Legislative Review

June 17, 2019

Legislative Session Review
The 2019 legislative session ended with a fall of the gavel at midnight on June 5. It was remarkably productive, though there remain some unresolved issues that may be addressed this summer.

As a vice chair of the Appropriations Committee, passing a two-year budget on time was a major accomplishment. It is a complicated document, coming in at more than 500 pages, but it tackles our fiscal challenges directly and puts us on a stable path for the future. This is solid progress for CT: as the CEO of United Technologies recently put it, we “are getting [our] fiscal house in order, which is the key to the long-term success of the state of Connecticut.”

  • Responsible: the budget is balanced, and will increase the state’s reserves to historic levels (well over $2 billion), protecting taxpayers into the future;
  • On-Time: it included stable or increased funding to municipalities, giving timely predictability to towns setting their own budgets;
  • Sustainable: tackled teachers’ pension challenges head on, shoring the fund up substantially and creating a sustainable future path, without shifting these costs onto the towns;
  • Targeted on our Future: Invests in workforce development, job growth, economic development, and education, while protecting our most vulnerable citizens and holding the line on spending.

The session was productive in many other ways as well. Among my three committees (which also include Environment and Judiciary), I’ve been privileged to introduce, co-sponsor, advocate for, and support a broad array of important legislation this term. Here are a few highlights.

Protecting our Environment & Family Farms: A clean, healthy, environment is critical to the Northwest Corner, as both an economic asset and a moral trust. We passed a number of bills that make progress here, including: a ban on single-use plastic bags by 2021 (which will also reduce municipal recycling costs); extension of renewable energy programs, including traditional net metering and the Green Bank renewable solar investment program; expansion of the virtual net metering cap (reducing municipal energy costs); creation of a Green Jobs Career Ladder; development of energy capacity from offshore wind; and rebate incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles to help reduce polluting emissions. Another critical bill I co-sponsored will ensure that towns at risk when Cricket Valley Energy Center in NY comes online will get support from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in monitoring their air quality.

I’m also proud we were able to protect funds for both Passport to Parks and the Community Investment Act (supporting agriculture, open space, affordable housing, and historic preservation) from being diverted to other purposes, and provided an additional $1 million in funding to help sustain dairy farmers.

Healthcare: Approximately half of our Connecticut population has experienced a problem affording health care in the past year, and 43% have either delayed or did not get care due to the rising costs of prescription drugs, increased deductibles, and insurance premiums. We made some progress this year, but there’s more to do. I was disappointed that an excellent bill, that would have allowed importation of prescription drugs from Canada (where they are up to 50% less costly), and created other cost-cutting structures, passed the House but did not have a vote in the Senate.

  • Mental Health & Addiction: Passed legislation to ensure health insurance companies give people with mental health and substance use disorders the same access to care as those with cancer and heart disease; expanded workers’ compensation protection for firefighters and police officers suffering from PTSD.
  • Pre-Existing Conditions: Passed legislation that puts the national Affordable Care Act protections for those with pre-existing conditions into state law, ensuring that regardless of what happens at the federal level, people in CT with pre-existing conditions will be protected.
  • Expanded Access to Husky A: About 3,500 people who had lost their healthcare coverage were restored to the program.

Veterans: We passed legislation giving veterans access to any state-owned or state-controlled public transportation service at a reduced rate; provided a property tax exemption for veterans with disabilities; expanded access to in-state tuition for veterans’ families; and created a “Military to Machinists” workforce development program.

Protecting Seniors: We protected the Medicare Savings Program for low-income seniors (rejecting an asset test), increased protection of Social Security income from taxation, phased out the pension and annuity tax, expanded funding for Meals on Wheels, and provided a rate increase to nursing homes (thereby avoiding a costly strike).

Raising Wages: Income inequality is a serious problem in CT, with wage-earners having been left out of the recent economic recovery. I’m proud to have supported overdue legislation increasing the minimum wage to $15/hour, and equally proud to have pushed to ease the burden on employers by extending the phase-in period and exempting tipped workers, whose compensation keeps up better with inflation. We also passed Paid Family Medical Leave, protecting employees from financial ruin by providing limited wage reimbursement to care for a loved one with a serious health issue.

Common Sense Gun Safety: We passed three gun safety bills, with bipartisan support, including Ethan’s Law (requiring that a gun be properly stored so that individuals under the age of 18 cannot access the firearm), and a ban on “ghost guns” (untraceable weapons made from parts purchased online or made on a 3D printer). The third law requires safe storage of firearms in unattended vehicles, including in locked glove boxes or tool chests.

Tobacco/Teen Vaping: As the mother of three young adults, I have seen up close the fast-growing crisis of vaping by teens. Research by the Department of Public Health shows that if someone has not started smoking by 21 they likely never will, so I’m particularly proud we passed legislation that will raise the purchasing age of tobacco and vaping products to 21. The crucial next step will be enforcement.

Issues for the Longer Term: There were a few pieces of legislation that didn’t make it over the finish line this year, but I’m looking forward to continuing to push for them in the future:

  • “Municipal Gain” and Internet Connectivity: The lack, or poor quality, of Internet connectivity in our region is a significant concern for businesses, students, and young families relocating here. I worked on a bill that would address that, and it was approved by two committees (neither of which I sit on), but did not get a vote in the Senate. I look forward to continuing to push for results on an issue that is of critical importance for our regional economy.
  • Early voting: The House, by supermajority, passed a resolution that would have put early voting onto a referendum in 2020. The Senate also passed this resolution, but not with the requisite majority for a 2020 referendum, so we will have to vote on this again in two years to be able to bring early voting (a reality in 38 states already) to Connecticut.

Though this session is the “long session” of the two-year term, it went by fast. From the requirement to submit all bill concepts within ten days of being sworn in, to the blistering pace of votes toward the close that kept us glued to our seats in the chamber, the pace is often brisk. I came to think of it like running a long-distance race: you need to maintain a steady pace, know where the hills are, and use the downhill sections to gather resources. Distance runners often run in packs, as everyone does better when you rely on one another in the challenging parts. And, finally, you’d better have put in the miles before the race begins.

Now, I’m looking forward to runs and other events back in the district, including a number of local graduations this coming week. My congratulations to all the graduates for your accomplishments: we can’t wait to see what you will do!