Session Scorecard: Mixed Bag For City

Markeshia Ricks PhotosHartford —Dreamers got financial aid. Women got a shot at pay equity. Westville homeowners will get sinking-home money.

A bottle deposit on nips? Tweed-New Haven’s runway? Bitcoin regulation? Didn’t quite make it. But they got on the agenda and will return next year.

As another state legislative session came to an end this week, New Haven’s legislators were able to claim those and other victories, some under the radar — and prepare to resume unfinished business to Hartford when they return next year.

During shorter even-year sessions like this one, passing legislation is harder. New Haven had victories to claim while seeing some priorities stalled.

The biggest last-minute piece of business was the passage of a $20.86 billion revised budget for the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1. The bipartisan package includes about $70.5 million more municipal aid in 2018-2019 than towns and cities received this year. (But New Haven apparently did not get an appreciable change it was hoping for, according to initial estimates.)

New Haven State Rep. Toni Walker, House chair of the legislature’s powerful Appropriations Committee, said that the budget package protects important New Haven priorities like public libraries, educational programs and housing for the homeless. She also noted that the restoration of funding for programs like Husky A, which provides health insurance for poor adults, and the Medicaid Savings program.

“We had to fight to maintain funding in so many critical areas,” she said.

Not every priority made it past the midnight session deadline as Wednesday turned into Thursday. State Senate President of Martin Looney of New Haven noted that one of his top bills — which would have overhauled sexual harassment laws — failed to make it a final vote.

For Walker, a big disappointment was a failure to pass a bill that would have allowed for a casino to open in Bridgeport, which was supported by Mayor Toni Harp but opposed by lawmakers from the north-central part of the state, casino-owning Indian tribes and city officials representing Windsor. The top lobbying priority for Harp administration officials at the session’s end, a bill that would have allowed for the paving of more of Tweed New-Haven Airport’s runway, also failed to pass; east-side New Haven neighbors (Looney’s constituents) vocally opposed that bill.

Another bill that Looney said he will pursue again that got very little traction was one that would have made community college in the state free.

“We’re going to keep working on that,” he said. “Obviously, it has a significant budget component to it. We think it’s very important because too many students are burdened with high amounts of student debt, especially community college students who have to take remedial courses before they take degree courses that lead them to a degree.”

New Haven legislators were among the leading proponents of two measures that would have put money in the state’s coffers that never came up for debate beyond committee meetings this session: instituting new highway tolls and legalizing marijuana. New Haven State Rep. Juan Candelaria said legislative leaders recognized fairly early that in an election year, legislators weren’t going to take a vote on such controversial issues.

Candelaria: “Playing Field Leveled”

Candelaria, who serves as the deputy speaker of the House, noted that the new budget restores about $7.8 million to the Connecticut Mental Health Center. It also restores about $738,000 for Hispanic-serving agencies in the state like Junta for Progressive Action and about $3 million for prevention programs for youth— about $400,000 of those funds are coming to New Haven.

He was particularly pleased that a bill that gives undocumented students access to a college fund that they pay into finally passed and has been signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

“It levels the playing field,” he said. “All students should be afforded the opportunity to attend college and undocumented students who pay into a fund should be allowed to have access to it.”

Candelaria’s bills to provide aid to districts that have taken in Puerto Rican students who had to evacuate because of Hurricane Maria didn’t make it out of committee But those districts will still get funds in the new budget.

Candelaria said an additional $2.9 million in education cost sharing will be doled out to districts on a per-student basis for increased enrollment. Another $400,000 has been allocated for bilingual education to go to the top six districts that received displaced students from Puerto Rico. There also is an additional $600,000 for housing help and another $500,000 for human resource development for nonprofits.

“Bills are just a vehicle,” he said. “But where it matters most is getting it into the budget.”

Nips Nipped

New Haven claimed a big part of the victory that led to the passage of a bill that will allow Connecticut to join the National Popular Vote Interstate compact of states agreeing to pool their Electoral College votes for the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote.

New Haven State Rep. Roland Lemar called the popular vote one of the bright spots in a short and hard-fought session where many priorities such as increasing the minimum wage got left on the floor when the legislature adjourned. Lemar called the inability to get a vote on minimum wage “a major disappointment.

“We were a couple of Democrats short in the House,” he said. To get their party on the same page, Democrats proposed raising the minimum wage by a dollar starting this year, and then another dollar each year to eventually get to a $15 an hour minimum wage, but still couldn’t hold the party line, he said.

