Breaking down a 300-page ‘implementer’ bill
The end of every legislative session features a voluminous bill (or set of bills) known as the “implementer.” It contains the policy provisions needed to implement the state budget. And it’s the place where the party in power often stuffs other amendments — ranging from broad policy shifts that didn’t make it into other legislation to narrow changes meant to assist one group or town.
Unlike most other bills, implementers don’t go through legislative committees or public hearings. Some of the provisions in them may be ideas that made the rounds through the various committees. But others have received little or no public discussion until they appear in this bill, leading legislative staffers, lobbyists (and reporters) to scour the hundreds of pages to uncover the big and small changes being made.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives adopted the measure 91-56 in a vote largely along party lines just before 11:20 p.m. And while most Republicans opposed the package, the GOP did not use a final-night filibuster to kill it because the package included new restrictions on judicial pensions.
Still, House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Norwalk, couldn’t resist taking a few jabs at the bill, noting that — despite its name — the budget implementer dealt with far more than just those policy changes essential to implement the next state budget.
“There are a lot of bad things,” he said. “I hope some day we get back to the tradition, to the original purpose of the budget implementer in its purest form.”
The Senate, where Democrats hold the majority, passed the bill 23-13, also along party lines, only about 15 minutes before the midnight deadline.
Sen. Joseph Markley, R-Southington, who objected to having to digest about 260 sections of the bill in a few minutes, said he wouldn’t scuttle the measure with a 15-minute filibuster. But he urged the chamber not to repeat Wednesday’s implementer exercise in 2015.
“Should I be back here next year,” he said, “and should the implementer be brought forth at quarter of 12, I make no promises.”
Here’s a look at what’s in this year’s 314-page implementer:
- The Department of Economic and Community Development shall administer a system of tax credit vouchers for owners rehabilitating historic homes or taxpayers making contributions to qualified rehabilitation expenditures. For income years commencing on or after January 1, 2000, any owner shall be eligible for a tax credit voucher in an amount equal to 30 percent of the qualified rehabilitation expenditures.
- The state Department of Economic and Community Development must develop a new program to promote and develop a bioscience and biotechnology business cluster in southeastern Connecticut. The program must include a marketing plan and a proposed budget to support it.
- New enterprise zones are created in Wallingford and Thomaston, offering special tax incentives there to promote business development.
- Legislators created a new board to monitor the state’s juvenile justice system. The Department of Children and Families has been under fire by child welfare advocates unhappy with its handling of a transgender youth who was assigned to solitary confinement in an adult prison, as well as with DCF’s increasing reliance on assigning youthful offenders to locked facilities.
- Welfare recipients will be allowed to count school expenses as part of the work-related requirements they must meet to receive cash assistance.
- Households that adopt an abused or neglected child under DCF care are eligible to receive medical subsidies until the child reaches age 21. The bill also allows for an additional subsidy if the child is enrolled in college or a vocational program.
- DCF must report by Jan. 1 the number of abused and neglected foster children in state custody that are not enrolled in preschool programs. The report must include the number of preschool-aged foster children that require special education services and how many are enrolled in preschool. Child advocates have raised concerns that the department is enrolling too few foster children.
- The bill expands who can apply for a civil protective order. It also authorizes judges to order specified financial support in civil restraining orders.
- The Department of Education is authorized to limit enrollment in magnet schools across Connecticut. The agency can “prioritize” which schools can increase enrollment, and limit state expenditures on magnet schools next academic year. Legislators largely ignored an estimated $50 million the nonpartisan analysts say is needed to maintain current services at magnet schools and the education commissioner say is needed to support previously scheduled enrollment increases.
- Cities and towns are expressly prohibited from using state “Alliance District” funds for non-education programs. This grant is designed to assist the 30 lowest-performing school districts. Lawmakers raised fears this past session that communities were redirecting too much Alliance District funding to supplement general government budgets. Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor had said his standard had been to require communities to use the “substantial majority” of those grant dollars for education.
- Legislators increased tuition payments the state will pay to agriculture, science and technology schools by $500 per student.
- Education funding for Winchester will be provided earlier in the year so the district doesn’t have to wait for a portion of its state aid. The change results in a potential savings to the town since they may not have to secure additional financing to meet their financial obligations. The up front payment will need to be approved by the education commissioner before being sent to the town. After a budget official from Winchester was found to have stolen millions in funding from the district, the district has been struggling financially.
- People will be able to drop off unwanted pharmaceuticals at their local police stations. The state Department of Consumer Protection will be required to work with pharmacists and police chiefs to develop a program to collect unwanted medications. Each police station will have a locked box that people can access 24-hours a day to drop off pharmaceuticals. The program will also address getting the drugs to a biomedical waste facility to be incinerated.
- Police training programs will be required to include training on handling incidents involving people with serious mental illness. The budget includes $50,000 for the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection to develop the training.
- The state’s ability to recover money in fraud cases is being expanded. Current law allows the state to seek repayment and additional money from people who commit fraud in programs administered by the state Department of Social Services, such as doctors who bill Medicaid for care they didn’t deliver. The implementer expands the state’s authority, allowing it to seek money in cases of fraud committed in any state-administered health or human service program, including the state employee and retiree health plan. The budget includes $200,000 for the attorney general’s office for potential litigation. The budget counts on $104 million in savings from enhanced efforts to curtail fraud in Medicaid.
