From Gaffney, Bennett & Associates
March 31, 2014—April 4, 2014
This week all 24 legislative committees officially completed work on bills originating in their committees. Four weeks and five days from now we will know the outcome of those efforts. The final gavel on the regular 2014 legislative session will sound at midnight May 7. Word under the dome is that leadership and the administration want to make a clean break of the session, keeping controversies to a minimum and orderliness throughout. We’ll see. Election years have a way of throwing a kink into the best laid plans. Here’s to hoping!
April Fool’s Day Produces Revenue, Bond Bills and New Surplus Numbers
Comptroller Kevin Lembo kicked off April fool’s Day with an announcement that the 2014 state surplus continues to grow and now stands at nearly $505 million three-quarters of the way through the fiscal year. He’s not one to joke about these things. That’s a good thing, too, because the Finance Committee subsequently approved the Governor’s revenue and bond proposals, which rely on the integrity of the $500 million surplus number. Among other things, the Governor’s revenue proposal calls for using $155 million to fund a one-time tax rebate program—a proposal that is likely to be the focus of final budget negotiations and could result in one of those kinks we talked about (see Gaffney, Bennett report from April 1 for more information).
Lembo wants all of the surplus to be deposited in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, while Republicans are strongly urging the Legislature to put more of it toward debt reduction. More kinks…
Consumer “Bill of Rights” Would Allow Comparison of Electricity Costs
Under a package of bills making its way through the Legislature – and supported by the Governor, AG, and Senate President – electric suppliers would have to meet new price disclosure standards and allow consumers greater flexibility to switch suppliers. While these bills are works in progress, as currently drafted, they aim to:
- Fix initial electric rate offers, often discounted when they appear in your mailbox, for at least three months.
- Eliminate or reduce early termination fees.
- Allow consumers to switch to a standard offer plan within 48 hours, or to a new provider within 30 days of requesting the switch.
- Create a website that lists companies’ highest and lowest rates.
- Provide for more regulatory oversight.
FOI Bills Would Allow Different Degrees of Access to Certain Records
The Legislature’s Judiciary and Government Administration and Elections (GAE) committees have been wrestling with how to address the issue of access to records involving homicides. In drafting separate, disparate proposals, each of the committees borrowed from some of the recommendations put forth by the Sandy Hook task force, created by the Legislature to study the issue in the aftermath of the grisly murders at the elementary school last year.
By a vote of 27-11, the Judiciary this week approved a measure that would create a special class of public records in these cases. The public would be allowed to inspect, but not copy the records in this special class, which would include such evidence as recording of 911 emergency calls and pictures of the bodies of adult homicide victims. Under the Judiciary Committee proposal, the burden of proof for releasing these records would be placed on the individual requesting them. The committee then went beyond the task force recommendations, seeking to impose an absolute ban on the viewing or copying of pictures depicting the bodies of children who have been murdered. Only with the consent of surviving family members could these records be released.
The GAE proposal, by contrast, is less restrictive. GAE eliminated restrictions on the release of 911 recordings and placed the burden of proof on the government to explain why the records shouldn’t be released.
This could be the most difficult debate of the session as the proposals seek to find a balance between two fundamental, but sometimes competing, rights: the right to privacy and the freedom of information.
Speaking of Access to Information: Connecticut Launches New Government Data Site
Governor Malloy, joined by Comptroller Kevin Lembo, long a proponent of open government, this week announced the launching of a new website (https://data.ct.gov/) that makes vast amounts of state government data – across all state agencies — available to the public. The hope is that making this data accessible will spur a new level of innovation and collaboration in the public and private sectors. Think economic development, public safety, and public works.
Take Two and Call Me in the Morning…
Connecticut’s health insurance exchange, known as Access Health CT, indicated that final enrollment numbers could climb to 200,000 once all the applications are processed. The first open enrollment period spanned six months, from October, 2013 to March 31, 2014. Connecticut’s exchange has become a national model, which other states are looking to emulate. Of the roughly 200,000 signed up, approximately 40 percent enrolled in private insurance and 60 percent in Medicaid.