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5 takeaways from this year's legislative session, according to CT Mirror reporter Mark Pazniokas

The legislative session opens in Hartford with a speech from Governor Lamont on the state of the state and upcoming budget priorities.
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
File: Governor Lamont delivers opening day remarks at the start of this year's legislative session.

Connecticut's legislative session ended last week. A number of weighty bills addressing big topics like climate change, abortion and artificial intelligence failed to advance.

But there were also legislative winners, including a bill tightening absentee ballot regulations in Connecticut and new laws strengthening rules in nursing homes.

Connecticut Mirror Capitol Bureau Chief Mark Pazniokas recently spoke with Connecticut Public’s All Things Considered about what he saw as big winners and losers during the 2024 legislative session.

Lamont holds fast on spending caps, for now

The biggest winner from this last session was Connecticut Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, Pazniokas said.

Lawmakers got through the session “doing a budget that was more-or-less on his terms,” Pazniokas said. “Mainly that there was no revision to the various spending caps that [were] of utmost importance to this governor.”

Those “spending caps,” also known as “fiscal guard rails,” are spending limits credited by Lamont and other Democrats with generating and maintaining the state’s budget surplus.

GOP critical of move to disperse expiring pandemic aid

After the end of the legislative session on May 8, Republican House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora took issue with the decision of Democratic leaders to use leftover federal pandemic assistance funds to pay for spending needs this year. Candelora wanted lawmakers to instead craft a formal set of budget changes for the second year of the two-year budget.

But by not doing a full budget this year, Democrats avoided having to make budget cuts that could otherwise have been required by the state’s fiscal guard rails. “The Republicans said the Democrats are champing-at-the-bit to loosen the fiscal guard rails and that we're going to see an impact on that next year,” Pazniokas said.

Higher ed and health care were legislative winners 

Connecticut legislators passed bills to the Governor’s desk that include — among other things — more money for higher education, a health care omnibus measure, protections for road workers and protections for elderly

Pazniokas said the non-profits that the state often relies on to fill the gap between state programs and for-profit programs won too — but not by much. “It's a mixed bag,” Pazniokas said. “The nonprofit providers get about a 2.5% increase, which is better than nothing, but not nearly what they say they need.”

Climate measures once again fall flat, disappointing activists

Legislators did not pass most legislation aimed at tackling climate change. That includes a large House-approved bill that would have updated the Global Warming Solutions Act, created incentives for businesses and declared a state climate crisis.

“That was a big, big disappointment for the environmental movement because last year was not a great year for them,” Pazniokas said. “They were really hoping to have something that would put Connecticut back on the map as a state that seems to be taking climate change seriously. It was a priority of the House Democrats. The Senate Democrats never called it for a vote.”

Curious case of a last-minute bill Lamont says he’ll veto

That brings us to the one bill making it to Lamont’s desk that the governor has pledged to veto: House Bill 5431, more commonly known as the “Striking Worker Assistance Fund.”

This bill passed with what Pazniokas believes is purposefully unclear language. “It provided $3 million to assist low income workers and that's really all it said,” Pazniokas explained. “The Comptroller’s Office would administer it. But define low income workers? There's nothing in the bill. Define what kind of assistance? There's nothing in the bill.”

Republicans were all against this bill and could have filibustered to keep it from coming to a vote, Pazniokas said. “They all voted against it, but they didn't ask a single damn question — like a very basic one: What's the purpose of this? Where did this come from?” Pazniokas said.

Pazniokas said that could indicate Republicans struck a deal with Democrats to not filibuster the bill, despite not supporting it.

Democratic leadership in the Senate favored “benefits for strikers over the climate change bill,” Pazniokas said, but “you weren't going to get them both through on the last day. They had other substantial business, and it was very important to him [Senate President Martin Looney] and labor.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

John Henry Smith is Connecticut Public’s host of All Things Considered, its flagship afternoon news program. He's proud to be a part of the team that won a regional Emmy Award for The Vote: A Connecticut Conversation. In his 21st year as a professional broadcaster, he’s covered both news and sports.

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