Wyman could be crucial on death penalty, paid sick days

If Connecticut is to abolish the death penalty this year, the deciding vote in the Senate most likely will belong to the presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Nancy S. Wyman. The same is true of a bill mandating private employers to provide paid sick days.

The best that proponents of either controversial measure can manage this year appears to be an 18-18 tie in the Senate, giving Wyman two relatively rare opportunities to cast tie-breaking votes in her first year in office.


Wyman presiding over Senate.

Wyman, one of the state’s most popular Democrats, said she has no reluctance being identified as the deciding vote on either issue.

“It’s something we talked about during the campaign,” Wyman said of the two pieces of legislation. “It’s something I believe in. Those are very, very easy.”

Now, all they have to do is make it to a vote in the Senate.

The legislature’s Judiciary Committee today is holding a public hearing on the death penalty, the beginning of the second try in three years to make capital crimes in Connecticut punishable by life in prison without possibility of parole.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed a bill in 2009 that would have abolished the death penalty for future crimes. The bill was written prospectively as not to affect the prosecutions of the two defendants in the Cheshire home invasion and triple homicide.

It passed easily in the House, 90 to 56, but the Senate vote was close, 19 to 17. Two Democrats who voted for repeal have since been replaced by two Republican supporters of capital punishment, leaving the abolition camp short one vote.

Sen. Theresa Gerratana, D-New Britain, who recently succeeded a Democratic death penalty supporter, has not declared her position, but she is believed by proponents of the abolition bill to be inclined toward becoming the 18th vote in favor of passage.

And that would set up Wyman as the tie-breaking vote.

Wyman, who was elected last fall as Dannel P. Malloy’s running mate, served in the House of Representatives for eight years before her election as comptroller in 1994. She said she has voted to abolish the death penalty before.

“I’ve never believed in the death penalty. I believe in abolishing it. I’ve always said that. I’ve always voted that way in the legislature,” Wyman said. “And I don’t believe that people should come to work sick.”

The Senate passed the sick days bill, 20 to 16, in 2008. But two Democrats who voted yes, Colapietro of Bristol and Thomas P. Gaffey of Meriden, have since been succeeded by Republican opponents, Jason Welch and Len Suzio.

Those losses would create an 18 to 18 tie, but two other votes also are doubt.

Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, succeeded Democrat Jonathan Harris last fall. He voted yes in 2008, but Bye voted against the bill as a House member in 2009. Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, voted for paid sick days in 2008, but he is now undecided. Both need to vote yes to create a tie for Wyman.

She would not be the first lieutenant governor to cast a deciding vote on a controversial issue.

At 3 a.m. on Aug. 22, 1991, Lt. Gov. Eunice S. Groark broke an 18-18 tie to pass the income tax.  Her boss, Gov. Lowell P. Weicker, laughed and proclaimed she was responsible for the “Groark income tax,” but the name never stuck.

Groak’s role faded from public memory. Weicker still is credited and blamed for the passage of the state’s first tax on wages.