The 2017 legislative session has started, and we know it is going to be a challenging year. Connecticut is facing a large budget deficit, an unpredictable federal environment, and a new power-sharing agreement in the State Senate.
To make sense of all of this – and keep you up to date on the legislative session – Connecticut Voices for Children is launching our new weekly Capitol Newsletter. Let´s get started.
Voices from the Capitol newsletter
During the legislative session, E-notes will become the weekly Voices from the Capitol newsletter, with updates, alerts, and analysis on the 2017 legislative session and how it affects children and families in Connecticut.
Central to our coverage will be the state budget, something that will likely dominate the debate again this year. Expect analysis, tracking changes, and updates on plans and proposals.
We will make sure, however, that other bills get the spotlight they deserve. Every Monday we will send news and updates on key bills, a calendar on what is coming up during the week, action alerts on key pieces of legislation, extended information on important issues, and (when necessary) explanations about legislative procedure to make sense of what is is happening and how it might affect legislation.
We want this newsletter to be a conversation, so we welcome your feedback and questions. Email us – we are here to help.
Last week: Governor's speech & committee assignments
The legislative session began last Wednesday, so legislation has not started moving yet. We had, however, some relevant news.
- The Governor´s State of the State Address: It was the first big speech of the session, and it laid out the policy priorities for the Governor. He focused on three areas that must be addressed this session to balance the budget: continued cost savings and efficiencies, making state pensions sustainable, and creating a more equitable system for town aid to fund education. Expect to hear much more about these issues this year. You can watch it in full or read the transcript here.
- Committee Chairs: Committee chairs control much of the agenda at the General Assembly, and who heads each committee can make a big difference in many areas. Three important lists to take into account: House Democrats Committee Chairs, Senate Democrats Committee Chairs and Senate Republicans Committee Chairs. The 18-18 tie in the Senate means that committees have two Senate Chairs this session and much more to negotiate.
The session: a brief calendar
This year we have a long session: from the "Wednesday following the first Monday of January" to the "the first Wednesday after the first Monday in June", following the state constitution. Translated to regular dates, it means that the session will go from January 4th to June 7th.
- Individual legislators´ bill filling deadline: January 13.
- Governor´s budget: early February.
- Deadline for introducing committee bills: February 14-15.
- Public hearings for bills in committee: from late January to early March (non-budget), March-April (Appropriations and Finance).
- Deadline for bills getting voted out of committee: mid- to late- March, except the budget, that has until April 27-28.
Legislative arcana: new rule – split committee
The legislative process is often complicated. In this section we will review and explain some of the rules that guide the General Assembly.
We mentioned that committees this session will have three co-chairs instead of the usual two: a Democratic House member, as they have the majority in the chamber, and two Senators, one from each party, as the parties are tied 18-18 in the Senate.
Committee chairs have a considerable amount of power – they largely decide which bills get a hearing or get called for a vote. The 3-chair arrangement might lead to more bipartisan consensus as both parties now have a strong say in what moves forward, or more gridlock if they cannot reach agreements. It is too early to tell how it will work.
The new arrangement, however, introduces an interesting new quirk in the legislative process: one Senator chair can automatically split the committee, separating the discussion of a bill between Senate committee members and House committee members. That is, we would have two versions of the bill, one for each chamber, that has to be approved out of committee separately. In practice, this means that there is yet another way for a piece of legislation to get stuck and fail.
Senators can only split the committee with Senate bills, so House bills are not affected – it might be a good idea to have bills introduced from the House side this session.
What we are reading:
A few good resources to follow the legislative session:
- CT Mirror´s Political Guide, a great directory of elected officials, and their intro to the 2017 session.
- The Office of Legislative Research´s 2017 Major Issues report, a great primer on the budget situation and issues that will likely be discussed this session.
- Also at CT Mirror: where do your tax dollars go?
In case you missed it:
- State of Early Childhood Report, a report we published last month looking at funding and program developments on early childhood in 2015.
- The Time to Grow: Meeting the Needs of Connecticut Youth Aging Out of Foster Care, our report on foster youth leaving the foster care system.
- Derek Thomas´ op-ed on how there is more to business climate than taxes: CT Viewpoints – In a lean budget year, invest in Connecticut´s people.