Category Archives: General Assembly

State Capitol To Be Closed For Good Friday

by Categorized: General Assembly, Gov. Dannel Malloy, Toni Harp Date:

The state Capitol will be closed for Good Friday, which is a state holiday.

There are no committee meetings or public hearings listed on the official legislative schedule that is published daily during the General Assembly session.

UPDATE: Away from the Capitol, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman traveled to New Haven for a press conference Friday with the new mayor, Toni Harp, regarding increasing funding for legal services for the poor.

House Unanimously Approves Limited Liability For Horse Owners

by Categorized: General Assembly Date:

The state House of Representatives voted unanimously Thursday for a bipartisan bill that reduces the liability of horse owners in civil lawsuits.

The bill was prompted by a high-profile lawsuit that reached the Connecticut Supreme Court regarding the liability of horse owners, and the legislative measure was expanded to include ponies, donkeys, and mules. The state’s highest court had ruled against the owners of a horse that had bitten a two-year-old child on the cheek in 2006 at a Milford garden center.

Both Republicans and Democrats joined together in the 138 to 0 vote that was preceded by a debate that mentioned the lengthy battle in the Superior, Appellate, and Supreme courts that prompted the bill.

Rep. John Shaban, a Republican attorney from Redding, said, “It’s a common-sense measure to push back an errant body of case law.”

Rep. DebraLee Hovey, a Monroe Republican, said the state Supreme Court is “a group of individuals who know very little about the industry” of horses.

Rep. Steven Mikutel, a Griswold Democrat, said, “To label a whole species of horse as vicious or dangerous is ridiculous. … You might as well say dogs can be inherently vicious or cats can be inherently vicious.” Continue reading

Finance Committee Supports $55 Rebates, Malloy’s Tax Package

by Categorized: 2014 Election, General Assembly, Gov. Dannel Malloy, John McKinney, Tom Foley Date:

HARTFORD – The legislature’s tax-writing finance committee voted Tuesday in favor of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s tax package for the next fiscal year, including refunds to individual taxpayers.

The most prominent piece of the package covers $55 refunds for individuals and $110 for families earning up to $400,000 per year. The total cost of the refunds is $155 million, and the money will be taken from the state’s projected surplus of more than $500 million in the current fiscal year that ends on June 30.

The bill passed by 31 to 19 on a largely party line vote. Rep. Ted Mouwkasher of Groton was the only Democrat to break with his party on the governor’s tax package, and all Republicans voted against it.

The package restores the sales-tax exemption on non-prescription drugs that are sold over the counter, which had been put in place by Malloy and the Democratic-controlled legislature in 2011. The finance committee bill also cuts income taxes by 50 percent on teacher pensions. The total revenue package for the general fund is $17.4 billion.

Malloy hailed the rebate plan and the committee vote, saying, “After all, if Connecticut taxpayers are asked to share in the sacrifice during tough times, they should also share in the state’s continuing economic recovery.”

He added that the bill “benefits municipalities by exempting them from the insurance premium tax on health plans.  It restores the sales tax exemption on non-prescription drugs.  And, it begins a phase in of exempting a portion of teachers’ pensions from the income tax.”

But Senate Republican leader John McKinney, who is running for governor, had a strongly different view of the votes by both the tax-writing and budget-writing committees.

“Unsurprisingly, Democratic leaders on the finance and appropriations committees have rubber-stamped Governor Malloy’s gimmick-filled budget proposal, including his most infamous and disingenuous gimmick, the $55 rebate check,” McKinney said. “Like the governor’s proposal, this budget is unbalanced, fails to adequately pay down state debt, and ignores long-term structural deficiencies in state government. The result is a tax and spending plan Connecticut residents cannot afford today, and one that is projected to sink the state back into a $1 billion deficit by the middle of next year.”

State Rep. Vincent Candelora, one of the top three House Republican leaders, said that some of his constituents have come to him and said that the state should keep the $55 and instead pay down debt.

