Ken Dixon: Seconds, and bills, tick away as Legislature ends session
On Thursday morning, a handful of hours after the General Assembly ended with a whimper — and neither bang nor budget — the state Capitol was quiet and state hero Nathan Hale looked lonely in the east atrium.
The early morning partying was subdued, with steadily diminishing numbers of Republicans and Democrats segregated in various Capitol offices, as they had been all session. For the first time in years, there wasn’t even a wisp of contraband cigar smoke, let alone a spilled beer from a blotto, puking intern.
Most of the 151 House members and 36 senators had quickly decamped for the provinces, having transitioned back into pumpkins at the midnight witching hour. Even Gov. Dan Malloy, whose daily public schedule rivals Mr. Ubiquity, U.S. Sen. Dick Blumenthal, rejected a chance to make a post-session appearance before a joint convention of the House and Senate.
It was 3 a.m., time to search for that assistant House clerk who apparently got lost on their way to the Senate with SB 605, which had been amended by the House a couple times with minutes to go.
It was a bill that would have halted a planned $10-million improvement program at Silver Sands, a state park that the city of Milford wants to pretend is their private beach. It had to get back to the Senate before midnight.
At that moment, 11:48, the House and Senate were raging. It was the last-gasp chance to get a bill passed in the 22-week session. Legislation was flying through the building.
Earlier, while it was still daylight, both chambers had been held up by minority Republican maneuvers to make points. In the House, GOP lawmakers wanted to give a deal to Dominion Energy, owners of the Millstone nuclear plant in Waterford. Dominion, which refused to open its books to state lawmakers, wants to get paid for their electricity at a rate given to the nascent renewables of wind, hydro and solar. Forget the hazardous spent-fuel rods bubbling away in those on-site pools for the foreseeable future. They’re the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s unsolved problem.
Up on the third floor, in the Senate, the GOP wanted to make a show of an actual budget, as opposed to the vague outlines proposed by House and Senate Democrats, and the spending plan of Malloy, who proposed that affluent communities like Greenwich, Fairfield and Milford take massive hits in state aid.
Those issues ate up a couple hours each and all of a sudden it was 10:20, and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, was calling a House bill that would establish a state Transportation Authority to provide legislative oversight of big projects. Republican Senate Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said it would usurp the authority of the governor. At 10:30, the vote was 18-18, so for the 11th and final time in this session, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman broke the tie for her fellow Democrats.
Down in the House chamber, at 10:46, a Senate bill to ban the state DOT from engaging in any studies of a vehicle-mileage tax was “PTed” — passed temporarily, the theme of the session — putting its future into doubt.
At 10:49, the vaunted “lock box” constitutional amendment, turning the state’s transportation fund as a supposedly impregnable account that lawmakers could not raid in hard times, was called in the Senate.
“I think we are perpetrating on the people of Connecticut a fraud,” said Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington. Somehow voting began without Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney summing up the issue. “I am going to cancel the vote,” Wyman pronounced. It passed at 11:02, eight minutes before the mileage-tax legislation got reintroduced in the House and approved 116-34.
At 11:13, Rep. Richard Smith, R-New Fairfield, stood to compliment Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz for starting session days on time and finishing, except for the last couple of nights, fairly early. The House chamber rose in prolonged applause. “It really comes down to a simple thing,” Aresimowicz said, recalling his mother’s advice: “The most important thing you can do is respect people.”
At this point, the House was was actually voting faster than the Senate. Then Duff read off a 47-item consent calendar. Gulp. At 11:38, the Silver Sands bill returned to the House like a zombie. It had been “PTed” earlier in the evening after Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, the longest-serving member and former Environment Committee chairman, stripped the legislation down to a parking study in Milford. Now, Rep. Kim Rose, D-Milford, seemed desperate. Mushinsky withdrew her earlier amendment, seemingly surrendering to Milford Mayor Ben Blake the power to delay it for a couple years.
Then Smith stood to add an amendment ordering the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to work with his hometown to study solutions to parking problems at Squantz Pond. So Blake would still have the power, but the bill would have to go back to the Senate. Mushinsky stood again: “It’s a bad bill, bad policy and if it passes I hope it gets vetoed,” she said. It passed 89-60, at 11:48, as the Senate was passing the huge consent calendar.
At 11:55, the Senate voted its final consent calendar. The assistant House clerk hadn’t run upstairs in time and the DEEP’s plans for actual rest rooms and a concession stand were back on track. A day later, the bill history said “Bill placed on agenda, Senate agenda never adopted.”
Ken Dixon can be reached in the Capitol at 860-549-4670 or at email@example.com. See twitter.com/KenDixonCT. His Facebook address is kendixonct.hearst. Dixon’s Connecticut Blog-o-rama is at blog.ctnews.com/dixon/