HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut lawmakers on Wednesday closed out a legislative session marked by the closest partisan divide in recent history and continued disagreement over how to fix the state’s fiscal troubles.
While the regular session adjourned at midnight, lawmakers aren’t finished with their work. They need to return to the state Capitol and craft a new two-year budget with a projected $5 billion deficit. Legislative leaders hope to reach a deal before the state’s fiscal year ends June 30, but it’s unclear if that will be possible.
“We will see each other at some point soon,” Democratic House Majority Leader Matt Ritter of Hartford told his colleagues.
With an 18-18 split in the Senate and a slim 79-72 Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, it’s been more challenging to pass some proposals this year. That was also the case on Wednesday, with bills concerning protections for women’s health care coverage, permission for electric carmaker Tesla to open retail stores in the state and possible assistance for the Millstone nuclear power complex.
However, lawmakers still cheered the session as a success. They managed to pass some key bills in recent days, including legislation authorizing a new tribal casino in East Windsor, tougher hate crime laws and legislation that could prevent future state legislators from spending transportation funds on non-transportation matters.
A closer look at some major issues that were in flux during the final hours:
MILLSTONE POWER STATION
While the Senate passed legislation early Wednesday morning that proponents say reduces the risk that the nuclear power plant in Waterford might close, there was not enough support to push it through the House of Representatives.
Democratic House leaders agreed to hold only a limited discussion of the bill. It was later pulled from consideration.
The legislation required the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to appraise the fiscal condition of New England’s nuclear facilities, including Millstone. DEEP would have to implement recommendations from that appraisal if the agency determined they are in the best interest of ratepayers.
The bill also allowed the DEEP and the Public Utility Regulatory Authority to determine if it’s in the best interest of ratepayers to allow Millstone to sell power directly to utility companies. Millstone’s owner, Dominion Energy Inc., has suggested it could leave Connecticut if the bill failed. Changing energy markets have led to some plants closing in the U.S.
The Senate on Wednesday night approved the final piece of a complicated legislative package that could lead to a third tribal casino in Connecticut.
Lawmakers okayed a bill, 22-14, that authorizes Sportech Venues to have eight more off-track betting licenses, for a total of 24 possible locations in the state.
The bill also creates a new entertainment sharing agreement between the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes and venues with 5,000 or more seats that would allow them to share in the recruitment of entertainment acts. Additionally, it requires the Department of Consumer Protection to set up a possible framework for sports betting in anticipation of the federal government possibly permitting it.
While the so-called “sweetener” bill was seen as a way to secure the votes needed in the House of Representatives to successfully pass legislation authorizing the tribes to build a border casino in East Windsor, some complained about the expansion of gambling.
“I really think that we’re kidding ourselves when we go down this path,” said Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield.
While it’s been clear for days that legislators would not be able to reach a budget agreement in time for Wednesday’s adjournment deadline, that didn’t mean the state budget was off-limits for debate.
The Senate Republicans called up their budget proposal as an amendment — a move that was criticized by Senate Democrats, who claimed it was “political theater” and a waste of time on the final day. Ultimately, both sides agreed the GOP could discuss their tax-and-spending proposal for a limited amount of time, before moving on to other bills.
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano argued it was the “solemn obligation” of the state Legislature to pass a state budget.
It’s unclear when budget talks between Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and legislative leaders will resume now that the session has adjourned.
“We’re not going to rush into this budget process,” said Democratic House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz. He said there are plans for multiple meetings with rank-and-file lawmakers, committee leadership and others.
Many outstanding issues are tied up in the budget process, ranging from public education funding reform to the possible privatization of more state-run social service programs.
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