Lawmakers plan to craft compromise on restaurant work rules
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut lawmakers decided Monday to come up with compromise legislation this summer that addresses concerns raised by restaurant owners over wage and hour rules, forgoing a plan to override Gov. Ned Lamont’s veto of a bill that would have required the state Department of Labor to clarify its standards.
Democratic House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz of Berlin said meetings will be held in the coming days to try and reach an agreement. An informational meeting for the public will then be held on a new bill before the General Assembly returns for a vote.
“We really tried all weekend, shopping ideas back and forth,” said Aresimowicz, who had announced Friday the House of Representatives planned to override the veto. “But to come up with a bill that would have taken into consideration all of the concerns would have been very difficult.”
The Connecticut Restaurant Association and its members want the state’s rules clarified, considering there are inconsistencies that have become the subject of litigation.
Some restaurant owners are facing the possibility of paying costly fines and back wages, after being told for years it’s legal not to count every minute their servers and bartenders perform a task other than serving, so long as it’s less than 20 percent of their shift.
“Something like this could be devastating,” warned Barry Jessurun last week. CEO of a group that owns several restaurants in northeastern Connecticut, he predicted there could be restaurant closures if this issue is not addressed.
But in his veto message, Lamont raised concerns about how the bill would have repealed the state’s current regulations retroactively in order to address any pending lawsuits. He noted that could “extinguish a worker’s right in an amount lawfully required.” Lamont also said the legislation made significant policy changes to a complex area of the law without sufficient study, debate or input from stakeholders.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, a Republican from Derby, had hoped lawmakers could pass a fix on Monday.
“This needs to be done soon,” Klarides said, adding how Connecticut’s restaurant owners have been given the wrong information for years. “So now what do you do? This needs to be clarified yesterday.”
Lawmakers on Monday declined to override two other bills that Lamont vetoed. They include one that would have made the theft of cooking oils a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison.
In his veto message, Lamont questioned the severity of the penalty. The second vetoed bill would have weakened a requirement that real estate brokers tell prospective buyers when they’re representing the interests of the seller.
In total, Lamont signed 223 bills passed during this year’s regular session.
Also Monday, lawmakers passed legislation that transfers ownership of various small parcels of state property and authorizes funding for school construction projects across the state.
It’s unclear when the General Assembly will return to vote on the retooled restaurant worker bill, which also expanded the industries eligible for state workforce training assistance. Lawmakers also need to finally approve a major state borrowing bill that wasn’t finished during the regular session.
And while opponents to electronic tolls were on hand for Monday’s special session, it appears unlikely there will be a vote on tolls before the next regular legislative session begins in February.
“You know the history of this building. Some things that look like there won’t be any action taken, somehow we reach agreement,” Aresimowicz said. “I would say it’s a long shot.”