“I don’t like the $55 rebate that we have included in this package,” Candelora said. “Unless revenues turn around at a significant pace, we are going to be faced with a deficit in the out-years. … This is just a short-term outlook, and we are throwing money into a hole.”

He added, “We have long-term problems in the state of Connecticut.”

But Rep. Patricia Widlitz, a Guilford Democrat who co-chairs the committee, noted that the refunds are tax-free because they are not based on the personal income tax. She said the legislature should send refunds back to taxpayers “when there’s an opportunity to give back.”

Republicans offered an amendment to remove the refunds from the package, but the motion failed by 31 to 18 with five members absent. More than 2 million checks are expected to be mailed out by mid-September at a cost of more than $1.7 million.

“The so-called rebate is the “Three Card Monte” version of Governor Malloy’s phony math: Give me $700 in new taxes forever, and I’ll give you back a one-time payment of $55,” said Chris Cooper, a spokesman for gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley. “In his first year in office, Governor Malloy permanently raised taxes on Connecticut taxpayers by an average of over $700 — per year, per person, every year, into perpetuity — and now he offers an election year $55 refund.”

“Even as stunts go, Governor Malloy’s $55 deal is bad deal for taxpayers. By using these taxpayer dollars to bribe voters instead of paying down the state debt, the taxpayers will wind up paying more in long-term interest than they will ‘receive’ in their rebate checks. And I think most taxpayers know that is true.”

Continue reading

Budget Committee Approves Spending $12 Million More than Governor

by Categorized: 2014 Election, Beth Bye, General Assembly, Gov. Dannel Malloy Date:

HARTFORD – A key legislative committee voted Thursday for more than $12 million in additional spending beyond the recommendation of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, including hiring 443 new state employees.

On a straight party-line tally, the budget-writing appropriations committee voted 26 to 19 to approve changes in the second year of Malloy\’s two-year budget. The recommendation calls for spending $12.33 million more during the 2015 fiscal year that starts on July 1.

Republicans who did not support Malloy\’s proposed budget in February also voted against the Democratic committee\’s budget nearly two months later. They said it was constructed with one-time spending gimmicks and \”revenue tricks\’\’ that would leave holes in future budgets. All Democrats present voted in favor of the budget, while all Republicans voted against it.

\”It\’s built on bad math, at the very best,\’\’ said Rep. Craig Miner, a Litchfield Republican who is the  ranking House member on the committee.

Sen. John McKinney of Fairfield, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor against Malloy, said, \”We\’ve talked about kicking the can down the road. In some areas, the governor has even just tried to hide the can altogether.\’\’

McKinney added, \”In a time when we\’re looking at future deficits, such spending increases are nothing short of irresponsible. … Despite the governor\’s claims to the contrary that Connecticut does not have deficits, we all know – and real people understand – that we are looking at $1 billion budget deficits in the out-years. … We know that people are still hurting and can\’t find jobs. Now is not the time to be increasing spending, increasing the size and scope of government, and increasing our deficits in the future. In fact, it\’s time to do just the opposite.\’\’

But the committee\’s Democratic co-chairwomen, Sen. Beth Bye of West Hartford and Rep. Toni Walker of New Haven, sharply rejected the Republican comments as sound bites that don\’t tell the whole story.

\”We disagree strongly,\’\’ Bye told reporters. \”We worked hard to present a responsible budget, and I think this is a responsible budget that responds to the [state] residents.\’\’

Later, during the committee meeting at the state Capitol complex in Hartford, Bye said that she and Walker needed to make cuts as the subcommittees had proposed even higher spending.

\”We had to find a whole lot of savings to make the budget work under the cap,\’\’ Bye told the committee. \”There are so many things we could not do\’\’ because the state does not have enough money in a still-sluggish economy.

