There is an old adage about a new Democratic State Representative who, upon meeting the Speaker for the first time asks about where the Republican offices are. "I want to meet the enemy!" he says. The Speaker responds, "The Republicans aren't the enemy. They're the opposition. The Senate is the enemy."
This was put on display in full force this week as the Senate sent two bills to the House, both of which were amended by the House and sent back to the Senate. The House then adjourned sine die, forcing the Senate to either accept their changes or let both bills die. The Senate ultimately did cave to the House. A more detailed explanation of the marijuana legalization bill and the budget implementer bill are below.
Federal Aid & Future Budgets
The legislature is planning on reconvening in Special Session sometime this fall to appropriate more of the federal ARPA funding. The next regular session begins February 9, 2022. Despite a record-setting rainy day fund and a new biennial state budget free of major tax hikes, unprecedented unemployment and deep pockets of urban poverty could easily shift Connecticut’s tax fairness debate into high gear in 2024. A huge fiscal cliff looms two years from now, when billions of dollars in federal stimulus grants expire. Federal dollars to state unemployment benefits increased earnings for thousands of households without work, and most of those benefits are subject to income taxation.
In other words, when the benefits expire and the federal enhancements go away, state income tax receipts could plunge — unless Connecticut can get thousands of people back to work. However, Governor Lamont is confident that the federal relief dollars invested in Connecticut, along with federal income tax relief offered to the middle class through the American Rescue Plan Act, would complement the new state budget and be “transformative” to society and the economy.
Budget Implementer Heads to the Governor's Desk for Signature
The Connecticut General Assembly had a chaotic past few days. In addition to the marijuana bill being sent from the Senate to the House and back to the Senate, the legislature similarly stumbled through the passage of the 837-page budget implementer bill. House Speaker Matt Ritter had previously indicated that because House Republicans intended to run out the clock in special session on the marijuana bill, what would have been a ~100-page implementer only on budget items would now be the vehicle for a number of proposals that had otherwise not advanced through the legislative process. The bill language was released at 3:00am Tuesday morning and voted on by the Senate later that night.
The bill the Senate took up, however, included some proposals that were not agreed to in the House, most notably Sen. Duff's consumer privacy proposal. The House stripped this provision and made other minor changes before sending the bill back to the Senate and adjourning sine die, giving the Senate no choice but to either accept the changes or reject the entirety of the implementer. The Senate ultimately passed the implementer in concurrence with the House early Thursday afternoon. It now waits on Governor Lamont’s desk for his signature. Following are some highlights of the legislation:
- The bill includes various voting-related measures
- Denies aid from the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan fund to any community with a team or school using a Native American mascot or nickname.
- Requires the Department of Correction to provide free telephone services for prison inmates.
- Creates a $34 million assistance program for essential employees who lost work due to COVID-19 symptoms
- Provide protections and aid for domestic workers
Connecticut Passes Recreational Marijuana Bill
Late Thursday morning, Connecticut’s recreational marijuana bill passed through the Senate for a second time this special session and third time this year. The Senate previously passed the marijuana bill on Tuesday of this week, however they had amended the bill to expand the definition of a "social equity applicant" to include those who had a conviction or arrest of marijuana. Governor Lamont vowed to veto the bill over these changes, stating that the new language was never agreed to and would make it harder to meet the goals of encouraging those from distressed municipalities to be able to obtain licenses to sell marijuana. The bill then moved to the House where they proceeded to take out the Senate amendment following Lamont’s comments and sent it back to the Senate for the third and final time on a 76-62 vote. The Senate voted just before noon Thursday, ultimately passing the bill in concurrence with the House on a 16 to 11 vote. The bill now heads to Gov. Ned Lamont's desk to be signed. Under Senate Bill 1201, adults 21 and older can legally purchase and possess marijuana for recreational use. Individual possession limits are capped at 1.5 ounces of cannabis or equivalent cannabis concentrate, with up to 5 ounces of cannabis or equivalent cannabis concentrate permitted in a locked container. Individual possession will be legal on July 1, 2021, and retail sales are expected to begin by summer of 2022.
A Note from FOCUS...
Now that both chambers have completed their work for the foreseeable future, this will be our last weekly update. We will continue to send out newsletters as events warrant.
FOCUS would like to again extend our greatest appreciation to all of our clients as we charted the virtual world and uncharted territory of a virtual session together. No matter what comes our way, FOCUS is ready to meet your legislative needs.