HARTFORD, Connecticut — With the June 3 adjournment deadline fast approaching, the Connecticut General Assembly still has some major pieces of legislation to pass. A look at some of the highlights:
Closed-door talks continue between the Democratic leaders of the General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration on a new two-year state budget. The leaders have expressed optimism that a deal will be reached in time, despite the fact their Appropriations Committee recently approved a spending plan that replenished many of Malloy's proposed cuts and their Finance Revenue and Bonding Committee approved a tax package which increases taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars.
Malloy was publicly unenthusiastic about the Democratic tax increases, which range from new sales taxes on various services to a higher income rate on the wealthy. He pledged during his re-election campaign not to raise taxes.
The legislature's minority Republicans have pushed to become part of the talks. Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano said the governor and majority Democrats are "silencing the voices of hundreds of thousands" of voters by not allowing the GOP to participate.
One hallmark public policy issue this session for Malloy has been his proposed 20-year, $100 billion transportation overhaul. While the governor has created a nonpartisan commission to recommend ways to pay for the massive plan, those ideas aren't expected until the end of the summer after lawmakers adjourn. In the meantime, the General Assembly still needs to decide whether to approve an initial five-year, $10 billion "ramp-up" period of transportation-related projects and studies. The fate of that funding will likely be part of a final state budget deal.
Malloy also wants lawmakers this session to pass his version of a bill that would ensure revenues raised for transportation purposes are spent only on transportation projects. There is a dueling bill sitting on the Senate calendar that includes an escape clause, allowing the legislature by a three-fifths vote in each chamber to use the Special Transportation Fund money in a fiscal emergency.
It's now up to the House of Representatives to decide whether to create a two-step process for possibly opening a new tribal casino in Connecticut to help the existing casinos owned by the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to combat gambling from out-of-state venues, especially the proposed MGM Resort casino in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey had been unenthusiastic about the original bill, which authorized the tribes to open up to three satellite casinos and had prompted concerns from the state attorney general about potential constitutional problems. But Sharkey said the retooled bill is "just a very preliminary step designed to figure out how the tribes might consider expanding, if, in fact, other things fall into place." House Democrats, who control the chamber, planned to discuss the new legislation next week and take a preliminary vote count.
SECOND CHANCE SOCIETY
Malloy's proposed "Second Chance Society" legislation still awaits action in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The legislation is part of an effort by the Democratic administration to help former inmates better integrate back into society, while giving minor offenders more opportunities to not become caught up in the criminal justice system. One key component would reduce penalties for current felony drug possession crimes to class A misdemeanors, punishable by up to one year in prison and/or up to a $2,000 fine.
The bill has been the source of controversy at the state Capitol. Some Republican lawmakers have been critical about how the bill would change the state's drug-free school zones, which impose higher penalties for drug-related crimes near schools. These zones can encompass entire cities. Malloy recently said to treat people living in those urban areas differently is "patently unfair and ... if not racist in intent, is racist in its outcome."
Those comments prompted outrage from Republican leaders, who said they believed Malloy was calling lawmakers racists. The Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives joined in the criticism of Malloy's remarks. House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz said the lawmakers "cannot condone injecting racism into the debate over challenging legislation."
All content copyright ©2015 Daily Journal, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.