Lots of activity as the legislative session nears its end

There was so much going on at the Connecticut State Capitol last week that the ricocheting statements about President Donald Trump’s payments (or not) to porn star Stormy Daniels seemed to be from another galaxy far, far away.

While former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the president himself tried to get their opposing facts and stories in alignment, legislators in Connecticut were busily passing legislation that, among other things, would make the state part of the interstate compact to elect the president by popular vote.

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From right, Rep. Robyn Porter and Sens. Mae Flexer and Terry Gerratana after passage of bills benefiting women.

It was a big week for women. On Thursday, the state House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill giving an array of protections to incarcerated women, particularly those who are pregnant. It also voted 147 to 1 on a bill to reduce instances when victims of domestic violence are arrested alongside their attackers.

The State Senate had approved those measures earlier in the week, then early Friday approved a bill that overhauls Connecticut’s sexual harassment and assault laws. The body capped it off that night with a 35 to 1 vote giving final approval to a pay-equity bill that places Connecticut in the growing ranks of states that bar employers from asking applicants about their pay history — a measure expected to improve pay equity for women.

The Senate also unanimously approved and sent to the House a bill that would create an independent task force to oversee the Whiting Forensic facility and make staff at the maximum security psychiatric unit subject to fines or even criminal charges if they fail to report abuse such as that revealed there a year ago.

The Senate was far from unanimous, however, when it approved by the narrowest of margins a bill to restore net neutrality to Connecticut.

Keith M. Phaneuf / CTMirror.org

Group home workers and some of their clients watch Saturday’s Senate debate.

The House, for its part, overwhelmingly approved a measure that would prohibit the governor from reducing education grants to school districts next fiscal year. On Wednesday it passed a bill that would provide the first raises in a decade for the people who take care of the disabled – and  also avert a potential strike. The Senate sealed the deal Saturday.

It also unanimously approved a comprehensive bill that aims to shed light on the murky prescription drug industry — a necessary first step state officials say to lowering expensive drug costs.

A bill to ban bump stocks and other rate-of-fire enhancements for firearms won bipartisan support in the House on Tuesday, 114-35, after a five-and-a-half hour debate. Less popular was Friday’s 77-73 House vote to authorize a study of siting a new casino in Connecticut. It goes to the Senate where it is expected to meet strong resistance, but it might have helped ameliorate one issue in the unresolved budget debate.

On Saturday the House answered the pleas of owners of homes whose foundations were crumbling because they are contaminated with pyrrhotite. The House voted 97-42 in favor of a bill that would impose a $12 annual surcharge on homeowners’ insurance policies, contributing about $9.3 million annually to a relief fund for residents facing complicated repairs costing as much as $250,000.

One issue that wasn’t voted on last week was whether to set up tolls on Connecticut highways. House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz said it currently lacks sufficient support to pass.

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Jane B. Emons got a hearing, but no vote.

And while legislators overwhelmingly confirmed Richard A. Robinson as the new chief justice of the State Supreme Court, their inaction brought to an end the judicial career of Superior Court Judge Jane B. Emons, whose reappointment had been vigorously contested by a small group of former litigants unhappy with her conduct while presiding over divorces and child custody cases in family court.

Of course the biggest issue facing the state — the next state budget — remains unresolved with only a few days remaining in the regular session; and the City of Hartford’s financial bailout is one of several sticking points. Saturday the Senate approved a bipartisan compromise measure, partly symbolic, to effectively end the state’s fiscal bailout of Hartford after five years.

Social services advocates on Saturday pressed lawmakers  to reverse budget cuts that could leave 13,200 poor adults without Medicaid healthcare coverage in January. The first round of cuts in 2015 already took a toll.

There is about $2 billion more revenue available than expected owing to surging income tax receipts, but to get at most of that windfall lawmakers must suspend or otherwise get around the new “volatility cap” they created to force better savings habits.

State energy policy still hangs in the balance as well, and the state’s updated Comprehensive Energy Strategy is still facing controversy, even though it has undergone massive changes since its initial proposal.

Clarice Silber / CTMirror.org

Board of Regents Chair Matt Fleury, left, and President Mark Ojakian at a board meeting.

There are other issues brewing, too. After a disappointing decision by its accreditation authority opposing its “Students First” community college consolidation plan, the Board of Regents for Higher Education has resolved to push ahead with a modified proposal. 

Connecticut’s congressional delegation also would like Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to join other governors around the country in taking steps to offset another sharp increase in health insurance rates and a rise in the number of uninsured residents since Congress began to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

Legislators are eager to get the session over with so they can devote their time to campaigning for office, and last week there was plenty of movement among the players.

Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate and convicted felon is opening a petition drive that signals to party leaders he plans to stay in the race.

Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, on the other hand, has decided not to run for the 5th Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty. There is no shortage of willing competitors, though: Jahana Hayes, national teacher of the year for 2016, entered the race Wednesday; and two-time gubernatorial nominee and former Comptroller William E. Curry Jr., is “thinking about it.

Former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, also running for governor, won the endorsement of Emily’s List, a national campaign fundraising network for Democratic women who support abortion rights.

In Washington, a new defense bill would authorize increased production of Virginia-class submarines built by Electric Boat and boost other Connecticut-made defense programs by even more than President Donald Trump requested.

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