An affordable housing bill that Lemar pushed would have ended prohibitions on multi-family housing in a number of towns in the state. The bill made it through the House at the end of April; Lemar still had hope Wednesday that it might come up in the Senate, but it didn’t.

A bill that would have established a bottle deposit for nip alcohol bottles to encourage recycling and prevent them becoming the litter that currently plagues urban centers like New Haven also didn’t gain any traction this session. Lemar said lawmakers wanted to take a holistic look at a revision of the state’s bottle deposit law. He said the proposed bill had arguments for and against it.

“On the one hand, there is the argument that it encourages recycling instead of just throwing these things on the street,” he said “The argument against it is that it’s too high a tax on such a low-cost item, though we think it’s akin to the deposit on a bottle of water or soda.”

Lemar said ultimately the arguments didn’t stunt the bills progress. It was the timing.

“We had much bigger priorities this year,” he said.

Porter’s Year

Christine Stuart PhotoBigger priorities like pushing a pay equity bill for women that prevents employers from asking a potential hire for previous salary history.

State Rep. Robyn Porter had several big wins with bills this session that would provide fairer treatment for incarcerated women and would end the practice of arresting domestic violence victims along with their abuser.

She and State Sen. Gary Winfield also got out an amended version of a bill that originally would have tweaked an existing law on body cameras for police officers in regards to their ability to review camera footage before giving a sworn statement. The amended version creates a task force to look at doing that.

Winfield also was able to get out a bill that would allow any legislator to request a racial and ethnic impact statement for any proposed policy that comes before legislators. Before the bill was passed, lawmakers could only get such a statement through a Judiciary Committee request and only regarding the population of the prison system. Winfield said he worked for years to get that changed because he thought it was a limited and “a very racialized way of seeing the world.”

“It says, ‘Well if we’re dealing with race, we have to deal with the prison system,’” he said. “What about schools? There are a lot of things where it is important to know the visible impact on people of color, and I think over the long run it might turn out that passing that bill is one of the more important things that have a long-term effect on what we do as a state as far as what got done this session.”

Winfield said he thinks the bill, which may be the first full racial impact statement done in the country, passed this year because it flew under the radar of some bigger ticket items like the push for paid family leave and a minimum wage that didn’t pass. People also had heard about it many times and he said that takes the excitement out of it, he said.

“And there’s always the element of luck,” he added.

Though Porter was happy with some of the progress made this session, she already sees changes that she wants to attempt next session. For instance, in the bill for incarcerated women, she wasn’t able to stop pregnant women from being shackled. Both she and Winfield said they’ll take another crack next year at bills on paid family leave and the minimum wage.

“We’re talking about money in people’s pockets,” she said of the minimum wage bill. “Wage growth is economic growth. It puts money back into the state. It puts money back into small businesses. It puts money back into the community.”

Winfield called it short-sighted to not recognize the impact of paid family and medical leave, noting that the United States is one of only three countries that don’t guarantee paid family leave. The other two are Papua New Guinea and Oman.

“This country is a place — where every other country you have a baby, your dad gets sick — you have no time,” said Winfield, a new father of twins. “I know I’m a bleeding heart liberal, but seriously, you have to go right back to work? How can you be productive for that business that you’re a part of if that’s going on in your life? Not us, we’re like ‘We’ve got business to conduct.’”

“There are women who have a baby and they have two, maybe three days off and then they go back to work,” he pointed out. “That’s insanity.”

Wins For Westville

Markeshia Ricks PhotoState Rep. Pat Dillon championed two bills with local significance particularly for Westville, working across the aisle and bridging the suburban-urban divide.

One of those bills will allow New Haven, and any other city, to regulate the brightness and hours of operation for electronic billboards.

And she was able to convince her colleagues from the eastern side of the state to allocate $1 million for sinking homes in Westville and Woodbridge as part of a bill that would establish a crumbling foundations fund. That money won’t be available until 2020 because the fund has to be created and the money that goes into it will come from a surcharge, but it is on top of money Dillon was able to get in the budget during last year’s session that allowed for $1 million to help homeowners this year.

“It does create a little bit of revenue stream down the road,” she said.

As the House chair the Health Subcommittee for Appropriations, Dillon fought to restore the funding to the Connecticut Mental Health Center and a bill that will require teaching about the Holocaust and other genocide. She called the latter measure necessary during a time where the Ku Klux Klan is seeing a resurgence along with a rise in anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia.

