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Welcome to The Hartford Portfolio, Yankee Institute’s update on what’s happening at the State Capitol during the legislative session.

Connecticut General Assembly Goes Full Authoritarian

In the final moments of the 2024 Legislative Session on Wednesday (May 9), the Senate rushed through a controversial bill — effectively bypassing standard legislative procedures in an election year — and gifted big labor a potential “win.”

The bill, which passed across party lines (23-12), sneakily establishes a “slush fund” in the Office of the State Comptroller (OCS), and masquerades as a lifeline for “low-income” workers. In reality, it’s a thinly veiled scheme to line the pockets of union members choosing to go out on strike. Astoundingly, this was done without public input or the usual legislative due diligence, raising concerns about transparency and the democratic process.

Initially reviewed by the Appropriations Committee in March, the bill tasked the Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA) with reviewing “general areas of spending for which appropriations increased by 10% or more” over the previous budget.

On May 3, as the bill moved to the House, the legislation had undergone significant changes. The original language was removed and unexpectedly, a new fund, named the “Connecticut Families and Workers Account,” was created, utilizing $3 million of unspent OCS funds. However, the bill lacked detailed explanations regarding which families or workers are eligible or the criteria for fund allocation. Nevertheless, it passed 90-59 with minimal debate.

It wasn’t until CT Mirror reported on Saturday (May 4) that the bill was actually being used to pay workers choosing to strike and that the language was changed as “an attempt to resolve a standoff by the Connecticut AFL-CIO and Gov. Ned Lamont.”

During the Senate debate, Sen. Eric Berthel (R-Watertown) asked the bill’s proponent and chair of the Labor and Public Employees Committee, Sen. Julie Kushner (D-Danbury) about the account’s purpose. However, Sen. Kushner responded by simply reciting the language in the bill, providing no substantive answers.

“None of this has gone through the appropriate policies and procedures of this legislature,” Sen. Berthel asserted during the debate. “And I am just totally confused and actually a little disgusted, that we have something that according to the system was only brought into the house for amendment on May 3.”

Calling it trickery, Sen. Berthel criticized the bill stating, “Here we are about to vote on a bill to allow the Comptroller to take $3 million and put it into this mysterious account with mysterious definitions of who we’re helping.” According to the senator, the bill violates “all of our respected and honest practices for proposing legislation.”

Continuing the discussion, Sen. Rob Sampson (R-Wolcott) weighed in, expressing, “I’ve seen some stuff come through this chamber, but I have got to tell you this is borderline probably the most brazen and absurd piece of legislation that I have seen to date.”

Turning his attention to Sen. Kushner he asked, “Why exactly is [this bill] being brought out by the chair of the Labor Committee” given its origins as an Appropriations bill?

Sen. Kushner defended her involvement, stating, “I’ve spent my whole life championing the causes of working families, in particularly low-income workers. So, it’s my honor and my privilege to bring out the bill.”

Sen. Sampson went on to ask her if the account being created will “be used for striking workers.” Once more, Sen. Kushner repeated language written in the bill, evading a direct response.
It wasn’t until Sen. Sampson rephrased the question twice more before Sen. Kushner finally conceded, stating “no” — that there was no provision in the bill preventing the Comptroller from allocating funds to striking workers.

In response, Sen. Sampson questioned the bill’s lack of clarity, especially on the procedures for the Comptroller’s management of the funds (which are typically outlined in comprehensive bills that allocate funds to state agencies). He commented that creating policies is not comparable to assembling “a bookcase from IKEA, where maybe you can get by without instructions.”

During closing remarks on the bill, Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney (D-New Haven) confirmed the potential for including striking workers in the newly proposed fund, stating, “That is certainly a possible use of part of this fund, and I think that would be entirely appropriate if that were the case.”

Displaying premature enthusiasm, big labor spiked the metaphorical football before scoring a touchdown, celebrating on social media, Thursday (May 9). The AFL-CIO expressed gratitude towards Sen. Kushner and other lawmakers for passing the significant legislation. They also declared that the General Assembly had made a substantial move toward balancing the scales for workers, openly stating that the fund’s purpose was to “aid striking workers.”

Additionally, the Service Employee International Union (SEIU) retweeted the post writing that it was “Great news from Connecticut!” and also expressed gratitude towards Sen. Kushner. Although their post followed the Governor’s announcement indicating his opposition, the SEIU remained optimistic, stating they “look forward to seeing [him] sign this important legislation!”

This comment could be seen as a hopeful prod or a subtle pressure tactic aimed at the Gov. Lamont to sway his final decision.

Shortly after the celebratory post was shared on Facebook and X, Gov. Ned Lamont addressed the matter at a press conference, expressing his opposition to the bill calling it “so damn vague.”
While he did not explicitly state whether he would veto it, he urged legislators to make a definitive decision by saying, “If you want public dollars to support striking workers, have a vote up or down.” He further recommended that they take an official vote be next year to ensure that “people know what they are voting on.”

The bill now awaits being assigned a public act number before being forwarded to the Secretary of the State’s Office. From there, it will proceed to the Governor’s desk where he must decide to either sign it into law or veto it.

If Gov. Lamont does not take any action, the bill will automatically become law 15 days after he receives it. Should he veto the bill, it still has the potential to become law if the legislature reconvenes and passes it by a two-thirds majority in a session specifically held to reconsider vetoed bills.

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