Senate trying for vote on education compromise

The General Assembly today kicked off a three-day scramble to its adjournment of midnight Wednesday with hopes of beginning debate on compromise education-reform and budget bills as soon as tonight.

In early action today, the House gave final legislative approval to bills on racial profiling and project-labor agreements, then broke this afternoon to caucus on education, the budget and other remaining issues.

Legislators and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy hope to hold a press conference this afternoon laying out the terms of the education bill, the top priority of the governor and a source of anxiety to legislators caught between Malloy and teachers' unions.

Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor's senior adviser, reacted with caution when asked late this morning to share his understanding of the talks on education, which are intertwined with the budget.

Green

Green means go: A quick debate signaled by GOP.

"My understanding is that optimism is better than pessimism, and let's see what happens over the next few hours," Occhiogrosso said.

House leaders Saturday abruptly shelved a campaign finance bill after the Democratic caucus objected to its terms, a reminder that even compromises endorsed by leadership can come undone on the way to the floor in the last days.

The House opened its daily session today by voting 142-1 to pass a bill intended to discourage racial profiling of minority motorists by police. Republican John Piscopo of Thomaston cast the one no vote. It has been approved by the Senate, 31-3.

The governor applauded its passage.

"More than 10 years ago, as the mayor of Stamford, I was proud to stand with the men and women of the Stamford Police Department on Martin Luther King Day to announce that we did not tolerate racial profiling and would lead the efforts to ensure its elimination," he said. "As governor, I will continue to insist that every effort is taken to protect individual rights in every community and that racial profiling is eliminated."

The anti-profiling bill sets standards for reporting demographic information on traffic stops and shifts responsibility for its analysis from the Commission on African-American Affairs to the Office of Policy and Management, which has staff and resources unavailable to the commission.

An existing racial-profiling law has been deemed ineffective.

The House then quickly took up a Senate-passed labor bill on project-labor agreements, but the debate bogged down on a series of Republican amendments, including one that attempted to scuttle the Hartford-New Britain busway.

The House voted 109-37 to pass the bill at midafternoon, the last action before a Democratic caucus that should help shape the rest of the day.

The labor legislation allows -- but does not require -- municipalities to negotiate with unions and set the terms and conditions of public projects before any bids are awarded. It stipulates that companies unwilling to accept the terms of a project labor agreement, or PLA, are deemed ineligible for a contract award.

The Senate has no immediate plans to take up a minimum-wage increase passed by the House. It is the top priority of House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden.

"If we get the votes, we'll run it," said Adam Joseph, a spokesman for the Senate Democratic majority.  "We don't have the votes right now."

The legislature already has passed major, controversial bills such as the abolition of the death penalty for future crimes and the legalization of marijuana as a palliative for chronic disease.

But education and the budget will dominate the last three days, when the Republican minority is at its most powerful, using the threat of long debates to shape the agenda.

In the House, the GOP leadership signals its members about the length of debates with color-coded cards. Green means go, a speedy debate, while red signifies stop, a message to talk at length.

By the measure of his own administration, success or failure for Malloy's second legislative session rests on education reforms targeted at two dozen troubled urban school districts, raising the hopes of urban parents and ire of teachers' unions.

Questions over the role of unions in those districts, and a larger question of tying tenure to teacher evaluations, have dogged the administration in its talks with legislators. Angry teachers also have been a staple at the governor's 14 town-hall meetings on education.

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