- Hospital “facility fees” paid by the state employee health plan will get increased scrutiny. Facility fees are charges patients can face if they seek care at medical facilities owned by hospitals, and they’re in addition to fees charged by the health care provider. The implementer calls for the state comptroller to analyze facility fees charged to members of the state employee and retiree health plan and determine the feasibility of no longer reimbursing providers for facility fees deemed inappropriate or unreasonable. Read more.
- Nurse practitioners will have the same public “profile” information collected about them as doctors. The state Department of Public Health creates public profiles of doctors with information that includes their education, specialty, practice location and any malpractice awards, disciplinary action and recent criminal convictions. Now the department will do the same for nurse practitioners. Legislators agreed to this change as part of the debate over a separate measure that would allow nurse practitioners to practice independent of doctors. Nurse practitioners’ profiles would also include information on whether they practice independently or in collaboration with a doctor. The profiles of both doctors and nurse practitioners will also indicate if they provide primary care services.
- The state won’t seek repayment from the estates of some Medicaid recipients when they die. This change applies only to people who receive Medicaid coverage on or after Jan. 1, 2014, as part of the program known as HUSKY D, which covers low-income state residents who don’t have minor children. But if those people receive nursing home care or other long-term care at age 55 or older, the state will still seek repayment from their estates when they die, as required by federal law. The change was made in response to concerns that some people who are newly eligible might not sign up for Medicaid because they don’t want the state to claim their assets when they die.
- The state’s home care program for people with disabilities will expand from 50 people to 100. The program currently serves people with degenerative neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease who are not eligible for Medicaid but having nursing home-level needs. As of February, there were 103 people on the waiting list, and one advocacy group has said it takes about three years for people who apply to get into the program. The expansion is expected to cost the state $600,000.
- The Health Information Technology Exchange of Connecticut is being eliminated. The quasi-public agency, known as HITE-CT, was created in 2010 to promote the use and sharing of electronic medical records. Some of the agency’s responsibilities, including updating the statewide health information technology plan, will be transferred to the Department of Social Services. The agency was funded by a federal grant that recently ran out. Read more.
- The state will seek to increase Medicaid payments for residential psychiatric care for young people. The bill calls for the social services commissioner to seek federal permission to raise the rates Medicaid pays private, non-hospital psychiatric residential treatment facilities that provide services to people under 21. But the rate increase must be “within available state appropriations” — which means the size of the increase could be limited.
- The new unions for home day care providers and personal care attendants will get new contracts. The implementer gives legislative approval to the new contract for family day care providers and personal care attendants paid through state programs. Both groups formed unions after a controversial process that began with an executive order from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The contract for the child care providers will cost nearly $8.5 million, while the contract for the personal care attendants will cost more than $3.1 million.
- Students who dropped out of college before earning a bachelor’s degree will be eligible to take three free courses at a Connecticut State College or community college. This initiative is part of the governor’s “Transform CSCU” plan aimed at shoring up the public college system’s finances by luring residents back to school, and paying tuition for other courses.
- The implementer bill eases a controversial limit on how many non-credit, remedial courses students may have to take before receiving college course credit. Students now may repeat non-credit courses, if necessary.
- One of the late additions to the implementer was a change demanded by House Republicans to change how pensions are computed for judges who retire after less than 10 years of service — a reaction to the recent appointment of a politically prominent judge, Anthony V. Avallone, 66, who will get a $100,000 pension after less than four years of service. Under existing law, judges are eligible for a maximum pension of two-thirds of their salary – about $100,000 for a Superior Court judge — once they reach the mandatory retirement age of 70, regardless of years of service. The change, originally sought by Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, will reduce the pension by 10 percent for each year less than 10 years. Read More.
- Cities and towns will be allowed to care for neglected cemeteries that aren’t under the control of a registered local association.
- The bill ends a requirement that cities and towns share in the proceeds from video slots from the two casinos in southeastern Connecticut — a move that helps Gov. Dannel P. Malloy whittle down about 1/8th of the $1.3 billion deficit in the first state budget after the November elections. Read More.
- The renter rebate program for low-income elderly is reopened. This provision implements the governor’s proposal, which also adds 12,700 program slots in the new budget, an increase of about 30 percent.
- Operation Fuel, a nonprofit heating and energy assistance program for the poor, receives an extra $600,000 in the new budget.
- The state will waive a requirement that the city of Norwich pay at least one-third of the cost of renovating the Rose City Senior Center. Most of the upgrades to that facility are being paid for with state dollars.
- The town of Hamden temporarily can contribute less than would normally be required to its municipal pension program. The town is issuing bonds to shore up the pension fund. The bill allows the community for three years afterward to contribute less than what fund analysts normally require while it also begins paying off the pension bonds.
- Sharon Hospital, the state’s only for-profit hospital, would be exempted from paying sales taxes on services it provides and any property it sells. The exemption lasts for three fiscal years and would cost the state an estimated $600,000 in total over that period.
- The Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport would be exempted from the admissions tax, costing the state an estimated $625,000 per year.
- The state will launch a sweeping, two-year study of Connecticut’s $16 billion-a-year tax system. Some legislators have predicted this could lead to the most dramatic overhaul of state finances since the income tax was enacted 23 years ago. Read More.
- A new state board will design a state-administered retirement plan for private-sector workers. Public sector unions and Connecticut AARP have been pushing for the state to set up a 401(k)-type retirement plan for workers who don’t have access to retirement savings programs through their jobs. Opponents raised concerns about the administration costs and effect on private financial businesses. The implementer requires the board to design a state-run plan and submit it to the legislature for final approval by April 2016. Read More.
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