The General Assembly concluded its special session on Thursday with the passage of a budget implementation bill that settles accounts, sends messages, offers small favors and big policy changes and, yes, puts in place. implements the biennial budget of $ 46.4 billion.
The House amended and passed Bill 89-50 at 12:33 am, then officially closed its special session and left, leaving the Senate with no choice but to accept the changes. Twelve hours later, the Senate grunted a bit, then voted 20-6 for passage.
An ambitious data privacy provision that was a major policy initiative by Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, was withdrawn from the House bill under the leadership of House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford.
A more modest insurance measure favored by Senator Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, co-chair of the insurance and real estate committee, also disappeared from the underwriter during his time in the House – a likely consequence of a strained relationship with its co-chair, representing Kerry Wood, D-Rocky Hill.
At the insistence of Governor Ned Lamont, the UConn health center’s bond for routine maintenance was also withdrawn by the House. Major borrowings for UConn are outside the normal surety process, but Lamont insisted that routine expenses be reviewed by senior management.
The implementation bill began in the Senate, and House members said the version they received contained elements that went beyond what was agreed upon in negotiations.
The performer is different from other bills.
It is one of the few pieces of legislation that has to be passed every year, which means that incorporating a provision is usually a guarantee that it will become law – even for things that have only one connection. symbolic with the budget and otherwise had no chance. of passage.
The performer is produced jointly by the administration and the majority leadership of the House and Senate, with input from committee co-chairs and other actors. Any of the three players can theoretically veto any layout, but the reality is they choose their battles.
Some elements unfold without question or challenge, especially if their scope is limited.
A provision inserted by Ritter, for example, has not given rise to any debate. It at least temporarily exempts a crematorium in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford from environmental regulations, including chimney emissions.
The crematorium was established in 1983, before a bylaw was passed requiring these facilities to be at least 150 feet from the stops. Cedar Hill wants to modernize his crematorium, but he does not respect the buffer.
Once the administration and leaders approve the implementer, it is supposed to be bulletproof, immune to amendments.
The process means that Senator Cathy Osten, D-Sprague and Rep. Toni E. Walker, the co-chairs of the Committee on Appropriations, are obligated to present and defend everything in the bill, even a deep cut in a state supervisory board. that the two women oppose.
The Lamont administration had opposed funding of $ 450,000 for a small watchdog, the State Contracting Standards Board. It had been added to the budget late in the process, and now Lamont wanted it removed through the implementer.
The money was intended to allow the board, which now has just one full-time employee, to fill five vacant positions.
On occasion, the base rebel – as was briefly the case when Wednesday night turned into Thursday morning.
Not being part of the making of the performer, the Republicans are a wild card, free to seek changes on the pitch. Realizing the general support of Democratic lawmakers for the procurement council, Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme, tabled an amendment to restore funding.
Rather than using his own words to attack the governor, Carney sought the support of Democrats by quoting Osten, who had made clear his reservations about the cut during the first Senate Implementation Officer debate.
“I would quote the right Senate Speaker for Appropriations,” Carney said. “It comes directly from the governor’s office. I really think this is a mistake. Because the board of directors provides the necessary transparency and oversight. ‘ She said she thought it was not about the governor’s money but not wanting oversight. And these are very disheartening words from a member of the governor’s party.
Walker hesitated when she stood up to answer.
“It’s tough for me,” Walker said. “Sadly, I can’t support it at the moment, but I would like to have more conversation about it, and maybe we’ll be back here.”
The General Assembly tentatively scheduled a special session for the fall to determine how federal stimulus money should be spent, and Walker almost invited another conversation on the procurement board in the fall.
Carney’s amendment failed, but only narrowly, 71-69.
Max Reiss, a spokesperson for Lamont, said the state’s procurement policies were transparent and the administration viewed the procurement committee as redundant. Osten and Walker have reported, however, that they are not convinced of this.
The lawyers had a better chance of protecting themselves.
Another amendment to remove wording that would have eliminated the need for a lawyer for certain types of real estate fencing was adopted, 74-71. It was written by five lawyers, three Republicans and two Democrats.
Lesser wondered why the House had deleted a section that incorporated a consumer bill, passed unanimously by the Senate but never called to the House. This would have given parents of newborn babies more time to add them to their health insurance policy, saving them a surprise bill not covered by insurance.
“I found it strange and disheartening because it doesn’t punish me,” Lesser said. “I’m not fighting a surprise medical bill.”
Wood, co-chair of the insurance and real estate committee with Lesser, said she had no role in its removal.
“The negotiations over the implementer are on a different level,” said Wood, although she added that the budget implementer should be used to implement the budget, without trying to accomplish what failed in the process. of the ordinary session. “I did my best to get our bills settled in the House.”
But the biggest change in the bill was the removal of the data privacy section favored by Duff, the Senate Majority Leader. Modeled after a California law, the bill is said to have provided protections for consumers against companies that collect and sell data, often collected by the traces people leave on the web.
The provision was taken from a Senate bill that Duff and Senator James Maroney, D-Milford, co-chair of the General Law Committee, introduced as a major consumer bill, but it never been voted on in both chambers.
Duff put the problem bluntly: “Lobbyists win. Consumers are the losers.
As usual, Duff didn’t criticize Ritter or anyone else, but he blamed the House.
“It is so disappointing when the federal government cannot set rules for our nation, when here in the Senate we pass legislation that is strong, that protects consumers, then it is taken out of the House of Representatives in carrying it out. budget, ”says Duff.
Whether the provision was added to the performer without the consent of the House or the Lamont administration was unclear. A source said the administration refused to engage in a fight between the House and the Senate.
Ritter said the privacy section was a well-intentioned but insufficient effort to resolve a complicated issue.
“My caucus didn’t believe the bill was ready for prime time, and I didn’t have the votes to pass it,” Ritter said.
He said opposing interests included Connecticut hospitals. In a hearing, the Connecticut Hospital Association complained that the bill “endangers legitimate uses of data that are important to healthcare and its progress.”
The Connecticut Retail Merchants Association also objected during the testimony hearing: “A uniform national standard of confidentiality is needed, not a state-by-state approach. “
Duff said he would file the bill again.