House Democrats emerged from a budget caucus Tuesday to face a cordon of stone-faced firefighters, a reminder of the 215 bills passed by one chamber and awaiting action in the other, most doomed to expire at midnight Wednesday when the General Assembly reaches its constitutional adjournment deadline.
The line of firefighters in dress uniforms was a mute protest of the refusal by House leaders to schedule debate on a Senate bill that would expand workers’ compensation for firefighters and police officers over the objections of municipalities.
Beneath the struggle to pass a budget, a fight that cast a shadow over everything and everyone in the State Capitol, were the myriad small dramas endemic to every session finale, when sleep-deprived lobbyists and legislators crash against a hard deadline.
“People are panicking,” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven.
Fasano stood outside the 3rd-floor Senate chamber in the lobbyist no-fly zone, an oasis set off by velvet ropes. Vinnie Mauro, the chief of staff for the Democratic majority, waited to have a word. House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, sped by, answering the bell for a roll call one floor below in the House.
They had business to discuss.
One of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s signature bills, An Act Concerning a Second Chance Society, was showing signs of life after being stalled for much of the session by political differences that hardened into personal ugliness.
The bill, which is intended to reduce incarceration for non-violent crimes, would lower penalties for simple possession of drugs and expedite the process for pardons.
Fasano said he expected it would pass with bipartisan revisions in the Senate. (And it did shortly before midnight.)
Klarides met Tuesday night with Malloy to talk about which bills her caucus would let come to a vote and which ones would prompt them to filibuster until adjournment.
Second Chance had a shot in the House, but Klarides told Malloy that a vote was unlikely on legislation intended to allow police to temporarily take firearms away from persons served with temporary restraining orders.
Throughout the Capitol, lobbyists and legislators huddled in tight groups of three or four. Each conversation represented a piece of legislation stuck in one chamber or another.
With a practiced eye, one could recognize the issue by the players. Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, and Rep. Tom O’Dea, R-New Canaan, talking to the administration’s liaison on motor vehicle issues?
Ah, that was a chat of about the bill setting standards for Uber, the ride-sharing service. It passed the House, but was stuck in the Senate, where Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, found the criminal background checks on drivers to be insufficient.
In a corner of the House, the Senate co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, Eric Coleman of Bloomfield, talked to the House co-chair of Public Safety, Stephen Dargan of West Haven, and the chair of the Black and Latino Caucus, Rep. Bruce Morris of Norwalk. That would add up to an effort to pass a bill on police body cameras.
The bill, which would establish standards for investigating officer-involved shootings and equipping police with body cameras, was unanimously approved by the Senate shortly before 4 a.m. Tuesday, but House members were seeking changes.
“We have a bunch of people working on it, and the clock is running out,” Morris said.
The topic of every conversation could not be easily identified.
Outside the Senate, out of view of lobbyists, two Democratic senators, Gayle Slossberg of Milford and Marilyn Moore of Bridgeport whispered in a corner. They were told they looked like conspirators.
Moore laughed and said the description was apt.
“Not me, sir,” Slossberg said, pretending to curtsy. “I’m a good girl.”
The bill at issue?
The budget crisis — Democratic legislative leaders failed Monday and Tuesday to find the votes to pass a budget deal struck with the Malloy administration just before midnight Saturday — had slowed the traditional “exchange of hostages” between the chambers.
Most of the hostages are bills: the day began with 87 Senate bills sitting on the House calendar and 128 House bills on the Senate calendar. Passage requires choreography of Democrats and Republicans in both chambers.
But there are human hostages, too.
Alice A. Bruno of New Britain, John B. Farley of West Hartford, Gerald L. Harmon of Southington and Edward T. Krumeich II of Greenwich are Malloy’s latest nominees to be judges of the Superior Court.
All were endorsed unanimously by the Judiciary Committee for confirmation on May 15. So, why have the House and Senate postponed action?
Every chamber likes to keep something the administration wants on the calendar until the end, just in case. Legislative sources predicted that sometime before midnight Wednesday, the hostages will go free, confirmed as Malloy’s 44th, 45th, 46th and 47th nominees to the Superior Court.