the Childrens’ Committee recently.   A highly charged topic among some constituencies, the bill may face an uphill fiscal and legal battle to implement. Stay tuned.

Environment Committee Gives Green Light to Fracking Waste Ban   The Environment Committee voted 20-8 this week to pass a bill out of committee that would ban the possession or storage of the byproducts of hydraulic fracturing in Connecticut, even though this practice, also known as fracking, is not even practiced in the state due to a lack of shale deposits from which natural gas is extracted and these wastes are produced.   Always nice to know you’re protected from nonexistent potential hazards.

In other action of concern to some doing businesses in Connecticut, the Environment Committee before its deadline also voted out, HB 1019, dubbed the “Kreskin Proposal,” that increases the authority of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to refer enforcement cases, no matter how minor, to the state’s Attorney General for review.  It also gives the DEEP Commissioner the extraordinary power to refer individuals and companies if, “in the commissioner’s judgment, he believes a violation of environmental law or regulation is about to occur. And finally, despite opposition and concern from municipalities, brownfields experts, and the business community, the Environment Committee saw fit to pass a bill, SB 1082, which profoundly alters the state’s  “significant environmental hazard” statute. The bill would transform the state’s brownfields program into a historic spill reporting program, that many feel will stigmatize thousands of properties in need of clean up but that do not necessarily create imminent risks. The fear is that we are going backwards, creating a massive amount of new brownfield properties, while stymying the development, clean up and transformation of properties into productive use.

M.O.R.E. Subcommittees Gathering Information, Inviting Speakers to Help with Mission of Making Government More Efficient  The Municipal Tax Authority Subcommittee and the Regional Entities Subcommittee of the M.O.R.E. panel spent the week going over reams of information and hearing from various speakers on ways to meet their overall objective.   What is that objective? According to House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, a big part of it is: “We have to make sure we’re not burdening taxpayers with unnecessary costs.” He made that statement in reference to municipal notices that must appear in newspapers, which towns view as an unfunded mandate, but it speaks to the overarching goal of the M.O.R.E.  Commission. The Municipal Tax Authority Subcommittee is charged with reviewing the Governor’s car tax proposal and property tax reform in general, as well as ways of making tax collection more efficient. The subcommittee hopes to have recommendations for the Finance, Revenue and Bonding this session. Many have said the proposed car tax is on life support, because towns and cities estimate it will cost between $600 million to $700 million statewide and result in an increase in property taxes on businesses.  As with other panels that preceded it, the tax subcommittee is striving to draft recommendations that will not pit towns and cities against each other.

The Regional Entities Subcommittee Wednesday heard from the Boston Federal Reserve on blueprints for developing efficient local governments through regionalization, as well as various CT organizations representing towns and regions on efficiencies they have already achieved and are expanding on.  The areas where regional sharing has worked in the state include: certain transportation/public works/emergency services operations; recycling and waste disposal; smart growth development; and cooperative purchasing. For more information on the subcommittees and M.O.R.E. Commission, go to:

Transportation Committee Nixes Red Light Camera Bill, Ban on Smoking with Young Children in Vehicles   The Transportation Committee will not give the green light this year to legislation that would allow municipalities with populations of more than 48,000 the option of installing cameras at red lights to photograph the license plates of vehicles running the lights. Under the legislation, towns would have been able to issue tickets to the owners of those cars.  A proposal to issue infractions to drivers pulled over for other reasons and subsequently found to be smoking cigarettes in the car in the presence of a children six years old or younger or weighing less than 60 pounds also did not make the cut this year. The co-chairs felt both bills needed more public airing before they could fly.

The Nine Lives of Former State Sen. Edith Prague of Columbia   She’s been reincarnated and is reinvigorated, ready to tackle yet another major assignment at the ripe young age of 87. Who else but former state Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, nominated on Thursday by Governor Malloy to serve as Commissioner of the newly independent state Department of Aging (SDA).  Edith served the 19th Senatorial district in the Legislature from 1994-2012. In 2011, as the Senate chair of the Committee on Aging, Prague advocated for and achieved an elevation in status for the then-select committee to become a full standing committee of the General Assembly. Prior to her tenure as State Senator, Prague served for eight years in the state House of Representatives and, in 1990, was appointed Commissioner of Aging by Governor Lowell Weicker.  As Commissioner, Prague was instrumental in helping to establish the first Assisted Living Facilities in the state and established a statewide health insurance program that counsels seniors on their options for insurance coverage. Last May, on her doctor’s advice, she decided not to run for re-election after suffering a mild stroke. If approved by the Legislature, as expected, Prague said she will not be keeping the hours she formerly did as a lawmaker, helping reduce her stress levels significantly.   The new SDA will encompass the DSS State Unit on Aging and the Office of Long Term Care Ombudsman which works to improve the quality of life and quality of care of Connecticut citizens residing in nursing homes, residential care homes, and assisted living communities.  

Democrats and Republicans Plan Caucuses Monday to Prepare for Possible Legislative Session Wednesday on Gun Control, School Security, and Mental Health Services   Following the release of new information from prosecutors with more definitive details about the shooting at Sandy Hook and the sizeable arsenal of the perpetrator, the General Assembly appears poised to vote as early as Wednesday on legislation recommending broad restrictions on the sale and possession of certain firearms and ammunition; enhanced school security measures; and mental health services.  Lawmakers are hoping to make this first-in-the-nation legislation, trailblazing the way for safety. Potential sticking points are how to grandfather guns that would fall under a new proposed ban; registration of all handguns, with annual renewals under the stipulation that they remain in the possession of legal owners. according to advocates of stiffer gun control laws. Currently, in CT permits are needed only to carry handguns and are renewed every five years.

List of Upcoming Public Hearings, Meetings, Events

Monday, April 1, 2013 

10 a.m. Judiciary Committee Public Hearing LOB Room 1E

10:30 a.m. Public Health Committee Meeting To JF Bills LOB Room 1D

11:30 a.m. Planning & Development Committee Meeting LOB Room 2D

Tuesday, April 2     

10:30 a.m. Public Health Committee Meeting LOB Room 1D

11 a.m. Public Safety and Security Committee Meeting LOB Room 2B

11 a.m. Human Services Committee Meeting LOB Room 2A

11 a.m. Education Committee Meeting to JF Bills LOB Room 1E

12 p.m. Executive and Legislative Nominations: Public Hearing followed by Committee Meeting LOB Room 1A

1:30 p.m. Labor and Public Employees Committee Meeting LOB Room 1C

Wednesday, April 3   

9 a.m. Speaker Sharkey: M.O.R.E. Regional Entities Sub-committee Meeting, LOB Room 2A

10:30 a.m. Public Health Committee Meeting To JF Bills, LOB Room 1D

Thursday, April 4

11 a.m. Human Services Committee Meeting, LOB Room 2A

11:30 a.m. Finance, Revenue & Bonding Committee Meeting, LOB Room 2E

1 p.m. Office of Policy & Management: Finance Advisory Committee Meeting, LOB Room 1E

5:30 p.m. CT Trust for Historic Preservation: Annual Meeting & Awards, CAP Hall of Flags

Friday, April 5

9:30 a.m. Office of the Governor: Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, LOB Room 2D

10 a.m. Judiciary Committee Public Hearing, LOB Room 2C

10:30 a.m. Public Health Committee Meeting To JF Bills, LOB Room 1D

11 a.m. Government Administration and Elections Committee Meeting. LOB Room 2B

NOTE: Unless specified all meetings will be held in the Legislative Office Building (LOB) in Hartford in rooms indicated.  Also, dates/times are subject to change if session days are scheduled.

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