Bye added, \”Believe me, there were a lot of hard choices.\’\’

Thursday\’s debate marked another step in the state budget process. Now, top legislators will negotiate with Malloy over the next six weeks in an attempt to reach an overall agreement. That agreement would be subject to final approval by the House and Senate before the legislative session ends on May 7.

The recommended budget would be a razor-thin $400,000 under the state-mandated spending cap in the current fiscal year and $700,000 under the cap next year. That represents a tiny percentage of the overall budget. Republicans described the plan as \”very anti-GAAP\’\’ – saying that it partially pays for next year\’s spending with this year\’s money and does not adhere strictly to generally accepted accounting principles.

Republicans criticized the recommendations, saying they would lead to 443 new state employees, which is 37 more than proposed by Malloy. The recommendation restores more than $20 million for hiring in the executive, legislative and judicial branches, which amounts to 443 new state employees. At $50,000 each, 400 positions cost $20 million.

The plan does not restore any funding to hospitals, which have been complaining about lower reimbursements than expected as medical costs continue to increase. Republicans also questioned whether the state could meet its savings targets, including reducing $4 million in overtime for the state police.

The committee is calling for a 1 percent cost-of-living increase for home and community-based providers in the Connecticut home care program for the elderly. It also supports new funding for a variety of programs with state economic development funds, including OpSail New London, the Connecticut Invention Convention, and the annual Stamford Parade in the city\’s downtown area, among others. Continue reading

Nonpartisan Office Projects Next Year\’s State Budget Deficit At $69.4 Million

by Categorized: 2014 Election, Beth Bye, General Assembly, Gov. Dannel Malloy, Hartford, John McKinney, Larry Cafero, Tom Foley Date:

Top Republican leaders said Monday that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy\’s budget was unbalanced from the moment he delivered it last month, citing a new report by the legislature\’s nonpartisan fiscal office.

The Office of Fiscal Analysis says the projected deficit for the fiscal year that starts on July 1 is $69.4 million. The latest fiscal report focuses on the next fiscal year that starts July 1, and it does not have an impact on the current year\’s budget.

In the current year, which ends on June 30, the state has a projected surplus of more than $500 million partly because the state reaped huge capital gains from taxpayers due to the skyrocketing advances on Wall Street in 2013 that state officials believe will not be duplicated in 2014.

Senate GOP leader John McKinney of Fairfield and House GOP leader Larry Cafero of Norwalk said that Malloy\’s proposed state budget would have broken the state-mandated spending cap if it included all the items that are now being considered, including additional money for magnet schools and retirees\’ healthcare.

“It is clear now that the governor willfully disregarded what people in his own administration presented to him in their budget requests last October and November, months before he put out his budget,\’\’ Cafero said Monday. “We know now the budget was out of whack the moment he dropped it and exceeded the spending cap.’’

Citing documents from the nonpartisan fiscal office, the Republicans said that Democratic state comptroller Kevin Lembo had sought nearly $52 million on October 12, 2013 for health insurance for state retirees. The reason is that more than 800 employees in the Department of Correction are eligible to retire, but the governor\’s budget anticipates that fewer than 300 employees will retire.

The Republicans also cited a request by the state education department on Nov. 13, 2013 for nearly $34 million in additional funding for magnet schools. The fiscal office now estimates a shortfall of nearly $19 million in the account for magnet schools.

“The governor had a fiduciary responsibility to present the legislature and the people of Connecticut with a balanced budget and he failed to meet that responsibility,\’\’ McKinney said. \”What’s worse is that the omitted expenditures look intentional. How else can [state budget director Ben] Barnes and Governor Malloy explain shortchanging two areas of their budget they said were priorities?\’\’

Malloy\’s spokesman, Andrew Doba, responded, “The governor’s budget proposal is balanced. If it were passed today, we would live within it.”