“We live in a country, America, where we had young white men in their 20s and 30s carrying torches shouting ‘blood and soil’ and wearing T-shirts that praise the KKK and swastikas,” she said. “In any normal place, we’d still be talking about that. Where did those young ones come from? We have to understand what is going on that is creating such intolerance.”

Dillon had put forth a bill that would have established a fee on bitcoin transactions that didn’t get very far she said because her colleagues saw the fee as a tax and the chairman of the committee told her early on that it wasn’t going to go forward. But she said she thought it was important for there to be some type of security and oversight that would produce a record such as a digital image of each transaction to prevent money laundering and fraud.

“There should be the same level of security and oversight for people putting money into it than if they’re investing in the stock market,” she said. “Maybe I was a little ambitious for what I was looking at for the short session but the chairman was not interested so that was a disappointment.”

The 2018 Agenda

Bill #StatusSummarySponsors
HB 5001In Committee
Died on the Floor
To impose a fee on transactions involving virtual currency.Pat Dillon
HB 5031
SB 4
In Committee
Committee Approved
Sent to the Floor
Passed
Gov. Signed
To allow students to have equal access to institutional financial aid.Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee
HB 5082In Committee
Committee Approved
Died on the Floor
To provide state funds to assist hurricane victims from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands who are living in Connecticut.Juan Candelaria
HB 5126In Committee
Died on the Floor
To increase funding to boards of education and family resource centers that provide assistance to students and families from Puerto Rico.Juan Candelaria
HB 5112In Committee
Sent to the Floor
Died on the Floor
To permit the retail sale of marijuana and tax such sale to raise revenue for the General Fund and to fund substance abuse treatment, prevention, education and awareness programs.Juan R. Candelaria, Angel Arce, Josh Elliott, Steven J. Stafstrom, Jeff Currey, Susan M. Johnson, Chris Soto, Patricia A. Dillon, Roland J. Lemar, James M. Albis, Christopher Rosario, Kim Rose, Robyn A. Porter, Edwin Vargas, Matthew Lesser, Gregory Haddad, Joshua Malik Hall, Ezequiel Santiago, Diana S. Urban, Toni E. Walker, Robert Sanchez, Alphonse Paolillo
SB 1In Committee
Died on the Floor
To expand the sick leave program to provide earned family and medical leave to certain individuals employed in this state.Martin M. Looney, Bob Duff, Timothy D. Larson, Steve Cassano, Beth Bye, Terry B. Gerratana, Gary A. Winfield, Ted Kennedy, Catherine A. Osten, Marilyn V. Moore, Edwin A. Gomes, Mae Flexer
SB 62In Committee
Died on the Floor
To provide tuition-free community college for Connecticut residents.Martin M. Looney
HB 5182In Committee
Committee Approved
Sent to the Floor
Died on the Floor
To require building officials in certain municipalities to establish and assess a fee for the commencement of certain work without a necessary permit.Planning and Development Committee
HB 5210In Committee
Committee Approved
Sent to the Floor
Passed
To (1) mandate insurance coverage of essential health benefits, (2) expand mandated health benefits for women, children and adolescents, and (3) expand mandated contraception benefits.Insurance and Real Estate Committee
HB 5084In Committee
Died on the Floor
To encourage the recycling of nip bottles that otherwise frequently litter urban areas.Roland J. Lemar and Juan R. Candelaria
HB 5350
HB 5537
In Committee
Committee Denied
Sent to the Floor
Died on the Floor
To create a pilot program for shared solar facilities at municipal airports. The bill also would delete the provision that dictates the length of Tweed Airport’s runway.Energy and Technology Committee
HB 5475In Committee
Committee Approved
Sent to the Floor
Passed
To amend statutory provisions concerning a police officer’s viewing of a recording from body-worn recording equipment under certain circumstances.Judiciary Committee
HB 5515 In Committee
Committee Approved
Sent to the Floor
Passed
To permit a zoning commission to regulate the brightness and illumination of advertising signs and billboards.Judiciary Committee
HB 5540In Committee
Committee Approved
Sent to the Floor
Died on the Floor
To ban guns without serial numbers and regulate those which are sold in a form requiring the purchaser to finish assembly or that are homemade and to permit local authorities to interview immediate family members as part of a determination of an applicant's suitability.Judiciary Committee
HB 5542In Committee
Committee Approved
Sent to the Floor
Passed
To ban the sale or transfer, possession, manufacturing or use of bump stocks or other accessories to increase the rate of fire of a firearm.Judiciary Committee

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posted by: Esbey on May 11, 2018  1:52pm

What are the implications for the New Haven city budget?  Will the increased municipal aid help the city’s bottom line?  Will the mayor stick to her 11% (!) property tax increase?

