Looney’s to do list: Legalize pot, raise minimum wage, etc.

Sen. Martin Looney, left, and House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz.

CTMirror.org

Sen. Martin Looney, left, and House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz.

Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, was busy before his hospitalization Tuesday for a kidney transplant, filing bills that would create a paid family-and-medical leave system, raise the minimum wage and legalize marijuana.

The senator also proposed bills that would lighten the burden on certain Connecticut taxpayers by exempting Social Security benefits from the state income tax, expanding a property-tax exemption for business, and raising the state estate tax exemption from $2 million to $5.49 million, matching the federal exemption.

“The bills Sen. Looney filed represent his legislative priorities,” his spokesman, Adam Joseph, said Wednesday. “They are certainly not the only things we are going to be focusing on this session. We have a lot of work to do.”

With the election of 18 Democrats and 18 Republicans to the Senate on Nov. 8, few bills are expected to pass in 2017 without significant bipartisan support. In fact, Looney and Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano of North Haven have been discussing a power-sharing agreement giving both parties a say over the Senate’s agenda.

Democrats retain a slight edge because of the authority of Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, a Democrat, to break ties as the presiding officer of the Senate, though Republicans question whether that ability extends to the re-election of Looney as president pro tem.

Few of Looney’s bills are brand new, a reminder that some measures pass only after years of effort. Looney succeeded in passing an earned income tax credit only after filing repeated versions and, finally, the election of a sympathetic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

“I understand what he’s doing, and that’s his politics,” Fasano said of Looney’s early bills. He said some clearly were meant to be “thought provoking.”

“Some of these are problematic, especially legalizing marijuana, since the governor says he is opposed,” Fasano said.

The General Assembly doesn’t convene its 2017 session until Jan. 4, but legislators are starting to file early bills that typically are concepts, not fully formed legislation.

As the president pro tem of the Senate, Looney has the prerogative of designating what will be Senate Bill 1. According to the clerk’s office, he chose “An Act Creating a Paid Family and Medical Leave System in the State.”

Paid family leave essentially is an insurance program funded by employees, not a mandated benefit covered by employers. Workers would contribute through payroll deductions to a fund from which they could draw benefits if they need time off to deal with things like the birth of a child or a medical emergency.

California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have passed laws creating family leave insurance. During his campaign, President-elect Donald J. Trump indicated a willingness to explore paid maternity leave, without discussing in detail how it would be funded.

Labor unions and others strongly supported a similar bill last year, but business groups and officials in the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy warned that it would cost the state money to administer at a time of fiscal challenges.

“While well intentioned, this bill would be additional strain on the business community in Connecticut in what remains a fragile time for the state’s economy,” the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce said last year.

AARP called the measure “a common-sense plan” that helps families care for newborns and cope with aging relatives.

Looney’s surgery Tuesday was called a success by his staff, but he is likely to be absent from the early weeks of the five-month session. He intends to be present on opening day, when the Senate will adopt rules and, he hopes, re-elect him as its top leader, president pro tem.

He directed a staff attorney to file 10 bills before departing for his surgery at Yale-New Haven Hospital. His bills were the first filed.

They would:

  • Legalize the sale of marijuana and “tax such sale in the same manner as the state of Colorado.” Malloy remains opposed to legalization, but the passage of a legalization initiative in Massachusetts is likely to get Looney’s bill a hearing.
  • Raise the minimum wage, which is now set to increase to $10.10 on Jan. 1, to $15 in five-year increments, beginning in 2018. Starting in 2023, increases would be adjusted annually based on inflation.
  • Authorize municipalities to levy a local sales tax of one-half of one percent.
  • Match the federal exemption on the estate tax in steps, from Jan. 1, 2018, to Jan. 1, 2020.
  • Exempt all Social Security benefits. Connecticut, which is rated by Kiplinger as among the least-tax friendly states for retirees, now exempts Social Security for individuals with a federal adjusted gross income of less than $50,000 and couples with an AGI of less than $60,000.
  • Exempt the first $10,000 of a business’s property from the property tax and relieve small businesses owning less than $10,000 in personal property “from the administrative burden of itemizing their tangible personal property items.”
  • Authorize Connecticut to enter into the National Popular Vote Compact, which would commit states to cast electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote.
  • Strengthen the penalty for hate crimes.

Looney’s final bill reflects his recent experience waiting for a kidney donor. It is “An Act Concerning the Donation of Organs and Bone Marrow.

It would encourage donations by allowing donors to deduct up to $10,000 from their income taxes to cover unreimbursed cost of travel, lodging and lost wages. State employees would have an additional benefit: up to 30 days of paid leave for an organ donation and up to seven days leave for a bone-marrow donation.

Looney’s donor is a state employee, Superior Court Judge Brian T. Fischer, but he would not benefit. The legislation would offer the tax deduction for donations occurring after Jan. 1, 2017, and the time off for donations after Jan. 1, 2018.

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