\”In contrast to previous administrations, Governor Malloy has shown that he can manage to the bottom line. That’s why we’ve held growth to less than 2.8 percent over the course of his term. It’s clear that many in the Republican caucus will say anything to score cheap political points,\’\’ Doba said. \”If they were serious about managing the state’s finances, they would put forward a budget. But we all know they aren’t going to do that.\’\’

Administration officials believe they can manage the budget within the current totals, and they do not consider the projected deficit to be a major issue. A projected deficit of $69 million represents a tiny fraction of an overall budget of about $22.3 billion, including off-budget accounts, that is managed by commissioners, budget officials, and the governor. Continue reading

Sen. Stillman Will Not Seek Reelection

by Categorized: General Assembly Date:

State Sen. Andrea Stillman, a Democrat from Waterford, announced on Wednesday that she will not seek reelection next fall.

Stillman has served in the General Assembly for over two decades, as both a senator and a state rep. This year, she spearheaded efforts to repeal keno gambling, which was legalized last June amid protests from Republicans but has not been implemented. Top Democrats later took the same position.

“Looking back on my 22 years in the House and Senate, I feel immensely proud of the work I have done for my constituents, and deeply privileged to have been entrusted with such a remarkable opportunity. There will be time for further reflection in the months ahead, but for now my attention is fixed on a number of initiatives I aim to see passed before the close of the 2014 legislative session. There is much work left to be done and I intend to see it through,\” said Stillman, in a statement announcing her decision.

Sending Out Rebate Checks In September Would Cost $1.72 Million

by Categorized: 2014 Election, General Assembly, Gov. Dannel Malloy, Kevin B. Sullivan Date:

The state will be spending $1.72 million to send out tax-rebate checks in mid-September if the rebate plan is approved by the legislature, officials said Thursday.

An estimated 2.1 million checks would be mailed to Connecticut residents, including some Social Security recipients whose names and addresses are not on file at the state tax department because they do not pay state income taxes, officials said. Those names would be obtained from the federal government and then added to the list of state tax filers.

The costs include postage and the time spent by an outside vendor to create a computer program to mail the checks, said Ben Barnes, the state budget director.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is calling for tax rebates of $55 for individuals earning less than $200,000 per year and $110 for families earning under $400,000 per year that would arrive in mailboxes about two months before the November gubernatorial election.

The checks will be sent automatically, and residents cannot request a debit card or an electronic deposit to their bank account, said Kevin Sullivan, the state\’s tax commissioner.

Malloy\’s fiscal plan also calls for eliminating the 6.35 percent state sales tax on over-the-counter, non-prescription medications, which had been originally imposed by Malloy and the Democratic-controlled legislature in 2011. That would save taxpayers a combined $22 million. House Republicans had announced their support regarding the sales tax before Malloy unveiled his proposal.

On Thursday, the tax-writing finance committee discussed the issue during a public hearing that marked another step in the legislature\’s analysis of Malloy\’s budget. The committee is expected to vote by its deadline in early April, and then the full budget is expected to be considered by the General Assembly before the regular legislative session ends on May 7.

The proposed changes represent adjustments to the second year of the state\’s two-year budget. Continue reading

Special Election For Holder-Winfield Seat To Be Held April 24

by Categorized: 2013 New Haven Mayoral Race, General Assembly Date:

The special election to fill a state house of representative seat vacated by Gary Holder-Winfield when he was elected to the senate earlier this year will be held on April 24, Gov. Malloy\’s office announced Sunday.

Holder-Winfield was elected to the Senate in February, leaving the seat in the General Assembly\’s 94th district, which includes Hamden and New Haven, open.

Holder-Winfield was first elected to the General Assembly in 2008. He beat Republican Steven Mullins of West Haven for the seat in the upper chamber that was vacated when Toni Harp was elected mayor of New Haven.

National Chicken Fight Could Impact Our Hens

by Categorized: Agriculture, General Assembly Date:

There’s a big fight brewing in the world of chickens. It’s all about how much living space they should have, and it’s an issue that may eventually impact Connecticut’s poultry industry and how much you pay for eggs.

