The General Assembly

The Connecticut General Assembly began its regular annual session on Feb. 3, when Gov. M. Jodi Rell delivered her budget address to a joint session of the legislature. Its constitutional adjournment deadline is midnight May 5.

Balancing the state’s budget is sure to be the most contentious issue of the session, and the task will not be made easier by the fact that this is an election year. All 187 seats will be up for election on Nov. 4, 2010. Legislative terms in both houses are two years.

By the numbers

Unlike Congress, where legislative sessions last two years, no bill in the General Assembly outlives a regular annual session. Every session starts fresh, with no holdover bills from the previous year.

All bills are first considered by one of the joint committees of the House and Senate. Each committee has a House and Senate co-chair.

Until 1971, the legislature met every other year for one five-month session. Since then, it has met annually for five months in odd-numbered years and three months in even-numbered years.

The Assembly underwent a radical transformation from 1966 to 1972 as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision, two constitutional amendments and a reform movement that raised the profile and influence of state legislatures.

In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the 294-seat state House of Representatives was “malapportioned,” with districts based on municipal borders, not population. The system inflated the political power of small rural communities at the expense of large urban populations.

After a constitutional convention in 1965, the state in 1966 elected a downsized 177-seat House, with each legislator representing an equal number of residents.

The change shifted power from Republican small towns to Democratic cities. In 1965, Republicans controlled the House, 183 to 111. Two years later, Democrats had a 117 to 60 majority.

The legislature launched a study in 1969 that led to further reforms, including the hiring of professional staff and financial analysts that allowed lawmakers for the first time to make budget and policy decisions independent of the executive branch.

In 1970, a second constitutional amendment authorized the legislature to meet annually, beginning in 1971. When the state drew new districts to reflect the 1970 census, it also altered the House one last time, going from 177 to 151 seats.

In the 1980s, the legislature authorized construction of the Legislative Office Building, giving rank-and-file legislators offices for the first time and providing spacious rooms for public hearings.

The legislature is considered a part-time job, and about 70 percent of lawmakers are employed outside the Capitol. Legislative pay begins at $28,000 for rank-and-file legislators, plus an expense stipend of $4,500 for House members and $5,500 for senators.

Every senator has a leadership title that carries extra pay. The lowest-paid senator gets $37,741, including the $5,500 stipend. Top pay goes to the House speaker ($43,189) and Senate president pro tem ($44,189), including the stipends.

All sessions of the House and Senate can be viewed from public galleries in the Capitol, a national historic landmark that was restored in the 1980s to its original High Victorian décor.