The Connecticut Senate closed a chaotic day Tuesday with passage of an 837-page budget implementer bill that the Republican minority complained was less about fiscal policy than an exercise of raw power by the Democratic majority.
The Senate voted 23-7 to pass and send to the House an omnibus bill that, among other things, cuts funding for a state contract oversight board, increases funding for behavioral health providers and gives labor victories unattainable in the regular session.
One provision would deny state aid to any company that moves a call center offshore. A second would provide protections and aid for domestic workers. A third creates a $34 million assistance program for essential employees who lost work due to COVID-19 symptoms. And a fourth creates an Office of Unemployed Workers Advocate.
There is nothing new about using the implementer, a technical measure necessary to flesh out and implement the budget, as a vehicle to revive and pass elements of bills that failed during the year — or might never have been proposed.
Holding only 12 of the 36 seats, the Republicans could only express their frustration about the heft of the bill, the lack of consultation for items affecting their districts, and their inability to shape the legislation.
“It’s obnoxious,” said Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott. “If you drop it on your foot, you’re gonna break your toe.”
Ultimately, the breadth and depth of the implementer was overshadowed by the drama surrounding the other bill on the agenda Tuesday, legislation that would legalize recreational marijuana. Gov. Ned Lamont threatened a veto over an addition he found objectionable.
Elements of the implementer are similar to congressional earmarks — funding directed by individual lawmakers for specific projects, though the sponsor is not always evident.
Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, the co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, was responsible for several items affecting Native Americans in Connecticut, including grants to three tribes recognized by the state but not the federal government.
The bill provides $1.5 million for the Eastern Pequot Tribe for a well, septic system and access road, $1 million to the Schaghticoke Tribe for a retaining wall at a cemetery, and $500,000 to the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe for a community center.
Osten also included a provision, which drew significant press attention, denying aid from the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan fund to any community with a team or school using a Native American mascot or nickname.
Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, whose district is home to Wamogo Regional High School, whose athletic teams are the Warriors and use a Native American portrait as the logo, was furious at Osten for not consulting with him. Both are long-time members of the General Assembly, Miner for 20 years and Osten for eight.
“I find it frustrating that after all that time, after all those years, that the majority would choose to act like kings, that somehow between the governor and the majority pretty much what they want to have happen is going to happen.”
Miner did not necessarily defend the use of Native American mascots — or the nudge to end them.
“Someone might take the position that its time has come,” Miner said. “But I think there were other ways to do it. I think a phone call would have been nice.”
Osten apologized on the Senate floor. The provision also was amended to push back the effective date a year. As drafted, it would have taken effect in two weeks.
The bill sets aside $6.5 million for grants from the Department of Economic Community Development for a diverse collection of local non-profits and community groups —everything from Boys & Girls Clubs in Hartford, Stamford and New London to programs combating violence and supporting LGBTQ youth.
A Lamont administration bill overhauling the Small Business Express program that was blocked in the Senate by one member was included in the implementer, as was a provision redefining the jurisdiction of the Connecticut Port Authority.
It also makes small changes, such as increasing from $60 to $75 the monthly personal allowance of residents in nursing homes who are on state assistance.
The bill authorizes a 4.5% salary increase for judges of the Superior, Appellate and Supreme courts, as well as family support magistrates, a per diem increase to referees, probate judges, and workers’ compensation commissioners.
“There are a lot of sections in the bill. I think that there are good sections in the bill here that will do a lot of wonderful things for our state and move our state forward,” said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk.
Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said the implementer and the related budget address needs of everyone. “We are paying attention to the needs of our very young children and the needs of the frail elderly,” Looney said.
It also pays attention to the dead. Somewhere in Connecticut is a cremation facility granted a temporary respite in the bill from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection requiring the relocation of an “air emission emitting stack.”
The favored crematory is identified only as being on a cemetery of “not less than two hundred fifty acres, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and was established prior to 1865.”
CT Mirror reporters Dave Altimari and Kelan Lyons contributed to this report.