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Connecticut has more chickens than people. According to federal statisticians, Connecticut actually had more chickens in 2013 than all the rest of New England combined: our poultry population topped 3.9 million birds last year and those chickens laid 667 million eggs.

The national debate concerns a California ballot initiative passed in 2008 that set new (and by U.S. poultry industry standards) extraordinarily roomy requirements for how much space a hen should have. That would effectively outlaw so-called “battery cages” used in most big-time industrial-style poultry operations where hens are confined to small wire enclosures.

In 2009 and 2011, there were attempts in Connecticut’s General Assembly to outlaw those “battery cages” the way California did. Both efforts failed.

The California law requires that egg-laying hens be given room enough to flap their wings, stand up and move around. It also requires that eggs from outside California that are sold in that state be from hens raised under the same standard, and those provisions will take effect in January 2015.

That would hurt the big-time egg producers in places like Iowa and other Midwest states. They favor putting as many chickens as possible in the smallest amount of space allowed that will still get them plenty of eggs to meet the massive demands of American consumers at the lowest price. Critics insist those methods are inhumane and cruel, that cramped conditions lead to disease, and they believe more and more consumers agree with them.

Missouri’s attorney general has filed a lawsuit arguing the California standards violate interstate commerce protections in the U.S. Constitution. Big Food is also gearing up for the fight, fearing such restrictions on production could eventually hit industrial-style beef and pork farming.

In 2009, a General Assembly hearing on the Connecticut proposal to ban battery cages brought a massive response from the poultry industry. The biggest producer in this state is Kofkoff Egg Farms, which has major facilities in Bozrah and Lebanon.

But it wasn’t only Kofkoff that warned of the consequences of passing a bill mandating larger cage sizes for hens. The Teamsters were against it. New England Central Railroad was against it. The Connecticut Farm Bureau, the state Department of Agriculture, Interstate Commodities Inc. were opposed, as were town officials in Bozrah and Lebanon.

“The industry says it’s going to be a disaster,” state Rep. Diana Urban, D-Stonington, said this week. Urban sponsored the legislation in 2009 and 2001. “But it’s not going to be a disaster… and this is coming, why not lead the way?”

Urban doesn’t have any anti-battery cage bills in this year – in 2014 she’s concentrating on legislation to ban tiny “gestation crates” for pigs, even though Connecticut apparently doesn’t have any farmers that use them to raise swine.

“I’ll go back to battery cages,” Urban said of her plans for next year. “No question about it.”

General Law Committee Hears Testimony On Bar Bills

by Categorized: General Assembly Date:

A legislative committee on Tuesday heard testimony on two bar-related proposals: one would allow local police departments to have a say in whether an establishment\’s liquor permit gets renewed; the other would require bars to provide customers free tap water.

\"martini\"The permit renewal bill would implement statewide an initiative currently in place as a pilot program in New Haven. Under the program – which was created in an effort to address \”problem bars\” in New Haven – local police are notified when a licensed liquor establishment applies to renew their program and offered to submit comment. Lt. Toni Reyes of the New Haven Police Department told general law committee members that police have the most knowledge of what activity occurs at bars within their jurisdiction and can identify establishments that are \”magnets for trouble.\” He said the tool gives police leverage over a bar, and when law enforcement is conducting an investigation it provides the \”opportunity to get cooperation that otherwise wouldn\’t happen.\”

The tap water proposal was introduced by Rep. Chris Wright, D-Bristol. Wright recently was contacted by a constituent who said he serves as designated driver when he goes out to bars with friends. The constituent complained about a bar who, after charging him a cover fee to enter, denied to give him a free glass of water. \”If you want to promote designated driving, make the roads a little bit safer, this is one way,\” said Wright. \”I can understand they don\’t want somebody who is not drinking to come in and take up space, but especially if someone is paying a cover charge and they\’re willing to be a designated driver, I think we should be willing to give them a glass of water,\” Wright said.