Facing Coronavirus Shutdown, Connecticut Legislature May Not Meet until January 2021

HARTFORD — As of Friday, the regular session of the Connecticut General Assembly has been canceled. Any bills or additional allocations of state funding will require a special session of the legislature later this summer.

“The 2020 regular legislative session will adjourn without any further action, and we are already working on a plan to convene a special session in the coming months to ensure the continuity of government functions and that any necessary legislative action can be taken. Our top priority is the health and safety of the public, and we are committed to continue working in unison to stem this health crisis and do everything possible to protect the Connecticut residents we all represent,” according to a joint statement by Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz, Senate President Martin M. Looney, House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, and Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano.

To many, a later special session appears unlikely.

“What I’m hearing now is it’s ridiculous that they will go in to do a special session with COVID-19,” said Louise DiCocco, the Director of Policy & Legislative Outreach for Yankee Institute. “There would be so many transparency concerns and plus it’s an election year, the public would need to be able to see, be involved and they can’t with the pandemic concerns.”

“All depends on where the state is with the virus,” said Representative Devin Carney of Old Lyme. “The governor can call us in whenever.”

Many others, including Senator Norm Needleman of Essex, said they would not be surprised if the legislature did not return until January 2021.

As of now, the Governor’s Office has no official plan for when a special session would be held, according to Max Reiss, spokesperson for the office. If the session is not called, then no further bills will be passed this year. Instead of additional appropriations, the estimated $530 million deficit this year will be paid for by the state’s rainy day fund.

Without additional money from the legislature for the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, expanded testing for Eastern Equine Encephalitis in southeastern Connecticut will also likely be put on hold.

“Honestly, if it was less money I would’ve just donated it because I’m really, really worried. When I found out how much it will cost I almost fell off my chair, but I actually haven’t dug into the details of why it’s that expensive,” Needleman said. “I am worried, the mosquito population just did not die over the winter.”

If the special session is called it would be held with a very specific agenda addressing only priority omnibus bills for legislators to discuss and vote on.

“Special sessions must have a specific agenda, so you can’t just do any legislation, only what’s in the call of the session,” Carney said. “At this point, I do not know what that would look like. I’ve heard each committee may be given a few items to include, but nothing has been finalized and it probably won’t be finalized for a while.”

If a special session is called, legislators and lobbyists said that the focus should be on improving systems that proved to be problematic during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I very much hope we call a special session to find a sensible, legal way to expand absentee ballot provisions. It’s complicated because Connecticut is one of a few states whose voting regulations are in the constitution and so changing them is a procedural challenge,” said Representative Christine Palm of Chester. “Many of us are urging caucus leadership, the Secretary of the State and the Governor to work this out, because we can’t let it come down to protecting people’s health or their civic rights. We must find a way to do both.”

DiCocco, at the Yankee Institute, said she would be pushing for permanently easing licensing laws that have shown to be a road block during the coronavirus.

“We’ve seen Lamont work to ease regulations and restrictions in his executive orders that probably aren’t needed regularly,” DiCocco said. “Licensing requirements in this state are so strict that someone who crosses straight lines or comes out of the military or are retired are unable to work. The idea of easing these is gaining a lot of momentum as we deal with COVID.”

DiCocco point to medical professionals who were originally restricted from helping during the pandemic because of Connecticut’s licensing laws.

Carney and Needleman both emphasized efforts to help people get back to work and to stimulate the economy that should be addressed if a special session is called.

“If we come back on the energy committee we had one or two things that we thought we would like to get done. Mostly an increase in virtual net metering and also residential solar program increase,” Needleman said. “Both of them are good for the environment and would also be good economic incentive programs.”

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