[Ed.: We’ll have details next week; people are still calculating. Early word is New Haven did not get much more, so bottom line would not appreciably be affected.]

posted by: HewNaven on May 11, 2018  3:19pm

The things that matter did not pass. Some did not even come to vote. New Haven residents will mostly be stuck in poverty, working at low-wage jobs with little possibility of advancement. Medical leave is still not required for employers, so we’ll continue to have service workers coming in to work sick and spreading viruses. Tolls could not be discussed because suburban CT residents are afraid of anything that looks like an additional expense. Connecticut is basically at a stalemate, a microcosm of national politics. These small victories were barely realized, and they do not even begin to touch the most important issues.

posted by: robn on May 11, 2018  4:54pm

FULL PILOT NOW!

posted by: Esbey on May 11, 2018  5:52pm

Thanks, Ed., for the response!

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on May 11, 2018  8:51pm

HewNaven, you’re largely right. But I would argue that the Medicaid funding and pay equity bills were significant. BTW, tolls were discussed and a bill to start the process of implementing them was passed by the Transportation and Finance committees.

Robn, there is a strong moral argument that the state should fully fund PILOT. That, and a couple of bucks, will buy you a cup of coffee at the Capitol. The bulk of the property that is eligible for PILOT is located in a fairly small number of municipalities. (About 2/3 of municipalities receive no funding for colleges/hospitals, the largest PILOT program.) For most legislators, fully funding PILOT is simply not a high priority. The state should fully fund PILOT; it probably won’t in the foreseeable future.

posted by: robn on May 12, 2018  7:08am

KM,

My argument isn’t that the state is behaving amorally. My argument is that the state is behaving unconstitutionaly. Unequal taxation (caused by an anachronistic rational of local social benefit from non-profits) violates the Equal Protection clauses of our state and national Constitutions.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on May 12, 2018  9:29pm

Robn, you’re making a legal argument- do you have any citations to support it? The state has been underfunding PILOT for years, causing substantial harm to New Haven and other municipalities. As far as I know, these parties have not successfully sued the state on constitutional grounds.

posted by: robn on May 12, 2018  9:38pm

KM,

You know very well that the current PILOT legislation is a compromise reached after the very threat of this lawsuit many years ago. That PILOT funding has eroded so dramatically speaks clearly to the fact that the legislature and it’s culture of political hacks are not to be trusted.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on May 13, 2018  10:31pm

Robn, you didn’t previously say the legislature is untrustworthy; you said “the state is behaving unconstitutionaly [sic].” Two different things. If the state were acting unconstitutionally the courts would have presumably ordered it to change its policies, as they did in the context of education finance in Sheff v. O’Neill and subsequent cases. The tax system, under Democrat, Republican, and Independent governors, has been unfair to cities like New Haven. No one has made a legally persuasive case that it is unconstitutional.

BTW, the PILOT for state-owned property dates back to the 1930s. The colleges and hospitals PILOT is newer, but still over 40 years old. Is the lawsuit you refer to that old - citation? In both cases, the provision reducing the PILOT to reflect appropriations was added early on. The reductions are proportional. If the legislature only appropriates enough to fund 50% of the PILOT programs, each town gets 50% of its full PILOT grant.

posted by: robn on May 14, 2018  6:51am

KM

My understanding is that the current version of PILOT (which has eroded over time) was the product of the threat of lawsuit sometime in the 80s or 90s.
In any event, the principle of stare decisis doesn’t invalidate a novel legal argument (no clear precedent, neither for nor against).

posted by: HewNaven on May 14, 2018  10:33am

Kevin,

Those bills were definitely significant. But, one cannot deny that there has been drastic stagnation in wages for DECADES now. If the federal government cannot respond, then states must, especially in states like CT where the cost of living is near the highest in the country. The fact that the right side of the legislature wants to fight this is detrimental to working-class residents of CT. They have no where to go but down. Meanwhile, states like VT are going up to $15/hour by 2024. And, they were able to compromise across the aisle. For example, employers will be allowed to pay students less than working adults. It’s not impossible, it just isn’t a priority for some reason to people in Hartford.